"It is all down-hill from here," my riding companion and guide, Nyendra, said. Although it was December, the sun was bright and warm. We munched on Clif bars, drank some water, zipped up our windbreakers and began our decent along a smooth single lane blacktopped highway with hardly an auto in sight. A biker's dream!?
We passed waterfalls so close we could reach out and touch them. We flew past brightly dressed smiling people who seemed to appear out of nowhere. It dawned on me that every sense of my being was engaged and I was in my own personal awakened dream. Only on a bike can your senses experience this festival of sounds, smells, and visual delights.
Whoa!? We rounded a bend and stopped short. A herd of yaks stood in front of us, blocking the road. But these big woolly beasts with the cool horns were easy to cajole along and with a few grunts on our part they let us through.
Next we came upon a gang of boys playing darts in the middle of the road. Spying such odd-looking bikers, they came running.? Here was a perfect opportunity to share a taste of mountain biking. In return they eagerly invited us to play darts with them. The darts were heavier and larger than ordinary darts, and each boy had hand-crafted his own. The targets were tiny and set about 150 feet apart, and the throw area was directly over the road--the only place flat enough to play. It was evident we had a lot to learn.
As daylight waned, I was awestruck and humbled by the magnitude of nature's glory. Grand Canyon-like valleys nestled between majestic mountains, intricately painted temples, monasteries, and farmhouses perched on cliffs spoke to my spiritual identity as we traveled on. The bike was much more then just a vehicle.? It was my vehicle to an inner experience in this magical place.
After hours of coasting we reached our destination, the Trongsa Dzong. A fortress built in the 1640s, The Trongsa Dzong is the largest of the dzongs. It is one of many now used as regional administrative centers, honoring Bhutan's tradition of holding spirituality as an equal partner in shaping political decisions.
We spent that night in Trongsa at the Yangkhiel Hotel perched thousands of feet above the roar of the Mangdechu River. Welcome to the Kingdom of Bhutan.
Bhutan is smaller than the state of West Virginia and located between India and China in the heart of the Himalayan Mountains. Bhutan protects its unique heritage and pristine environment by tightly regulating tourism, intentionally isolating itself from the outside world. Unlike most nations, it measures Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product. This last remaining Buddhist kingdom has enjoyed over 100 years without wars, the arms race, and even television until 1999.
My adventure began more than a year ago when I received an unexpected e-mail proposal from Nyendra Wangchuk on behalf of AHKE Adventure, a Bhutanese tour company. Together we would promote Bhutan as a biking and cultural destination for Americans and introduce mountain biking to the local population.
AHKE designed a biking adventure from Paro in the west across to Tashigang in the east, and then south to the Indian border. Fuji Bikes donated two Tahoe mountain bikes to the venture on which I would train AHKE staff on the safe, effective use, and maintenance, of the bikes. It took a full year of planning and preparation before I finally departed my home in Maine for the trip of a lifetime.
Getting to Bhutan is not easy. No international airlines are permitted into the country, so I first flew to Delhi, India and took a connecting flight to Kathmandu, Nepal. The next morning I boarded a jet on Druk Air, Bhutan's only airline. There are only a limited number of flights into the country and the Paro airport serves all of Bhutan. After passing Everest we entered a cloudbank and our descent began, the clouds parted and spectacular mountains appeared below us. Just as I wondered how and where the pilot was going to land, we started a series of steep midair switchbacks between mountain ranges, descending slowly with each hairpin turn and finally, far below, I spotted a tiny slice of a runway, squeezed in among mountains. Then, YIKES! We were suddenly down.