Tattered prayer flags were flapping all around as we reached the
highest point of the day's ride, 11,000-foot Pelela Pass. Beyond were
mountains upon towering mountains; some snow-covered, others green to
the top, all powerful and majestic. Clouds surrounded us, creating a
surreal atmosphere. I looked down but could not see the valley floor.
Close by was the chorten, a monument marking the sacredness of place; a
symbol of Buddha's mind; a grounding rod for positive energy. I had
"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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.