Dispatches - Bhutan 2005

October 06, 2005

Read here about our 2005 epic mountain bike journey across the stunning landscapes of Bhutan.

Adventure Consultants Bhutan Mountain Bike Trek 2005 Dispatches

22 September 2005 - Bhutan Begins
The Adventure Consultant's Bhutan Expedition is about to be underway tomorrow, with team members currently en route to Bangkok where they will board their flight to Paro, Bhutan!

The team is looking forward to an exciting two weeks of mountain biking and touring through Bhutan, and will be sending updates of their adventure regularly as they reach email facilities!

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25 September 2005 - Himalayan Mountain Biking at its Best
Hello from Bhutan! We arrived yesterday from Bangkok with some exciting mountain flying on the flight to Paro - views of Cho Oyu (we waved to our team over there - congratulations on their summit today!), Everest and Kanchenjunga from the plane window, and then banked turns in the rather narrow valley that contains Paro Airport before touching down safely. All our bikes arrived intact and after being met by our Bhutanese guide, Ugyen, we headed straight to Bhutan's National Museum for a crash course in all things Bhutanese and spectacular views of the Paro Valley. The rice crops are nearly ripe and everything is luminous green, with a warm wind blowing to welcome us here.

After our history lesson, we got down to business and put the bikes together, then retired immediately after dinner to bed, with some in the group still on 'home time', body clocks not yet adjusted.

The day before we arrived was 'Blessed Rainy Day', which is the official last day of the monsoon. This seemed to work, as another pearler rain-free day dawned today and we set off for our first ride - from our guesthouse above Paro to the confluence of the Paro and Thimphu Rivers at Chuzom. Mostly undulating or down, the ride was a perfect warm up to get the legs and lungs moving again as we followed the Paro River.

We then packed the bikes and ourselves onto the bus and drove the remainder of the road to Thimphu, as there is quite a bit of traffic on this road making biking a bit hazardous.

After checking in to our hotel, the Druk Sherig, we hit the Sunday market for some shopping and then toured a paper making factory, where they use wild daphne bark to make beautifully crafted Bhutanese paper. Then it was time for another ride! Half the group rode up a (steep!) hill to check out the view of Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. We're already above 2,000 metres here, so the altitude was making itself felt. A rip-snorting off-road downhill followed then a tour of the upper Thimphu Valley before heading back into town for some urban riding. More warm evening winds, nice!

Tomorrow we will tackle the winding road to Dochu La, at 3,400m, our first big climb. By tomorrow evening we shall be in Punakha, and from there we cycle over several high passes as we go further east to Bumthang region. We plan to spend a few days in this region on exploratory rides before making our way back to Thimphu and then two more days in the Paro region. All in all, we should get 11 days of riding, see some of the best parts of this amazing Kingdom, and finish up feeling way more acclimatised on our hill riding. Bring it on.

Suze Kelly, Thimphu, Bhutan.

26 September 2005 - Misty Dochu La
Straight out of bed and onto the bikes - this is certainly going to be our theme for the next few days. And straight up a hill! Our first long ride today was super fun - 21 km from Thimphu to the top of the Dochu La on a winding, but not too steep hill climb. We seem to the be the envy of every bus load of visitors to Bhutan, as there are long drives in a bus to get anywhere here and it's much more enjoyable on a bike than cooped up in a bus. Once over the top of the cloud enshrouded pass, we had a hoot of a ride over 50km down the other side into Punakha. The descent off the pass was in thick fog, but that soon opened up to verdant rice fields ready for harvest and the very warm Punakha Valley climate. The ride took us all day from 9.00am to 5.30pm, but that's because we stop for SO many great photo opportunities. We celebrated our first long day with drinks on the Hotel deck overlooking the valley. Cheers Bhutan!

27 September 2005 - Punakha to Phobjikha
An all day ride coming up! After a hearty breakfast, gearing up, and some minor bike fixing, it was off down the hill from our lodging for some really pleasant off road biking beside the Punak Chuu (river). We cruised through the country-side dodging cattle and the locals before pulling into the town of Wangdi Phrodang, on market day. Once we got underway again we saw less and less people all day, climbing our way up into the clouds on towards the Pele La. HOT weather kept our pace reasonably moderate and we had a decent lunch stop 10km up the hill. After a great picnic, we still had a a looong way to go to get to our destination for the night - the Phobjikha Valley - so some took the bus/truck option to ferry up the hill whilst others put their pdeal to the metal and rode up through the many zones of forest. Inevitably, the rain did come down, and we had to hightail it to the top of the pass using vehicles. Half the group had a thrilling downhill in the rain (read - mud) into the valley and we duly arrived at the new Dewachen Hotel. A stylish place! Hot showers, hot dinner and collapse into bed once again, after watching sunset over a beautiful remote valley which is home to the rare Black Necked cranes each summer.

28 September 2005 – Phobjikha to Trongsa and Bumthang region
Another serene Bhutanese morning dawned, and we had a leisurely breakfast looking out over the Phobjikha Valley. After bike fixing, carpet shopping (and visiting the local weaving and wood carving studios), and a visit to Gangte Goemba we exited from the valley and mounted the bikes for the short climb to the top of the Pele La (3420m) in bright sunshine. That was it for climbing for the day – all downhill from there to our lunch stop at Chendebji, over 1000 metres lower.

With a fair distance to go by night fall we covered the remaining 110km in our bus, which takes 4 hours due to the incredible roads that wind around, up and over the hillsides. We arrived on nightfall at the Swiss Lodge, overlooking the town of Jakar in the Bumthang region.

29 September 2005 - Tang Valley ride
Our ride today took us right to the head of the Tang Valley, a typical Bhutanese valley without power or telephone links, and the original home of our Bhutanese guide Ugyen. In hot weather, we steadily climbed all morning through small hamlets on rough 4WD tracks, passing myriad fields of pink flowered buckwheat ready for harvest. After lunch by the river, we then carried on to explore some challenging singletrack trails and duly arrived at the farmhouse of Ugyen's family.

We were treated to a meal of buckwheat noodles with chillies and generous helpings of ara, the infamous Bhutanese fermented barley drink! With full bellies and and the extra kick from sipping ara, we flew back down the valley to our waiting vehicles for the return journey to Jakar. Some rode the whole way home, making it another plus 70km offroad day, whilst the rest snuck in some of the descent and the ride into Jakar as the last light of the day faded.

After hot showers back at the lodge we had another gastronomic treat with fondue, swiss style, on the menu accompanied by the very good local boutique beer, Red Panda, a wheat beer.

30 September 2005 - Temple tour in the Choskor Valley
View across the valley to the Kurjey Lhakhang Sun greeted us again this morning as we set off from the lodge to visit three temples and explore the Choskor Valley on mainly off-road trails. The temples were the Tamshing Goemba, Kurjey Lhakhang and Jampa Lhakhang.

The rain conveniently arrived as we headed indoors to look around inside, and it was a simple matter of pulling on long pants or wrap around skirts over our bike gear in order to be able to enter each complex. Our lessons in Buddhism also continued today, with Ugyen proving to be a wealth of knowledge and able to share lots of detail with us. There's a few photos above of the day to give you an idea of the fun we had.

We had a leisurely afternoon back at the lodge attending to some people's bikes for repairs and modifications, and a shopping expedition to downtown Jakar which proved very worthwhile for the local retailers!

1 October 2005 - Ura day ride
The ride to Ura Valley takes in some great climbing on the east-west sealed road, and then it's a thrilling off road downhill into the village. We were met by a crowd of excited children who got to ride our bikes, and we put on a display of bike jumping to the amusement of all. 

On the way back to Jakar after a huge downhill and some thrilling trail exploration we checked out the Burning Lake, a sacred Bhutanese 'treasure discovers' site on the Tang Chuu (river). Then back on the bikes to ride into town by late afternoon, all up a plus 60km day. 

En route to Ura we encountered monks impersonating yaks!

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2 October 2005 - return through Trongsa to Chuzomsa
An early start saw our keen riders head away to ride the 68km to Trongsa over the Yatong La. For the rest of us we rode into the Chume Valley, got waylaid by more shopping for beautiful Bhutanese woollen weaving and wall hangings, and then took the bus once the rain started. Unfortunately the rain put paid to any further riding plans for the day but we did get to visit the Trongsa Dzong, which we would not have had time to do otherwise! One of Bhutan's largest monastic centres, it was akin to touring through a small town.

We had to descend from the Pele La to our accommodation at Chuzomsa in the near dark, as we were delayed by a crash site on the road between two vehicles - a small truck driven by a monk and a large truck full of children returning from a volleyball competition. Neither vehicle was able to be moved until the police arrived which took more than 2 hours, but thankfully there were no injuries to any of the passengers in the vehicles. Meanwhile we got to listen in to the many heated discussions from the Bhutanese about the delay and what to do about it! Eventually the trucks were manhandled out of the way and we were able to carry on.

3 October 2005 - Punakha visit and return to Thimphu
Rain pelting down in monsoon-like fashion greeted us this morning, so after a full breakfast we made our way in the bus to Punakha Dzong. Recently renovated and of grand proportions, we spent a couple of hours immersed in the inner temple and courtyards. The rain had eased off by the time we got to the top of the Dochu La and everyone rode the downhill into Thimphu. The 'off-trail' crew of scouted some exhilarating STD (steep techincal downhill) tracks near to Thimphu. We checked back into the Druk Sherig and headed out to a superb Japanese restaurant for dinner.

4 October 2005 - Paro wanderings
Leaving Thimphu behind we traveled on the team bus to the Paro Valley. Our destinatoin today was to be the spectacular Taktsang monastery, the 'Tigers Nest', high up above the valley floor on the side of cliff, but with heavy rain falling the steep clay access track was deemed too slippery and we settled for a tour of Paro Dzong instead. Afterwards, walking down the hill into Paro town we encountered a whole school's worth of kids who took the opportunity to practice their (very good) English with us.

Later that evening we were treated to a tour of the new Yangphel Hotel in Paro, called Zhiwa Ling. Recently finished, the place is like a modern Dzong, and has stunning architecture and interiors. The food was the best we'd eaten in Bhutan, not that we needed any today as this had been our first non-riding day of the trip!

5 October 2005 - Drukyel Dzong
Still the rain came down! With Bhutan in the midst of a late seasonal rain storm, locals expressed concern for their rice crops ready for harvest and we were concerned we wouldn't get to ride again. Our morning was spent walking up to the ruins of Drukyel Dzong, in the upper Paro valley. On our return the valley's deities allowed us a glimpse of Taktsang high on the hillside along with fresh snow on the mountains but then the rain settled in again. After a lunch stop and more extensive tour of zhiwa Lhing, we headed back to our guesthouse to pack up the bikes in prepartion for our departure the next day. Eager to stretch the legs and make use of our well acclimatised lungs, we got in a ride part way up the road to the Haa Pass, before Jason spied some singetrack in a valley that we couldn't pass up! Several sorties and hike-a-bikes later we were whistling down narrow tracks through people's back yards, still in the rain. A couple of shaky bridge crossings and fun rock strewn paths later we popped back out on to the main road, covered with mud and big grins and with even less time available to pack our bikes. Nevertheless everyone got cleaned and packed up in time for dinner downtown at Paro's best momo restaurant.

6 October 2005 - Leaving Bhutan
We were up early (as usual on this trip!) and down to the airport in no time, to catch our flight back to Bangkok on Druk Air. Hugs all round, and all too soon we were lifting off and heading back out to Kolkata in India, and then Thailand. With thanks to everyone on the trip for a hugely enjoyable time, it's always special to visit Bhutan and it makes it even more so travelling with such a great bunch of people.

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