The Mountain Diaries
By Sarvesha Samaga
I set out for a week-long cycling trail with 14 other riders, in Bhutan, where GNH (Gross National Happiness) is a measure of progress! A one-hour forty-five minutes of travel by Druk Air took me from New Delhi to Paro, the international airport in Bhutan.
The first day began with a 15-km-ride from Paro to Taktshang Lakhang, a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and temple complex perched on the side of a cliff, 900 m above the Paro Valley floor. We had to pass through Paro Market, the Archery Ground and Ugyen Pelri Palace followed by a five-km trek from the base to the top of the Tiger’s Nest monastery.
After getting acclimatised to the height, weather, winding and uphill roads on the first day, I left Paro the next day for my first major climb to Chelela Pass, which is 3,988 m above MSL. It’s a relentless 35 km of uphill riding combined with many twists and turns. The road passes through dense pine and rhododendron forests, gorgeous Wangchulo Dzong Valley and completely surrounded by the clouds.
The feeling once I reached the top of the mountain was as amazing as having climbed the Mount Everest!! At 50C, it was chilly and windy at the top. The downhill ride from Chelela is a 30 km descent, and amazingly it took just 40 minutes to reach the beautiful Haa Valley. Ride from Haa Valley to the capital city of Bhutan, Thimpu is about 110 km, taking us through the picturesque valley to Chuzom (Chhu means ‘river’ and zom means ‘join’) or the confluence where two rivers Thimpu (Wong Chu) & Paro (Pa Chu) meet. There are three ‘chortens’ (monument or stupa) in the area each in a different style – Bhutanese, Tibetan and Nepali to ward off evil spells. After a quick photographic break on the Paro Bridge, I started moving along the Thimpu river upstream through a mixture of rice fields and coniferous forest until I could see the welcome arch at the entrance to Thimpu City.
A long ride down the two-way, four-lane road from welcome arch took me to the centre of the City. I witnessed a busy junction where traffic was managed by a lady traffic police. Thimpu is the only capital city in the world that does not use traffic lights! To my surprise, during my entire stay, I couldn’t hear honking by any vehicle on the roads. Thimpu has many landmark places to visit like Clock Tower square, handicraft market and Changlimithang Stadium, Thimpu Memorial Chorten, the largest statue of the sitting Buddha in the world measuring 51.5 m, made of bronze and gilded in gold, atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park overlooking the Thimpu city.
I left Thimpu for another day of gruelling ride to Drochula pass which is at an elevation of 3,100 m where I could see stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Himalayan mountain range at the backdrop of 108 chortens gracing the mountain pass. Another 35 km of long descent through the virtually non-existent roads lead to Panukha village and then towards Wangdue. The next day, I rode downhill from Drochula to Thimpu, stopping on the way, to met Border Road Officer, who had hosted a tea party. The ride from the BRO office in Thimpu to Paro town was another 40 km. While riding in Bhutan, I stopped at several places to talk to some of the elders, the local farmers and villagers who welcomed us with warm and big smiles. I met a contingent of Indian soldiers resting near the confluence, who shared a cup of tea with me!
I came here, I saw this mountain kingdom through the eyes of a cyclist and I conquered some of the toughest and gruelling peaks and dangerous downhills in the world. While discovering this country, I also added several special personalities to my friends list who will go a long way in my journey of life.