After crossing the hot dry plains of India, riding the Himalaya of Nepal, hiking a portion of the Annapurna circuit, and bike-train-bussing the final kilometers through Nepal and India to its northern border, we had made it to our final stop: Bhutan.
Bhutan is a tiny country nestled between 2 giants, India and Nepal. It is the last Buddhist kingdom, and even though it has less than 1 million people, it thrives; nestled high in the Himalaya. You need a guide to enter and explore Bhutan as a tourist, and as strange as it sounds, we had found our guide through Nateon’s late mother Fran.
A few weeks before our trip, Nateon’s father ran into Fran’s former neurologist, Dr. Joel Ryder, at a local party in Santa Rosa. As they caught up they recognized Dr. Ryder and learned he would be volunteering in Bhutan the same week we were expecting to arrive. This was encouraging, as we were without a guide we were still and unable to secure our visas – so we emailed Joel, one thing led to another, and before you know it we had our visas and were booked for Bhutan.
Dr. Joel Rider and his wife Charlotte with us after we met up in Bhutan
Through local San Francisco company GeoEx we roadmapped 7 days of touring Bhutan with support from the Dr.’s friend and favorite guide – Ugyen. Ugyen loves to ride bike, manages a bike shop, is a local champion of Bhutans “Tour of the Dragon,” and definitely appreciated the fact that we would be arriving at the border by bike. We met Ugyen in Phuentsholing that afternoon after meeting the family in Bengal, and doing a fair amount of searching for the correct border crossing. Ugyen was ‘on the Indian side,’ so at first our cell phones didn’t work, but after a few tries we heard back from him, and he arrived with a warm smile and a healthy curiosity about our strange bike setup.
Ugyen practicing one of his favorite hobbies
Ugyen pointed out the hotel location and we rode up. The hotel was by far the nicest of any that we had seen, and as staff carried our backpacks up to our room, we smiled and realized that this part of the trip would be very different from riding India and Nepal. Large, clean room, warm water, western toilet, view of the city, a clean room and warm water, warm water and a clean room – we very excited and ready to be spoiled and comfortable.
The gate to Phuentsholing, at the border of Bhutan and India
The next day we met Tsring, our driver, and headed up the hill to the capital, Thimpu. And by hill I mean gigantic 8000 foot mountains. The road meandered for 180 kilometers, a small ledge cut into giant cliffs. Halfway up we got out of the truck and had a chance to ride and enjoy the beauty of the mountains.
Next we got to explore Thimpu, the bustling capital of Bhutan. At less than 100,000 people, it is a clean, beautiful, and easy to manage city. We saw the many hand-made arts and crafts that we had heard so much about, as well as men practicing Bhutan’s national sport: Archery (Except their targets are 450 feet away….and tiny!)
Men practicing archery. The colored flags represent the amount of targets they’ve hit.
Ugyen took us all over town, showed us the female monastery, the local school for traditional art, and the Buddhist monuments. We had only been in Bhutan for a couple days, and already had experienced so much. On thing is for sure, Bhutan has plenty of culture, and a plentiful desire to share that culture. (More to come in “Bhutan Part 2″….)