Unchained fun

While jogging today, in Pamtsho, I met Ugyen Penjore, aged 9, “going-to” class 4, Rinchen Kuenphen School, having a wonderful time with his friends on this bike, lent to him by another friend, Kinley Tenzin.

Check out the tires on that bike
Check out the seat
Check out that smile!



Tour of the dragon

This year’s Tour of the Dragon was a grand success. At 2:00 AM on Saturday, 45 riders representing 15 teams took off from the town square in Chamkhar and raced towards Thimphu. 28 of the riders managed to complete the grueling one-day, 268 km mountain bike race from Bumthang to Thimphu.

Last year’s fool – the rider who fell off his bike in Trongsa, but stubbornly rode on to complete the race – fared better this time. He didn’t fall. And he clocked a decent 14 hours 16 minutes to complete the race.

But this year’s Tour had better highlights. Here are a few of them:

  • Eight riders broke last year’s record of 13 hours 39 minutes. Sonam Tshering owns the new record at an astonishing 11 hours 31 minutes. (That, incidentally, is how long some motorists take to make the journey from Bumthang to Thimphu!)
  • Yeshi Dema, the only female rider to take part in the Tour, became the first lady to complete the race. She took 17 hours 11 minutes.
  • Pema Khandu, aged 18, was this year’s youngest rider. He rode the 111 km to Chendebji before calling it a day.
  • Colonel Tawpo, aged 59 years, was this year’s oldest rider. He completed the epic journey in what must have been a torturous 18 hours 25 minutes. He rode into Thimphu at 8:25 PM long after the prize distribution ceremony had ended.
  • 857 volunteers (comprising of teachers, students, civil servants and businessmen and women) lined the route to point out potholes and unexpected bumps, direct traffic, distribute water and food, and to generally cheer the riders on.
  • HRH Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck did not compete in the race. He rode, but did not compete. Instead – and in spite of his competitive nature – he chose to support and encourage the riders. He checked on every rider who fell off his bike. And he accompanied most of the riders who struggled through the difficult stages of the race. In the process, he probably rode more than the race’s 268 kilometers.

Thanks to the efforts of the volunteers, RSTA officials, traffic police, Dzongkhag authorities and, above all, the Bhutan Olympic Committee, this year’s Tour of the Dragon was a grand success.  Well done.

Open invitation by Haa

Your invitation

Have you been to Haa?

Chances are you haven’t. You haven’t been to Haa, because you probably didn’t have any work there – you didn’t have the reason to go. And you probably haven’t been there, because, like most people, you think that the journey from Thimphu to Haa is long and arduous.

But there’s good news. If you haven’t been to Haa, you now have good reason to go there. This weekend – that’s on the 9th and 10th of July – Haa Dzongkhag, along with the Tourism Council of Bhutan, are organizing the Haa Summer Festival to showcase Haa’s “rich alpine flower, folklore and culture.” You can download information on the festival from the ABTO website.

By the way, it takes under three hours to drive from Thimphu to Haa. The journey is beautiful – you’ll travel through several villages, and along pine forests, meadows and buckwheat fields as you make your way to Ap Chundu’s protectorate.

But if you wish, you could also bicycle to Haa. TCB has organized a bike race from Chunzom to Haa via Paro and Chelela on the 9th of July. That should be interesting, especially the ride from Bondey (which is at 2,200 meters) to Chelela (3,800 meters).


I’m back!

I’m back. And it feels good to be back home.

My broken jaw has been corrected by way of a metal plate that now holds the fracture in place. But my jaws have also been wired shut to allow the damaged bones to heal properly. So till the wires come off – which will be in about five weeks – I’ll be speaking through clenched teeth. And subsisting on a full liquid diet.

I’m grateful for the many emails and messages that I received during the last two weeks. Your good wishes, support and prayers have helped me recover from that nasty biking accident quickly and remarkably well.

I’m back. And I thank you very much.

Tour of the Dragon

At Pelela

Twenty-five bikers took part in the inaugural Tour of the Dragon yesterday.

The Dragon, a one-day bicycle ride from Bumthang to Thimphu, crosses 4 passes, all of them over 3,000 meters, and covers 268 kilometers through five dzongkhags. The breathtaking route offers an elevation gain of 4,000 meters, a whopping half of which is on the final ascent from Wangdiphodrang bridge to Dochula.

The Tour of the Dragon must be one of the more beautiful one-day bike rides in the world. It’s probably one of the most difficult ones too.

The official records are not yet out, but more than half of the participants completed yesterday’s ride. Ugen Yozer rode in first. Rinzin Norbu second. And HRH Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, the inspiration of the Tour, third.

As everyone knows, virtually any bike race worth its salt will feature a casualty. And so it was with the inaugural Tour of the Dragon.

A biker came barreling down to Trongsa, 68 km from the start of the race. He looked left then right at the small group of spectators, ostensibly to see if any of them planned to cross the road. But what the fool didn’t see was a bump on the road. That bump threw him off. And he landed squarely on his jaw.

The medical team stitched him up and attended to his bruises. And about an hour and a half later the fool rejoined the race.

I was that crazy fool.

The Tour of the Dragon will take place on the first Saturday of every September.

Photo credit: Karma Loday, CEO, Yangphel Travel

Sunday biking

Natural power

Our Sunday bicycling group is slowly growing. Today, there were 12 of us. We met up at the Clock Tower Square, and rode together to Dechenphug monastery and back.

Contact Rinzin Ongdra at cyclebhutan@druknet.bt if you’d like to join the group. Or, just show up at the square at 10:30 AM on Sunday. To encourage you I’ve posted some pictures from today’s ride at the gallery.

Biking right

About a month ago, I’d written about bicycling with my son. In response to that article, two readers, TOJT and Romeo, cautioned against biking in Thimphu – they warned that inexperienced motorists and road rage make biking in the capital a dangerous exercise.

I’ve been biking a lot recently, and find that Thimphu traffic is generally respectful of bikers. But there are times when our roads can become unsafe: immediately before and after office, when every one seems to be in a hurry, for example. And, sometimes, when negotiating passing and oncoming taxis and trucks. And, when confronted with the occasional angry motorist.

So, yes, we need to do need to make Thimphu’s roads safer for bikers. In this regard, I’ll be calling on several agencies in the coming months. These include:

  • Thimphu City Corporation to discuss improvement of existing roads, and their plans to construct biking paths;
  • Road Safety and Transport Authority to talk about existing and new regulations on biking; and
  • Associations for operators of taxis, trucks and buses to explore means of promoting better awareness for bicycling safety;

But, most importantly, we, bikers, need to learn how to ride safely. We need to ensure that our bikes are roadworthy; that we always wear safety gear, especially helmets; that we undergo adequate training; that we ride in control; that we respect other forms of traffic; and that we obey traffic rules.

[Continue Reading…]