FMLM – Bhutan on a Bike – By Gayatri Patel

The theme for 2020 International Women’s Day (#IWD2020) is #EachForEqual. As we pledge to support this theme, let’s journey to the beautiful country of Bhutan with Gayatri Patel, one of India’s few biker girls, who breaks the stereotype of bikers that we have in mind and stands for #EachForEqual

I had ridden to Bhutan earlier, but I wasn’t going to let go of another chance that came my way! My 8 days of adventure through this beautiful country only made me fall in love with the place all over again!

 

Bhutan is still ruled by a king and considered to be the “Happiest Place on Earth”! The people of Bhutan are very hospitable and friendly. They strongly believe in their religious values, at the same time being up to date with the outer world. They have preserved their culture which can be seen all over the country. They even wear their traditional dress all the time and have preserved their architectural tradition which can be seen all over Bhutan.

 

Another nice thing to know about Bhutan is that their women do not face any institutionalized form of discrimination – politically, socially, economically or legally. Women here have the freedom to choose their calling and you will see them take up economic, political and social careers with as much ease as those of farmers, entrepreneurs, decision-makers, doctors, engineers and homemakers.

I was motivated by my earlier trip to take up this second one – to discover new corners, to ride through new valleys and passes, to experience once more, the natural beauty that is in abundance in this neighbouring country of ours.

 

Many of my friends discouraged me saying December wasn’t the right time to go and heavy fog would shroud the roadways. I was a little reluctant at first. However, I couldn’t curb the excitement that was already built up inside me and I found myself joining the TVS AOG to ride to Bhutan.

 

Thankfully the only document I needed for this trip was my Voter ID! There was no need to take my passport, nor did I have to apply for a visa because I was traveling from India. Being friendly neighbors, both the Indian and Bhutanese governments have exempted their citizens from carrying any of these travel documents while visiting each other’s countries.

Indo-Bhutan border

It was mid-December when I took off from Kolhapur, Maharashtra. I rode from Kolhapur via Indore, Kanpur, Basti and Darbhanga to reach Siliguri, where we were flagged off for the Bhutan ride. I was to ride along with 23 other riders on a trip that would be one of my most memorable ones!

My co-riders were from all over the country. Some, I knew from earlier rides, some faces were new. But once we had mounted our bikes, safety gear in place, helmets strapped, bikes started and vrooming, we all became one big family. The sheer joy of riding our bikes is what had brought us all together and would take us on the journey ahead. We started off from Siliguri.

Just as we entered Bhutan, we were greeted all of a sudden by clean roads and extremely systematic traffic. Horns could hardly be heard! The roads leading to Thimpu however, were very curvy, making the ride pretty crazy!

The first place we rode to was the gigantic Buddha statue, one of the largest in the world, at 169 feet. It contains 100,000 8-inch-tall and 25,000 12-inch-tall gilded bronze Buddhas. It was humbling standing below the huge Buddha.

 

Experiencing the night life of Thimpu was something we had all been looking forward to. And rightly so! Bonding with my rider friends in the chilly weather seated in a cozy restaurant was totally awesome.

From Thimpu, we rode to Punakha Valley. Enroute we witnessed the beauty of Dochula Pass. The panoramic views of the Bhutan Himalayas were simply breathtaking. We visited the 108 memorial chortens or stupas known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens” here and had some fun moments taking pictures. The Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple) and nearby Royal Botanical Park are also wonderful places to visit. We also rode to the long suspension bridge near Punakha Dzong. It was amazing to see the 520-foot long bridge from where we had spectacular views of the river and valley.

 

From Punakha Valley, our next destination was Haa Valley. Riding to Haa Valley was a unique experience. The temperatures in the valley dropped to -13° and we even had ice on our bikes!

We then headed to Chalela Pass, Bhutan’s highest motorable pass. This was another experience that we would never forget. Located between the Haa and Paro Valleys, the road to the Pass was narrow and steep, with numerous turns making our rides pretty challenging. We even saw black ice on the road! But ultimately, as we took in the views all around us, it all seemed totally worth it!

From Chalela Pass, to Paro it was. Paro is a small town of Bhutan. The trek to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Paro is a famous one, loved by trekkers. A 3 hour arduous climb, you can have scenic views of the town of Paro all along your trek. It is believed by the locals that Guru Padmasambhava flew here from Tibet on the back of a tigress!

The main town area of Paro is filled with hotels. The local market is also a main attraction here. Walking along the town road was peaceful and relaxing. People here were warm and we felt welcome everywhere we went.

Paro was our last destination in Bhutan from where we got back to Siliguri to complete our Bhutan bike trip.

In spite of dealing with varying temperatures, altitudes, narrow roads, steep curves, bumpy rides, extreme cold weather, fog, ice, etc., this ride will always be close to my heart. It enriched me in so many ways. Traveling with people who were as passionate about biking as I was, who shared my visions of riding through the beautiful roads of Bhutan, who understood when I said that I wanted to come back again, was a great experience. I made some new friends for life!

 

The natural beauty of Bhutan, its people, its culture definitely calls for a trip to this country. Bhutan is a place you must add to your bucket list.

BIKE ROUTES

India Route from Home: Kolhapur –Indore – Kanpur – Basti – Darbhanga – Siliguri

Flag off – Siliguri

Bhutan Route – Siliguri- Phuentsholing – Thimpu – Punakha Valley – Haa Valley – Paro – Siliguri

India Return Home Route – Siliguri – Khushinagar – Kanpur – Indore – Pune – Kolhapur

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