Bhutan By Bike: Druk Odyssey Part II

The challenges and joys of biking through one of the most remote and beautiful countries on Earth.

Day 3: Waking up to a green glow and a cool, damp chill filling my tent, I realized that the time to get on the road was quickly approaching. I worked up the motivation to slide out of my sleeping bag, threw on a sweater, and ventured outside of my tent. The morning mist seemed to rise from the river we were camped next to and the low laying clouds juxtaposed the mountain ridges as I gazed up the valley towards our destination for the day. A few undisturbed moments passed as I quieted my mind by the river before the sounds of humans stirring told me that it was time to prepare for the journey ahead.Courtesy of Bryan Gensits

After a quick breakfast and breaking down camp, our group was ready to head north. Our destination was Gasa, Bhutan’s northernmost district. Hot springs and views of the Himalayan high peaks awaited us. Like children rushing down the stairs on Christmas morning, our group tore out of camp and began our journey north. The road greeted us as the first few kilometers were mostly paved. As time passed and we would round a corner, I would glimpse where we would soon be and began to get nervous as the clouds in the north did not seem to be lifting. The road is difficult on a good day, but combined with rain it can be brutal.

Within an hour we ran out of blacktop and were back on unpaved roads. Initially, the road was relatively well-packed and the moisture on the ground wasn’t causing us too many problems. This quickly changed as the climb began to steepen and the road became much looser. We made steady, albeit slow progress for some time. As we slogged along through the mist and mud I began to hear another engine roaring through the trees at a different register than any motorcycle could output. I didn’t think much of it until the bikes ahead of me came to an unexpected stop. As the riders began to kill their engines and I was able to hear the new engine more clearly, I instantly recognized it as a chainsaw. I dismounted my bike to see what the commotion ahead was and saw a sizable tree had fallen in the middle of the road. Last night’s rain must had destabilized the slope above the road enough to bring it crashing down, blocking our path. Fortunately, we weren’t the first to arrive and an oncoming motorist had alerted a nearby villager who had brought down a chainsaw to clear the road. Now, with a chainsaw and over twenty men on the scene, the tree was cleared in a matter of minutes.

Courtesy of Bryan Gensits

After our brief break, we were back on the road and were in high spirits as we had already covered a large portion of the day’s distance before noon. The road began to worsen gradually at first, and then suddenly. Before we knew it, we were driving our bike through water that rose to our engines. The riders with more bravery than me took the lead and I followed their lines; praying I wouldn’t suddenly hit a submerged rock or branch that would send me splashing into the muddy water. We rode comically slow for what seemed like an eternity through these puddles. As mud and water soaked me to my bones, I thought to myself there was no way we could go any slower or have worse conditions to ride in.

The road answered me with vigor as the sound of falling rocks echoed down the valley. Perched on a cliff ahead, an excavator working on the road came into view. We approached with horns blazing, signaling the workers to give it a rest as we passed. Our only focus was on keeping our bikes upright as we maneuvered through the work zone. On one side, piles of rocks and debris, and on the other, a sheer cliff dropping over a thousand meters into the void of the valley below. My blood pressure dropped as we made it through without incident and were back on a road that felt considerably less threatening in comparison. We continued in a similar fashion until mid-afternoon when Gasa town became visible ahead.

Tired and relieved at our safe journey, we made our way through town and down to Gasa Primary School. On our arrival, we were given a regal greeting with welcome flags and the school’s administration lining the road. As we passed through, a kata (a white scarf holding blessings) was placed around the neck of each rider.

Courtesy of Bryan Gensits

After parking our bikes, we made our way into the school’s courtyard where the children welcomed us with applause, tea, and a cultural show of song. Many members of our group proceeded to give brief speeches where we encouraged the children to get out of their comfort zones and explore the country, and world, by bike. Seeing us muddy, wet, and tired the children could see that we practiced what we preached. We then handed out our donations for the school to the eager kids: toys, sports equipment, and a crate of books for their library.

Courtesy of Bryan Gensits

After our visit at the school, we rushed down a winding road into the base of the valley. As quickly as we could, we dismounted our bikes, threw our things into the guest house, and ran down to the hot springs. Warming our tired muscles and singing Bhutanese folk songs late into the night, we soaked in every moment we could before having to brave the road back the next day.

Courtesy of Bryan Gensits

Day 4: The springs had left us feeling fresh and rejuvenated when we awoke the next morning. The journey back was as treacherous as it had been the day before, but knowing it was possible and having accomplished our purpose, we made good time. We parted ways that evening to return to our separate lives. A group which had been strangers only a few days before had transformed into a band of brothers who now shared a bond which can only be formed from the challenges and joys of biking through one of the most remote and beautiful countries on Earth.

Are you planning a trip to Bhutan? Ask our team questions in the comments.

Bryan Gensits

Contributor

Bryan is currently based in Punakha, Bhutan where he's completing his M. Sc. in Natural Resource Management at the Royal University of Bhutan. He enjoys mountain biking, trail running and trekking.

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