Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.






Bhutan: Day 4

by Kathy 22. May 2009 22:04
<< Day 3: Traveling to the India-Bhutan Border | Day 5: Switchbacks Galore to Mongar >>

 

Bike Lessons and Beauty on the Way to Tashigang

 

(Note: We took many photos today, but they were all lost when Ben’s camera was stolen a few days from now. Luckily, we also shot a small amount of video with a different camera--the fuzzy pictures below are still-captures that we extracted from the video.)

This morning we were introduced to the bikes that we would be riding: 500cc Royal Enfield Bullets. These bikes are old classics, still manufactured in India with 1950's frame, engine & gearbox specifications, with updated electrical systems and front disc brakes. Most important, they have the low end torque that would get us up and over the steep, high-altitude Himalayas that we would be traversing in Bhutan.

Dale sat on his bike and made some adjustments, while several groups of curious local men watched all around us.

Here is Larry in front of the bikes:

I was ready for the lesson on how to start the bike:

The bikes were kick-start and took a bit of finessing, involving the choke, a compression release lever (which I had never used before), an ammeter gauge (also new to me), and a certain type of kicking stroke that I couldn’t quite get the hang of today. Starting the bike for the first time was no easy feat for me, especially with an audience.  After our engines were all running, we took a “test run” down the street in front of the hotel:

Bhutan, like India, has the driving lanes opposite from those in the United States—I would be riding on the left side of the street, not the right. Also, the rear brake and the shifter on the bike were on the opposite sides from the bikes that I ride at home—here, the brake was on the left side, and the shifter was on the right. And, to further confuse my brain, the shifting pattern was the opposite of the pattern I used at home—here, first gear was up one from neutral, and then second through fourth gears were down.

I have been riding bikes for many years, and intuitively my body knows to brake with the right foot and shift with the left. Many times today, I would go to brake and find myself pressing the left lever down, which would actually make the bike go faster by shifting up a gear (yikes!). I also stalled the bike quite a bit at first, until I finally had the clutch figured out. I was laughing so much at myself for the first few hours. Whenever I stalled the bike, I would have work at getting it kick-started—trying so hard to follow the proper procedures. I’m very self-sufficient and do not like to ask for help. However, I was very grateful for the kind assistance of Gyan, our sweep rider and top mechanic, as well as Sono, also a superb mechanic--both of whom were right there whenever I thought that continued efforts on my part would be futile.

After a few miles of riding, we came to a small hut where an elderly Hindu man came out and blessed each of us as we began the journey along the narrow twisty roads. He placed a dollop of red oily substance in the center of each of our foreheads, and he offered a mystery liquid to drink (we declined).

The roads were very fun, with one curve after another for miles and miles and miles.

It seemed like wherever we looked, we saw prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.  The fabric of the flags has printed prayers; people believe that the wind blowing across the flags carries the prayers away and blesses everything and everyone that it touches.


We were followed by 2 chase trucks that held an abundance of items, including spare bike parts and our gear; most important, they carried Sono and our fantasic Bhutanese guide named Dorji.  

Dorji continually engaged us with his stories about Bhutanese history and culture, and he was always available if we had a question.

The mountains were truly spectacular, so towering and lush, with small houses scattered sparsely among the steep slopes. (The majesty of a place usually cannot be captured fully in a photo, and these low-quality pictures only provide a tiny glimmer of the wonder and beauty that made me catch my breath and stand transfixed at all of the surrounding magnificence.)


Around mid-morning, we rolled into a small village, which had the typical white and brown architecture that we would see throughout Bhutan.

We seemed to be the only foreigners.  Here is the town, with Larry (in the blue shirt) and Dale (in the brown shirt):

The eastern part of Bhutan does not generally receive a large number of visitors, unlike the western portion of the country that has the airport and the capital, Thimphu. The people quietly watched us from a distance, but were very friendly when we approached them to talk. English is taught in school, along with the national language Dzongkha, and we were able to communicate with many people, especially the children.

There were quite a few children here, and I handed out many pencils, paper and sharpeners.



These two children shyly peeked down on us for a long time:

And this curious girl kept a close watch from the top of some stairs:

"Public bathrooms" in Bhutan were rare.  Although I definitely used a lot of private areas among the shrubs and trees in the remote areas of our journey, Ann (who rode with her husband) and I often sought out a "real" bathroom when we visited a town.  Not only was it fascinating (for me) to see what types of spaces and objects the local people used for a bathroom, but we often got to see the intimate details of how the people lived, as we walked through home environments, or on narrow paths between houses, to get to the various toilets that we used.  (We saw all types of facilities, ranging from two footprints with a hole in the ground to a porcelain toilet and sink; toilet seats were not common, however, and a bucket of water with a scoop was used instead of toilet paper.)

We continued on—here I am, with a big smile inside my helmet:

The roads snaked along the mountains, and the prayer flags waved to us around almost every corner:





This small building had a prayer wheel inside that was continually rotated by a stream of water, which you can see flowing out of the front:

As always, I was intrigued by the houses; here is a typical one:

The mountains stretched out all around us:

We could see the higher Himalayas, covered in snow:

We also saw a lot of chortens, also called “stupas”, which are spiritual monuments that contain offerings or relics.

We stopped for some tea in the town of Kanglung, which has Bhutan’s only university.

Our bikes were parked in front of a monastery that had a temple. Outside, we saw these two monks:

Ben and I walked to the monastery gate and looked in. We saw an open area with a colorful statue and a temple. We were wondering whether we were allowed to go in and take a look around when we saw two monks walking together; as we watched, the following scenario unfolded:





Here was their “soccer field”:

As we stood there, a woman walked up to me and asked if I wanted to go inside. She was a student attending the nearby university, and she said that she would be happy to walk with us. We talked for a long time.  She was so kind to us, and she had an open and generous spirit. Meeting her was one of the extra-special experiences that I had during this journey—unfortunately, her face is not clear in any of our video captures.




Our new friend guided us through the grounds and the temple, explaining the stories behind many of the drawings and statues. Here are some of the prayer wheels and buildings inside the monastery:


As we were leaving the temple, some monks ran by playing. One of the monks had a yellow under-tunic, instead of the solid red. We recognized him as one of the “soccer players” who we had seen earlier. Our new friend explained that the boy was the reincarnation of a Bhutanese lama (spiritual leader). She asked if we wanted a blessing from the monk. Ben and I looked at each other, and then said, “Yes, that would be nice.” She called the monk over—he was giggling and seemed slightly embarrassed. She spoke to him in the Bhutanese language, and he turned to us. She told us to bow our heads, and then the monk placed his hand on top of each of our heads and blessed us. Then he ran off, laughing and playing again with the other monks. We felt very fortunate, and honored, to have experienced this special moment.

Tonight we would be staying in the small village of Tashigang. The road there was full of squiggles and wiggles and was fabulously fun on the bike.

(I downloaded the above photo from the internet while making my personal scrapbook of this journey, but now I cannot find the image again online to give a photo credit.  Contact me if you know the source.)

Here is our Tashigang hotel:

Views across from the hotel:


Tonight at dinner, I had an epiphany about starting the bike. I sat next to Fred, who has a sense of humor that kept me in stitches throughout the trip. Fred was discussing my attempts at kick-starting the bike. He said, “You look like you are stabbing a cat!” The lightbulb went on, and I knew exactly what I had been doing wrong—I was giving the bike short, strong kicks, when what I needed was a long, smooth stroke that followed through to the end. I couldn’t wait to get on the bike the next morning and try out my new technique!

<< Day 3: Traveling to the India-Bhutan Border | Day 5: Switchbacks Galore to Mongar >>

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Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

Bhutan
   Bumthang Valley
   Gom Kora
   Kanglung
   Mongar
   Paro Valley
   Punakha Dzong
   Sangdrup Jongkhar
   Thimphu
   Tongsa
   Wangdi Phrodrang

Bolivia
   Caranavi
   Guanay
   Janko Marca
   La Paz
   Laguna Colorada
   Laguna Verde
   Llica
   Potosí
   Queteña
   Rurrenabaque
   Sajama
   Salar de Coipasa
   Salar de Uyuni
   San Pablo
   Santa Rosa
   Sorata
   Sud Lipez
   Tupiza
   World’s Most Dangerous Road

Canada
   Banff National Park
   Battle Hill Nat'l Hist. Site
   Boya Lake Prov. Park, BC
   Burns Lake Bike Park
   Canyon Sainte-Anne
   Chetwynd
   Dawson Creek
   Eastern Townships
   Fort Nelson
   Isle-aux-Coudres
   Jasper National Park
   Kluane Lake, YK
   'Ksan Historical Village
   Lake Louise
   Liard Hot Springs
   Montreal
   Niagara Falls
   Ottawa
   Quebec City
   Quesnel
   Thousand Islands
   Toronto
   Vancouver
   Vancouver Island
   Victoria
   Watson Lake
   Whistler
   Whitehorse

China
   Beijing
   Datong
   Forbidden City
   Great Wall at Mutianyu
   Hong Kong
   HuaShan
   Lijiang
   Summer Palace
   Terracotta Warriors
   Tiananmen Square
   Xi’an
   Yangshuo
   Yungang Caves

Costa Rica
   Arenal Volcano
   Finca Corsicana
   Hanging Bridges
   Manuel Antonio
   Poas Volcano
   Proyecto Asis
   Quepos
   Sarchi
   Sky Trek Zip Lining
   Venado Caves
   Zarcero

France
   Paris

Ecuador
   Amazon Rainforest
   Chaquiñan Bicycle Trail
   La Mitad del Mundo
   Napo Wildlife Center
   Papallacta Hot Springs
   Proyecto DCR
   Quito
   Yasuní National Park

India
   Bagdogra
   Darjeeling
   Delhi
   Gawahati
   Jaigaon
   Kalimpong

Mexico
   Baja California
   Crucecita
   Frida Kahlo Museum
   Hierve el Agua
   Huatulco
   Marietas Islands
   Mazunte
   Mexico City
   Monte Alban
   Oaxaca City
   Patzcuaro
   Puerto Angel
   Puerto Escondido
   Puerto Vallarta
   San Agustin
   San Martin Tilcajete
   Santa Fe de la Laguna
   Santa María el Tule
   Sayulita
   Studio of Jacobo Angeles
   Teotihuacán
   Teotitlán del Valle
   TzinTzunTzan
   Yagul
   Yelapa

Namibia
   Caprivi
   Dead Vlei
   Elondo Village
   Etosha Nat'l Park
   Hippo Pools Camp
   Hoba Meteorite
   Katutura
   Khowarib Camp
   Moose McGregor's Bakery
   Mowani Camp
   Ngepi Camp
   Nkasa Lupala
   n'Kwzi Camp
   River Dance Lodge
   Seisfontein
   Seisriem Camp
   Sossusvlie
   Swakopmund
   Treesleeper Camp
   Twyfeltein
   Windhoek

Peru
   Balsas
   Barranca
   Cajabamba
   Cajamarca
   Caraz
   Cañón del Pato
   Celendín
   Cerro de Pasco
   Chachapoyas
   Cusco
   Huamachuco
   Huánico
   Huaraz
   La Oroya
   Leymebamba
   Llanganuco
   Lima
   Machu Picchu
   Moyobamba
   Nuevo Jaén
   Pallasca
   Pampas
   Tápuc
   Tarapoto
   Tarma
   Tingo Maria
   Tocache
   Yungay Memorial

Portugal
   Burgau
   Coimbra
   Evora
   Lisbon
   Marvao
   Nazare
   Obidos
   Portimao
   Sintra
   Sitio

South Africa
   Johannesburg

Spain
   Barcelona
   Bilbao
   Hondarribia
   Madrid
   Montserrat
   Nerja
   Rock of Gibraltar
   Ronda
   Santillana del Mar
   Tolosa
   Zaragoza

United States National Parks
   Arches National Park, UT
   Badlands National Park, SD
   Bandelier National Monument, NM
   Bryce Canyon National Park, UT
   Cahokia Mounds (UNESCO site), IL
   Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
   Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Cape Hatteras National Shoreline, NC
   Capitol Reef National Park, UT
   Civil Rights Memorial, AL
   Death Valley National Park, CA
   Denali National Park, AK
   Devil’s Tower National Monument, WY
   El Morro National Monument, NM
   Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C.
   Glacier National Park, MT
   Grand Canyon National Park, AZ
   Grand Tetons National Park, WY
   Great Basin National Park, NV
   Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, HI
   Joshua Tree National Park, CA
   Kaloko-Honokohau Nat'l Hist. Park, HI
   Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, NM
   King's Canyon National Park, CA
   Martin Luther King Jr. Nat'l Hist. Site, GA
   Mesa Verde National Park, CO
   Montezuma's Castle Nat'l Monument, AZ
   Monticello, VA
   Mount Rushmore National Memorial, SD
   Mt. Rainier National Park, WA
   Olympic National Park, WA
   Petrified Wood National Park, AZ
   Pinnacles National Monument, CA
   Pu'uhonua o Honaunau Nat'l Hist Pk, HI
   Pu'ukohola Heiau Nat'l Historic Site, HI
   San Antonio Missions Nat'l Hist. Park, TX
   Tuzigoot National Monument, AZ
   Walnut Canyon National Monument, AZ
   Washington Monument
   White Sands National Monument, NM
   Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK
   Wright Brothers National Memorial in NC
   Yellowstone National Park, WY
   Yosemite National Park, CA

United States, Cities and Places
   The Alamo, TX
   Alaska Wildlife Conservation Cntr.
   Alpine Loop in CO
   Anchorage, AK
   Antares Junction, AZ
   Arctic Circle, AK
   Barrel Oak Winery in VA
   Biloxi, MS
   Bottle Tree Farm in CA
   Calico Ghost Town, CA
   Canfield Mountain Trail System, ID
   Cape St. Vincent, NY
   Carson City, NV
   Carter Caves State Park in KY
   Chappie-Shasta OHV Area, CA
   Child's Glacier, AK
   Circle B Chuckwagon Show in SD
   City Museum in MO
   Cody, WY
   Corn Palace in SD
   Crazy Horse Memorial in SD
   Custer State Park, SD
   Dalton Highway, AK
   Dinosaur Tracks in AZ
   Discovery Place in Charlotte, NC
   Dry Falls (Sun Lakes-Dry Falls), WA
   Fairbanks, AK
   Front Royal, VA
   Gallup, NM
   Goffs, CA
   Grand Canyon Caves, AZ
   Grand Canyon Skywalk, AZ
   Grave Digger Monster Truck in NC
   Great Salt Lake, UT
   Hackberry General Store in AZ
   Hannibal, MO
   Hatteras Island, NC
   Hawaii (Big Island)
   Hickison Petroglyphs, NV
   Holbrook, AZ
   Hole in the Rock, UT
   Homer, AK
   Honey Island Swamp Tour in LA
   Hoover Dam, NV
   Hyder, AK
   Jim Gray’s Petrified Wood Co. in AZ
   John’s Peak OHV Area, OR
   Kailua-Kona, HI
   Keepers of the Wild Nature Park in AZ
   Kennecott, AK
   Kennecott Copper Mine in UT
   Kingman, AZ
   Lake Havasu, AZ
   Lake Tahoe, NV
   Las Vegas, NV (winter 2010)
   Little Brown Church in IA
   London Bridge in AZ
   Loneliest Road in America, Hwy. 50, NV
   Los Angeles, CA
   Lost Colony Show on Roanoke Isl., NC
   Lowe’s Speedway in NC
   Mardi Gras World in LA
   Mark Twain Museum in MO
   Meteor Crater, AZ
   Million Dollar Highway, CO
   Minnesota Zoo
   Mitchell, SD
   Moab, UT
   Moab, UT (dirt biking)
   Montgomery, AL
   Montpelier, ID
   Navajo Nation, AZ
   Needles, CA
   Nevada Beach, NV
   Newberry Springs, CA
   New River Gorge, WV
   New Orleans, LA
   Niagara Falls 
   North Pole, AK
   Oatman, AZ
   Old Faithful Geyser in WY
   Omak Stampede, WA
   Painted Desert, AZ
   Park City, UT (summer)
   Plymouth, NC
   Portage Valley, AK
   Portland, OR
   Prospect OHV Trail System, OR
   Resaca, GA
   Riverside State Park, WA
   Rock City in TN
   Rosa Parks Library and Museum in AL
   Roswell, NM
   Russian River, AK
   Salt Lake City, UT
   San Antonio, TX
   San Diego, CA
   San Juan Islands, WA
   San Francisco, CA
   Santa Catalina Island, CA
   Seattle, WA
   Sedona, AZ
   Shoe Tree in CA
   Shoe Tree in NV
   Silverton, CO
   Sonora, TX
   St. Louis, MO
   St. Paul, MN
   Talkeetna, AK
   Telluride, CO
   Route 66
   Twin Knobs Recreation Area in KY
   Virginia Beach, VA
   Washington D.C.
   Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park in IL
   Williamsburg, VA
   Winom Frazier OHV Area, OR
   Winslow, AZ
   Zion National Park, UT

Planning Our Adventures

For us, each journey begins with the initial heart pangs to venture to a certain part of the world. Then the ideas start coming together . . . ahh, the possibilities . . . and the dream evolves gradually into an actual plan. But, oh, the joy of the dream!  Click here to learn more about how we plan and prepare for our journeys.

Where Are We Now?

Click here to discover where we are now, as well as our uncoming travel plans.


Words for the Heart

“. . . and then the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Anais Nin