Written by Utsarjana .
…Why am I saying all this today when it is all in the past? I am saying all of this because people need to know. Diaries aren’t just about the unicorn dreams we had at night, this is the diary I never wrote because it felt inappropriate. You assaulted and groped and scarred me emotionally for life. Why? Because you can. I am going to talk about it, write about it and tell the world that you criminals exist. Why? Because I can. For every one of you people, who think it’s an entertaining activity to overpower fellow human beings simply because you can, I promise each and every one of you that someday those that you have overpowered and hurt and scarred, will stand up, will fight back, and the world will know your dirty little secret. So, if you do not want to be labelled as an assaulter, here is a very simple solution for you – do not assault! Women like me are going to teach their children to always fight back against humans like yourselves, no matter what the odds…
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It’s been about a year since I made the trip and it has been quite a while since I wrote about it. I wasn’t very keen about finishing the story, but upon insistence of few biker friends, here I go again :)
18th October. As I wake up in the morning to the noise of a distant gunfire, it takes me while to remind myself that Haa is a town where Bhutanese army is being trained by Indian army. Going to be another long day on the bike. Wish to sleep at a cosy hotel in Thimphu tonight and chalk out the rest of my trip. But Thimphu is 110km away from where I am and I need to repair my bike first!
As I ride towards Haa, every now and then, the foliage cover gives way to the luminous green valley, and a meandering river, gleaming in the morning sun.
After aimlessly roving about Haa for barely few minutes indomitable hunger sets in and forces me to trot towards the nearest place where I can find food. None of the restaurants are open yet, when lo, and behold! I find a watering hole open! Thank god, it’s Bhutan! I’m saved! I gorge down a few chunks of tasty fried meat (some part of a bovine animal, not sure which, could even be chopped bulls balls, I did ask but couldn’t fathom out the response) along with some whiskey to allow the meat chunks to settle down nicely.
It begins to literally rain on my parade once I begin pedalling. Few very amiable Indian army dudes invite me in their camp to share a cup-pa with them.Before realizing that I am going to be terribly late and might not even reach Thimphu by tonight, over few cups of tea spread over couple of hours we rant about all things that are unfair in the world. By the time the rain stops, I am hungry again. Some momos of the size of a small African country eventually satiate me,and send me on my way.
Today’s road is mostly flat or downhill, for first 85 km, and gentle uphill for the remaining 25. It’s already afternoon by the time I start. After couple of hours of ride, school kids begin to stream out on the road as they make their journey back home, quite a few of them wave at me and cheer me on. As I take a pit stop, by the roadside near a school few kilometres away from a tiny and picturesque town called Nago, school kids surround me and we begin chatting and within a few minutes we are all playing catch me if you can, hide and seek, and so on.
An hour passes before I can motivate myself enough to extricate myself from the situation and move on. It’s close to evening now.
I guess a lot of people in Bhutan truly appreciate the bliss of solitude, and they would build their houses seemingly right in the middle of nowhere, some place with an awesome view over the surrounding landscape.
After hitting the final uphill stretch, fate ridicules me with another puncture. and at close to nine in the night, I sit by the roadside with a torch between my teeth to fix the tube.
I reach my hotel in Thimphu at about eleven in the night, thoroughly exhausted, thank my host Yangchen for serving some choicest pork ribs and plop down on my bed. A huge window covers almost an entire wall of my room, and I can see moonlit cloudscape and the mountains beyond as I think about the next day and fall asleep.
adventure, bhutan, bhutan travelogue, bike tour, biking, biking in bhutan, cycle tour, cycling, cycling in himalayas, land of thunder dragon, mountain biking, Paro, photography, shangri la, travel photography, travelogue
17th October. Today is going to be the hardest day of my trip. I’ll start from Paro, at an altitude of 2200m and climb continuously for 36 km to Chele la which is at an altitude of 3988m, and then descend 22 km to picturesque Haa valley. Anticipations doesn’t allow me to sleep beyond 6 in the morning.
After waking up I go out for a walk in the paddy field,barefoot, as suggested by Ghalley.
Takes a while for my feet to acclimatize with the freezing ground, the cold tingling sensation from dewdrops on grass at every step.
After a short walk I find myself in the middle of a breathtaking early morning landscape, with golden yellow, and verdant green all around me, and artsy houses yonder,dark green mountains in the backdrop and a play of clouds and morning rays all over the sky.
Standing there,and being in a situation that I am unable to extricate myself from, I bear witness to a little drama of personal nature. First one girl passes by me with hurried steps and with a countenance that says that she just had a quarrel. A minute later one guy passes by me with equally hurried steps and bewilderment writ large on his face. He also looked like he was about to fall at her feet and apologise for whatever happened. Saw them both disappear in the distance. After a couple minutes they appear in the scene again, holding hands,walking at a leisurely pace, in the reverse direction! And of course the guy was carrying the girls handbag!
In a while, I drag my bare, numb feet back to Ghalley’s home, and have a wonderful wholesome breakfast with soft warm breads,along with thick honey and mixed berry jam, a local produce of Bumthang.
After bidding adieu to Ghalley, I begin my ride. Get a nice warm up before the climb as I zip through the flat road running parallel to the airport runway.
The climb begins immediately afterwards. And boy! what a climb!As I turn through myriads of hairpins and keep climbing up I find that the Paro airport remains visible from the road for quite some time until it becomes tinier and then finally disappears after a few twists.
The smooth narrow road winds through forests of varying shade of green, yellow and even red, shades of autumn in other words.
Near a tiny bunch of roadside houses, I find a group of kids playing among the trees. I was carrying way too much food to eat by myself, so I share them with the kids, run around with them for a while before moving on.
After a while, too tired to move on,I take a little rest on a huge rock perched by the roadside. I actually manage a half an hour nap on it, despite the howling winds.
But it’s already late afternoon and If I am to reach Haa by nightfall, I need to buckle up and ride faster, a lot faster. In a minute I am panting,breaking into cold sweat all over. A stop for rest and I begin to shiver as the sweat begins to evaporate. A quick change of clothes bring respite, and I swear not to ride hard at these heights again.
Minutes later I cross the snowline. For the first time in my life I am riding my bike with snow all around me, although it’s only a thin layer of snow, and there isn’t much snow on the road itself, but hey, i’m not complaining!
I happily pant away to glory as I arrive at Chelela, at 3988 meters altitude.
Here, I am greeted by a bunch of cheery Canadian tourists, some of whom regret that they didn’t get their bikes along. Right when I think of celebrating with a swig of heart-warming whiskey, I notice a flat on the rear tyre. One guy consoles me, saying that similar shit happens to him whenever he reaches the highest point of a climb and is about to celebrate! Thus consoled, I begin the repair.
Takes me a while, with semi numb hands. When I’m done, last rays of the sun begin to disappear from the clouds.
..And I still have 22 km to go. Back on the saddle again. Begins to snow. Then rain. Then harder rain. After wearing my rain pants, a frantic search for raincoat reveals that it has been left at my Thimphu hotel! Wearing extra layer of clothes dosen’t make sense as they will all get soaked, and won’t protect me from cold anyway,and will only add to my suffering. So, I ride,with chattering teeth, numb hands, with only a full sleeve tshirt on, going downhill, at freezing temperature, with rain and wind to add to my trauma.Roads are completely dark.There’s no vehicle plying. After about 10 km I get another flat!
Cursing aloud, I begin to walk with the bike. There’s no way I can repair the puncture with by torchlight with my utterly numb hands. I can barely sense where my fingers are. Thankfully the rain has stopped. My plan is to walk all the remaining 12 km to Haa, get to a hotel and then think about anything else.
But as I walk on the temperature drops further and with wet clothes on I begin to shiver involuntarily and almost uncontrollably.Suddenly I am struck by a marvellous idea! why don’t I quit the fucking walk, abandon the idea of sleeping in hotel and pitch my tent on a nice patch by the roadside?
So I stop at the next stream that I find on the way,cause I need to keep a source of water nearby. Find a flat green patch, and pitch my tent somehow, with trembling limbs. A change of clothes,and a few sips of whiskey while being cocooned inside sleeping bag bring my sanity back. I begin reading Neruda poems in between sips of whiskey.
Now, I begin to enjoy my surroundings. I turn the tent light off. Peeping out of my tent I am face to face with the darkness of the primordial kind . The kind of darkness that probably used to exist before creation. The only noise comes from the stream a little further away. No other sound. not even a cricket. I am probably the only human being within about 10 km radius. A little rush of adrenalin to the head.
After taking a stroll outside on the road, I swaddle in my sleeping bag, and surrender to the darkness that soothes, and heals.