Bhutan and Kona Bikes
I recently returned from my first trip overseas. I always thought my first trip outside of North America would involve backpacking and hostels. Instead this trip involved biking in Bhutan – an experience of a lifetime. I had the privilege of being sent to Bhutan on behalf of KonaWorld Travels along with Maurey “Mo, the magician” Olsten, to teach a mountain bike guiding course to the guides of Uma Paro, and other Bhutan guiding companies.
Bhutan is a country situated in the same mountain range as Tibet and Nepal – the Himalayas. It has India to the south and China to the north. It is a country led by a constitutional monarchy, and it is striving for a balance between new and old world ways. The national language is Dzongkha and one of the countries biggest revenue sources is tourism. All visitors to the country must arrange for a travel visa – visas include room, board, transportation, and a guide. The guides are well educated and generally speak english very well. The country itself is hilly/mountainous and has existed on an agrarian culture for what seems like all of time, you will find farming villages high on the mountain side and low in the valleys and everywhere in between. There are trails everywhere connecting the villages and rivers and temples. These trails and the natural terrain make for amazing mountain biking.
Mo and I shared the mission to bring a select group of experienced Bhutanese guides up to speed on bike mechanics, riding skills and guiding groups of cyclists. Mo’s bicycle mechanical knowledge is on a whole other level, my job was to teach the latest in riding skills. The guides that participated are some of the best guides the country has to offer, and though their riding abilities were questionable on day one, I was proud of the progress they’d made by the end of the week.
One of the things I found remarkable about Bhutan was the excitement with which the locals had towards bikes. Bikes are considered a status symbol in Bhutan, so a group of 16 guides and 3 foreigners riding through the mountains, into farmers fields, and into a monastery, created quite the scene. Pictured here you’ll see one of the children we met at a boy’s monastery, we gave the boys a chance to test out our bikes, and while most of them struggled to balance the bike – this young monk in training was pulling off wheel lifts and steep roll downs with ease and a smile.
It was great to share a sport that I am passionate about with a group that was so excited to learn how to ride. In return I got to do a handful of first descents, riding trails that had never before been biked and more importantly I experienced Bhutan culture first hand from those who know it best – the local guides. If you are considering an exotic destination to ride and want to experience a new country rich in culture and history be sure to put Bhutan at the top of your list. Through Uma Paro, KonaWorld Travels offers a 10 day package to visit Bhutan. Custom packages are also available.