PEDALING ABOVE THE CLOUDS
Bhutan mountain biking tour
Mountain biking in Bhutan is a whole new sport that is steadily gaining popularity amongst the Bhutanese and visitors alike. The country’s topography, especially in the western, central and eastern regions, are not the most cycle-friendly but that is precisely why mountain biking is gaining momentum amongst visitors. The mode of transport itself calls for a certain intimacy seldom experienced in vehicles.
With better roads replacing the old and the increasing number of off-road roads, biking is now becoming a very unique and original way of seeing and interacting with the country, people and the Bhutanese environment.
Most biking trips go through well paved roads while others trail on to dirt roads and trails. The traffic is still relatively very light and the experience very intimate. This is the “Road Less Travelled.” The more adventurous have the option of making side excursions for more “off-the-road” ventures if preferred. The surface accommodates most types of frame styles: from MTB, Hybrid, and Road, depending on your cycling style and experience. Biking trails mostly meander through small towns and villages and rural areas; it’s just you, your bike and the tour group and the agrarian and natural scenery.
Biking in Bhutan allows you many opportunities for self reflection along with the absorbing, rich environment. There are also numerous opportunities for optional hikes with a bit of climbing thrown in.
There are some challenging climbs with one in particular that is more than seven hours. You peddle the pads over two miles (3,400 meters) above sea level. The effort made is equally rewarded with a view and an experience that is as rare as anything in this increasingly globalizing and monotonous world. Riders should have an adequate level of fitness and stamina and be experienced enough in the art of mountain biking. Tours are fully supported by a van following riders. The van allows riders the option to sit in and take a break.
Jemina – Ta Dzong Trail
Physical Description: The Jemina – Ta Dzong mountain biking trail lies between an altitude of 2280 – 3600m above sea level. To make a loop, it is suggested that the journey trail start from the Paro Town Square and continue to bike along the Paro – Thimphu Highway until Khasadrapchhu.
From here, you bike across the bridge at Khasadrapchhu and follow the asphalt road through the narrow Jemina valley. The logging road to Jedekha starts from the industrial estate.
The logging road ascends at an average gradient of 11% till Jedekha, where the actual biking trail begins. From Jedekha the trail until Jele Dzong Pass climbs at an average gradient of 8%.
The topographic terrain is mild till the Jele Dzong Pass. It does not exceed 70%. From the pass the trail descends continuously and in some places the trail bends sharply at an average gradient of 15% until it meets the farm road. The farm road ends near the Ta Dzong gate. You follow the asphalt road to get back to the starting point. The topographic terrain from the pass till Ta Dzong is very mild with an average side slope of 40%. In occasional bends the side slope goes up to 80% to a stretch of about 50m.
The Pangrizampa – Hongtsho trail starts from the Thimphu Town Square (known locally as the Clock Tower) and continues biking along the Thimphu – Dechencholing highway until the junction at Dechencholing – Pangrizampa and Dechencholing – Tango/Cheri road. From here we follow the dirt motor vehicle road until Pangrizampa (the bridge of Pangri).
From Pangrizampa the biking ascends along the logging road until Taba Top at an average gradient of 11%. The logging road ends here. We continue biking until Thimphu City to make a loop. The trail falls between an altitude of 2,300 and 3,700m above sea level. The total length of trail loop is 46 km.
Some important cultural entities that can be viewed by biking along the Thimphu -Pangrizampa – Hongtsho trail are the Tashi Chho Dzong, the Parliament building, Dechenphodrang Lhakhang, Dechencholing Palace, Pangrizampa Lhakhang and Kabjisa village. From the Taba Top, a bird’s eye-view of the following monasteries are visible: Dodedra, Tango and Cheri monasteries. From Sinchula Pass a glorious vista awaits the rider in the form of the snow capped Himalayan eastern range, including Jhumolhari. As the trail descends towards Hongtsho, clear views of Hongtsho valley overlooking the Trashigang monastery across the valley can be seen. As the journey ends, you come across Semtokha Dzong, the oldest in Bhutan and after about 5 km ride from here, you will be back at the Clock Tower Square.
At Dochula, you will also see a unique cluster of 108 Namgyel Khangzang Chortens that spiral up to the main Chorten known as the “Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chortens”. Her Majesty The Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, dedicated these chortens as a tribute and monument to the selfless service and visionary leadership of our Fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The Chortens are also a celebration of the stability and progress that His Majesty the King brought to the nation. These chortens are a new landmark for travelers as they cross Dochula, the first mountain pass into the interior of the country.
Reaching the village of Sopsokha, you can walk about 20 minutes across the rice fields up to the monastery, Chimi Lhakhang. It was built by Lama Drukpa Kuenley (also known as the Divine Madman by the West). It is believed that childless women who visit the monastery will conceive after receiving the ‘wang’ (blessing).
Blessed with a temperate climate and drained by the Phochu and Mochu rivers, is the fertile valley of Punakha. The District has hosted several historical events such as: It was the Capital of Bhutan since 1651 till 1956. The First King, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck was enthroned in 1907 and the first session of the National Assembly was held in 1955. It is still the winter residence of His Holiness the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan) and Zhung Dratshang (the Central Monk Body).