Madman Trails of Bhutan – A Visual Narrative
As the plane glides over the Eastern Himalayan ranges and starts its descent through the clouds, entering Paro airport, the team on board sense that the adventure has already begun. The plane then makes an exhilarating entry onto the runway flanked by lush paddy fields.
At the invitation of His Royal Highness, Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, founder of Bhutan Philanthropy Ventures Private Limited (BPV), a commercially operating social enterprise founded to sustain the philanthropic activities of the Tarayana Foundation, organized a visit for Wyn Masters, Cody Kelley, Florent Poilane and filmmaker Scott Secco. The four travelled from three different continents to test some of the hitherto uncharted routes that the BPV intends to offer as part of a phenomenal mountain biking tour package under the Prince’s direction.
As they ride their way from the capital city of Thimphu towards the Madman Trails in Punakha, a panoramic view of some of the tallest mountains in the country opens up at the Dochula mountain pass (3100m ASL).
The crew then drop down the misty rhododendron forest following local pinner, Tandin “Junior” Wang, to reach the subtropical valley of Punakha.
This is one for the memory book. Without any warning or warm-up, “Junior” two-wheel drifts his way around the very first berm of the 10km descent.
Wyn, Cody, and Florent realize at this point that it would not be the chill exploration ride they were expecting. It’s game on! Inside-lines, foot-out offcamber, big hucks over roots and rocks, loam flying around, “Junior” does it all on his beaten-up 26” bike.
After shuttling to Limbukha, the Madman Trail of Punakha is up next. At an elevation drop of over 1000m, this is a network of both natural and hand-carved trails running through a mix of pine and oak forests. It is here that Bhutan will host its first Asian Enduro Series from 5th to 6th of December 2020.
From Limbukha, the filming team along with what looks like the whole Bhutanese enduro scene drop into a series of high-speed berms and jumps on grounds carpeted with oak leaves, along progressively changing terrain.
After winding around endless switchbacks, the trail straightens up while the gradient decreases. It gives way to natural gullies, rock-slab chutes, and a final traverse into paddy fields.
Ride over the longest suspended bridge in Bhutan, chill by the river next to the stunning Punakha Dzong enjoying local delicacies like the Ema Datshi or Phaksha Paa and it’s time to hop back in the truck for another lap!
After a couple of days of pure riding, the team decides that the glacial valley of Phobjikha is the next stopover, winter home to the endangered Black-necked cranes. In fact, with more than 70 percent of Bhutan’s land area forested, the nation is among the top ten biodiversity hotspots in the world.
After driving to Lawa-La Pass before dawn, the crew hikes up to a vantage point making sure not to disturb the herd of Yaks grazing around in the dark. The sunrise with the sea of clouds slowly dissipating and exposing the valley rewards their effort.
The visiting riders get a sense of the traditional reverence that locals have for the natural environment, organically co-existing with pristine green forests, turquoise glacial rivers, farm fields, and both domesticated and wild animals.
On the way back to the capital city, the team rides a small segment of the 160-mile Tour of the Dragon course, the world’s toughest one-day mountain biking race.
In Thimphu, the riders visit popular sightseeing spots but they do it on their bikes—rolling off the steps of the biggest Buddha statue in the world, wheelieing down the steep descent from the Bhutan Broadcasting Station towers into town and exhibiting wheelies, bunny hops, drops, jumps, endos, and other manoeuvres.
Back in Paro, where the trip started, the local crew had kept cards up their sleeves. Wyn, Cody and Florent are not quite done yet… time to descend 1200m into and out of alpine forests on both sides of the valley, riding consecutively through the Jela and Kila Goenpa trails—two world-class and completely natural single-track trails.
The riders’ giggles and shouts of joy and excitement still resound through the valley. Everyone is left with a feel that 7 days is barely enough to scratch the surface of the mountain biking potential in Bhutan.
Last up is an encounter with the Tiger’s Nest or Taktsang as locals call it. While legends say that Guru Rinpoche flew from this cliffside on the back of a tigress, our riders climbed their way up the steep trail to reach the sacred monastery, perched precariously on a cliff face at 3120 meters.
The perfect moment and perfect place for them to meditate and reflect on the adventure they had just lived - an experience which can only be realized through the seamless travel arrangement and meticulous coordination between the Bhutan Philanthropy Ventures and the Bhutan Olympic Committee which spearheads the foundation for sustainable network of Enduro (MTB) development in Bhutan.
For the visiting team of riders, the sacred land of Bhutan is one of the world’s last frontiers. With myths, legends, and spirituality all at once ever-present and still integral to the psyche of local communities, it seems to illustrate the delicate balance between old-world tradition and 21st century modernity and its associated hyper-consumerism. Certainly, with its philosophy of GNH Bhutan is striving to find the right balance.
As the team heads back to their own homeland, they do so with the conviction that the best way to discover the Kingdom of Bhutan is by riding into its alluring wilderness. Having encountered a place that is as stunning as it is welcoming and hospitable, the team got stoked in the right spot—the heart—which is what Bhutan does best.
For more information about the Madman Trails of Bhutan, the inaugural Asian Enduro series in Bhutan taking place in December 5th to 6th 2020 and MTB tour packages, please contact Mr. Karma Dorji, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.madmantrails.com
Wyn Masters, Cody Kelley, Florent PoilaneVideo:
Scott Secco & Zach HeathStory: