Nathan Hoover and I just got back from a really cool month-long mountain unicycling trip to
Bhutan, which is a small kingdom in the Himalayas, just east of Nepal and south of Tibet.
The purpose of the trip was to have a great adventure and also to produce a 1 hour TV movie about
the experience. Four of us went- Nathan, myself, and two filmakers, Sean White and Aaron Black.
In short, it was an absolutely incredible trip to the most unusual and exotic place that I have
ever seen. Bhutan is one of the most isolated and exotic countries in the world, with an
incredibly interesting history steeped with Buddhist tradition and mythology that continues to the
present day. One of the most incredible things about this country is that their traditions are
very much alive, not relics of the past- you see monastaries and monks everywhere, and it’s not
uncommon to hear people talking about the Yeti (Abominable Snowman) in as real terms as any other
Bhutan was also totally closed to tourists until the 1970’s and television was banned until 1999.
Tourist visits are still very seldom due to the high fees (required fee of U.S.$200/day/person)
isolation (last year about 4000 people went there). Trekking is especially rare because typically
the people who can afford to go there aren’t the type to go trekking (definately I couldn’t have
gone without a TV budget!), and because high altitude mountaineering is prohibited (mountains are
considered sacred and off limits). This is the first time that unicycles have ever been to
Bhutan, and we were actually asked several times whether what we were doing was what “everyone”
did back home!
The film follows the story of our roadtrip and trekking adventure across the country. In summary,
we flew into Paro in the west (Bhutan’s only airport), and roadtripped across the
country to the northeast-central city of Jakar (Bhumtang). Just east of here is the start of an
ancient trade route across two high passes (the Roding La, 14,100’, and Dong La, 13,900’), which
link central and eastern Bhutan. This trade route has been active for over 1300 years, and people
still use it today (For example, we hiked past a remote monastary that was built in 700 AD!). The
Roding La is also the location where most supposed Yeti sightings have occured, although we didn’t
see any. We trekked/road over this route, with some pretty cool technical downhill on the
descents- lots of freeriding on ancient stairs cut into the mountainside. We hiked/rode for twelve
days on this route, with our equipment carried on horses, and eventually arrived at the city of
Trashi Yangse in
the east. We then roadtripped back to Paro on their ridiculously winding National Highway (which
is so narrow that you have to pull-over in most places if a car is coming in the other direction).
This year I really wanted to make a feature length, storyline-oriented film that was as
entertaining for a mainstream audience as for a mountain bike/unicycling crowd. This is what we
came up with, and it will be as much about the people, culture and mythology of Bhutan as it is
about hardcore riding.
One problem: we haven’t yet come up with a good name for the film- any suggestions would be
appreciated! “Land of the Thunder Dragon” is one name we’ve got (which is a translation of the
Bhutanese name for their country, Druk Yul), although it has already been used for a PBS
documentary. Let me know if you come up with anything else, particularly something with Thunder
Dragon in the title.
Pictures will be posted as soon as possible, on my webshots site.
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