February 01, 2006 GMT
Bhutan II

The high fees of stay in Bhutan might seem like a convenient way to milk visitors for money. But think about it - how does the tiny population sustain its unique identity when wedged in between 1,5 billion Chinese in the north and more than one billion Indians in the south? That’s right, the high fees keeps the low paid Chinese and Indians away. To make this strategy less obvious, the fees apply to all visitors regardless of their origin. And the surplus from those who can afford to visit has provided all citizens of Bhutan with free education and free medical services. In other words, you visit an educated people that have achieved child mortality next to zero because you visit. I guess that indirectly made me a nice person.

Ah, waking up to another day in tranquility

With one more permit I went to Punakha Valley with my new-made friend Kinley and his pal Tashi. What a peculiar team. By Bhutanese standards Kinley is quite an eccentric. Not only does he drive the only other big motorcycle I saw in Bhutan - a KTM 640 - but he has seven of them. That makes him the first and only domestic motorcycle tour operator (check it out: www.himalayan-adventures.com). He has an astonishing ability to get you and me through to places famous for being inaccessible. Last year he successfully led a group of Austrian bikers to Everest Basecamp (!), and he is currently sketching a new tour across the bureaucracy-ridden China, from Bhutan to Mongolia. And yes, he is the mastermind that made my solo ride in Bhutan possible.

Punakha Valley: Kinley here demonstrates a classic Bhutanese pose

So if you’re looking for something more exclusive than a roundtrip in much visited India or a motorcycle vacation in straightforward Mexico, then Kinley is your man. And if you ride all day and get an aching back you might want to visit the Thai massage institute run by his more reserved friend Tashi, a former Dubai flight attendant who struggle with apple-eating ghost hitchhikers. Then again, Tashi doesn’t drive often because – as he expressed with great sadness – the color of his car is yellow.

The roads winding though this typical Bhutanese woodland are infested with ghosts needing a ride

Definitely, the Bhutanese seems to be occupied with many a strange phenomenon. One of the most interesting first-encounter questions I received during the week was this: “In Norway, do you have many UFO sightings?” It was refreshing after months of “how much do your bike cost”. Although I had to disappoint him, he was flabbergasted by my follow-up tale of six unexplained flying objects videotaped in Cape Town last year. It sort of made me special, and he leaned over: More wine? Now, this is to point out the true interest and grand hospitality I received everywhere. At a pub stage in downtown Thimphu I joined a guitar jam session, and the preference where surprisingly the same burnout classics as in home parties in rural North Norway. I cursed myself for not knowing the lyrics to “Living next door to Alice” - I would for sure have made a few groupies.

Oh no, the exit gate to India


Posted by Erik Saue at February 01, 2006 04:25 PM GMT

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