Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The Bhutan Motorcycling Dragons – Riding to Live; Living to Ride, and In Pit-Stops, Show Labors of Love
A whirlwind of change swept through the tiny Kingdome of Bhutan in 2008.The change was as silent as the mountains that stand sentinel over the kingdom. It was welcomed with open arms and warm heart. It was a national celebration, unprecedented and unrivaled anywhere in the world.
However the change did not happen overnight. It was not an instantaneous outpouring of aspirations achieved. It is the manifestation of events, icons and entities that have shaped Bhutan. 2002 marks the centenary of the monarchy or rather the molding of a nation from a disarray of feuding factions. Since his unanimous enthronement as the first hereditary monarch of Bhutan in 1907, King Ugyen Wangchuck held firmly the reigns of the nation, directing it on the path of progress.
The lineage has thus always devoted themselves selflessly to improving the lot of the Bhutanese. The third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck opened wide the doors of this hitherto isolated kingdom to the outside world. Befriending great leaders and bringing in much needed assistance and resources, he is fondly referred to as the father of modern Bhutan. Although his death was untimely, he bequeathed a prosperous nation with tremendous potential to his young successor, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Crowned the youngest monarch in the world at the age of 17, in 1972, the young king renounced his youth to realize the vision of his father.
The more than three decades of his rule will always be remembered in history as the golden era for Bhutan. The country developed in leaps and bounds, every step forward grounded in the welfare of the people. From free education and health to communication education and agriculture Bhutan today stands tall in the global comity. There have been accolades and awards aplenty, but that would not compare in any way to what the kind had thought out during his reign. The people had always been at the foremost of all his endeavors and in the end, he had but one wish for them – The right to guide their own destiny.
During a district meeting in the eastern corner of Trashiyangtsi in, unbeknownst and totally unexpected, He announced that he was abdicating in favor of his son. A nation listened stunned to the news. The king declared that Bhutan would become a democracy and pooled a team of learned officials and academicians to draft a constitution. To the skeptics and the common man who feared for the future of the nation, he explained that the process had been initiated back in 1981 when he introduced District Blocks to make their own development decisions. This was followed by village blocks. At the national level, the assembly was dissolved in and temporarily-elected-interim ministers took charge of the government.
There was no better time for a nation to become a democracy than when it was stable, peaceful and prospering, the king said. He also acknowledged full faith in his son who had been exposed to the best educational institutes in the world and also to his own people in the workings of the system. The Crown Prince had already made a mark for himself by winning over the hearts of the Bhutanese and won the popular title of the People’s King much before his coronation. The king’s faith in his son was perhaps secured in the knowledge that here was a man that would best suit the changing times.
And so on November 6, in a simple and solemn ceremony, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck placed the sacred Raven Crown on King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, the reigning and Fifth Druk Gyalpo (King of the Thunder Dragon Kingdom). The ceremony was received with mixed emotions by the Bhutanese. There seemed to be the feeling of not having shown enough gestures of gratitude to the fourth king for his selfless devotion to the people and the nation. A mere thank you would just not suffice, yet the great monarch even shield away from that, gracefully stepping behind the new king. In the ensuing ceremonies and celebration, King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck was truly the People’s King as he received ceremonial scarves from his people. He mingled with the crowd of hundreds of thousands and thousands, speaking to each and every person at the gatherings. Here was a new King all poised to lead the nation ever forward. His love for the people was clearly evident in the energy he displayed as he met his people face to face from dawn to dusk.
The year of the centenary and the coronation saw the emergence of several bodies and organization, all intended to commemorate the great events. The missions and visions shared a common factor – to keep alive the memory of 2008 for posterity. There was a flourishing of authors and books, songs and dances and the renovation and dedication of religious and other important edifices. There were also those, smaller in number, but no less ingenious who wanted to contribute in their own small way. Small, yes but no less noisy. This is about that journey, one that will hopefully endure for another century, if not more.
It is motorcycle mania, conceived and crafted in ways that further surmount the uniqueness of Bhutan. This is not about boisterous young boys tearing up the asphalt or pot-bellied beer guzzlers roaring through the countryside. This is the Dragon Motorcycle Club of Bhutan, the first of its kind. The dragon signifies not just the nation but also the responsibility that it entails, as set by the nation's leaders. The club, and not gang, as members are quick to point out, has been established with a purpose. One that is designed to contribute something meaningful, no matter how small, to the needy.
This is about riding with a purpose – this is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, if you will.
A motorcycle is every kid’s dream and it is no different in Bhutan as horses gradually gave way to paved roads. The thrill of that throbbing pulsation in between the legs however ebbs with time and age. Not to mention career, wife and children. Yet, for some, however, calls for measures other than the solitary sweep of the highway. It is about bringing the boys or men now, back to the fold. It is about reviving that passion, even if it be momentary escapades back into the wonder years.
A motorcycle club may sound rather an anomaly for Bhutan. But it is part and parcel of all the change underway here. New trends inevitable emerge. The important factor here is just how well that trend is incorporated into the big picture – that of a nation in the pursuit of Gross National Happiness. The club is about preserving the sanctity of the past, encapsulating the present and envisaging the needs of the future. Its vision is a wholesome as the goal of the nation. It is more than the club slogan of ‘love to ride, ride to love.’ It is spreading a small measure of happiness on two wheels.
And so how did the Bhutan Dragon Motorcycle Club come about?
The concept was well received by friends more than just eager to throw in their lots. The brainchild of a few grew dramatically leading to the formal establishment of the club. Structurally, a chairman of repute was appointed with the club run by a president, and the rides controlled by a front and flank man. Membership is not open to everyone and stringent rules ensure that the club lives upto its reputation. Members who fit the bill are formally initiated into the club through a religious ceremony. This done, they can proudly don the club insignia on their jacket and also have riding initials of their choice on their shoulder.
At present, there are two club houses, one in Thimphu and another in Paro, where sporadic rides have already begun. On October 14, the riders kick-started their machines from Thimphu for the first initiation ceremony to be held in Paro. Motorists and passerby watched bewildered as more than 15 motorcycles roared through the town at a respectable pace. The club motto is not to shock but to stealthily steal their way into the hearts of the people. A small group of riders from Paro welcomed the team halfway and escorted them to the club house where preparations for the elaborate initiation ceremony were in hasty progress.
It was not about the last man standing or the most beers consumed. Indeed, it was maroon –clad monks who performed religious ceremony for the goodwill of the club. As part of the ceremony, the initiates were made to take an oath to abide by the conduct of the club. They were then presented ceremonial scarves by the chairman who expressed his appreciation at the good intentions behind the formation of the club. He assured them of all the assistance that he could garner in keeping alive their faith in the club.
As with any occasion, the ceremony was followed by a lavish feast, complete with son and dance. The riders were more than happy to stretch their legs to keep abreast with the local dancers. The merriment went well into the night, but the riders had to grab some sleep from the mission ahead, their very first one. It is the mission actually upon which the club is grounded. And the first one did call for some daredevilry. Early the next morning, the riders took on a steep rough road that would compete with any hardened rally track elsewhere. Their destination was a beautiful traditional temple perched on the promontory of a sheer hill some 45 minutes up in the clouds.
The ride was grueling and nerve-racking for some, but this was the path the club has chosen and so it must be. The ride must go on. Up atop the hill, outside the temple, young monks gazed down the trail, hoping to catch a glimpse of some strange guests they had been told about. The serpentine trail made it difficult but they were all excited as the sound of the machines drew nearer. At the last curve they were able to witness all the machines thunder inside the outer ground of the temple. Here too, the caretaker had prepared a not too modest lunch for the riders.
Prayers were offered at the ancient temple and work on the mission began in earnest. Mindful of the high altitude of the temple and the biting winter creeping in, the club had brought warm jackets for the young novitiates. It was hard not to notice the sense of joy and gratitude as they received the jackets. The caretaker said he was rather surprised by motorcyclists bearing gifts for his monks but extremely grateful for the good work they were doing.
Mission accomplished, the riders made the trip back, some barely managing because of the gradient.
Nonetheless, there is always a truck in tow to pick up the errant.
Additional Text: Tals