Saturday, June 23, 2012

For The Times They Are a Changin'

(Uniquely Bhutanese, a Motorcycle Club Donning Leathers Does Charity- Welcome to Gross National Happiness)

In 2008, a whirlwind of change swept through the tiny Kingdome of Bhutan. The change was as silent as the mountains that stand sentinel over the kingdom. It was welcomed with open arms and warm hearts. It was a national celebration, unprecedented and unrivaled anywhere in the world, as a new and dynamic crown prince was enthroned the Fifth Dragon King on the eve of the centennial year of the Wangchuck dynasty.
Dawa,a former alcoholic, Initiated Help-Shoe-Bhutan. (He's mended, heeled, & resoled about more than a thousand pairs of throw-away shoes that were distributed by Bhutan Dragons MC in some of the most impoverished corners of the kingdom)

The Club Carries a Banner Thanking Everyone Who Helps

The Rides Are Well-Organized, But Then, The Road Is The Boss

A Truck Ferries Food Essentials For a Specific Few Impoverished Families

Its a Hands On Approach

Receipts To Keep The Books

This Kids Had Polio. They Got the First Pairs (Their First)

Yet Another Polio-Afflicted Bare-Footed Boy

This Kid Enjoyed a Pair of Fresh Sneakers

It Was a Footy-Day

Recipients With The BDMC

They Came Small...

Old & Tattered

And Recycling Hearts Did the Rest

Wives of the Samtse Constables

The Old

Its Spanking New

A Day of Foot-Joy!

School Kids Always get Curious & Close

Khoma- a Very Remote Hamlet

Thimphu's Expressway

The Club House- a Shack Called Nobu Really!

BDMC with Monks From a Gelephu Monastery 

Writ Large Are the Names of those Who Sponsor... James & Nicola

Central-Eastern Bhutan, Langthang


Finding the Right Pairs Can be a .....

These Banners always Come Back Battered!

Still Hunting Cinderella's Other...

Gelephu In The South

Monks Come From Mostly Poor Families
The coronation saw the emergence of several bodies and organization, all intended to commemorate the great event of the coronation of a young and dynamic king. The missions and visions shared a common factor – to keep alive the memory of 2008 for posterity. Authors flourished, with books, songs and dances and the renovation and dedication of religious and other important edifices. That apart, a small band of brothers in arms also wanted to contribute in their unique and ingenious way.

It was motorcycle philanthropy, conceived and crafted in ways that further surmount the uniqueness of Bhutan. This was not about boisterous young boys tearing up the asphalt or pot-bellied beer guzzlers roaring through the countryside. This was the Bhutan Dragons Motorcycle Club, 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, was established with a simple purpose but one that was designed to contribute something meaningful, no matter how small, to the needy.

This was about purposeful riding – this was Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, if you will. 

A motorcycle is every kid’s dream and Bhutan is no different, 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 kids. But this was more than just sweeping the ever-twisting solitary highways. It was about bringing a common passion in the form of the Royal Enfield Bullet Motorcycles back to the fold.
Pit Stop at the Scenic Dochu La Pass (3050m)

In the Bhutanese context, a motorcycle club may sound strange. But this was again part and parcel of the changing Bhutanese landscape. The important factor was incorporating this love unto the bigger picture – 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 as wholesome as the goal of the nation. It is more than the club slogan of ‘Love to Ride, Ride to Love,’ with a desire to spread a small measure of happiness on wheel power.
Yet Another Pass... The Thrumshingla Pass (3750m)

And so how did the Bhutan Dragons Motorcycle Club come about?

The concept was well received by friends more than 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 up to 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 and also have riding initials of their choice on their jackets.
The BDMC's 13th Ride Featured in Student's Digest, a Quarterly Youth

At present, there are two clubhouses, one in Thimphu and another in Paro. Thus on October 17, 2008, the riders kick-started their machines from the Thimphu club house, the club’s HQ now called Nobu, for the first initiation ceremony that was held in Paro. Motorists and passerby watched bewildered as more than fifteen motorcycles roared through town and country at a respectable pace. The club’s motto is not to shock but to stealthily steal their way into the hearts of the people. A small group of riders from the Paro Chapter welcomed the team halfway and escorted them to the clubhouse, where preparations for the elaborate initiation ceremony were in hasty progress.
Typical Help- Food Rations, Blankets, Essentials

The ceremony was not about the last man standing after a boozing daredevilry. Rather, it was maroon–clad monks who performed a religious ceremony for club’s goodwill. The ceremony required the initiates to take oaths to abide by the club’s charter. The chairman, Dasho Ugyen Tshechup Dorji, a prominent member of the business community and a huge supporter of philanthropic endeavors then presented the ceremonial white scarves. The chairman had nothing but words of encouragement for conceiving such a venture and his personal support and assistance in that light.
As More Folks Have Begun to Contribute, the Spread is gettin' Larger

Bhutan being Bhutan, an occasion would not go bereft of parties; hence the ceremony was followed by a lavish feast, complete with song 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, a pinnacle climb to a monastery on a steep ridge. 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 X-Sports. The destination was a beautiful traditional temple perched on the promontory of a vertical hill some 45 minutes up in the clouds.
The Final Banner

The ride was grueling and nerve-racking, but this was the path the club had chosen and so it was. The ride must go on. Up atop the hill, outside the temple, young monks gazed down the trail, hoping to catch a glimpse reminiscent of Spielberg’s Encounters of the Third Kind. The serpentine trail was made in hell but once the pinnacle was mounted, it was all made in heaven! The caretaker and the young monks and novices had prepared a modest luncheon, and at that altitude and with all that energy spent, the food was ambrosia.

Member then offered prayers in the monastery’s inner sanctums and work on the mission began in earnest. Mindful of the high altitude 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 unexpected gifts. 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 the unforgiving gradient.
But the backup plan always does the trick, picking up the errant befallen bikers and their wounded horses. It’s been now officially 15 Charity Rides around the kingdom’s boondocks, and in touching five years and some thousands of burnt kilometers later, the Bhutan Dragons Motorcycle Club keep winning hearts wherever they go. Should you ride a motorcycle today in the kingdom, except plenty of warm smiles and welcome doors, for that’s what good deeds do, culminate more good deeds. The rides with the dragons can be arranged especially if you are the motorcycling loving kind with a Zen for helping the less fortunate.

Update: The club has now 52 members and international chapters, small groups of individuals and friends in Australia, Austria, Japan, India, The UK and Germany. The idea is very simple: You do what you love doing in between pit stops and impoverished hamlets, help the needy with whatever you can spare. All the recipients are sought out and a bookkeeper keeps the tight budget for the minimal requisite of four charity rides a year. All members contribute and chip in by working with other socially useful organizations and initiatives.

The Bhutan Dragons MC blogs their Samaritan escapades at ( or ( and are sponsored by Adventure Roots, who have the same principles and community beliefs by helping folks through the grassroots. We can also arrange rides for those who like more than a little wheel power.

*For The Spirited Traveler

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