For those of you following me on social media you’ll have undoubtedly noticed by now that I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time in the royal kingdom of Bhutan recently. This little-known country was on my radar for so long that to have the opportunity to visit it on a regular basis is a constant source of joy for me. The reason why is down to a new business that I have been consulting on. The Kings Challenge (www.thekingschallenge.com) is a start-up social enterprise using adventure travel as one of the arms of its business. Its a fascinating organisation that is challenging my skill-set immensely and I’m finding the process immensely rewarding. One of the perks of course is the ability to travel to this wonderful country, explore its many faces, dive into the culture and generally soak up every single aspect of the far-flung Himalayan kingdom.
My two most recent visits have been vastly different to one another. September saw the team and myself flying all over the country in a helicopter as part of a final reconnaissance for the adventure part of the business. We stayed overnight in a remote village called Sakten, in the far east of the country, and here we were treated to the most amazing hospitality. The head of the village opened his doors to us as if we were long lost family. My most vivid memory will always be of sitting around the fire late at night staring at the stars while talking to this amazing man and drinking the local brew (which I can safely say is like a form of fire water). I was only in country for a few days but in this time I managed to travel North South, East and West taking in more of the country than I had in my previous four visits.
My last visit I hardly made it past Thimpu (the capital) although I did spend a night in the lovely little town of Paro, where the only international airport is located. My aim of the last visit was to liaise with some of the local advisers and build the background logistics for the Kings Challenge. This we managed to achieve after many hours of meetings and brainstorming. But of course its not all work, or at least it shouldn’t be. Myself and ST (Sonam Tshering) got up early each day to hit the trails on mountain bikes. ST is one of a handful of talent mountain bikers that live and ride in Bhutan, he also proved to be a good teacher, as my own bike skills are limited to the road. Yet he managed to coach me through the only downhill MTB course in the country (although not without a brief encounter with the undergrowth).
I also got some much needed gym time, training at Planet Gym proved very entertaining as its a pure muscle gym, a far cry from my beloved Cirencester Crossfit, yet I was welcomed with open arms. The owner is Taandin Wangchen, who was Mr Bhutan 2012 and 13, I think he was being polite by not laughing at my gym routines that involved the likes of burpees and box jumps (not often seen on the body builder comp circuit).
My flight home took me over the Everest region, as I stared out of the window at a very snowy Everest and Lhoste I had no idea about the drama unfolding underneath me. The storm cycle that had put down the unseasonal snow on Everest was much more sever further east and had trapped trekkers and their local staff on many high mountain passes. News of deaths are still trickling out but the death toll stands at 32 so far and will continue to rise for a few days. It’s a harsh reminder of the power of nature and my thoughts go out to all the families involved.