Surrounded by hemlock, rhododendron, and juniper forests, the 10km trail starts downward from Thimphu’s Lungchutse (3,566m above sea level) until Punakha’s Lumitsawa. This has become one of the favourite destinations for enduro (mountain biking) enthusiasts.
Prominent athletes take less than an hour to reach Lumitsawa. On the way, they cross Dochula on a bumpy journey.
Enduro is a long-distance off-road bike race, typically over rough terrain, designed to test endurance. It is a new sport in the country which is becoming rapidly popular.
Many say that Bhutan could be a perfect destination for adventurous sports such as enduro due to its ideal location.
Elsewhere, artificial trails are prepared to conduct competitions but Bhutan has numerous natural trails in the mountain areas that don’t require a lot of maintenance.
Enduro started gaining momentum under the President of Bhutan Olympic Committee, His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck. It was HRH who brought enduro in the country some six years ago.
Thimphu has around 30 enduro enthusiasts, mostly students. The best spots in Thimphu are Phajoding, Sangaygang, Wangditse and Buddha Point, among others.
Binesh Thapa, 22, from Thimphu, is one of the youngest and prominent enduro enthusiasts. He has been into this sport since he was 15. He completed high school and works as a bike technician and trail builder.
Enduro, he said, was his dream sport. He rides every day on local trails and goes for long adventure ride with friends during weekends.
“Watching enduro on YouTube inspired me in the beginning. Later, I joined the Thimphu mountain biking club, which further boosted my interest,” Binesh Thapa said. His favourite trail is Lungchutse-Lumitsawa.
The sport is all about thrill and adventure. “Learning new tricks and the speed makes me happy. I love the biking community helping each other as a family,” he said.
Enduro is, however, an expensive sport for many Bhutanese.
For enduro, one needs a bike that can do heavy-duty trail riding, which could cost anywhere between Nu 200,000 and Nu 300,000. And, bike parts and maintenance do not come cheap.
Despite challenges, Binesh Thapa is optimistic. In 2018, he participated in the Asian enduro race in Nepal.
“It was to experience the race and learn from other people. In the future, I want to compete with more experienced riders and encourage Bhutanese youth to take up enduro. I could provide training for beginners,” Binesh Thapa said.
Internationally, Asian Enduro Series and Enduro World Series are the two popular competitions. One has to qualify from the Asian Enduro Series to win a place in the Enduro World Series.
“I want to compete in the Asian region and qualify for world platform,” Binesh Thapa said.
As per international standard, a minimum of 18km trail is required for the race. Enduro race is usually held for maximun of two days except for some competitions such as Trans Provence (France), the Andes Pacifico (Chile), and the Pisgah Stage Race (United States), which take a week.
There are various stages in the race—for instance, point A-B-C-D. Winners are declared based on the lowest total average time taken during different stages.
Bhutan had planned to conduct the maiden enduro competition at Limukha, Punakha last year but it was deferred due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is expected to be held later this year providing the pandemic subsides.
One of the beginners, Phuntsho Wangdi, says he was expecting at least one local competition this year. “I love enduro. We have natural trails which attract riders.”
Today, New Zealand, Norway, Nepal, Scotland, and Slovenia are some of the top destinations for mountain biking.
Jigme Lobzang, 21, from Punakha, rides four times a week. “Besides health benefits, enduro gives me a different level of satisfaction. I would love to participate in the world enduro series and make my country proud.”
The first modern enduro race was held in August 2003 at Val D’Allos, France.
By Thinley Namgay
Edited by Jigme Wangchuk