MAIN STORY: The midday sun throws a playful light on the black, red, yellow and orange motorcycles parked outside the Coffee Corner, a café at City Mall in Thimphu. The machines sparkle and shine under the glittering light.
It is Sunday. The day is hot. One by one, different models of the Royal Enfield motorcycles arrive to be parked outside the café. A black classic, vintage-inspired, is the last motorcycle to arrive.
Wearing a black sweatshirt, black leather pants and heavy boots, with a red bandanna over his head, Kelly Dorji takes off his helmet and gets off the motorcycle. The other riders who are waiting for the rest of the team members greet him.
These bikers are the members of the Bhutan Dragons Motorcycle Club, a charity club formed seven years ago by a group of childhood friends.
What started out with a few members, today the club has 41 full members, where eight are prospects and 12 are honorary members. The members are registered from different countries across the globe. Most of the members are Bhutanese.
Apart from the four charity rides the club undertakes in a year, the club makes a point to go for weekly excursions to explore goenkhangs and monasteries near and far.
For this excursion, six riders from the club are visiting the Datog goenpa in Namseling.
Before the adrenaline-filled adventure ride begins, the group gulps down coffee and snacks at the café. The group breaks out in loud conversations about their motorcycles adventure followed by laughter. They joke about each other. They are brothers.
Kelly Dorji informs the group that six is not a good number to embark on a journey. “Remember the six boys?” He asks. The group decides to add one more rider. After 15 minutes, the seventh member arrives.
Riders put on their leather jacket and helmet, and start the engine, which fires out a thunderous roar. This attracts the attention of passer-by.
The group forms a long line and begins their journey. They circle the City Mall and head along the Wangchu towards expressway. The helmet and bikes glitter under the sun, never failing to attract attention when they zoom by.
It takes about 20 minutes to reach Namseling on the bikes. The riders then turn right, which leads to the bridge to the Danglo village. The concrete highway gives way to gravel path and soon to a dusty rough road.
The road to the Datog goenpa is narrow and bumpy. The less-travelled road looks like it was recently cleared, which is perfect for the riders. The bikers leave a long trail of dust as they descend up the treacherous path. It takes a gruelling 20 minutes to reach to the goenpa.
The goenpa faces the breathtaking view of Namseling, filled with golden fields dotted with traditional houses. The highway looks like a meandering river winding through the valley.
The goenpa is old and is locked when the bikers reach there. The bikers prostrate in front of the goenpa and leave butter and incense at the door. They then break for lunch near a peaceful spot a few feet above the goenpa. It’s beef and chicken sandwich and the weather is perfect.
Biking is a liberating experience, says Kelly Dorji. “One can see much more on bikes than in car. One can feel the wind against the face and one is tested whenever there is a challenging road.”
It is an experience for the club members to practice the off road, so that it will be easier during the charity rides. “Apart from that, biking gives us time to meet friends and spend the weekends meaningfully.”
Kelly Dorji has been biking all his life. His love for biking grew when His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck gave his father a Yellow Suzuki.
In 2010, after reuniting with his friends, Kelly was selected as a member of the club. Today, there are increasing number of motorcycle enthusiasts, especially in Thimphu.
“Biking is not only about style but also about having basic safety requirements in place such as proper gear, good helmet and decent jacket for protection,” he said. “Biking can lead to serious injuries and accidents. One has to be very careful.”
Tandin, 26, said biking is the easiest and fastest way to commute between home and office. Tandin has been riding motorcycle for more than eight years. He owns a Royal Enfield Classic. He is, however, not a member of any club.
“I started riding motorcycle when I was a student. It was fashionable and the most effective way to commute to college, and it still is,” Tandin said. “I always wanted to own a sophisticated bike. With a growing number of vehicles in Thimphu and considering its effect on the environment, it would be wise to promote and make the capital more motorcycling-friendly.”
Many vehicle drivers are not friendly to bikers on the road, added Tandin.
The president of the Bhutan Dragons Motorcycle Club, Thinley Wangchuk Dorji, said many associate bikers with gang, which the club consciously makes an effort to correct.
“The club is founded on the values of friendship, core essence of Buddhism and a mutual love for motorcycle,” Thinley Wangchuk Dorji said. “The club aims to spread love of peace, compassion and friendship through biking.”
All of the proceeds from the club go to charitable purposes. No member gets salary or any kind of perk, said Thinley Wangchuk Dorji.
To commemorate the 60th birth anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, the club started the Delivery ‘K4’ initiative. The initiative is aimed to collect all types of things that are to be distributed to the needy and under-privileged throughout the country.
Kelly Dorji and his friends descend the treacherous rough road from the goenpa and zoom through the Danglo village. The bikers reach the highway and ride towards Thimphu.
By Thinley Zangmo