Bullets Over Bhutan

In 1997, Robert Smith joined one of the first motorcycle tours through the quiet Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

| September/October 2019

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In 1997, I joined one of the first motorcycle tours of the remote Himalayan kingdom.

Dusk was slipping into night as our motorcycle caravan turned off the single-lane Bumthang Valley road. The Enfield’s pale headlight just picked out the way ahead — a narrow, climbing stream bed. Standing on the pegs, I held second gear and pointed the front wheel uphill. The Bullet slogged patiently up the slope as the back wheel scrabbled for traction.

The Bumthang festival started that evening. In a plowed field, under a full mountain moon, maybe 300 excited Bhutanese were milling around. We were told we’d see firewalking, and I envisioned red-robed, chanting monks walking barefoot over beds of glowing coals. Instead, a steel frame like a soccer goal was draped with branches and leaves. When this was set alight, everyone ran underneath the flames, laughing. For this I travelled 13,000 miles?



From the crowd staggered a dancer in a grotesque animal mask, wearing a long white robe and a crimson wig. Another, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Jimi Hendrix, lurched forward waving a pole decorated with streamers above his head. The two began a charging, cavorting dance as the spellbound audience swayed back and forth.

“They’re hypnotized,” said Dorji, our Bhutanese guide. They looked stoned to me …

Rod
9/12/2019 7:17:00 AM

Fascinating trip and the perfect mount for the region. I love the pedigree and the simplicity of the RE and, I’m sure, one day I’ll add a Bullet to my stable. Thanks for sharing this memory.




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