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Biking in Bhutan
Mountain biking a viable product
The department of tourism has identified seven trails as the most suitable routes for mountain biking in the country. The trails runs through Thimphu, Punakha, and Paro dzongkhags and were selected out of 18 existing routes surveyed based on their high potential.

"These routes are more suitable than we expected and this is a good sign," said the Austrian tourism consultant, Martin Zeppezauer.

He said that it was important to carry out a comprehensive survey first and then look into potential schemes. "Well developed routes with plenty of choices are a must to sell mountain biking as a product," he said.
Another positive sign, according to department officials, was that the study showed the trails needed little or no alteration. Widening of the trails and cutting bushes at some stretches were the only improvements that needed to be done.

"Other than what is necessary one should be conscious not to destroy the natural beauty of the place," said Martin Zeppezauer. "If the scenes and trails are kept more natural it would be more appealing to the bikers." However, he said that it was important to built a good drainage system at places to sustain the trails.

He also pointed out that placing 'signage' or signboards along the way is important to keep the trailers on track.

The seven routes, which extend from four to 15 kilometres were also different from one another according to department officials.

For example, the trail that leads from Thimphu to Dechencholing upto Dodeda along the Dechencholing - Begana highway with off road tracks at intervals was an easy route that could be traversed by any one who could ride a bike.

But some trails like the Taba top to the Sinchula pass rose above 3000 metres, which included uphill climbs that required hard work.

Creating loops and networking the trails to give more zest to mountain biking is another feature the department is working on.

With most tourists visiting Bhutan on a cultural tour which was sometimes combined with trekking, department officials said that mountain biking could be promoted as a new product to increase the flow of the tourists. "If well developed mountain biking can be a viable and an attractive product," said a department official, adding that although mountain biking existed in Bhutan it was not fully explored.

Although it might be promoted as a seasonal attraction, the Austrian consultant said that mountain biking in Bhutan could be possible even during winters.

"Unlike other cold countries there is lot of sunshine during the days in winter which is the right weather for biking," he said.

Meanwhile tour biking had picked up its popularity among tourists and locals alike. "When I came here two years ago, I hardly saw people on bikes, but now you see a lot of local enthusiasts biking along the roads which is a good trend," said Martin Zeppezauer.

Contributed by Karma Choden, Kuensel, Bhutan's National Newspaper 2005
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