Alastair's Blog

Thunder Dragon Rally 2015

Alastair Caldwell - Monday, January 18, 2016

The Thunder Dragon rally was an amazing, three-week, non-competitive tour of the Kingdom of Bhutan, which nestles between India and China at the eastern end of the Himalayas and the southern edge of the Tibetan plateau. 

I started off in Kolkata, India, having just finished the Great Amazon Adventure and having an epic series of flights from Lima via London and a 12 hour stop at home. It was then straight off again to Kolkata, a lovely city with many faded colonial buildings and tree lined streets - and thousands of Ambassador taxis still running. 

We spent a few days in Kolkata sight-seeing while we waited for the cars to arrive. Here people are bathing in the River Ghat and a scene from the flower market.

   

Finally the cars arrived and the rally started the next day.



Getting to Bhutan

Eventually we got started and set off for Bhutan. We drove up to Darjeeling, great roads, lots of mad traffic on steep ups and downs. Lovely sights and people. Stayed in a lovely old hotel, the Windamere in Darjeeling, still being run and kept in the style of the British Raj, coal fires in the rooms at night, hot water bottles in the bed, lovely old photos in every room of all the hotel's past glories, very nicely done. Got up at 5 to see the sunrise over the Himalayas. Visited a tea plantation and factory, lovely sights and smells and easy to see the different grades of tea being produced, old fashioned tea chests still being used. There were big celebrations going on throughout the country for the King's father's birthday, as you'll see from the arch below.


   

There are lots of decorated buildings all over in Bhutan, this is a mountain restaurant with murals, bedding being aired and a picture of the King. The other site we saw very frequently were prayer flags - see this Porsche going over the bridge with the prayer flags at the side. The idea is that the prayers are spread far and wide by the wind and the water. 

   

Here we are having a tea & coffee stop at the highest point of Chele La Pass, 3.988 meters. There are some fantastic mountain views, and of course all the lovely prayer flags spreading their prayers around the world in the breeze.



We spent a good night at this very lovely guest house up in the mountains. It's all very simple but beautifully done. The prayer flags are here again and also a water-powered prayer wheel that never stops and rings a bell as it goes round.


The Porsche got lots of attention, here are some fans looking at it in the street. The other shot has the Porsche with 108 Stupas in the background. The number 108 is very important in Bhutan but sadly I have no idea why!

      

A couple of videos from our visit to the Punakha Dzong. This is a fortress made from wood and mud, no nails involved. All Bhutan's Kings have had their coronations here and the new King was married here.



Here we are following Bill in the Bentley on the way to a picnic, all good fun, navigator videoing was a Bhutanese lady who is driving the Winkelman family normally, she loved her drive in the car but needs to polish up her video technique!




We spent a few more days travelling, everything was fantastic. We crossed many mountain passes, visited ancient monasteries, went to dances and a wonderful festival in remote Bhutan that very few westerners get to see. Everyone we met was lovely and the trip was fantastic. We also got an opportunity for adventure of a different kind - here are a couple of photos of our white water rafting trip!

   

Lots of houses here are decorated with big phallus pictures! They sell wooden phalluses and new houses have four of them hung from the eaves at the four corners, all to bring good luck and ward off evil.  We went to some local festivals and were treated very well by the locals, dances tend to go on a bit long to say the least but all very beautiful and done with great seriousness. But all the time there are masked clowns taking the micky out of everyone, usually with a flying phallus attached to their head for effect. It's hard to pick which pictures to show but here is the house with the phallus paintings and some photos and a video from the Trashigang festival.

   

   



Here are another couple of videos of us motoring through Bhutan. The car was a bit sad, running on 3 cylinders by the end. Bhutan has a tiny population, there is very little traffic but what there is is completely mad, which is great fun! They all drive on the wrong side of the road and are very reluctant to turn left at any time. There are a huge amount of very bad roads over high mountains with huge unprotected drops, badly done road works with dust, mud, rocks, big holes etc, all stuff I and the wee Porsche love, so had a great time driving.




Finally it was time to leave Bhutan, we all had such a lovely time there we were very sad to leave. Here's a shot of the border gate between Bhutan and India.


Have a look at lots more photos and videos on the Rally Round Thunderdragon 2015 website

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