The Tour of The Dragon, and Wellness at Gangtey Lodge, BhutanNovember 21, 2018
Just walking through the doors of Bhutan’s Gangtey Lodge is the mental equivalent of the best deep-tissue, full-body massage money can buy.
Two roaring log fires greet you in the main reception room, as the Lodge’s choir sing gentle songs of welcome, guiding you to deep-cushioned armchairs that face out to a view of breath-taking beauty.
Then the real-life massage begins, as two of the dedicated spa team lifted the tensions from the shoulders of my partner and I, fresh from a journey of thousands of miles.
We had both come to Bhutan to take a 10-day step away from manic lives. Too much screen-time, too much travel, never enough rest. But in the Gangtey Valley, the awesome sight of the Himalayas that surround you forces you to finally give in, put up your feet, and simply admire.
As my partner disappeared for one of the Lodge’s signature spa treatments, sadly my rest wasn’t to last long. Not the Lodge’s fault, I should make clear – rather my own choice to foolishly register for Bhutan’s Tour of the Dragon, billed as the ‘toughest one day bike race in the world’.
The most extreme cycling challenge I’d undertaken previously was traversing London’s infamous Elephant and Castle Roundabout on a cold January morning. Almost nothing could have prepared me for the 270km slog across four mountain-passes that was to come.
Almost nothing – it’s fair to say that without the support Omar and her team at the Lodge were to give this foolish Brit, I doubt I would have made it through alive.
When the team discovered my plans for taking part in the famous ‘TOD’ – started by HRH Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuk brother of the Bhutan’s current King – they were quick to swing into action.
A training ride was organised for me that same afternoon, to make sure I was ready for the altitude. Safe to say I wasn’t, with headaches quickly ensuing. But TOD veteran Passang from the Lodge team – cycling right beside me in his traditional gho – made every effort to keep me safe and motivated.
Seeing me fading, Passang quickly makes a phone call to HQ. One quick diversion later, and we pull up into the foreground of a beautifully carved monastery set square in the base of the valley. There a small delegation from the Lodge’s catering team are assembling chairs and a table, bedecked in crisp linens and silverware.
“It’s time for a tea break”, chuckles Passang, as park up our bikes and take a seat. A forest of multi-coloured prayer-flags flutters to one side, and to the other the chanting of novice monks drifts from the monastery school.
The Lodge’s Head Chef, Adrian, pulls into view on his motorbike, just in time to introduce the range of pastries his team appear to spirit from nowhere. If this was endurance cycling, I thought, I could get used to it.
Later that evening, following a hot bath complete with arguably the best view in Bhutan, I sat easing tired muscles with one of Bhutan’s unique Red Panda beers. Chef Adrian came to talk cycle-strategy and the extra-large portions he was preparing to see me through. He only returned to his work once he’d lent me his own (much better fitting) cycling helmet and waterproofs.
Thanks to the efforts of a team who made us feel like family, our stay at the Lodge was one we will never forget. As was, sadly, my day in the Tour of the Dragon, but for entirely different reasons…
Read Alex’s account of his TOD race for the BBC here.