‘More Women Need to Start Biking’

“I have been biking pretty much ever since I started walking. I own three types of bicycles back home: one mountain bike, one racing bike and a touring bike. Biking is exhilarating, exciting and dangerous all at once. It gets you out in the natural environment which I love. I have cycled across few continents and places like the Himalayas and Ladakh.’’ – Anne Philip.

by Chimi Wangmo, Photos by Namgay Wangchuk DJ

Anne came to Bhutan with her husband as a volunteer for the Australian Volunteers for International Development Program. A wildlife vetenarian by profession, she worked with wildlife in various capacities during her stay in Bhutan. However, she participated in every biking event in the country (standing second in the Tour of the Dragon Bicycle Race & running the snowman trail at Laya). She stood first in the open women category at the Dantak Open Mountain Bike Race 2017. She got a bike as a gift from His Majesty the King and a cash prize of Nu 50,000.

“I was initially exhausted,’’ laughed the biker. “I hadn’t run 100kms at that speed for sometime in rain and mud. It was a relief to have reached the finish line. Then we were gifted the bike , which was a generous gift from His Majesty by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck and a big cheque. It was a nice celebration,”

She knew that the bike from His Majesty was a priceless gift and something to be treasured for  a lifetime. However, as her term in Bhutan came to an end, she wanted to do something more for the community of bikers. Having run next to keen women riders, she decided gift the bike to a deserving female biker in order to encourage more women biking in the country.

That was when she came together with the Thimphu Mountain Biking Club (TMBC) and began to search and select a deserving candidate. They floated the announcement asking all bikers to apply. Her criteria had been to gift it to someone who was not only an enthusiast rider but couldn’t afford to buy the bike. Tenzin Wangmo, a 16 year old class 10 ten student was selected after an interview. In order to officially hand over the bike the young avid athlete, TMBC organized a small gathering at the Kuenga Roja Restaurant, on the evening of 17th May in presence of some AVID volunteers and media.

“I feel really lucky to have gotten the bike among many people. It could have been anyone and she gave it to me. I hope to participate in races now to make it worth being gifted to me,” said an ecstatic Tenzin

In addition to the bike both Anne and her husband Philip Stigant (who won the Men’s Veteran Category) donated the cash prize they got to  TMBC in the hope of helping the club promote cycling among women by either buying the gears, or facilitate environment that’s women friendly during the actual race or through advocacy.

The informal event amongst the close-knit circle of bikers saw Anne talk about the importance of biking among women and having to be proactive to encourage the same. She said that biking is great for physical health which women could take advantage of. She pointed out that in her experience in Bhutan she found young women coy compared to their male counter parts who were exuberant and bold. She said that it could be a cultural thing and thus women need role models to look up to – to know that it’s possible and fun to bike.

She said that men were supportive of each other during the race with whistling and words but women rode alone making it a rather lonely journey. She emphasized on the importance of considering certain facilities for women during the actual race. Shortening the distance for women and toilet on the way since women couldn’t do as men were some possibilities besides the initial promotion to increase women participation were suggested.

“TMBC was founded to encourage riders and foster mountain biking especially in the capital. We now plan to branch out in other Dzongkhangs. We are honored and appreciates Anne for donating the funds to encourage female riders,” said Kinley Dorji, TMBC promising to use the funds wisely for the cause and updating the donors on the same.

The Dantak Open Mountain Bike Race for the year 2017was held on 23rd April and flagged off His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck who was accompanied by DANTAK chief engineer Brigadier PKG Mishra. The prize ceremony was graced by Her Majesty the Queen Mother Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck.

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