Bike-Peter: A love affair with the Land of the Thunder Dragon – Bhutan
Interview with RC Peter Paulo dos Santos | Part 2
The first interview with Bike-Peter, published in “Indienfahrer 4” has resulted in a flood of inquiries so that we decided to continue our conversation picking up right where we left, following Peter’s “life stories”.
For all of you new readers, just let it be said that Peter has established himself as an entrepreneur in India. He organizes bike tours all over India.
On the 6th and 17th of February 2013 a major Indian event agency held a weekend Biker-Festival in Goa, sponsored by Harley Davidson, attended by lots of bikers from around the globe, featuring live bands, gorgeous biker chicks and, naturally a lot of bikes.
As usual at such events a whole lot of beer went down the gullets. During the evening an additional (arguably superfluous) bottle of whiskey was opened. When the biker event was closing down at 10 pm, that’s how strict the rules are in Goa, Peter, being a true biker and all, insisted on driving home – on his bike!
He ignored his friends’ serious doubts about his capabilities to ride a bike in this condition.
I just did not want to listen, and I had totally forgotten I had come on a XT Yamaha with 45 horse power and not on a Bullet with 22. If you open the throttle just a tiny bit, change to 2nd gear you get to 80km/h within seconds. Well, I did just that and cornering the second bend I scraped a taxi and then a pedestrian and just flew off my bike.
Luckily the bike did not land on top of him, since he was only wearing flip-flops, cut-offs, a t-shirt and instead of wearing a helmet he was sporting sunglasses! I was lying unconscious in the middle of the road. I actually have no memory at all about that incident. After 15 minutes or so, the cops woke me up, dumping a bucket of water over my head, just to check if I was still alive.
But the police did not make any attempts to get him into a hospital. They were too busy. The bike event had ended, the bikers were on their way back home – this was their time to make some cash. The police just told us: Get away, and take him with you! They did not fine me, or anything. The taxi driver had disappeared and so had the pedestrian.
My guys took me home after that. A German doctor was staying at the resort at that time and she gave me a thorough check-up. It was only four days later that I saw him he had some bruises on his right leg and forearm, plus some hematomas and impressive black eye.
Next morning, when I looked in the mirror, I just thought I had gotten into some fight with somebody. I could not remember a single thing from the pervious night. My guys filled me in and I sincerely apologized for my behavior, because I had broken the iron rule, take a taxi or at least the jeep when too much alcohol is involved. I had just been dammed lucky!
Six years have passed since our last conversation and a lot of people were curious about how things had developed for you and your exciting life story, business wise as well as personally?”
Well, from a business point of view, for the last five years I was doing better then ever. Our tours have enjoyed increasing demand over the last years and our marketing partner in Germany has been an enormous help. I have built up my team since we incorporated brand new destinations and bike tours into our program, for example, four years ago we went to Thailand for the first time and in Chiang Mai we discovered a “biker’s paradise”.
An American, Rob Chandler, who like me was one of the first operators organizing bike tours in the Himalayas, invited me. Rob had to move out of India and Thailand though, and he had all his bikes shipped to Thailand. I joined him on one of his tours there. Logistically it was a complete disaster, plus the Enfield Bullets proved to be the wrong bike over there. The roads are much better in Thailand then in India, traffic is more disciplined and they got a wider choice of bikes. Over her in India, there simply is no other big bike except the Enfield, which would be accepted by an international clientele. In India it has to be an Enfield, nothing else – but not so in Thailand.
You cannot go at 80km/h for any length of time in India, but you can in Thailand – and the Bullet is simply not made for doing that. I looked around a bit and discovered that there are Kawasaki bikes, built for export markets, a 650cc, 2-cylinder with 70 horsepower, which are sold for a reasonable price in Thailand. So I had the idea one should try out some “tropical motorbike tours in Thailand” on “proper” bikes. First we organized a pilot tour. I met a Swiss guy called Armin, living in Northern Thailand, who even has the Thai citizenship. He has been in the South Asia tourist business for over 30 years and his expertise is widely sought after. He got on board and within three years we managed to build up a top-notch team, having done 15 tours by now. For me it was a more than welcome re-introduction to the world of somewhat faster bikes, you know, you can use that speed in Thailand because you don’t have to anticipate two trucks passing each other in a head-on curve.
This just does not happen in Thailand. So, our involvement with Thailand happened more or less on the sidelines. But also in India we have a new “Three Lakes of Ladakh Tour” including all the scenic and cultural highlights with a convenient starting and finish point from Leh in Ladakh, which can be reached via airplane. This tour has ben a total success for over three years now. We are sending five groups over the highest trafficable passes in the world, every year. Another tour project has evolved quite nicely, Bhutan. I did not only explore the possibilities of bike tours there, but I also met a woman there. We have been together four five years and she has become a very important part of my life. Her name is Y. But before I tell you her story, I have to use the bathroom.
Unusually cumbersome and carefully Peter gets out of his comfy chair and hobbles to the bathroom: This story is making me quite jittery…
It all began in 2005, it was my second or third bike tour in Bhutan. The East was still inaccessible, only about a third of the western part of the country was open for tourism. The tour ended in the only town that has an airport, Thimpu.
On our last night I wanted to visit a Karaoke bar with some members of the group, just for shit and giggles and a few drinks. There were mostly town folks in there and a lot of girls, one of them being really special, I thought. She was very funny and was sitting on the next table opposite to me. She was doing some songs over the microphone and we began to flirt with each other. When the place shut down, word got around that there was another disco that would still be open. I could not really believe that. Well the disco was some ramshackle place with a stereo system, drinks and locals. Me, being the only foreigner in that place. All of my “elderly” group members had said their good byes and had returned to the hotel. So here I was with her, we danced, and fondled each other and when this dive also finally closed, it was kind of late, we took a little walk, always with her brother as chaperone at her side. It was very special and I had fallen love with that girl. When we finally parted it must have been four o’clock in the morning and I quickly slipped her my business card. The next day we departed from Paro airport and it was a nice memory for me, and I had the creeping feeling that it most probably would remain just that.
A little later I had my local guide make inquiries to find her and get a message to her. But I did not receive any answer, and that put the lid on it, for me, so to speak. Then, it was summer 2006, walking around in Delhi, I suddenly got a call on my mobile: “Remember me, I’m the girl from Bhutan? I want to see you again, I love you so much.” My heart jumped for joy. But I had no plans for any tour in Bhutan at that time. We started to call each other regularly, and I suggested to her to come to India. She said: “I have never been outside of Bhutan, I’ve never been on an airplane, but I have a passport.”
Bhutanese are not required to have a visa for India and vice versa. So she could come, if she wanted to. I sent her some money so she could build up some trust and also be independent. I got her the plane tickets and we planned to meet in Delhi in October. I had two alternatives in mind for her. Either we go to a full moon party in Pushkar in Rajasthan (the whole Goa scene would be there), or I would take her to Kullu valley, my favorite valley and we spend some time there amongst friends. After the first night together in Delhi, it was quite apparent that we would go into the mountains. I had “picked her lock” after a little more than an hour, the bottle of red wine was not even finished…
It started out really well. We took the night bus to Manali. With my Enfield we cruised around the Kullu valley. We had a ten days ‘honeymoon’ and I knew: ‘I want more of this!’ She had to return to Bhutan and I had to get back to Goa. I was to be the main guest and main sponsor of Ranjiita’s marriage, she’s my manageress and ‘good spirit’ in my little resort Casa Tres Amigos, you know. She was getting married to Subash, one of my long-term employees. Y. was supposed to get her affairs in order in Bhutan so that she could follow me down to Goa, which she eventually did. She stayed for four months and we really had a good time together. It looked like the start of a serious relationship.
Y. had held a job as a room maid in a five star hotel in Bhutan before. She has three kids with a husband who treated her badly and was an alcoholic as well. She had already gotten her divorce, which by the way is not unusual in Bhutan, unlike India. She was free; so to speak, her ex-husband was taking care of the three kids, two sons and one daughter, aged six, ten and fourteen. All kids were attending an international school in Delhi. He was the PA of an important member of government working at the Bhutan embassy in Delhi.
Her ex-husband already had a new wife. Y. is a charming lady, she was 34 when we met, she was good with people, and her English was almost perfect. She had a good way of entertaining guests and bikers and was a superb pillion rider for me. An “old lady” who rides with you wherever you go, but on the other hand also a typical Asian, a woman that does her utmost to be there for her man and help him wherever she can.
My life suddenly had become a lot easier, because she took care of a lot of things. On our trips, she took care of our luggage for instance. We were on the road with bike tours almost all the time, you know. She packed and unpacked the suitcases and knew where everything was. She took care of ordering the food and drinks at restaurants, checked the bills, and I had more time to attend to our guests. It really was a fantastic symbiosis. We were good for each other and she was discovering a new world out there.
She was able to leave her beautiful but still isolated Bhutan and saw all those fantastic places that she only knew from the Bollywood movies, places like Manali in Kullu valley, Spiti, Ladakh, Nepal and so on. Our relationship was really doing quite well. I put a lot of trust into her.
In autumn 2007 we went together on a Bhutan trip, and it was almost perfect. She even surpassed my local guide. Apart from visiting the local monasteries (Dzongs), she invited me and the other guests to take part in local festivities, which you would never see as a normal tourist.”
What language do the people speak in Bhutan?
There are nine languages. One high-level language called Dzonka is close to the Tibetan language. Most Bhutanese speak Hindi, because of the Bollywood movies; many speak Nepalese and some Tibetan. Dzonka is spoken by about 60% of the population. The more you get to the East they speak different dialects and also have a different written language.
Is it hard to get a visa for Bhutan?
No, as a tourist you pay 250 $ per day as a minimum. A ten-day Bhutan tour costs you 5.500 Euros, not including flights. You can imagine the kind of people who can afford that. All tours are always completely booked. I offer two long trails and two shorter ones each year.
What is the difference between the two?
Well. the long tour is 17 days. Starting in Darjeeling, India, across Sikkim.
Then we come into Bhutan from the West and leave the country getting into Assam, again India. The short tour regroups with the long tour at the Paro airport in Bhutan and both groups cross Bhutan from West to East in ten days and we leave the country, crossing the Sikkim border in East India.
Do they have an airline in Bhutan?
Yes, they do. It’s called Druk-Air. They have two small Airbuses and two smaller turbo-props. Delhi, Kathmandu, Dakar and Bangkok have daily flights to Paro. Calcutta does not have daily flights.
I have interrupted you with your story…
Through Y. I got to know a Bhutanese, who had approached her. He had heard about me coming to Bhutan more often now, and that I had this bike tour company in India. His name is Tandin and he is a rather well known businessman in Bhutan. Had the first Disco and Snooker saloon in Bhutan.
He comes from an aristocratic family and he was a biker by heart. He desperately wanted to get into the biking business and he was convinced that Bhutan needed a proper Biker’s Club. A real MC! He wanted to establish this motorcycle club, and he had already started to set it in motion. That club, called Bhutan Dragons MC, was founded in 2008 with 12 members. He was to be the president, of course. A little awkward at first, but he had the right spirit. I then invited him to come to Ladakh to join one of our tours, so he can get an idea how such a tour should be organized.
A country like Bhutan with a population of 700.000, over half of them living in villages without roads or electricity, a place where only a fraction of the population is educated and has a western, more cosmopolitan view-point, a biker truly is an exotic animal! There were maybe 30 or 40 people in all that had any interest in motorcycling. For the rest, it was just a means of transport, like a car.There were hardly any roads to speak of at that time. There are a few more by now. Of course, I immediately became a member as well, I was ordained by a Buddhist priest with a proper ceremony. All of a sudden I was very close to Bhutan. I even considered, moving to Bhutan, why not? As a foreigner there is only one way that they would allow you to live there, though. And that is through marriage. My girlfriend agreed to that. Through Tandin, we got an appointment with the high court judge. He would have to decide if the marriage is a true love-marriage that would be accepted in Bhutan.
We had to bring witnesses of high standing to testify that we really wanted the marriage out of love for each other and not only to get a residence permit. And he gave his OK. I had to get some papers from the mayor here in Goa, that I had no pending lawsuit, and that he knew me for 10 years and to testify, I was not already married. The same letters were sent to Germany. We got all that together and we were ready to get married, we had planned the ceremony for spring 2009, April/May to be exact, since I had no tours in that period. The marriage with all the ceremonies would have taken up to six weeks. And we were ready. Then another idea came up. During that time we could go to Germany. For many Asians, this is a dream, to visit the West, you know. See the UK or USA or Germany of course. Y. was totally for it, and said we can always get married at a later stage. ‘Let’s go to Germany’ she said.
So then, I started the necessary red tape to get her a visa, which was not that easy, because Germany has no consulate or embassy in Bhutan – everything runs through India. Since I had a Goa residence, the German consulate in Mumbai had to be approached. My father in Germany had to go to the immigration office and present an invitation and had to vouch for her. Another external agency checked all the paperwork and Y. got an interview appointment where it would be decided whether she would get a visa or not. All went well, we travelled to Germany and spent a wonderful time there. That year, like we do every two years, we had a big ‘Sauerland Biker–Party’.
Well over 300 biker friends came to the ‘Waldschützenhalle’ to have a true biker bash, you know, with a campfire, barbecue, live music, slide shows and movie clips. Of course my girl Y. was the one person who had the longest trip getting there. I showed her all there is to see in Germany, starting in Hamburg with the Reeperbahn, the dome in Cologne and the historic quarter, the fairy-tale castle of Neu-Schwanstein, after that Munich and Berlin, where we explored the city in a rickshaw. Berlin has a great nightlife. And finally we returned to my parents place and spent a wonderful time with them and with my other family members. My father came up with tickets for a Schalke football game. That was a gigantic event. In the mountain state of Bhutan there a never more then maybe 100 people gathering at any given time or event. Suddenly, 60.000 football fans surrounded her. Unfortunately, Schalke lost that day. But the atmosphere was overwhelming. Naturally she was wearing her Schalke t-shirt and scarf and all that. One week later AC/DC played the same stadium and my brother wanted to go with all of his friends. They managed to get us tickets and what can I tell you, this was an even bigger show. We got to stand in the inner circle, just in front of the stage. The mosh-pit, you know, where everybody is pushing and shoving and where you really feel the energy of a live concert. I think that made quite an impression on her, for me too of course.
She was immediately welcomed into my family circle and my parents. It was plain to see for everyone, that we were a couple and belonged together. Our relationship was supposed to last. We flew back after two months and did a tour together that summer in Ladakh, than Spiti and Nepal in autumn and finally after that Goa. We had a Bhutan tout scheduled for November and she had planned to stay back home for a while, because of her family. She has nine siblings plus her mother, who, by the way was a total recluse and lived as a nun. Through me, our relationship enabled her to become the main sponsor of the whole family. She had rented a new house, and the whole family could be brought together again. Anyway she wanted to spend some time up there and we arranged to meet later on in February back in Goa. Coming down again she was supposed to make a stop in Mumbai to go the German consulate to obtain her next visa for Germany. Because she had liked Germany so much, she had started to learn German with the help of some language tapes from the Goethe institute. After six weeks she was able to speak some complete sentences. Apart from speaking the high Bhutanese language, she spoke Nepali and Hindi and very good English, and German was not very difficult for her. I had spent two months here in Goa, expecting her to come down; I figured that it would maybe take two days in Mumbai for her to get her Schengen visa. We had planned to spend some time together, do some more tours and in May return to Germany.
And than the whole thing blew apart: The day she arrived in Mumbai she must have had some sort of physical or mental breakdown. She just collapsed. She tried to call me, but I had left my mobile in my room and was entertaining some guests. So, I just found out when I came back late that night. I tried to reach her, no luck; she had been put into a small private hospital. Later that night she sent me a text message stating that our relationship was over, that she did not want to live with me anymore and that she would be flying back to Bhutan the next day. She would not need any Schengen visa, since she was fed up with my ‘jet-set lifestyle”. She wanted to live in her country, the way she was used to amongst her people. And that was that. I was flabbergasted, thunderstruck, as you can imagine. What a shock, it came totally out of the blue. In the meantime, I can understand the disparity in our relationship, for each of us the relationship meant something different. She did see me as her partner, but she was 20 years younger then I. Of course some materialistic interests played a role as well. She had no proper professional education, no regular income.
Living day by day, from hand to mouth, so to speak like so many do in Bhutan. Life is even cheaper there than in India. Through me she had seen a totally different world, and I was in the position of helping her and her family. I was the big sugar daddy, paying for each and everybody, which did not really bother me; I do like to share, if I am in the position to do so. I still believe in good Karma and for that you have to do something, give something back. I guess, from her side it was not the big romantic love affair.
In the first year we had a very exciting sex-life, trying out all sorts of things, but in hindsight I am not so sure, if she just did it to please me or if she really enjoyed it. She was the number one in my life, the most important, yes, but not the only one. I still was having other affairs. It was never a problem really. The most important thing was, that I could trust her completely. This trust vanished of course when this thing happened. It was a complete knockout! It took me a couple of weeks to get to grips with that. She was rejecting any kind of communication. So I had no idea, what was behind all this. I had some ideas, but I really did not know for sure. I was so completely off the rails that I cancelled the upcoming Bhutan tour. I was busy licking my wounds..
Well, like I said, she had spent that one night in hospital and then took off for Bhutan the next day and there was no communication between us whatsoever. She changed her mobile number, did not answer any mails and eventually, I stopped trying. I said to myself: ‘just face reality and try to accept it.
I went back to Germany to visit an old friend of mine; I might just call her the carnival princess here. First thing she told me was that she had just found her dream boy and was about to get married. So there I was, again all alone by myself. I could not even have an affair. I left Germany and went to Ladakh, where I had to guide the tours all summer long. There were two important tours scheduled for Bhutan in October that I wanted to do and could not be delegated. So there I was, my first evening in Bhutan, staying in my favorite hotel in Paro the Gangtey Palace, where I wanted to get some extra rest before the group was supposed two days later. Sitting in my room, there is a knock at the door and who is standing there? Y. with a girlfriend, says she wants to talk.
Well, I had brought a bottle of Jameson whiskey from duty free, which I placed on the table. And then we went ahead and drank it between the three of us. Her friend more or less told the whole story what had happened to Y., that she had had an affair during the winter with a masseur from Cambodia, who was working at the same 5-star hotel where she had held a job before. He got her pregnant and on her way to Goa she had just had an abortion, or maybe she didn’t, that was not made quite clear to me. Anyway, the guy who got her pregnant dumped her. Then she realized she could not keep that story secret from me, and the closer she got to Goa, she realized what a scene she would be facing, confronting me. She was really scared of how I would react. Therefore, the breakdown. That evening in the hotel ended with all three of us being quite pissed and she begged me on her knees to take her back, to give her a second chance.
I said to her: ‘No way, I am through with you!’ Than, I threw both of them out of the room. What I did not know was, that Y. had rented a car for that day and my hotel was situated at the bottom of a very steep hill. Y. had no driving license, no driving experience and was drunk as well. On her way up to the town, she swerved off the road and crashed into a ravine. The car was smashed and she got taken to a hospital. She had broken both of her forearms and called me the next day from the hospital. My comment: ‘I don’t go into hospitals. They make me sick.’ Her actions were her Karma – she should deal with it. I did not want to have anything to do with her anymore. I told her that she could keep any stuff of mine that was still with her. After that I did those two tours. They were pretty wild, since I was all shook up. After the end of the second tour I saw her again. Both arms were in a cast.
I went down to Goa and spent the winter there, realizing though, that something was amiss, that I was more connected to Y. then I wanted to admit, that there really was a hole that could not that easily be filled. I did a tour in Thailand, where there are abundant possibilities to distract oneself. But it did not work. I realized, that this is not what I want, distraction. I began to realize, that I should try to work this thing out, forgive her and try to give it a second chance. So I called her up asking her to meet me in Kathmandu, to talk things over. We met in Kathmandu and after a thorough heart to heart, I suggested we should give it another go for one year, see how it goes, after that we’ll see if we are able and willing to have a lasting relationship, and if not, so be it. We spent the months of spring together and after that, I went to Germany by myself and returned for the Ladakh season, where she was supposed to join me, but she had to go back to Bhutan.
Her ex-husband had been transferred back to Bhutan, where he immediately started drinking again. Within six weeks he managed to drink himself to death. Three kids without their father, the second younger wife did not want to have anything to do with the kids. Now Y. had to be there, take up the responsibilities. This was a total game changer; of course since being a mother of three children attending school, you can hardly spend months at a time abroad, away from the kids. But we managed to get along for a while. Y.’s younger sister and her mother, who refrained from going on prolonged pilgrimages, took turns caring for the children.
Y. was able to leave for six weeks, but it was obvious that she was not as free as before. Before she had always met her kids in Delhi, since all our tours passed through Delhi. We still did some very nice tours together and then in March 2012 our year had passed. We both had to admit, that our relationship was still very strong, but not like it used to be. The unconditional trust that I once had put into her was gone and did not return.
My relationship with her had developed some serious cracks. I was always on the ready to expect something to change from her side. The marriage was off the table. I would never go that far as to make myself dependent upon her just to be able to live in Bhutan. So, after that year we reached a point where we mutually agreed that we would stay together as partners, do some travelling together, I would continue to support her family and we would just see what would happen.
Something that never went back to normal was our sexual relationship. Sure, we tried, but it did not work. I could not cope with the idea that she had been together with another man, who had knocked her up. All forgiveness and trying to forget, that fact always stood between us. I just could not bear it any longer. That was how the situation was last spring, to be continued when we meet next time… say in a couple of days, ok?
Second Interview session: A week passed and almost all the wounds and bruises had healed up pretty well, and the shiner around his eye had also disappeared.
The latest development in my relation towards Y. is that I have decided to cut her off, financially. I have reached a point where I could clearly see that this relationship is not working and that there will be no future for us together. Y. has completely integrated herself into family life in Bhutan, next to her own three children she has taken on four others from close relatives and she is happy being a mother and taking care of the kids. To try to artificially keep this relationship alive is futile, and another point is that I have no more intentions to be the big spender. I was hinting at this talking to her, you know, that my financial help would run out sometime, because there was absolutely nothing happening from her side to take up responsibilities for her own life. She started telling me she was about to open up a boutique, a restaurant and this and that, but nothing came of it, ever. Naturally I was the one supposed to finance all of this.
I pulled out and the reason for this was the following: Her son had just finished his 12th grade but did not score high enough to make it into college. So she called me up asking me if I would be willing to pay for his tutions in a private college. Suddenly it had reached a point, where I just had no more sympathies left in me, to go along with that bullshit. That brat is just plain lazy, depending on his mother and myself to give him money which he then spends on booze, drugs and cigarettes and girls. Now he wants to join all the other spoiled brats on Indian campuses and that on my expense! Yesterday I wrote to her, that enough is enough and that was that. So she goes her way and I go mine. Also, I am slowly getting out of my self-imposed recluse. I had some very nice affairs this winter. So all is not lost with my sexual life, and I am feeling pretty good right now, because of that. It has something to do with what I am about to tell you now. It all started two years ago, when Y.and I had separated for real for the first time.
I retreated into my favorite village in the Kullu valley in the Indian Himalaya. Staying with friends I did a Panchakarma Cure. It is a cleansing and detox cure lasting four weeks. Doing some trekking and long walks in the woods, Yoga and a strict diet – it has worked wonders. Just before I was about to leave, I met a longtime Italian acquaintance of mine. We were never real friends, but we knew each other for a long time. His name is Eris, the builder. He is building houses in the traditional style like they used to be built in the past here in the Himalayas. Only with wood and stone, without cement or plastic. This kind of style is called Kath Kuni. In English you would call it Tudor style, He has been building these houses for other people, all in all maybe over 100 houses, all very beautiful.
His clients were mostly well to do locals, who could not find anybody who had the know-how to built these houses. The best houses he built for himself. He found a beautiful spot in the Kullu valley, in the middle of the forest, not easily accessible.
It is awesome, open to the South, you can see the Bea River 700 m below and higher up you see the 3.000m mountain tops. He invited me for dinner one day, and I always wanted to see that place.
Enjoying pasta and red wine he told me he was planning to sell this fantastic property. I was shocked! ‘ This can’t be possible, I thought, ‘you simply don’t sell a prime location like that.’ I had been looking for 15 years to find such a place. We quickly settled the deal. He wanted to go back to Italy after 30 years in India. He had already spotted an old derelict castle from the time of the Templars and wanted to restore it. My best friend Vinod helped me to buy the place, since being not from Himachal, I was not allowed to purchase land or a house in the state of Himachal Pradesh. Foreigners or Indians, no difference.
So you need a real good friend, with a good respected family that has a certain clout in the community. The whole family helped me and two months later, the contracts were signed. Eris had registered the property under the name of a certain Lama from Spiti. So first we had to find that guy. He asked for a small donation and in January, I was the new owner. I made sure that Vinod could be trusted, so I made him Managing Director of my company. This is my bike tour company, which I will move to Himachal Pradesh from Goa.
The company has leased the house and the land for 99 years and the contract cannot be terminated. Once my company is registered her in Himachal, the lease will be turned into sale of property. Vinod is really doing me a great favor here. He owns a small travel agency, and in his family home he has some guest cottages, like homestays. They also own a small hotel and an Ayurveda clinic.
My life center from now on will be in the Kullu valley in Himachal Pradesh. My further plans regarding my resort in Goa are that I would like to find a buyer for it. For some time now, I don’t feel at home there anymore. I just have to cut my ties with Goa. The resort is a well-run establishment and I can sell it anytime. 2014 or 2015 the latest, I will be out of Goa for sure.
So you found a new home?
That’s right, I mentioned that in our first interview, six years ago, that I could see myself rather in the Kullu valley for the rest of my days.
I always felt very good up there. I just know and feel that that is the place to be for me, my center of energy. The “Mountain People” have a totally different character from the people here on the South Coast. I am from the Sauerland myself, a mountainous region, even if you might call it hills rather than real mountains. I just get along better with people from those regions.
In 2012 the whole place underwent some development, a small garden was built and we put in a terrace, erected some stonewalls and built a guesthouse.
I am not living there all by myself, mind you. Some part of the areal that Eris had built, he previously sold to a businessman from New Delhi. This guy has family connections to the state of Himachal, who enabled the sale. This businessman Vivek S. is not a very bright light, business wise, but he likes to make people believe that he is. He is full of plans about what he wants to do with the place and what a big shot he is. One of those macho Delhi-Wallas, you know.
Well, this guy has a partner, who owns a chain of resorts and this Raja O. is not a Himachali, he is from Bihar, so he cannot buy anything for himself. So he financed the second purchase of a farmhouse for Vivek.S. – this was supposed to become a real sort of hotel and both of them speculated that they would get the house that I just bought as well. But they crossed Eris when the first purchase took place. They just behaved like usual Indians: Promising everything in the beginning and after that delivering nothing. Eric was so pissed off with them that he told them: ‘I am not going to sell you anything anymore.’
That was the moment where I stepped in. All of a sudden I was the new owner of the prettiest house of the whole complex. The jewel in the crown, so to speak. The road leading down to the complex is built in such a way, that they have to pass my house, and that really rubbed them off. I will never sell the place to them. I have plans to develop the whole area below the apple orchard as well. This made them even more and more annoyed.
First we were still on speaking terms and invited each other to visit, but soon it had reached a point where my neighbor tried to put me under pressure, with some success, I might add. There was a tree close to our premises that was already split in half and it was bound to fall down in the next storm. Vinod had contacted the forest department. The arrangement was: ‘You cut the tree, although that’s illegal, but the usual red tape would take too long, so you pay a small fine and after that you can buy the timber for fire wood.’
What we had not anticipated, was, that on the day the tree was cut, our neighbor got wind of the situation and immediately raised hell. He called the forest department, telling them a wild story about us cutting several trees, illegally stealing wood. They called the local officials and got the affirmation that it was just the one tree that had to be felled, everything is in order.’ So it went not any further. Then he called the highest police commissioner and they filed a complaint about me cutting a tree illegally, on top of that they accused me of stealing wood and that is a punishable crime.
So the police were forced to react and put me into preliminary custody. The judge then decides if you get released on bail or not. So the police showed up and said: “ We got pressured from on high and we have to start an investigation. So we started to flex some muscles and called our guys. One week they were just investigating, after that the level of pressure got so high that the chief of police gave the order to put us into custody.
The chief of police threatened to come down personally to check on the situation, and so we had to spend one night in jail. Before moving into our cell, which by the way they had cleaned up with bed sheets and all, we had dinner and some drinks. Next morning the judge looked at our flimsy file declaring, there is no need to keep us in custody but we would have to come up with bail money. We could leave immediately.
Now if there is a lawsuit going on in India it can take years, and that is not a nice situation to be involved in. I had to give them my passport and the police did not give it back to me. Only our second lawyer, Sunny Singh Rana, got that sorted out.
I got my passport back but if I wanted to leave the country I would have to obtain permission. And that is a hassle. You have to appear in person for every application, you don’t know what time they will decide on your case since there are over 30 such cases to be dealt with every day, could happen your case is not even dealt with that day and you are told to come back next day. Such small matter can drag on for weeks on end. Just to get my passport back I had to go there three times in a three week period, without even speaking to the judge.
So coming May, the court session about the tree will finally take place. It might be that at some point they might just quash the indictment but this could take time. My lawyer says we better be prepared for a two year timespan, at least. So it will be a suspenseful time to come… My neighbor has made a lot of enemies through his actions in the community. And I got a lot of friends in return. Such an incident gets around fast, you know, and the support for me by the community members is 100% on my side. They despise people who come up from Delhi and raise such a ruckus. I think there will be an aftermath to that, but I won’t have anything to do with that. That’s not my Karma. I just did my own investigation about my neighbor’s doings. He is a member of the Gandhi-Fellowship association.
A foundation, whose aim it is to make better people out of students, something like a new elite caste. They own places and hold seminars. Most attendees are girls. There are different opinions whether this project is sound at all. My guess is, that my neighbor wanted to have that resort to ‘secretly experiment’ on those teenagers. They had some groups here already, dismissing all the staff as soon as the girls arrived. Nobody was to know what exactly went down there. Now I’m sitting right on top of him. He cannot do anything that I am not aware of, if I want to know. The business was not registered as a hotel but as a homestay, his private dwellings, with rooms for rent, to save on taxes. Such a private house is not permitted to accommodate groups of people, just individuals and it is restricted to two rooms per house, you have to live there yourself and you can rent the rooms to tourists. But what he is doing is having a hotel with five units. But that is not of my concern. So I was sort of grounded last autumn on my farm in the Kullu valley. And I had to delegate my two tours in Nepal and Bhutan. I discovered that it could be done. I had to look really hard to find the right people, but in the end all went down very well. I had to stay put for three months in a row, without packing and re-packing suitcases for the first time in my life. I was used to that lifestyle over the last decades, and I had enjoyed it, but it really wears you down. Now again I am staying for three months down here in Goa and I do like it, really.
My team here in Goa attending my small resort Casa Tres Amigos is fabulous. The spirit of the workplace has never been better. The operation runs smoothly and the guests are happy. So I’m not really pushing for a sale right now, because I like it here so much.
Do you plan to take the bike garage up to Kullu valley?
Sure, we already have a garage and a store room in Delhi. From there we move the bikes to their various tours. To Ladakh and Spiti, to Nepal, Bhutan and Rajasthan. Goa is our winter retreat, but most of the tours start from Delhi. We have a big truck there, which can hold 18 bikes. It’s like a moving circus, wherever the tour starts the truck goes. I always had a small garage in Kullu valley with room for 15 bikes, because some tours were starting from there.
Is your staff also going with you?
Yes, some of them will. Last year, when I had made up my mind to sell and leave Goa for good in a couple of years, I had told the staff about my plans. Some of them are from up there, you know, those will definitely come. And the others with their roots here in Goa are probably staying here. Whoever buys this guesthouse would be foolish not to take over the staff.
My eyes wander along the wall with all the pictures in his office. All pictures are by a famous Russian painter, all have motifs of the Himalayas; in his later years he had settled in Naggar, (Kullu valley).
The pictures from Nicholas Roerich are already here?
Yes, and I also brought the mountain climate with me, provided you have a working AC. Anything above 25 C is too hot for me to get any work done. Those three months of winter are perfect here in Goa, the climate is ideal, but soon after that it gets very humid and hot. I need half of my energy just to stand the climate.
Is it hard to sell real estate in India?
It can be difficult to sell real estate in India, yes, especially if it is expensive. Only the rich Indians are in the market and they’re all crooks. So you have to be very careful. We did have two interesting parties but my tax consultant warned me: “Don’t sell it to those guys, they will cheat you.”
There are numerous payments involved. There must be trust, and that is the big problem. To find interested buyers is not so hard. Assagao has become one of the hot spots in the real estate market in Goa. There are so many rich Indians, who want to have a stake in it. Half of the village is already owned by people from Delhi, Bangalore or Mumbai, ministers, heads of industries, people from the entertainment industry like Bollywood. It has become sort of a VIP village.
When I sell this complex, I won’t have to work another day in my life. I can do whatever I want. And this brings us to the last part of my story. There is a new project that I am working on quite hard. Instead of the Kullu valley, I was about to settle in Bhutan with Y., remember? As a foreigner you can get married in Bhutan and also get invested, open up a business, buy a house, but you can never be the proprietor.
Even when your spouse dies, all would go to her family, never to me. I would be left standing in the rain. So, after the marriage was off the table, thinking about a way around that problem, I found a new approach. The young people, those with a broader horizon, they all would really like to go abroad to study or to work. And many of them would like to go to Germany. In the case of Germany first you would have to know some German, right? And there is no way to learn German in Bhutan.Young Bhutanese who want to learn German, like my girlfriend would have to go to India, Thailand or Nepal to attend courses at the Goethe-Institute.
So I got an idea: Why not open up a German Language institute or cultural center in Bhutan.
This idea is revolving in my head for two years now. And it gets more and more realistic. Next week I have an appointment with the head of the Goethe–Institutes in all Asia. I had given him a short description of my plans and he was very interested. The Goethe-Institutes are strapped for cash at the moment, so that they are not opening up any more branches, they only work in a sort of franchise function, allowing local associations or charities run the place on their own financial risk.
The Goethe-Institutes will choose the teachers, supply teaching material and supervising the final exams. This is what will happen, most likely. Thanks to my wood cutting incident I got to know some people from the embassy. Of course they would like to have someone in Bhutan representing German culture. Every Bhutanese interested in German affairs has to go to Delhi. There are two private associations, “Bhutan-Hilfe” and “Pro-Bhutan” they are NGO’s, there is no state foreign aid. Between Germany and Bhutan there is almost no exchange whatsoever at the moment. But as a private individual you could get support for something like this.
I am a member of the only Biker Club in Bhutan, the Bhutan Dragons, as you know, they have over 50 members now. All of those who own a bike belong to the rarified upper crust of society. I told them about my project and they would support it. Apart from the language courses we would like to pass on some German culture, have a library, a bakery and a brewery. On top of the language courses, I would like to offer a proper professional training program for the locals. I do have a lot of contacts in Germany to people working in the industrial sector and also in manual crafts. Many I know from our bike tours. If I would introduce this project to them, I am sure there will be support from that side also, financially. Also giving young people the opportunity to learn a craft or come and study in Germany, you know, get some professional experience in the workplace.
The cultural life in Bhutan only takes place in the main three cities in Bhutan. The country is about the size of Switzerland and 700.000 people altogether. In the capital Thimpu alone, there are about 70.000, another 40.000 in the western city of Phuentsoling, and 30.000 in the greater area of Paro with the only airport in the country.
There is a good college, a good university and everybody knows everybody in the so-called ruling class. But I do know many people not belonging to that class who would gladly jump at the chance to get a university degree, but there is the problem of big unemployment. There are some jobs in the tourism sector and administration, but that’s it. Some would like to get into a technical or business career; they are attending English-speaking schools at the moment. They do speak good English most of them over there.
So why not give them a little bit of Germany? There is a Japanese cultural institute already. The woman leading it is married to a Bhutanese. Her husband is the vice president of our biking club. Through her I would learn how to go about installing such an institute. In the near future I am having an appointment with the brother of the king, who’s driving a Harley Davidson. Maybe he would be the right person to get the patronage of the trust. I would need someone from high above to hold his protective hand over the whole thing.
That sound like a very interesting project
Well yes, but I would need around half a million dollars for that. That is just the entry fee. A Swiss biker brother is a fine architect and married in Bhutan. He has done 30 years of foreign aid, building bridges, schools and houses. Him being a friend of mine he has agreed to build the schoolhouse.
Another told me about a free lot that would be ideal, situated close to the capital. I even have a sponsor for the brewery already; another one wants to build a workshop for heating installations. In Bhutan they heat their homes either with electricity of wood fires.
With the school fees, I would hardly be able to pay for good teachers. The whole project has to be self-sufficient in the long run. I imagine what the teachers are concerned there might enough volunteers to take up the chance to take a sabbatical for half a year and work in Bhutan as long food and accommodation are provided for.
Epilogue, written after a three week Bhutan trip in April 2013:
Well yes, but I would need around half a million dollars for that. That is just the entry fee. A Swiss biker brother is a fine architect and married in Bhutan. He has done 30 years of foreign aid, building bridges, schools and houses. Him being a friend of mine he has agreed to build the schoolhouse. Another told me about a free lot that would be ideal, situated close to the capital. I even have a sponsor for the brewery already; another one wants to build a workshop for heating installations. In Bhutan they heat their homes either with electricity of wood fires.
With the school fees, I would hardly be able to pay for good teachers. The whole project has to be self-sufficient in the long run. I imagine what the teachers are concerned there might enough volunteers to take up the chance to take a sabbatical for half a year and work in Bhutan as long food and accommodation are provided for.
In Delhi I had the opportunity to have some informative and extensive talks with the head of the Goethe-Institutes language section, as well as some higher up people of the German consulate. Both institutions are responsible for Bhutan. After that I realized what kinds of red tape it would take for me to overcome, if I wanted my small language institute for Bhutan to become a reality with the support of German institutions. I also learned that there were already two “competing” Bhutan help trusts in Germany, both claiming to be the ‘true good Germans’ in Bhutan. There are people involved with big egos, who like to move around in diplomatic and official circles.
During my three week trip in Bhutan I also had the chance to talk to several more people, with two Germans and two Swiss expats, who were living in Bhutan for a long time already also I spoke with some Bhutanese with connections to Germany.
Just to get it into a perspective: There are only four Germans living in Bhutan at the moment and maybe 20 Bhutanese who have learned some German. Some can even hold a conversation in German…
What I quickly learned was, there is hardly any interest in the German language, since nobody needs it, except he/she wants to go to Germany or wants to live with a German. All German tourists travelling to Bhutan speak or at least understand enough travel-English, so there is no demand for German-speaking tourist guides. There are practically no German companies or businesses doing commerce with Bhutan and if so, everything is done in English. In March, a private language school opened in Thimpu, giving French, Chinese and German classes. In the first three months, for French, there were 12 applicants, for Chinese 30 and for German just four. That, for a 6-day course (90min/per day), with a Swiss teacher for only 120€ per month. One could assume and rightly so, that there would be no demand for a German language institute. But that is not the only reason that I decided to put a stop to all plans for this project.
There are many more. Most important one for me is: The installation and build-up of the envisaged project would mean for me to o a lot of official running around all the respective institutions in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. This town has, in my eyes at least, developed to the worse and that very fast. There is a consumer chaos and traffic chaos. Street crime is rampant; people get more and more aggressive and malcontent. The more they try to live after the Western image.
Bhutan is not a peaceful Shangri-La. There is high unemployment, and widespread alcohol and drug abuse, violence and increasing slum rise, especially in the capital and in the trading towns along the Indian border.
Bhutan still is a country with a great hospitality towards travellers and a beautiful Himalaya landscape, nature and a land with a deeply ingrained Buddhist culture. But the calmness and peacefulness are going fast, faster then I thought possible 2 or 3 years ago. The “enforced” democracy plays a big part in it as well. There is massive corruption and power plays. The contentment of the people is rapidly waning.
That at least was my impression on my last trip.
Nothing will happen next year that is for sure. I will get more first hand impressions on my upcoming Bhutan tours, keep in touch with my contacts and the idea of a “German House” will be on the back burner for now in the back of my head. Soon there will be the first German honorary consul for Bhutan; he’s a very nice and experienced man, by the way. Perhaps German foreign aid could come back to Bhutan this way. At the moment, only a few fixed timeframe projects from “senior experts” are active in Bhutan, they do important work there of course.
I also learned that the “Indo-German-Chamber of Commerce” showed some interest in an educational project in Bhutan. So there are good role models at least.
The Austrians and even more so the Swiss, are much more active in Bhutan, as advisers in the tourism sector and as consultants in teaching hotel staff, for example. Also they advise in modern agriculture as well as in the hydroelectric sector. I for myself, for the coming years will stay in my farmhouse in the Kullu valley, which becomes more and more my new home.