The Bulldozer

The day we left for the Haa Valley was bright and sunny. I was looking forward to driving over the 12,500 foot high Chele La Pass. The road to the Valley took us south from Thimphu, Bhutan's capital. At Chhuzom it split off. One fork went south to Phuentsholing and the border with India. The other took us into the Wang Chu valley and then Haa. It was open and lightly trafficked. I was relieved that we wouldn't have to face anything like the traffic jam from Paro to Thimphu. I was feeling relieved too soon. A man, a Nepalese road worker in full jumpsuit and fuller brush moustache, flagged us down. The road ahead was blocked by a landslide. We were not to worry, he said. He was going for the earth mover. Where on earth is he going to find an earth mover out here in the middle of almost nowhere? I wondered.

I got out of the van and walked toward the blockage. All I saw were a few stones in the road. This is nothing, I thought. We can move these ourselves. Then I turned the bend. The entire side of an overhanging cliff had broken off and tumbled into the road. There was no way we could get around this. This was a major catastrophe. We'll be here all day, I thought. Maybe even all night.

Namgey backed the van down onto a side slip. We waited. After a few minutes I heard a rumble. A huge bulldozer lumbered into view. I felt like a character in an American Wild West movie. I'm in a fort being besieged by marauders. At the moment of despair I heard the bugler sounding charge.

The driver of the bulldozer was the same Nepalese man in the jumpsuit, the one with the dark moustache. Somehow he conjured up a bulldozer on a narrow road leading up the Wang Chu Valley where there was hardly enough room for two cars, let alone an earth moving machine. Like Santa Claus he went right to his work. He started with the small stuff, nimbly dumping it over the cliff to the left of the road. Then came the big stuff, one, in particular, a giant boulder that had crashed down right smack in the middle of the road as if to say, Move me if you dare.

The driver, mirabilus dictum, moved it. He was a virtuoso with that machine, driving the blade under the boulder until it caught, then revving the engine while the boulder fought back, lifting the entire right rear end of the bulldozer off the ground. The driver backed off for another assault and then another and another until, amid the cheers of the crowd that had gathered, he sent the massive stone toppling over the road edge to its green grave in the valley far below. I raised my fist to him in a power salute. He saluted back, his bright, white teeth shining in his face like the moon in a dark sky.

Namgey drove the van up to where we'd been standing. I got back in, flushed with the excitement of the battle I'd just witnessed. "That was amazing, Namgey!" I said. "Have you ever seen anything like it?"

"Yes," said Namgey, and moved us on up the road toward Haa.

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