Those winding roads of Bhutan offer not just spectacular views but a smooth ride and drivers with great discipline. When there was a rare traffic hold up, nobody selfishly tried to get ahead by driving on the wrong side or honking unto eternity. An interesting fact is that a lot of the road work is done by India.
As we settled ourselves into the airplane the first leg of our journey to Bhutan I recollected the TED talk given by the President of Bhutan about what they as a country hope to achieve over the next few years. He spoke about concepts like Gross National Happiness, being carbon negative and several other things. It was a coincidence that I happened to come across the video just a week before my planned trip to Bhutan. I guess all I could say was I would get to experience all this first hand. In the overly cynical world of today, we need to see with our own eyes before we believe.
While I took the tourists route for my trip to Bhutan, the crowds were very bearable and I actually ended up having a very pleasant and relaxed time. From it’s amazing culture to it’s raw natural beauty it’s a place that will take your breath away.
Getting into Bhutan
We began our journey from Pune and a couple of flights later ended up at Bagdogra in the state of West Bengal. From there it’s a 4 hour drive to get to Phuentsholing which was the first town on our journey into Bhutan. The drive was quite nice for the most part which also takes you through some tea plantations but also some chaotic areas. One of the strangest things I noticed here was crossing several bridges that looked like they were over vast expanses of water. When we got close though, what looked like water turned out actually be vast stretches of silt or sand. Whether things have always been this way or it’s a result of the current rainfall situation was hard to say.
Jaigaon was the last town in India before you cross over into Phuentsholing in Bhutan. The border between the two is just a simple gate with no security check of any sort. You can simply pass through between the 2 cities by driving across the gate. The most striking thing about it is the utter contrast between the two cities as soon as you drive through the gate. It’s almost complete chaos versus calmness. The difference is striking considering that both the towns are literally a stone’s throw away from each other.
Phuentsholing is the town where you need to secure a permit to be allowed to travel further into Bhutan. So we stayed overnight at the lovely Park hotel. One of the things my tour guy had mentioned and that I noticed from the very first hotel to the last was that most of the hotel staff comprises of women. It wasn’t just cooking or housekeeping that they took care of. They were also the ones to carry your bags up to the room. Which as a gentleman can be a slightly embarassing revelation.
After that overnight halt we spent almost 3 -4 hrs of the next day in getting our travel permits. This despite a local travel agent helping us out. In retrospect it was probably the most stressful part of the entire trip. Though we spent most of our time in the office just waiting our turn it was a tiny room with too many people and a general feeling of chaos.
Once we were on our way to our first destination Thimpu is when Bhutan’s beauty really opened up to us. It’s a 6 hour journey through stunning mountains and valleys but it’s all winding roads and those prone to motion sickness might have a tough time. The temperatures dropped drastically and even we who aren’t usually prone to motion sickness struggled a bit.
We stopped for lunch at Hotel Dam view a much needed pitstop. It was the only restaurant on the way to our destination but it offered a wonderful view and great food. It’s where we tried both dosa and Keva Datsi which is a traditional Bhutanese dish. Both were amazing and we highly recommend this restaurant to any of you who pass this way. To cope with the motion sickness the restaurant owner also recommended something called butter tea which I loved despite not being a tea drinker.
After lunch we felt a lot better and could really begin to appreciate the scenic beauty of the country. The traditional buddhist prayer flags also started appearing at several points along the way.
Th roads weren’t crowded and it was incredibly peaceful. This bridge that we crossed along the way felt like an antidote to all the chaos of India we had left behind and we had to stop for a few moments to let it sink in.
More about the next part of our trip to Bhutan will come in a series of subsequent posts.