The rear wheels touched the runaway and then the front ones. I was back home, from a road trip that was eye-opening and rejuvenating. You come back from Europe and North America, you do not have much changed in you. You become more urban maybe. But when you get back from a country, where everyone is happy and content, you learn a lot. True happiness isn’t money or growth but in love and affection. This is what I learnt after my trip to Bhutan. A country, from where I had not too high hopes about.
We began our journey from Bagdogra, there is a direct from here to New Delhi and even from Guwahati. A small town in West Bengal that has an airport facility. If you go there in September, you will be welcomed by the hot and sticky weather. Not too many offerings for you if in search of luxury. Though we were lucky enough to be picked up in the luxurious Honda cars and driven to the outskirts of the city – to The Citi Dhaba. Anyways, what’s in the name, when one of the most well-known cable operator in Mumbai was known as Siti Cable. Who are we to judge, when Starbucks has some employees writing incorrect spellings of your coffee cup. The story begins here. A dhaba with air-con and good food. Who knew what is in the store ahead. I haven’t even tried Bhutanese cuisine and wasn’t sure what is in store. So, I decided to feed myself well.
From Bagdogra it was about 140 odd kilometres to the border. As my passport was due to expire, I didn’t get the e-visa and my worry was about the border paper work that will take some more time. Anyways this was all playing in my head only. Back to reality, I got into the Honda WR-V. I have always liked the way it looks. So different from the Jazz, still on the same platform. I was driving the diesel engine, this reminds me that Honda was celebrating its 3 lakh sales of this oil burner. I still have the memory when the new Amaze diesel engine in Japan, 4 months before its official launch in India. This was the moment, when my thought about what this engine could do and it has been doing so. This engine isn’t just powerful, but also so efficient. The 1.5-litre diesel engine… oops I again took you into a different time. You see my mind easily gets carried away into different thoughts.
Alrighty, now I get behind the wheel and drive off from the Bag-wati err Bagdogra. Too much traffic to exit the town. Soon the drive became a lot more pleasant. This place is located on India’s chicken neck. The scenic drive was amazing, just the temperature and humidity wasn’t in our favour. Despite being from Mumbai, I did find the humidity to be very high. After driving for a couple of hours we reached Jaigaon, the last town in India. We were to enter Bhutan. The first funny moment, we drive into Bhutan Gate and it turns out the gate to exit Bhutan not to enter it. By the way, the town we had to enter was Phuenshuling. I twisted by tongue twice before I could even say the name once. Jaigaon is a town filled with a lot of people, human-powered rickshaws, scattered parking and bad roads. We had turn around from Bhutan and begin our hunt for the road leading to Bhutan. Its always easy to stop the car and ask for directions. The man in me normally doesn’t allow that. But I was just plain hungry and willing to bend my back and beg for directional support. Seems the Mother Nature wasn’t willing to help us. Pouring rains meant everyone had taken shelter. Finally, we did end up at the entry to Bhutan from the correct gate.
Bro! There was a cop, whom I didn’t think he was one. Looked like a young boy sitting on his daddy’s chair. He didn’t stop us, asked us to go. From the hustle bustle of India to the quietness of Bhutan. Oh God! Where did all the people go? I couldn’t make out much in the rains, but the infrastructure was better and the town was clean. The number of people had reduced drastically. Now, the most funniest bit, the previous gate we had entered from? Our hotel was right outside it. This was indeed hilarious to me. I had gone across the Jaigaon town, in the rain, through bad roads to go around into another gate and get back searching Bhutan town into the hotel. Err! When I got into the Hotel Druk, I learnt that Druk is the alternate name for Bhutan. Their airlines is called as Druk Airlines, Druk beer and Druk Panjab National Bank too.
Life hasn’t been fair to me, especially when I’m hungry. We were not to dine in the same hotel, but walk to another place. Err. I was irritated as the weather was hot and Damn humid. I didn’t mind driving in the car but I had to walk it up. I was ready shout slogans of 3 lakh diesel engines, just so that I could be driven around. But anyways, I had to walk it up. Good the distance wasn’t too far, else I would have had enough sweat to pour on Phuen-whatever-it-is-called. I’m not bad with pronunciations, but somehow I was stuck on this name. Couldn’t get it correct at any point of time.
After I got introduced to Bhutanese cuisine, I didn’t know if I should look forward to it. There were no spices in it, just super spicy chillis, good enough to turn you into a fire-spitting dragon. By the way, Khaleesi is hiring, so you can join her army. Contact Tyron though as he is the HR Manager. Anyways, you can’t complain too much about the food, and me being a cribber didn’t have too many chances for it. The food is like ghar ka khaana. It has its own favour nothing like the regular North Indian that many are used too.
Day 2, I wake up and head for my visa. This is where things move a tad slow. Everytime you need a Bhutanese guide when you head for visa or any other paper work. You cannot work without that. You cannot roam around in the country. I’m ok with that, but it was the heat that was getting to me. Never expected so much humidity. Finally when the sun was up, it was noon and we had began our day. This town had traffic, everyone was going at snails place. Today’s vehicle for us was the Honda CR-V. I love this SUV since the first one had rolled out in India. In fact, the second-gen was the turnaround one with the 2.4-litre petrol engine. Anyways, we had head out crawling across the town. For those who aren’t aware, you need to follow traffic rules strictly. Towns and cities have a speed limit of 30-50km/hr. If anyone steps on zebra crossing, you need to stop the vehicle and let them cross.
After stepping out of the city, about 5 kilometres ahead we had to stop at the police check point. We had give haazri. This is a must. I think dealing with Indians, the cops also were somewhat Indian in their attitude. They let the locals form one more queue and get their work done faster. As I said I love to complain. Being a good neighbour, I thought we should be given nice treatment. But “attithi devo bhavah” is very Indian culture. After 1 hour of time spending at the booth, we headed to Paro. The temperatures started to dip, the weather became pleasant and the sky turned into blue. This was followed with a painting like backdrop. Blue sky covered in a haze of misty clouds that were covering the sky and even the mountains with fog. This fog did seem to be an extension of the clouds. I have seen such weather before in southern India hills, but it is always pleasing to the eye and mind to be in this ambience.
We stopped at another place for lunch. Everyone was craving for more and more and I as always a bit dull wanted sometime more known than alien as I was hungry and not wanting to experiment. Finally I got some french fries and steamed rice with some cheese and chilly curry. A lesson learnt, never order 1 portion of French Fries ever. Atleast two, no matter how hungry you and others are or aren’t, everyone will snack on it for joy. So, till the time I could freshen up Fries were gone. I had to make way for the cheese chilli curry. I was under the impression that chilli might be capsicum. The first bite of it meant they seriously meant chilli business and cheese was imaginary. For the next bite, I moved aside the chillis and had the not-to-be-found cheese curry. Finally my fries had come and I got a good treat of it enjoying every bite of it. McDonalds, your fries are a no-no after these one, somewhere in nowhere in Bhutan.
Ok then, we were already late in the evening and the road was terrible here. One of the smart boys swapped our CR-V with the Accord hybrid. I was worried as the Accord is wider and longer. The roads were narrower than it could have ever got. We did start off a tad slow, but once it was dark. The weather became cold and the Accord hybrid, that was the best thing to drive. The most comfortable of the lot. Sofa-like comfortable seats, super headlamps and it was extremely nimble. The way I was turning it around, moving it left and right when any onward car approached, it was easier than any other car. The acceleration with the electric motor kicking in was just perfect. So much bliss. I would have never imagined this is what the Accord can ever do. After we got on to another hill closer to Paro, the road got wider with markings. Then it was even better than anything ever. We were gliding throughout until we reached our hotel in Paro, about 10 kilometres before the town. Paro has an airport and many fancy hotels around too.
Next day, I had to explore Thimpu. After driving there, I wasn’t very keen to see more. The moment I started walking around, looking at the people, talking to some I was beginning to like the place. This felt like homely and so nice. All passers by smiling, happy faces. This is what Bhutan is all about. The cities there do not have any talking points. Nothing to boost about, but so content with life. This is a lesson for all of us and the mantra for happy livelihood. No greed for anything. Just lead a happy life. This was a lesson that Thimphu taught me. This is what is being protected from the world. A world that is busy spying and fighting with neighbours, which is filled with negativity of bad news and happenings. This indeed needs protection. The world needs to stay away from this. That is what a small nation like Bhutan has taught me. I can stay away from the West and recommend this as a country to visit. You have the BRO (Border Road Organisation), the Indian Army, you will not miss Indian presence here. Its like home, with a lot more organised behaviour.