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Old 11th May 2012, 06:05   #1
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Default Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

This trip was done in 2009. Albeit a little late, I wanted to share the experience as it has been a remarkably enjoyable drive and it deserves to be shared.

Let me introduce the team first.

The ride: A 2003 Mahindra Scorpio (owned by my friend Rup, Rup_Chatterjee)

Driver: Yours truly.

Team: Me, wife, 3-1/2 year old son, Rup and his wife, Chayan and his wife, another friend Nilanjan. Now that is a really big group, which in hindsight we realize was a not so good thing to do. anyway, we were on a tight budget so, we thought the more the heads the better economics.

Photographs: My camera went kaput and anyway I am not a photographer worth my camera and mind you my camera is a point and shoot camera. So, the pictures are from various members of the team with due permission of course.

Plans were made over and over. HVK kindly shared his Bhutan drive log which was the basis of our plans. As there was only one driver, I was a little apprehensive though the excitement of the endeavour took care of what little anxiety I had. We had made all enquiries about the permissions etc.

Now, a week before the drive started, there was a huge scare. My friend lost all the documents of the vehicle (The scorpio) and could not locate it, and going into another country we were supposed to have all the documents totally ready for every person and the vehicle. Suddenly, the trip was on the verge of cancellation. Luckily, we found a gentleman through a common friend who works at the motor vehicles department and he helped us get a duplicate copy of all the documents, and you won't believe, in one day.

The other thing we were all worried about was food. None of us were very adventurous as far as food goes. We knew for sure that up to Thimpu, there won't be any problem. We would still get Indian style food, but it was after Thimpu that we were worried. They eat beef and pork in most of the Bhutan and beyond Thimpu we won't be finding anything much else. So, after a lot of discussions, it was decided we will take a small gas stove and two big packs of Maggi. If we don't find food to our liking, we will manage with Maggi.

So, here starts the ride we will remember always.

Attaching a few photos in random of the drive.

NB: I have taken permission from both my friends about posting their pictures.

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Here it goes

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Tea Estates After Siliguri

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Paro Dzong

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Punakha Dzong

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Entering Phobjika Valley

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The whole group

Last edited by novice_alto : 22nd May 2012 at 14:53.
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Old 11th May 2012, 06:18   #2
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Default re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

Great teasers! that view of the lake was outstanding.

Do post the locations of the snaps. Thanks
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Old 11th May 2012, 06:28   #3
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Default Part one of the drive

The first day's drive was supposed to start early in the morning. Then it changed to 10 o'clock as we would be picking up Rup and Nilanjan from their office and proceed to Siliguri and rest for the night.

That was easier said than done. We struggled big time tying up all the luggage on the roof of the Scorpio for quite some time and after taking help from all and sundry, finally it was done and we started around 12 at noon. Destination for today was Siliguri. We were supposed to drive 600 plus kilometers and rest for the night at Siliguri which certainly was looking like a tall order now. We started nevertheless all happy and gay brimming with excitement and hardly had we covered 50 odd kilometers, we smelt gas (yes the cooking gas from the 5 L tank we were carrying). Finally, were able to shut the valve off. Had lunch at Krishnanagar on NH 34 and proceeded onwards.

NH34 has these massive traffic jams throughout the year and you will get at least 3 or 4 of these any time you travel. Needless to say it was not helping our cause. The target of reaching Siliguri by nightfall was long forgone. But we had to be at Phuntsholling the next morning as our schedule was tight. We did have one day of reserve but nobody wanted to use up the reserve the very first day. So, night will be spent in the car.

Finally, around 5:30 or so in the morning we reached Siliguri, filled up the car and started our journey. The real journey, driving in the hills. This was my first time in hills. I had read up everything on Team-BHP about hill driving. It was time to test it all.

Though that had to wait as we had to reach Phuntsholling through some real bad roads. Nevertheless, we reached around 11 or so the gates of Bhutan and split in two teams, one will try and get a hotel room so that ladies can get fresh, the driver can get a little sleep. the other team will go get the permits.

Permits were all done by 3 o'clock. It is worth mentioning here, office work in Bhutan has its own pace and no you cant jump your queue or make it any fast by any means. If there are five steps to a process, all five will be followed. No one will ask for bribes.

I got a much needed rest for a couple of hours in the meantime, and we were ready to roll. We were told it is a 6-hour drive from Phuntsholling to Thimpu and we reckoned by starting at 4 o'clock we would be safely in our hotel by 10 o'clock.

This later we realized was a big mistake as we just drove through the beautiful places at night and missed all the beauty. Anyway, around 11 o'clock or so, we reached our hotel and guess what the restaurant was closed and we had to fall back on Maggi.

Pictures from these two days. (I don't know how to caption each picture separately so uploading them as a bunch)
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Last edited by novice_alto : 20th May 2012 at 00:29.
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Old 13th May 2012, 13:49   #4
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Default A group trip to The Land of Thunder Dragon (Bhutan)

Day #3 and a fresh morning. We were lucky to find a very nice hotel for a bargain.

Today's task was cut out, first and foremost get permits for eastern Bhutan. Some sightseeing can be done after that.

The permits that are given in Phuntsholling are valid for Thimpu and Paro. If one wishes to go beyond Thimpu towards eastern Bhutan, one has to obtain permits again from offices in Thimpu.

Another thing, our troublesome LPG tank again acted up and we decided to buy a kerosene stove. Only after buying the stove, we wanted to buy some kerosene and were told that we have to buy it from the petrol pump that too they will provide kerosene only upon presenting the permit to buy kerosene that can be had from the Ministry of Food and Supplies or something.

Again, split the team, one team goes for permits for people and vehicle and another (me and Chayan) permit for kerosene. This whole kerosene permit thing was hilarious. After spending quite a bit of time, we located the officer who would issue the permit. Now, he informs us, a permit for such small quantity cannot be given. After a lot of explaining that we have a child with us who needs his food and milk warmed and we may not find hotels all the time, so we need to have kerosene and we will not need more than 5 liters anyway. At last, he agreed but did not charge us for the permit as the quantity was minuscule.

Thimpu I must mention is a beautiful city. Clean and well-maintained roads and civil people. The cars on these roads are well WOW. Toyota Prado, LandCruiser, Kia, Hyundai Santa Fe, even saw a Hyundai Genesis. These guys love Japanese and Hyundai cars. They are very cheap there as well. Anyone buying a Santa Fe gets is for the price we buy a Scorpio. Later understood their reasons as well. They need reliable cars. Services centres are few and if you go out of Thimpu they are hard to find. Sometimes you need to drive 100 or more kilometers for a decent mechanic. Anyway, lets get back to our topic.

Permits done, kerosene bought. Now sightseeing. Tomorrow we are going to Paro in the first half and in the second half will be going to Punakha and stay for the night.

Pictures for the day:
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Last edited by novice_alto : 22nd May 2012 at 14:46.
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Old 13th May 2012, 14:34   #5
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Default A group trip to The Land of Thunder Dragon (Bhutan)

Day 4:

We are all relaxed. Today we are going to Paro and will be back by lunch to start for Bhutan beyond Thimpu.

everyone is ready to hop on the vehicle when we notice there is a puncture. Okay. Lets change the tyre and get the punctured one repaired on the way. Change the tyres and then ask locally about a tyre shop. Now we are told that all the garages are located in one complex in Thimpu. They are not allowed to open anywhere. So, this placed called Olokha has all the garages. From bikes to cars, everything will go to this place for repairs.

So, we go to Olokha searching this place, going round and round in one way road system and in the process wasting precious time.

Finally around 12 o'clock or so, we leave for Paro and the beautiful roads and sights lift our spirits.

The Paro Dzong (Dzongs are monasteries as well as administrative centres for the Royal Government of Bhutan. Here the king is not only the political leader but the spiritual leader as well. Nice combo ) is a beautiful thing to look at. Paro also has the only airport in the whole of Bhutan. We did not plan to visit the Tiger's Nest Monastery as it would involve trekking and with child we were not really prepared for it.

We returned back to Thimpu by 4 o'clock and packed our bags for Punakha.

Reached Punakha only after nightfall and the Punakha Dzong was in all its glory with the lights. Searched for a hotel. We were constantly searching for cheap hotels everywhere and it was a problem. Because beyond Thimpu not many tourists other than foreigners who pay in Dollars go. So, the hotels are two kinds. One that are very basic and cheap for the local populace and the other kind are nice hotels but are expensive. We did not fit in any of these and had trouble almost in every town. Here in Punakha we settled for a hotel of the first kind that was relatively clean. After having a look at their restaurant, decided to cook ourselves with our hard earned kerosene.

Pictures from this date:
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Last edited by novice_alto : 22nd May 2012 at 14:47.
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Old 20th May 2012, 02:31   #6
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Default A group trip to The Land of Thunder Dragon (Bhutan)

Day 5:

Got up to a beautiful morning in Punakha. Punakha is the old capital also the winter capital of the country and is considered a very important place. There are scores of government offices and colonies and as it is in a valley, it is a bit warmer.

We were restive to go and see what we have had a glimpse of last evening. The Punakha Dzong and move on.

Today's travel plan was to go visit the Dzong and then head back to the main road from where we had taken a left for Punakha and go further a little and again take a right leaving the main road for Heaven.

Quite literally, Phobjika valley is heavenly to say the least. After a climb that left the Scorpio breathless, we crossed some "La" and got the first glimpse of the valley. Another friend in Kolkata had suggested that we must not miss this valley and what mistake would it have been if we missed it. No number of words or pictures can describe this place. (No offense meant to my photographer friends here) but this place is just incredible.

We went about searching for a restaurant or a hotel so that we could have some breakfast. Asked around in the valley and got directed a beautiful hotel perched up on a slope. Unfortunately, with the kind of load the Scorpio was carrying, it could not take the steep climb to the hotel driveway. No matter, we left it below and walked a hundred meters or so. Had the most expensive breakfast in the whole trip (Rs. 1250 for six odd plates of bread and jam). Actually as I have said earlier only westerners come to these places so they kind of think dollars. Anyway, we made a mental note to buy jam and bread in the next town so that we don't have to get skinned like this again.

took N number of photos and we started back towards the main road and the continued to Jakar. Another very important town in Bhutan and that particular day there was supposed to be some religious ceremony in Jakar Dzong and some very high priest was to travel the road and we were by chance traveling may be a kilometer or so ahead of this convoy, and we found scores of people lining the roads in every village or town throughout the distance to Jakar.

For the above mentioned reason, all the hotels (of our kind the cheap ones) were booked as people from all over Bhutan had come to Jakar to attend this ceremony. We visited a couple of other type (the angrez type) hotels and found them very very beautiful and equally expensive. We were after all taking a hotel at 8 in the evening and wanted to start early the next day, so spending big amounts ( I mean 2-3k for just the night seemed inappropriate). So, we continued searching and by chance got this beautiful hotel, the angrez type quality wise and our kind cost wise. This man (the owner of this hotel) was very kind and offered us these rooms at very cheap rates. He even provided us with utensils to cook our food from his restaurant.

Tomorrow, again we go see the Jakar Dzong, and move out towards Mongar.

Pictures from the day. If you think, the valley is beautiful, it is phobjika.
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Last edited by novice_alto : 22nd May 2012 at 14:47.
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Old 20th May 2012, 03:40   #7
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Default A group trip to The Land of Thunder Dragon (Bhutan)

Reached the limit of 30. Hence a few here:

Here is a video of us going towards Phobjika:



Here is one going back up from Phobjika:

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Last edited by novice_alto : 22nd May 2012 at 14:48.
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Old 22nd May 2012, 13:55   #8
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Default A group trip to The Land of Thunder Dragon (Bhutan)

Day 6:

Today we will be travelling to Mongar. The last big town we will be staying before Samdrup, which is the border between Bhutan/India (Assam).

The very first picture is going to be the beautiful hotel room, I was talking about in the last post.

Anyway, we get ready in a Jiffy and head out to Jakar Dzong, which is pretty crowded and still people are coming loaded on all kinds of vehicles for the religious dignitary who arrived last night.

We take some pictures, amble around the Dzong a little and start our journey onward. Mongar is situated at relatively low heights and is populated mostly by Nepalese immigrants. Actually, we noticed that in Bhutan if you can speak nepali or gorkhali, you can still manage all right.

But before the going down, there was some going up to be done as we were to cross Thrumsingla Pass which is the highest point in Bhutan on this road. at 12400 feet. Then the next wonder for the day the Majestic Namling Falls. As one travels on the hill side beyond this huge valley is another mountain and one can see the Namling falls on top of which the road crosses. It might look small in the pictures, but believe me this is one big waterfall and today we cross the most dangerous section of roads in Bhutan. Someone told me it is called the death roads.

It is evening by the time we reach Mongar and settle down in a hotel ask around for any Indian restaurants as we wanted something apart from Maggi and Khichdi that we have been living on. The hotel clerk does not know of any.

Still hoping against hope, we decide to wander around town a little and guess what we see a board saying "Sharma's". We go in only to be disappointed and see that it is a regular Bhutanese restaurant, a very small one. We spot the "Sharmaji" and ask her about vegetarian restaurant by any chance she tells us that she is a vegetarian herself and would cook for us at her home and deliver if we so wanted. Quickly order is placed and head back to our hotel.

One thing I want to mention here is, there seems to be no concept of stealing here in Bhutan. We had a lot of luggage on top of our vehicle and every day untying all of that and again tying them was a tiresome job and we avoided that by just taking out one or two bags and leaving the rest on the vehicle just like that. Though the first day that we did this, we needed a lot of assurance from the hotel owner in Thimpu to not worry. Your things will not be touched. And it really is so. Everywhere we would leave the luggage on top and return the next morning only to find it all there.


Pictures from the day: These include the pictures from hotel room, Jakar Dzong, Thrumsingla, Namling Falls on the way to Mongar.
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Last edited by novice_alto : 22nd May 2012 at 14:49.
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Old 22nd May 2012, 14:44   #9
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Default The last day in Bhutan

Day 7: The last day in this beautiful country.

Our plan was to drive to Samdrup Jongkhar stay the night and cross over to India the next morning to drive towards Rangiya-Siliguri, night stay and back to Kolkata. Well, this was the plan.

I did something stupid that morning spoiling the plans a little but again telling us about the great people these Bhutanese are.

After driving about a couple of hours or so, we came to a checking point. There are these checking points throughout this highway and permit entries are cross checked on their online system and one is let through.

While getting the permit papers checked, I realized I had left my wristwatch in the hotel. That watch was important because it had been gifted to me by my father when I passed 10th. But going back to the hotel would waste the day totally and we would not be able to reach Samdrup by nightfall. The road nearing Samdrup was under repair and we were advised to drive if possible during the daytime. And anyway, we all knew that if I have left the watch in the room, I hardly had any chance of getting it. Still, we talked to the official on the checking counter and he called up the hotel and confirmed that indeed they have found the watch and are keeping it with them and that we could go and collect.

After discussion amongst ourselves, we decided to approach the same officer if he could do anything for the watch to be couriered. He declined straight forward and gave us the reason as well. He said "If it does not reach you, you will think I took it or something. So, I cannot take the responsibility." After repeated requests and telling him that even if I do not receive it I wont think that he did not do all that was possible, he very hesitantly took a 500 rupee note for courier charges and my address and phone number.

You know what after returning to Kolkata I had almost forgotten about it when I received a call from this gentleman telling he had couriered the watch and that I should receive in a day or two and requested me to please confirm my receiving the watch. The watch did come all intact and I called back and thanked the gentleman profusely.

Now back to our topic. We drove on and again wasted precious couple of hours in a small restaurant run by our army "Indian Army". It should be noted that all roads in Bhutan are maintained by BRO and they are really kept in good condition. There is heavy army presence (Indian Army) in some parts of Bhutan.

Anyway, we in the process actually became quite late and had to drive on the "work in progress" section at night. I became pretty tired driving on this section one because it was a difficult drive and two because we were going back and that added to the tiredness. This always happens to me, when going somewhere I am upbeat and excited and when coming back it is just too tiring.

We at last reached Samdrup by 11:30 or so only to find that all hotel doors are closed. This is the border town and because a lot of terrorist outfits are active in our northeast, police are very particular about timings. Also most of the workers come from Indian side and are required to leave at sundown.

One hotel backdoor was open, and we tried to get rooms for ourselves, which the hotel owner was unwilling to. Only after we showed our permits issues at Phuntsholling and Thimpu, he was convinced and gave us the rooms we needed. Now the second problem was, as all the workers come from Indian side, at this hour there are no workers and the kitchen is closed.

Again, requested the owner and he graciously opened the kitchen to us. We cooked our own food and went to bed.

Throughout Bhutan, one thing we felt strongly was that people were well-meaning most of the time. Sometimes the authorities seemed too strict but that we later realized was our perception problem. We always try to bend small rules and this country wants to follow the rules to the T. Like, I was once reprimanded harshly by a policeman in Phuntsholling just because while parking I had not taken care to park within lines drawn on the road, which of course we don't care about here.

Anyway, going to bed ended the trip in Bhutan. We got out of Bhutan the next morning and headed straight towards Siliguri driving through Assam and parts of West Bengal. Thereafter it was a one night drive back to Kolkata.

In the whole of the trip, the Scorpio managed pretty well given that it was so overloaded. We only had one puncture as a problem. And the only positive of having so many people was even after calculating diesel, hotel, food, and every other sundry expense, it came to only about 7500 rupees per head for the whole trip.

Thanks for reading.

Pictures from the last day in Bhutan.
Attached Thumbnails
Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4-img_3043.jpg  

Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4-img_3061.jpg  

Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4-img_3005.jpg  

Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4-img_3041.jpg  

Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4-img_3048.jpg  


Last edited by novice_alto : 22nd May 2012 at 14:50.
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Old 23rd May 2012, 11:45   #10
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Default re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

Quote:
Originally Posted by noidea View Post
Great teasers! that view of the lake was outstanding.

Do post the locations of the snaps. Thanks
The picture was snapped early morning in a place between New Jalpaiguri and Jaigaon. It is not a lake but a water hole. I could not just resist the colours coming out of the morning sky and the reflection on the water.
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Old 23rd May 2012, 13:10   #11
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Novice_alto also missed out interesting outing on day 6 though he has post pictures of them in the picture number 6 and 12 respectively that post. We were just driving through the Thrumshingla forest and enjoying the beauty but and we are quite oblivious to the hunger pangs. But there was a small member who was also enjoying the beauty and his mother has the task to feed him and we know pretty well that it would be quite a while we can have our lunch. But astoundingly when we are passing by this small bridge we all unanimously decided to have Feast or "Pousolla" - as we bengalis name it by the side of this rivulet.

Just sharing two pictures snapped during this period. The first one two hungry members are just waiting for their food (one of them is the oldest and other one is the youngest member in the team).

Second picture is a picturesque house just by the rivulet and just cannot take my eyes off it.
Attached Thumbnails
Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4-_mg_6182.jpg  

Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4-_mg_6184.jpg  

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Old 23rd May 2012, 18:17   #12
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Default re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 24th May 2012, 12:53   #13
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Default Re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

Well timed thread for me. We are a group of 6 SUVs leaving Bangalore for Bhutan on Sep 28th 2012. I would like to get in touch with you for some pointers. Although our trip is well planned to the 'T' with hotel bookings, guide, service vehicles, mechanics etc, I am sure you can give me some very useful advice. Please pm me your phone number, if you would. Thanks
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Old 24th May 2012, 12:59   #14
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Phew, what a beauty, Loved the airport too
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Old 24th May 2012, 16:17   #15
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Default Re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

Lovely travelogue. Beautiful place and amazing pics too. Good to see that you all were willing to take everything in your stride and have a good time, in spite of the minor irritants
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