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Old 2nd January 2014, 11:34   #1
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Default Driving from Kolkata to Bumthang (Bhutan)

The mystical land complete with Tales of Shangri-La & Dragons with an abundance of wildlife with forest cover almost everywhere; abode of peace at the ‘Lakhang’ with age-old practices of Tibetan Buddhism; curvy and picturesque mountain roads dotted with ‘Chortens’ ( You have to cross them from the left; high mountain passes with white flags against the blue mountains and snow caps; the magnificent ‘Dzong’( Monastic Forts) for administration and justice; men and women dressed in ‘Gho’ and ‘Kira’ respectively… Yes!!! That’s a small glimpse of the small Himalayan kingdom known as Bhutan.

Pursuing our dream of driving through the Himalayas from West to East, this winter we chose to travel through the kingdom of Bhutan. Initially we planned to cover the country from the West (Phuntsholling/Jaigaon entry point) to East (Trashigang), but for want of time (read leave from office); we restricted our plan till Bumthang valley in central Bhutan and planned to exit through Gelephu, crossing into India through Samtabari in Assam.

In this travelogue, apart from the places driven through, I have tried to highlight the following:
1. Route from Kolkata to North Bengal in detail as the original NH34 is in no condition for driving any longer. This route has already been mentioned by Anirban (1100D).
2. Distance, Road Condition, Altitude, Time Taken
3. Roadside amenities, Petrol Pumps, Dhabas, Hotels etc...

Preparing for the road trip
This trip was planned for four travellers – veteran doctor, globe trotter and our long time travel buddy Dr. Asoke Kumar Majumder; my friend, photographer, guide, wildlife enthusiast and extremely knowledgeable Siddhartha Goswami; my beloved wife Chandrima and of course myself as the driver. Finally Siddhartha had to drop out somewhat because of health reason and other commitments, making it three of us to make the trip.
As per my calculations, the trip would be within 3000 kms, so for a while I thought of taking my VW Polo for this road trip. But then Red Rackham would have been extremely unhappy if I did so…. So without any more thoughts on which car to take, I made Red Rackham ready for yet another trip. For the uninitiated, Red Rackham is my beloved Red & White Mitsubishi Pajero. I had my usual stuff ready with me from previous trips to Ladakh, Gangotri etc… – they included all kinds of lubes, spares in form of fuses, bulbs, alternator & ac belts, some bolts & nuts, bushes, washers, tire inflator, wipers, toolbox etc… In addition I also had my 6th tire and extra fuel tanks which I will carry for the trip. The tire pressure indicating caps came in very handy during this trip and saved me the effort of checking tire pressure with another gadget – just a visual inspection of the color of the cap was enough.
Siddhartha Goswami was our main source of information for Bhutan. He gave us all information about the roads in Bhutan, where to go, places to look for wildlife on the way and what not. In fact he also booked the hotels for us at various places and informed us of the road conditions inside Bhutan. Without his help and support, it would have been difficult to get information about the remote locations, road conditions, good hotels and wildlife in the regions. My heartfelt gratitude and thanks to Siddhartha for all his valuable help.
The road condition from Kolkata to North Bengal and other roadside assistance information and directions were obtained from Anirban Ghosh (BHP handle 1100D), my college buddy and colleague as well. He had been on the same road a few days before I travelled and so I was fortunate to have the latest information on road conditions. In fact, his information was so accurate that I kind of knew every pothole when it came and could plan my breaks and coverage time pretty accurately. Many thanks to Anirban for providing such valuable information.

Immigration & Car Permits
For this trip we needed two types of permits – firstly the immigration permits for people to enter and travel through Bhutan and another permit for an Indian Motor Vehicles Registration to be allowed to be driven inside Bhutan. The permits for the travelers can be arranged from Kolkata itself and is easy to obtain without any cost involved in the process. For this one has to go to the Royal Bhutan Consulate located at Mall Road. Locating the consulate is easy – when you travel from Nagerbazar towards Dumdum airport on Jessore road, after the flyover comes down one can notice the currently non-functional ‘Mrinalini Cinema’ on the right. Take a right here on the road just beside the Mrinalini cinema. Then take the first right lane and keep going straight. The Royal Bhutan Consulate with white walls will be on the right hand side just after the water tank. Every formality for application can be done at the waiting location at the gate and it is not required to go inside the consulate. Just beside the gate there is a waiting area along with the security hut. The person present here is the designated person for accepting forms and delivering stamped and signed permits. One must take a print out of the immigration form from the internet because sometimes they run out of forms. The form is very basic and needs some very basic information. What you need is a passport sized photo and either a voter ID card or passport photocopy as your Indian citizenship proof. Whatever you produce as proof, please carry the original with you as the person at the gate verifies the photocopy with the original. I was informed that only one person from the travelling party must be present during submitting the form however the person kind of insisted that all travelers must sign their respective forms. After some negotiation I signed on behalf of other travelers and it was not a problem. Please reach between 9:00AM and 1:00PM for application submission. I was asked to collect the signed and stamped permits just about a week before the travel date. The permits are distributed after 2:00PM. The permits were ready when I went to collect them and things were pretty smooth. Please note that they might not accept applications more than a month earlier from the travel and need at least 3 days of processing time. The same permit can be obtained from Phuntsholling at the India/Bhutan border, but one needs to wait for an hour or so to get them ready on arrival… so I opted to get them done in Kolkata. The permits issued from Kolkata or Phuntsholling is valid only for travel till Thimphu – that means one can travel to Paro, Thimphu and Haa Valley with this permit. If one wants to travel further then the permits need to be extended from the immigration office in Thimphu.

17ep.pdf - This is the application form... if it helps someone.

Again it was Siddhartha who helped me for obtaining permits for the car. Car permits are not issued from Kolkata or anywhere in India. This permit must be obtained from Phuntsholling at the RSTA (Road Safety and Transportation Authority) office with your car documents. Siddhartha arranged for me to obtain the permit without my presence and was handed over to us by a person in Phuntsholling once we reached and we did not need to go to the RSTA office. However the process is very simple and it takes 15 minutes to get the car permit issued. Indian driving license is recognized and valid in the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan and one can drive with this license without any issues. Again this car permit issued from Phuntsholling will be valid till Thimphu, similar to the entry permit and this needs to be extended from the RSTA office in Thimphu. I will elaborate the extension process once I reach that part of this travelogue.
With all kinds of permits ready and information obtained as much as possible, we were ready to embark on our trip. We were scheduled to start on 5th Dec 2013 evening from Kolkata after office and reach Burdwan to join Dr. Asok Majumder, spend the night at Burdwan and then start afresh on 6th Dec morning for our Bhutan Road trip
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Starting from Kolkata

6th Dec 2013 – Burdwan to Chalsa
We started very early in the morning at around 5:35AM from Dr. Asok Majumder’s residence in Burdwan and took NH2A towards Guskara/Bolpur. The morning was fantastic and we were making good progress. Anirban had warned me about a weak bridge on the way near Guskara which was closed for repairing. So we had to take a detour on a mud road for about 4-5 kms and joined back the main road after about 15-20 mins. The road surface here is pretty good with some occasional narrow bridges. The only place where it is still broken is where the road passes below the rail line. Just before Bolpur the road goes straight towards Sriniketan road to take a bypass of the Bolpur town. The road after Sriniketan has a good surface, other than an under construction bridge for a very long time now. After crossing the bridge, we stopped somewhere in a heavily wooded area with the river running beside for some tea and biscuits that we were carrying with us. After a while the road reaches Purandharpur and here we took a left turn towards Siuri town. After about 8-9 kms from Purandharpur, we reached Siuri and continued through the middle of the town to reach NH60 highway and took a right towards Tilpara barrage over there. This road (NH60) goes towards Moregram on NH34 through Rampurhat and Nalhati. NH60 is almost in shambles now and there are medium to large potholes strewn all across. Bad roads with heavy trucks and buses make it an extremely dusty destination to drive on. However, we had only a short distance on this road – after about 4 kms we crossed the Tilpara barrage with extremely broken roads over the barrage. After another couple of kms, we reached Seorakuri more and took left there. This road will lead us to Massanjore in Jharkhand through Ranigram and Kumirdaha.

The first 250 meters from Seorakuri more had no roads. The next 7 kms has occasional potholes, some of them large, till we reached the Bengal-Jharkhand border. From here onwards the road surface was fantastic and we maintained a decent pace. This road goes through some villages on the way namely Ranigram, Raniswar, and Kumirdaha till it reached Massanjore reservoir. After another 25 kms we reached Massanjore reservoir. Here keeping the barrage on your left (do not cross the barrage) we continued straight. Some makeshift shops come up on the left and we stopped for some tea and breakfast which we were carrying with us. It was still early morning and we were able to watch some birds by the reservoir. This place is beautiful and we already made some weekend plans to stay at the beautiful bungalow here. This bungalow can be booked from Burdwan and Kolkata through the Irrigation Department.
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Massanjore Reservior

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Chandrima and Dr. Majumder in Massanjore Tea Shop

After tea we continued straight through some beautiful narrow roads with fantastic surface. The road travels through some beautiful forested plateau area beside the reservoir and after about 25 kms we reached Pattabari. From here we took a left towards Dumka. This is actually the Rampurhat – Dumka highway and from Pattabari, Dumka is another 15 kms away and the road has just been built. If someone wants a stopover at Dumka, the best option is to stay at a hotel called Maihar Garden. Locating the hotel is very easy – it comes up just before Dumka town on the left.
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Road from Pattabari to Dumka

After reaching Dumka town we kept driving straight on the main road through Dumka town – a little congestion of local transport, cycles, autos that has to be taken in stride. Once we keep going straight through the town just at the clock tower there is a roundabout from where the road to the left which is the Dumka bypass. The road straight from here is the Dumka – Bhagalpur highway… so we just kept moving straight and finding the way is easy. From Dumka till Bhagalpur is about 115 kms and the first part of the road is pretty good with nice surface. The landscape is very quaint and pretty with small hillocks as you drive. Just after we crossed into Bihar at Jharkhand-Bihar border near Hansdiha, we started noticing some damages on the road surface starting from a place called Baunsi. There were occasional potholes and little damage to the road surface, but it was manageable and we were able to keep a steady pace. After a place called Dhaka More the frequency of the potholes increased and after we crossed Punsiya the potholes become larger, wider and some of them will qualify as craters, and these slowed us down considerably. Bhagalpur is about 40 odd kms from Punsiya and we had to negotiate the bad roads for this part.

Once inside Bhagalpur, Anirban had directed me to take a bypass of the main city traffic (see his travelogue – it’s mentioned very clearly) but I decided to follow the main road. The road very congested goes up a flyover above the Bhagalpur railway station and then goes right. After the flyover keep going straight wherever there is a crossing through non-existent and bombed out roads inside the city. We went through the marketplace and hotels on both sides of the road. Hotel Rajahs international seemed to be a good one to put up, but parking seemed to be an issue out here with large vehicles and vehicle safety to be a concern. After a while, the concrete road being constructed on one side and all vehicles were off-roading on the other side of this non-existent road. After a couple of kms on this road, there is a wide divided road going to the left – this is the Vikramshila Setu road. We took this road towards Vikramshila Setu and were outside the Bhagalpur city… the total ordeal lasted not more than 20 minutes. One interesting thing inside Bhagalpur was the cycle rickshaw – people were not driving them but all of them had a donkey tied to the front and the rickshaw driver was actually driving the donkey to pull the rickshaw… So we had donkey pulled cycle rickshaws, the Pajero, an Audi, autos, buses, cycles, bikes, cows, sweater clad goats and stray dogs, on the bombed out roads inside Bhagalpur. But, this being Incredible India , things work out quite well amid all the chaos – I was not caught in any kind of traffic snarls inside the city and kept moving at a slow steady pace. That I think is the beauty of India and I just love it during my road trips.

The Vikramshila Setu comes just after a while on the Setu road. It is a very long bridge on the Ganges and stands 4.7 Km long. The plan is to connect with NH31 through this bridge. Just 7-8 kms ahead after the bridge ends is a place called Naugachia where we would meet the NH31. But alas, we were finally caught in the first traffic jam of the day… line of trucks lay still on the bridge and we were stuck. There was no way to get to the opposite side as I would be choking the entire traffic on the other direction. This was a narrow bridge with bad road surface and could allow at most 1 lane of vehicle on each side. The bikes took the footpath and escaped but we were caught in the traffic snarl which did not look like getting resolved. After asking a few truck drivers and getting encouraged by the locals, I decided to not be a gentleman if I wanted to reach my destination in a decent time and followed some local buses on the wrong side of the road on the bridge. I travelled about 3 kms like this and finally ended up choking the traffic on the opposite direction. After a while some Bihar policemen came up walking and I realized that I was almost at the end of the bridge. The first policeman saw the car and went behind to beat up some auto driver who was following me. The second policemen kept on mumbling something (probably some choicest galis) beside my window but I kept mum and very serious wearing my shades. After a while the police took initiative to clear up the mess and we went through the last part of the bridge. In all it took me an hour or more to cross the bridge. So we were pretty late in our schedule by now and were hungry as well. So we stopped as Hotel Vaibhav as suggested by Anirban. This hotel and dhaba comes about 4 kms after the bridge ends on the right side of the highway. By the way, this road after the bridge is also damaged so of anyone wishes to avoid the bad roads then please take a right turn after the bridge – this detour from the main highway will also meet NH31.
Hotel Vaibhav Inn is a newly built hotel run by Bengali owners and we spoke with them in Bengali. The food was good and service was very good. The hotel offered some well furnished rooms as well – we checked out the rooms and decided that we would stay here on our way back if we were within our planned schedule. Overall we liked the hotel, food and service and felt that it’s an excellent choice for travelers’ enroute to North Bengal / Sikkim / Bhutan.
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Vaibhav Inn

After lunch, we started from Hotel Vaibhav Inn at about 3PM, much later than my scheduled time and still had about 330kms to cover till our booked hotel ‘Tiyabon’ at Chalsa. After about 3kms from here we reached the highway NH31 at Naugachia and took right. From here onwards the roads were fantastic and I could put my left foot to rest, keeping 100 -110 on the speedo, so that we did not hit the occasional goats and cows crossing the road. From Naugachia till Purnia (75 kms) the road is fantastic but undivided running through some villages where pedas are sold by teenage boys to all passing buses; we enjoyed the drive very much. Once we reach Purnia, there is a round-about and we took a right here towards Dalkhola and we basically did not have to negotiate the Purnia city traffic at all – the NH31 bypasses the city. From the round-about at Purnia (Gulabbagh) till Dalkhola is about 35kms. From here, the divided highway starts and driving becomes much relaxed with the fantastic road surface. At Dalkhola, the flyover runs on the other direction of the road and vehicles towards Siliguri has to take the route through the shops on the NH which can slowed us down a little.

From Dalkhola till Kishanganj is 25kms and the divided highway NH31 continues, but for this 25kms the surface of the road is damaged and the upper surface of the road has been peeled off. These are not potholes but irritating enough to slow a vehicle down. I drove wither on the right-most side of the road or the left-most side to avoid the peel-offs of the road surface. Anyone driving down on this road should be careful of the 2 bumpers that come up all on a sudden near the Kishanganj railway station. We stopped at Kishanganj for a cup of tea at some dhaba and mainly to clean up the wind screen massively stained from the onslaught of insects in the evening. From Kishanganj the road becomes good again till Islampur (about 30 kms) where the divided road merges to become undivided road through the Islampur town. At Islampur, I decided to tank-up because it was dark already and I last filled up at Kolkata before the trip. After filling up at Islampur and negotiating the slow traffic through the town, we hit the divided highway again and travelled pretty fast till the road became undivided again before Bagdogra. Please be cautious here as there are several potholes on the road and I hit a couple at night pretty badly, trying to make my way faster. At some stretches, there is no road for a few meters since the roads are under renovation. This way we reached Siliguri and continued towards Sevoke without any further stoppages. We crossed the Coronation Bridge and kept moving towards Chalsa. The road looked so fantastic at night, lined with reflectors with the Dooars and the tea gardens on both sides of the road. Our good friend and fellow traveller Sumitro (Team BHP handle Back Pearl) called us from UK then to enquire how far we had reached and also mentioned that he was truly envious of our road trip without him. The road surface being fantastic, we drove very fast for the last stretch and finally reached Chalsa at 8:30PM and took another 10 mins to locate the hotel ‘Tiyabon’ where we were booked for the night.
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Tiyabon Parking

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Tiyabon Resort

We covered about 630 kms today but were happy to reach at a decent time and bypassing the non-existent and bombed out NH34 through West Bengal. It is ironic that we have to travel through Jharkhand and Bihar for want of good roads in Bengal where our own NH34, which is so critical for the state, is lying in shambles. Tired after a long drive, I took a warm shower, though it was not cold in Chalsa, had a great hot dinner and retired. The night was pretty disturbing at Tiyabon, as we later found out that our cottage was just beside the cages of 3 German Shepherds that the resort keeps captive. They started barking & whining in the middle of the night obviously to be let out and although I loved dogs, just could not sleep well.

7th Dec 2013 – Chalsa to Paro
In the morning Dr. Majumder and I went out to find out some birds as we expected to find quite a few here, but to our surprise there were none that we could locate. By the time we were back from our small escapade, Chandrima was ready and packed for today, so we showered fast and headed for the breakfast table. The breakfast at Tiyabon was sumptuous and we loaded ourselves heavily, not knowing if we could get lunch somewhere along the way.
We started around 9:00AM from Chalsa and followed NH31 through Nagrakata, Binnaguri, Birpara, and Madarihat till we reached near Hasimara. The roads are beautiful through the forests and almost perfect with some occasional potholes near settlements. Chalsa to Phuntsholling is about 90 kms and our MapmyIndia GPS device worked almost perfectly. Over the period of time, I have preferred this device to Google or other navigation devices. Once near Hasimara, one can notice an Indian Oil storage facility on the left side of the highway and just after there is an Indian Oil petrol pump. We tanked up again here as we will be entering Bhutan after a while and were not sure of the locations where diesel will be available. I also filled up one additional 20 liter storage tank. Just after the petrol pump, we took a left turn through the tea gardens and this road goes towards Jaigaon which is about 12 kms. We crossed the railway line keeping Hasimara railway station to the left and continued on towards Jaigaon. Jaigaon is the border town for India with Bhutan and on the other side of the border is Phuntsholling. We reached Jaigaon/Phuntsholling at around 11:00AM and crossed the border gate to enter Bhutan. The difference between the 2 border towns is stark with Jaigaon in perfect disarray and Phuntsholling absolutely neat and tidy and orderly including the shop signs boards (all in green and white)
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Driving through Dooars Jungle - Just wonderful

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Tea Gardens and the hills of Bhutan - Just before Phuntsholling

At Phuntsholling, we stopped near the Zen restaurant and parked our vehicle in the neatly marked space beside the road. We collected our car permits from a person that Siddhartha had organized for us. I had mailed across scanned copy of my car papers and driving license beforehand. If anyone needs permits for car, they can be obtained at the RSTA office at Phuntsholling. The Indian cell phones work around Phuntsholling for a while but will cease to function as we go inside, so we took two 3G SIM cards from Tashi Cell. As our GPS device would not work in Bhutan, we planned to use the Google navigation using the 3G SIM data connection but it was only till later that we found out the data was not working properly and we had to depend on locals for road direction. We were not too hungry at this hour for lunch, so without wasting any more time at Phuntsholling we started on our way towards Paro which was about 170 kms away. A few kms of uphill and we reached the immigration check-point where we had to get our permits and car permit stamped from the officials here. It is important to get your papers stamped at the necessary check points although nobody may stop you to do so on the way. This is necessary as you may be questioned at other check posts where you are stopped. Also I had to remember not to honk inside Bhutan if not necessary. I usually don’t use the horn even while driving inside India, but the idea of not honking on curved mountain roads and blind curves will be a risky proposition and we soon found that out. But people generally drive on their side of the road and I got used to not honking at blind curves but being more attentive. If you are impeding the car behind, they will not honk as well but it is expected that you should give way as soon as it become feasible. This did not happen to me that I needed to give way to another vehicle but I was given way throughout the route by all other vehicles. One thing that becomes evident in Bhutan is – this country runs on Toyota cars. All across, we could see Land Cruiser Prado’s and Toyota Pickups with Mahindra also making a big space in the goods carrying category. The smaller vehicles are mostly Indian made Maruti. Mitsubishi was a rare find here (I did spot a couple of LR200 pick-ups and very old model Pajeros) and our Red Rackham stood out and was a head turner wherever we went.
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Somewhere on the way

For the first part, the journey was great through winding mountain roads and I could cover 40-45 kms in the first hour. I drove a little too fast for the comfort of Chandrima for whom the motion sickness set in after an hour into the drive. So we stopped for about 45 mins for rest and allowed Chandrima to take a medicine and rest. By this time only we saw a weasel cross the road, lots of birds, Rhesus monkeys, Grey Langurs. Where we stopped there were a lot of small birds and we also saw a small Pica nearby. After a while, the roads started getting narrower and then a little broken near about Chukha. Throughout the road there is no proper place for having lunch and we had some food that we were carrying with us. The roads became better near about Chapcha and after that we reached Chuzon. It is from this place the road bifurcates to Thimphu and Paro. The road to Paro crosses a bridge and goes to the left from here. From here on we actually enter the Paro valley and the roads are almost straight and has a fantastic surface. I drove pretty fast here between 80 and 100 as it was getting dark fast now. Finally we reached Paro before 5:00PM but getting to the hotel was a challenge. We were booked at Kichu Resort Paro. After a couple of phone calls to the hotel and driving outside the city of Paro towards the North, we finally located the board for the hotel in the darkness. The hotel is fantastic located just beside the river Paro Chu and has a huge area dotted with cottages and landscaped with neatness. We had evening tea, snacks and ordered for dinner. Chandrima and Dr. Majumder went to see the hotel arrangements and dinner ordering while I went on for a spa after 2 days of long and hard driving. The spa here is fabulous and one should give it a try. It was a very big hotel and it seemed like we and 2 other American families were the only occupants. After dinner we were invited by the other guests for a cultural show that they had arranged in the lawns. It was pleasantly cold at around 2-3 degrees and it was a good time watching the cultural show around the bonfire. After the show we went off to bed as there was nothing else to be done once it is dark. The next morning we were supposed to go to Chele La before sunrise to see Blood Pheasants but although I had some desire to go, by democratic process we decided not to wake up so early and go later during the day. It will definitely be a dampener, not seeing the Blood Pheasants but the prospective of a drive to Chele La is exciting enough for me.
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Kichu Resort - Paro

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Our room at Kichu Resort - Paro

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Cultural event at the hotel
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Old 2nd January 2014, 15:34   #2
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Default Re: Driving from Kolkata to Bumthang (Bhutan)

Lovely write-up to warm things up. The red warhorse looks great in the greens.
Liked the way you have written about the permits and requirements. Waiting for more photographs and lovely locations.
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Old 2nd January 2014, 15:37   #3
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Default Driving from Kolkata to Bumthang (Bhutan)

8th Dec 2013 – Paro & Around – Chele La – Thimphu
We woke up comfortably around 6:30 AM and got ready. Breakfast was ready by 8:00 AM at the dining area.
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A buzzard came to visit us near the resort

One thing that we had already realized about this country was – food is not always easily and readily available everywhere, even at the best of hotels. For dinner or lunch or breakfast we have to order in advance so that we can get it at the time we want. We packed up, checked out and left after breakfast.
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The beautiful Paro valley

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Paro Valley

First we planned to see the Paro Dzong. The Dzong perches just above the town as we saw last evening while we drove beside it, but to reach the Dzong and the museum by car we needed to cross the river and take a long route for something that can be climbed in 5 minutes on foot. Last evening when we arrived at Paro most of the shops were closed down and now also inside the town the shops were opening. The town that boasts of an airport is really tiny when I compared it with any other hill settlements in India. It is possible to walk from one end of Paro to another within 10 minutes – how lovely is that? All areas are clean and maintained and I just fell in love with the place. Visiting the Dzong was a wonderful experience. This being a weekend the offices inside the Dzong were closed but we could get inside and take photos all throughout. Inside the Dzong seemed very peaceful and serene. From inside the Dzong, the sprawling Paro valley can be seen in its entirety. After spending about an hour there we wanted to get moving for Chele La.
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Paro Dzong from Car Parking behind

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Myself inside Paro Dzong

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Serene and Peaceful inside the Paro Dzong

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Inside Paro Dzong

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Chandrima & myself at Paro Dzong

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Frescos inside the Paro Dzong

I checked the fuel meter and decided we did not need to tank up. Paro has a couple of petrol pumps and Indian Oil petrol pumps can be seen at major locations. Knowing that fuel would also be available at Thimphu, we did not bother to fill in. We drove through the town once again and beside the airport where we noticed an interesting thing. There are roads on both side of the airport and last night we had taken the narrow road on the East side of the runway. Today when I wanted to take that route back, I found that there is a signboard hanging “Road Closed temporarily – Flight landing”. A new experience for me – so we took the road on the West side of the airstrip and found out that this was a better road. After the airstrip comes a place called Bondey – from here we crossed the bridge on Paro Chu to the right and started climbing the Chele La pass. From here Chele La is about 34 kms and this pass is located at an altitude of 3988 meters giving access to the Haa valley. All these roads are maintained by the BRO of the Indian Army under Project Dantak. The road to Chele La was fantastic considering that this is a high altitude road and we breezed to the top in around an hour’s time. The road is incredibly scenic with lots of wild life (mainly birds) along the way. In a lot of places, we could find snow and the road surface frozen from overnight snow freezing out, making it a dangerously slippery surface to drive on. Unlike the popular passes in India (read the incredibly crowded and hyped Rohtang) there is no crowd of tourists here and I could see only 4-5 local vehicles on my way up. The total setting is very serene bringing in peace anywhere we decided to stop. From near the top of the pass, we could see the peak of Mt. Jhomalhari totally snowcapped and the Haa valley across the pass. The Blood Pheasants, Monals and Kalij Pheasants were nowhere to be found now as it was around 1:00 PM in the afternoon. We spent about 45 mins on top of the pass amid the serenity and then started climbing back down.
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Road covered with overnight snow

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Driving through the snow

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On top of Chele La

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Red Rackham on top of Chele La

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Red Rackham at Chele La

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Mt. Jhomalhari from Chele La

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View of the Haa valley from Chele La

On the way down we stopped many times to take pictures of the Spotted Nutcrackers, who were keeping the forest alive with their loud noises. Then all on a sudden as I was negotiating a hairpin – Voila!!! We see about 6 Kalij Pheasants crossing the road… what a sight and what luck – we could not believe at first but then by the time it sank in, the pheasants quickly disappeared up in the dense forests. This running after wildlife took up some time and then Chandrima started to tell us that she wanted to visit the weekend market at Thimphu which closes at 4:00 PM. By the time we came down to Bondey/Paro from Chele La, it was about 2:30PM and Thimphu was still about 65 kms away.

The next 65 kms to Thimphu was reached in the next 55 mins prompting Dr. Majumder to comment if our lives were less valuable than the love for my wife. The road surface was wonderful and it was a pleasure to drive from Paro to Thimphu on the mountains at more than normal speed. At Thimphu we parked at a parking area inside the city, took directions from a local and started walking towards the weekend handicraft market and we reached well before 4:00PM only to find that it neither does it close at pm nor is it only a weekend market. By the time Chandrima had done her shopping, we were pretty hungry as we did not have a place for lunch on the way and scouted for a place to have some light food. We went to a bakery inside the market and enjoyed the cakes, mushroom puffs and coffee. After that we took directions for our hotel ‘Peaceful Resort’ which seemed to be outside Thimphu town area in Upper Motithang. The same local person who had directed us to the market was so kind enough to lead us towards our hotel as we followed his car. This reminded us of the kind person we found in Phnom Penh, Cambodia who drove us to the hotel when we could not find the way back at night.
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The handicraft market at Thimpu

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A view of the main town area of Thimpu

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Note the Mahindra spelling

Peaceful Resort was a nice and tidy hotel and we were allotted a large… very large room compared to what we are used to see. Again as per our experience we ordered snacks and dinner early so that we get to eat at night. Dinner was not so fine… by this time we realized that food quality in Bhutan cannot be earmarked with the Indian counterparts and we should treat it accordingly. The next day we were supposed to visit the immigration and transportation offices for extending our permits to enable us to travel towards the East Bhutan.

9th Dec 2013 – Thimphu – Punakha
Thimphu to Punakha is really not that far and can be reached in 2.5 – 3 hours, so we were not very worried. Here also I decided not to tank up the fuel as the indicator was not even at the half mark. There are obviously many petrol pumps in Thimphu and multiple Indian Oil pumps as well. We had a heavy breakfast here with cereals, toast, eggs, Juice and coffee and off we went to the immigration office inside the town. We could locate the office in the town without hassles after asking a couple of locals. The immigration office for permit extension is just at one end of the handicraft market and is easy to locate. We put in an application in the concerned window and were told to return after an hour to collect the same. We needed to fill in a small application form where we needed to put in the Hotel name and place where we would be visiting along with a photograph of all three persons and a photocopy of the main permits obtained from Kolkata. The process is simple and easy enough. After submitting the form, we had an hour to while away so Dr. Majumder and I went out for a walk and then tried to find a photocopy shop to get copies of the new permit. By the time we were back, Chandrima had gone inside and collected the stamped permits much before our stipulated 1 hour time. Happy to be done early, we started off towards the RSTA office. Going south from the immigration office, we crossed the river and immediately after we could see the RSTA office on the left. I pulled in the parking lot of the office and it took us 10 mins to locate the concerned office for permit extension. Things were done in a flash after we found the person who will be stamping and signing the permits. We were very impressed by this. In fact all the locals who helped us with direction, finding the photocopy shop, the parking attendant who directed us towards the RSTA office were very helpful for an alien person to their land. This is something Bhutan should be lauded for – they have been able to preserve their culture, heritage, peace and humanity above economic progress. The capital city of a country not having a McDonald’s joint in today’s globalized world speaks of something.

After going out from the RSTA office we were on our way to Punakha which was about 75 kms from here, but after a while we made a mess of road directions given to us and ended up wasting about half an hour. At Semtokha we were to take a loop and climb but we went straight and messed up. Anyway we were on our way to Punakha and on the way we were to cross Dochu La. About 4kms before reaching Dochu La, there is one immigration check point and we had our permits checked and stamped out here but they did not want to see the car permit. We stopped on Dochu La top for a while for photographs and then carried on. The Dochu La top is known to have birds in plenty but we did not see many except some Blue Rock Thrush. The mountain top is also house to 108 Chortens out of which only 54 can be seen now.
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Dochu La top

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Red Rackham on Dochu La

The road to Punakha is a mix of good and bad and cannot be called good road surface. However, from a mountain road perspective it was quite manageable and we reached Lobesa by 2:00PM. At Lobesa, we saw an Indian Oil petrol pump and tanked up. Lobesa is a small place from where the road forks to the left towards the Punakha valley. This small place has 2 petrol pumps – one Indian Oil where we tanked up and the other was from the Bhutan Oil Corporation. From Lobesa to Punakha is about 12-15 kms and Punakha town also has a large Indian Oil outlet as well. We were booked at the Zangdo Pelri hotel which is outside Punakha. Just before reaching Punakha, from where the entire Punakha valley can be seen, a road goes to the left towards Talo. The good resorts and hotels are on this road. In addition to Zangdo Pelri, the Meri Puensum resort is also well recommended place to stay.
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Hotel Zangto Pelri

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Punakha Valley

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Punakha Valley

After checking into the hotel we checked if any food can be available but as expected they did not have any food as we did not call at least 2 hours in advance. So we ordered for the momos for the evening and dinner and went down to the Punakha town to hunt for food. It was around 3:00 PM now and the town was even smaller than one can imagine. It’s only a few houses at most and finding a decent restaurant to eat in can be difficult. We went into one restaurant which had a set menu – we had rice, dal and omelet and it felt quite nice.
Post this late lunch, we crossed the bridge on Punatsangchu and went North (Chu means river). The road has a black top for a while and then gives way to dusty and rocky village roads. We drove for about 10 kms on this road beside the river. The entire stretch on the road beside the river is a treasure trove of birds – we saw so many small birds’ species starting from warblers, scaly breasted Munia, shrikes… many of them we could not identify even. The river was full of Rudy Shelducks – hundreds of them in flocks, beside them were a pair of River Lapwings feeding in the paddy fields. We went ahead hoping to see the elusive White Bellied Heron although this was not the right time for sighting. This White Bellied Heron is near extinction and can be seen only in this region near Punakha, the other place being Assam in India where there are about 8-10 left. After the futile exercise to spot the bird, it was getting dark very fast and we wanted to go to the Punakha Dzong just before the daylight goes off as we wanted to take photos of the lighted structure. I drove back fast on the dusty road back to Punakha and then back on metaled roads towards the Dzong. We reached just in time before the Dzong closes and walked over the bridge on the river into the Dzong. The Dzong is situated at the junction of two rivers which combine to make the Punatsan Chu. The location is exotic and the reigning king of Bhutan got married in this Dzong for which there is a commemorative gate. After visiting the Dzong and photo shoot, we drove back to the hotel and what a surprise, our evening snacks - momos & coffee was waiting for us!!! Only because Chandrima thoughtfully cared to order for that before we had left.
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The Punakha Dzong at the meeting of the rivers

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Punakha Dzong in the valley

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Punakha Dzong at Twilight

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Punakha Dzong at night

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At some remote location near Punakha

Punakha was not that cold like in Paro and Thimphu and here the room even had a fan which we did not see in the previous locations. After dark there is nothing much to do anywhere in the mountains so we just enjoyed our drinks, had dinner by 8:30PM and went off to bed.
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Old 2nd January 2014, 16:40   #4
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Default Re: Driving from Kolkata to Bumthang (Bhutan)

Fantastic narration Deb and thanks for the detailed information about the permits.
Thanks also for the nice pictures.

Eagerly waiting for the rest to unfold.
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Old 2nd January 2014, 17:57   #5
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Originally Posted by debarshim View Post
Red Rackham stood out and was a head turner wherever we went.
No doubt buddy... She looks gorgeous in all your snaps.

Nice travelogue. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 2nd January 2014, 18:45   #6
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Default Driving from Kolkata to Bumthang (Bhutan)

10th Dec – Punakha to Bumthang (Jakar)
From the beginning of the trip, the name Jakar was not striking a chord with locals, they could understand the name Bumthang and so off we go towards Bumthang today. It was quite a long drive today and we had to cover about 200 kms. My idea was that we would take 7 hours for the drive along with stops and then an hour to spend on the way for birding. Our first target was to reach Pele La at an altitude of 3325 meters. The road from Punakha till sometime after Wangdu was pretty good but soon afterwards the road started turning bad and some places had no surfaces at all. The locations looked remote with quaint villages (few houses) that came along after long intervals. Traffic was very low – to the tune that we saw probably 5-10 vehicles in the first hour after crossing Wangdu. We carried on after negotiating bad roads and crossed a number of stone quarries where the road was non-existent. On the way we stopped at a place where there was a tree with many birds. Here we got to see and photograph Green tailed sunbird both male and female. Taking photos of these magnificent but hyperactive creatures is no mean feat and I spent about 20 min in the process. These colorful small birds of the size of my palm are so restless that they do not sit at a single place for more that 2-3 seconds and lives on nectar from flowers. After enough pictures we carried on and realized that Pele La was quite far away and that the bad roads had slowed us down. The road started becoming better once we started climbing the Pele La pass and once we reach the top there is a chorten and is quite peaceful, serene and pleasant. We spotted the abandoned road which Siddhartha had recommended to go looking for birds, the abandoned road was closed with boulders for about 3 kms ahead and spent about 45 min trying to look for birds (mainly parrot bills) but there were none to be found. With the onset of winter the birds had retreated downhill and so we moved onwards.
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On the way to Pele La

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On top of Pele La - getting ready for birding

From Pele La towards Trongsa, the road is good and just after this; there is a road that goes down to the Phobjika valley. Just before reaching Trongsa, we could see the hydroelectric project to the right and the Trongsa Dzong perched on top of a hill. It was a wonderful sight and we again stopped for a while. It seemed that we had reached Trongsa and were just outside the town, but the road winds for another 8-10 kms for making way to cross the river in order to reach Trongsa. In all it takes about 5 – 6 hours to reach Trongsa depending on the number of breaks.
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Somewhere after Pele La

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View of Trongsa from the road

At Trongsa we had some food – Dr. Majumder and Chandrima had noodles and coffee while I had my favorite food when I am in the mountains… Maggi soup and lemon tea. The Oyster Hotel at Trongsa serves decent food. Trongsa is a small … very small town of a few houses and from here there is a road going towards Gelephu border crossing. We had to go on this road on our way back to Kolkata as we had planned our exit from Bhutan through Gelephu. Here we discovered an anomaly in our plan – I had estimated the road length to be 150-170 kms but here the distance from Trongsa to Gelephu showed as 244 kms. Dr. Majumder enquired about the road condition from a policeman nearby which was not very encouraging (we took this route though and will describe in details). Today we had to reach Bumthang which was still 70 kms away and on the way stood Yotong La at 3320 meters altitude. I could not help but keep thinking that on our way back from Bumthang, we had to cover 310+kms on mountain roads in a day – not very difficult… I have done similar distances before, but it is tiring and mountain roads are not always predictable and I like to keep time buffer in the plan that I make.
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Cloudy on top of Yotong La

With some thought in mind we started ascending Yotong La just after Trongsa and soon found the beauty to be engrossing and our minds got free. Roads were very good and we reached the Yotong La top in 45 mins. The pass was a mystic kingdom engulfed in clouds all around and even then a few birds were moving around in the clouds. We spotted a raptor resting just on top of the pass. After some time on the pass we moved on descending once again. Just after we came out from the clouds, it was bright and sunny again. The road descends into the Chumey valley at a place called Gyathshe. This place had some government offices and school along the way. We also spotted a couple of Black Billed Magpie beside the road and stopped for another photo shoot of these birds. The place was beautiful and at first we thought that we had reached Jakar. But this was a different valley called Chumey valley.
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Road through Chumey Valley

So we kept on moving and the road forks at a place called Nangar in the Chumey valley. The road going up to the left is the one going to Bumthang valley, Jakar. From Nangar, Jakar is another 18 kms away – the road goes up and crosses a small pass for entering the Bumthang valley. We could identify it was a pass because of the Chorten and flags put up at that place. After the unnamed pass, we emerged from the forest and could see the Bumthang valley in front of us. Bumthang was colder from the previous valleys and in my opinion was much more beautiful than the others that we had seen previously.
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Bumthang Valley

We were booked at the River Lodge. The road to the hotel was a short and steep climb from the main road opposite to the only Indian Oil petrol pump just outside Jakar town. We checked into our hotel and the owner Mr. Pema Dawa was a very charming and cordial person. We had a lot of questions about the place, about Gelephu, about the roads to Gelephu and he answered all the questions with a lot of patience. Chandrima had called up Mr. Dawa and ordered for some evening snacks and so food was ready as we reached… the only one time it happened in all the days drives. After getting all information and consuming a lot of momos we ordered for dinner and freshened up. Mr. Dawa told us that he would book a hotel at Gelephu for us as we did not have a booking. We thanked him a lot for his help and information provided. There is nothing called Jakar town – the small town was known as Chamkhar and this place had a small airstrip as well albeit very small. We went for a walk in the evening in the town and liked the orderly setting of shops along a neatly geometrically placed roads – again from one end of the town to the other can be covered in not more than 10 minutes. I just loved Bhutan, it is so calm, quiet, and less populated, so much forest and wild life… and all of it.
The River Lodge had a spa and the dining area is kept warm by burning wood inside a drum with chimney. The hotel was very decent and we liked the place. After the evening walk in the town we came back spent some time talking to Mr. Dawa and then had dinner and retired for the night. Chandrima had called up Mr. Sherab in the meantime. Mr. Sherab is an Ornithologist living in the Bumthang valley and his contact was given by Siddhartha. Mr. Sherab had agreed to accompany us for a guided tour of the birds in the area next morning and we had to pick him up from the Lamey Gompha at 6:00 AM – so we had to get up pretty early.

11th Dec – Bumthang Valley
We got up early as we had to pick up Mr. Sherab by sunrise. I had taken the direction to Lamey Gompha from a couple of ladies in the Chamkhar market. So off we went at 6:00 AM still dark – we drove past the Jakar Dzong and drove up through some forested area to reach Lamey Gompha. We met Mr. Sherab and picked him up and then again came back to the valley, crossed the Chamkhar town and then the bridge to reach the airport. It is beside bushes near the Jakar airport, the various parrot bills can be found. In the next hour we got to see various species of birds and then the rare Ibis bill in the Murchangphy Chu that runs through the Bumthang valley.
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Black billed magpie in Bumthang

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This is the Jakar airport - note the terminal building... probably the smallest in the world

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The river at Jakar - source of all birds and wildlife

After birding, we dropped off Mr. Sherab at his home and had breakfast at River Lodge. After that we went off to see the Jakar Dzong which seemed pretty ancient. Then we saw the Jampey Lakhang built in the 6th Century AD and continued on towards the Kurjey Lakhang which is a comparatively newer one. Both these monasteries are worth seeing.
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The Jakar Dzong

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The 6th Century AD Jampey Lakhang

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The serene and peaceful Kurjey Lakhang

Thoroughly tired from our roaming about from before sunrise, we headed towards River Lodge for lunch and some well-deserved rest. I tanked up during this time as we will require that for the next day. After lunch and rest I went for a spa in the hotel and others went for a last tour of Chamkhar town. The next day was a long drive from Bumthang to Gelephu for which we had minimum road information. In addition to the information that we had collected, Mr. Sherab informed that somewhere in the middle the roads are open for 1 hour only for the widening project – another obstacle… how exciting the drive must be. Anyway I prepared for the long drive next day and went off to bed early.
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Old 2nd January 2014, 19:13   #7
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Default Driving from Kolkata to Bumthang (Bhutan)

12th Dec 2013 – Bumthang (Jakar) – Gelephu
As expected we started at 6:00AM sharp after thanking Mr. Dawa for all his help. He in fact booked the hotel for us at Gelephu in addition to providing us with packed lunch for the way. It was still dark and I was driving pretty fast as well. As Yotong la came up it was very cloudy up there again and we could see that it had snowed a little bit overnight. It was like a mystic atmosphere all around and we wanted to stop, but our schedule prevented us from doing so. The temperature outside was showing as -3 degrees. By 7:50AM we had reached Trongsa after covering the first 70 kms – not bad. We had planned for a breakfast with Maggi at Oyster hotel in Trongsa. As Chandrima went to the hotel to order the Maggi something funny happened. I parallel-parked the car on the right ride of the road facing the opposite direction… someone came up to me and requested me to park the car facing the other way. I was surprised by their road sense and parked the car on the road that was going down to Gelephu.

After breakfast, we started off again expecting bad roads but nothing happened for the next 10 kms or so. In fact I had in my mind that in the construction area the road is only open from 12:00 noon to 1:00 PM, so I was moving fast. For the first 10 kms from Trongsa, we saw an Indian Oil petrol pump, then lots of workers from India for the Hydel power project that is being built. The road was potholed and I was expecting that this is ‘bad’ but after a while the roads slowly started disappearing and after a while there was none. The way was descending down the mountain from Trongsa and by the time we were down beside the river below, I had done about 30 kms of off-roading. Off roads continued again for the next 10-15 kms till we reached some village (forgot the name) and then miraculously the roads were fine and perfect – in fact all too good for roads in the mountains. I did not rest and continued because I had to catch the time slot for road construction opening. I was informed that it takes about 4 hours from Trongsa but by 11:30 we reached the spot and I was relieved. So I had driven fast and there was now some certainty that we could reach Gelephu. We utilized the next 30 mins (till the road opens) for consuming our packed lunch.

At 12 sharp the road opened and we continued… from here onwards till Gelephu the roads were very good and nothing to complain about till we entered India (next day). The road went through some precarious rock-fall zones and then through some spectacular high altitude locations with near vertical falls and it was nauseating to look down. Then the road went down crossed a hanging bridge and from then onwards the forests, wildlife and birds increased. At one point there were 7-8 apes in front of us on the road which looked like Langurs but were not. We did not take photos of them as the cameras were packed into the bag as per our previous pact so that we did not waste time on the road today for taking photos. Later I found out that these were Golden Langurs which are found only in this area and are extremely elusive – what luck. This part of the road travels through Royal Manas National park which is an extension of the Manas National park in Assam, India.

Just before the mountains ended before Gelephu, we had out papers checked and stamped once again at an immigration counter. Then after a few kms we entered Gelephu. It was 3:30 PM only – for all our plans and tension we reached much earlier than expected – The distance was 277 kms. So from Trongsa to Gelephu stands at 207 kms instead of the incorrect marking 244 kms at Trongsa. I wanted to carry on further as we had daylight for another 90 mins at least but Chandrima and Dr. Majumder insisted to stay in Gelephu. It was the right decision as we found out the next day.

We were booked at the ‘Tshenden Hotel’ in Gelephu. It’s a small and decent trading town at the Assam border. The roads are neat and clean with lots of greenery all around. Gelephu even has a small airport but we did not see it… like the rest of the towns of Bhutan, Gelephu can be covered on foot in half an hour at most. In all, we liked the place and were lucky that we did not leave Bhutan today. The hotel was decent with a large room and a bathroom which can compete with the room on sizing. It was a nice stay here and we actually covered a part of Gelephu on foot.

13th Dec – Gelephu – Bhagalpur
We started from Gelephu after breakfast at around 8:30 AM. Our permits were taken at the immigration counter at the gate and we were issued an exit token. The Bhutan authorities did not bother to take back the car permit so it stays with us. Just after exiting the Gelephu Gate, the scene was stark – beautiful, trees lined neat and clean Gelephu on this side and extremely chaotic, filled with rickshaws, muddy Samtabari in. We saw some army jawans on patrol inside the market and as we carried on we hit an Indian army check post. After entering our details and where we are going etc. with the army, we carried on and soon realized that we were not in good luck today. From Samtabari, the NH31 is 39 kms – the road was non-existent for the first 20-25 kms. In fact it was so bad that it took is 1 hour and 45 mins to reach the NH 31 crossing. This area looked disturbed for the BODO movement and had army camps in most of the villages. Anyway we carried on once we hit NH31 and I was looking to cover up the time lost!!! well that was not to happen… the highway was divided and had concrete surface but none of the bridges had been built – they were old single way bridges and after every couple of kms there was a stretch of about 500 meters without any road surface. I don’t understand, they could have completely built a particular stretch before digging up the entire road. And then our worst fears came true – there was a bridge where vehicles could pass in single lane… now there was huge traffic jam at both ends. We stood still for about an hour here till some army jawans who were travelling on the same route took matters in their hands and opened up the traffic. This road impasse continued till we reached the Bengal border and after that it was fine and driving was again a pleasure. We had lost a lot of time and by the time we could reach Siliguri once again it was 3:00PM. We had covered about 325 kms from Gelephu to Siliguri and I must mention that driving through NH31 in Dooars is a real pleasure. The road runs mostly through dense forests or tea gardens and truly captured my imagination. Suddenly, I saw two wild elephants in the forests beside the road!! Siliguri had a lot of traffic at this time – we tanked up at the Indian Oil petrol pump at Sevoke and although we took the bypass and then stopped at the KFC at City Center Siliguri for a late Lunch.

We started from Siliguri at 4:00PM and wanted to reach Bhagalpur (just before Bhagalpur) where we wanted to halt for the night at Vaibhav hotel (as mentioned on day 1). That was still 250 kms away and I thought of not stopping any more on the way. I drove steadily and it was at Islampur that the darkness set in. The road surface was good and the surface issue (as mentioned from Dalkhola to Kishanganj) was not very evident on the opposite direction. We breezed past Kishanganj and Dalkhola as there was a flyover on this direction. Reached Purnia by 7:00PM and then saw a fatal bike accident just after. After Purnia the road was not divided but as mentioned earlier, the surface was excellent. I became more cautious after seeing the accident and was careful of the tractors moving at slow speed without lights – Incredible India. Without any incident, we reached Hotel Vaibhav just before crossing the Vikramshila Setu at 8:00 PM. We covered 578 kms today and in spite of all jams and bad roads in Assam, reached within decent time.

The hotel was fine and food was excellent. The hotel furniture, bathroom fittings are all new and of premium quality. The only drawback of this hotel is – and you have to live with it… It’s a highway hotel and it cannot go without the truck horns at night. I was woken up a few times at night because of the horn – of various tunes, loudness and intensity.

14th Dec – Bhagalpur to Kolkata
Morning over here was extremely foggy and we waited for the fog to be cleared up a little bit before starting.
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The dense fog at Bhagalpur

By 9:00 AM the visibility was about 100 meters and we started. We expected a traffic snarl at the Vikramshila Setu but there was none. Even after that it was a non-eventful ride through Bhagalpur town and we thanked our stars. With the road condition remaining as mentioned while going to Bhutan, we made good progress till we reached 12 kms before Dumka. What we found out was – for the next 12 kms till Dumka – there was line of trucks. The single lane highway allowed little leeway for travelling beside the trucks… After waiting for quite some time, I made my way sometimes down the road and sometimes from the opposite direction – whatever was feasible – with Red Rackham at my disposal I sometimes improvised and made my own roads. Anyway when we finally crossed Dumka we were frustrated, tired and hungry. We went into the Maihar Garden hotel for food but it seemed that they only serve guests staying at the hotel. So we carried on to Massanjore – where we stopped while going to Bhutan. After having eggs and tea, we carried on from here.
Without elongating the travelogue any longer – because I have already mentioned about the road direction, condition, distance and time taken – we dropped Dr. Majumder at his home in Burdwan and had some tea and snacks and then it took us another 90 minutes to reach home.
The trip had ended – we covered 2850 kms door to door and 1000+ kms of driving on the mountains. It had been another successful and exceptional self-driven trip and we were happy. Bhutan proved to be a wonderful destination with the valleys more beautiful that I have seen. For people loving wilderness, wildlife and peace it is the destination to be in. We promised to come back and enjoy Bhutan again.
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Old 3rd January 2014, 06:44   #8
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Clean neat travelogue which covers Bhutan comprehensively. Hopefully by the time I am back I will have enough in the bank to get a proper 4X4 beast to pulverize the harsh roads. But the beauty of our sub-continent stands apart and nothing can beat the contrasts.
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Old 3rd January 2014, 14:23   #9
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Thats a beautifully written travelogue with some nice pictures. A few questions about the Ice covered road, do you think a vehicle like Ritz Diesel will have problem crossing such a terrain ? Did you give some special treatment to your tyres before reaching such roads? Amazing journey guys, makes me feel the urge to sell my Ritz VDI and buy a used SUV.
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Old 3rd January 2014, 22:38   #10
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Originally Posted by Dieselritzer View Post
Thats a beautifully written travelogue with some nice pictures. A few questions about the Ice covered road, do you think a vehicle like Ritz Diesel will have problem crossing such a terrain ? Did you give some special treatment to your tyres before reaching such roads? Amazing journey guys, makes me feel the urge to sell my Ritz VDI and buy a used SUV.
Thanks Dieselritzer for reading through and the encouragement.

On the snow that you are seeing on the road... NO ISSUES AT ALL. In fact I saw a couple of similar vehicles on the way. As for Bhutan (Paro - Thimpu - Punakha) area it should be perfectly fine with Ritz. The only issue with a Ritz might have been between Trongsa to Gelephu as mentioned in my travelogue - the road there was non existent... it was slush.

You must be careful though - get down and check for blackice in case the snow has frozen overnight. In case there is black ice, go real slow - low gear and absolutely no brakes on curves - use gear for controlling speed. You will have problems with Ritz only if the snow has accumulated and tyres stop getting traction (a couple of inches of snow).

There is no way to treat tyres other than putting on snow chains - that's for pretty extreme weather. I use 2 types of tyres - Latitude cross for highways and some offroads and LTX A/T all terrain tyres for tough off-road situations. These 2 types of tyres have served me pretty well.
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Old 9th January 2014, 15:40   #11
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What a great write up and details you have given, thanks for sharing. Bhutan is a great place to travel, the landscapes and birds there are beautiful too. Hope to make it there for some birding & landscapes.
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Old 11th January 2014, 15:31   #12
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Nice write up Deb. And with some very good pictures.

Bhutan is a great place to be, esp. if you want a relaxed holiday in peace. I visited Bhutan an year ago, but the memories are still fresh in the mind. In fact, I liked the place so much that I would like to re-visit the country again.

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Old 29th March 2014, 01:28   #13
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Loved the travelogue!

How is the Pajero as a long distance cruiser? In terms of comfort, seats' support, driving fatigue etc? Do you feel any lack of grunt while on the highways? How's the FE (highways, mountain roads, city)? Are the people in the backseat comfy over long distances, poor roads and so on? I remember in my Scorp 4wd, rear seat folks weren't that thrilled with the ride (bouncy).
I've done the Paro-Thimphu-Phuntsholing route by car (sadly, it wasn't self drive). Lovely, lovely country and so disciplined. Like you, I was struck by the sheer contrast in cleanliness, discipline, pollution etc as soon as we crossed across to the India side. Wish we could learn from the neighbors. Highlight of the trip for me was driving through the clouds. We could actually see rain below us! The driver was brilliant and drove so nonchalantly thorough practically no visibility!
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Old 31st March 2014, 10:38   #14
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Thanks for viewing the long travelogue

In response to your questions:

1. The Pajero is GREAT as a long distance cruiser. With this car, I have driven to Zanskar, Ladakh, East Sikkim, Gangotri, North Bengal (a few times), Bhutan in the mountains and many other places on the plain land. Longest in a day is from Kanpur to Kolkata (1000 kms) in 15 hrs. Longest I have driven this car without taking a break is 4.5 hours at a stretch. No back pain at the end of the day - real comfortable ergonomic seats that lets you drive long distances.

2. Its really a great vehicle in terms of stability, ride comfort, seats, suspensions - it dismisses rough roads with a sigh!!! I have taken passengers in rear seats for trip to Sikkim, Gangotri and they have praised the car and have come out without any back pain at the end of the day. Of course there is some body roll for a car this high but it is much much lower than any other SUV in its category (Fortuner, Endeavour, Scorpio, Safari etc...)... only perhaps the Fortuner comes near. BTW - I have driven all of them and telling from experience.

3. On highway the FE is around 10 - I get 11+ if I drive at around 80kmph (but I am not that patient). In the mountains the FE is around 9. In the city the FE is a paltry 7.5
But given that I have a 92 litre tank, I have a pretty good range.

4. The Pajero is not a high speed highway vehicle per say. The gear ratios are low providing more low rpm torque and very good pick up. But at high speeds the performance dips and the engine grunts considerably. I reach 100kmph at about 2500rpm and 125kmph at about 3000rpm. At 100+ speeds, I wish that I had a 6th gear to utilize the power that the car is generating.
The car is very comfortable between 80 - 100/110 kmph range on the highway.

5. And there is a big negative - the cost of maintaining the car spic and span has been real high

Hope that I answered all your questions... and Yes!!! I will definitely go back to Bhutan and this time drive till Trashigang and exit through Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh - that's another dream and next project. The country is just too good.
This year, my project are finalized - driving to Turtuk in Nubra valley in June and then in December driving through the "Desert National Park" near Jaisalmer.

Originally Posted by razor4077 View Post
Loved the travelogue!

How is the Pajero as a long distance cruiser? In terms of comfort, seats' support, driving fatigue etc? Do you feel any lack of grunt while on the highways? How's the FE (highways, mountain roads, city)? Are the people in the backseat comfy over long distances, poor roads and so on? I remember in my Scorp 4wd, rear seat folks weren't that thrilled with the ride (bouncy).
I've done the Paro-Thimphu-Phuntsholing route by car (sadly, it wasn't self drive). Lovely, lovely country and so disciplined. Like you, I was struck by the sheer contrast in cleanliness, discipline, pollution etc as soon as we crossed across to the India side. Wish we could learn from the neighbors. Highlight of the trip for me was driving through the clouds. We could actually see rain below us! The driver was brilliant and drove so nonchalantly thorough practically no visibility!
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Old 31st March 2014, 13:57   #15
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Originally Posted by debarshim View Post
5. And there is a big negative - the cost of maintaining the car spic and span has been real high
So does this mean that a Pajero is expensive to maintain or do you spend more than an average joe in keeping it spic and span? And are we talking cosmetics or other costs as well?

How's the Mitsubishi service and support these days in cal? Parts available? And do you get support in the remoter regions if required?
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