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Old 24th October 2016, 16:59   #1
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Default Throwback to a bygone era - Bhutan in a Bolero 4x4

A road trip to Bhutan has been on the list for the last several years, and though I am not a superstitious person, somehow started to have a feeling that the idea was jinxed. I had started a thread on queries regarding road trip in Bhutan about 5 years back and those who know me will the understand the pain that I have gone through for not being able to undertake the trip for so long. Here is the link -
http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/route-...p-queries.html (Calcutta-Bhutan-Calcutta road trip queries)

This year it seemed dicey as well due to several reasons, leaves from office and financial reasons being of highest importance. Bhutan is an expensive place and the cash only transaction is a big issue for people like us who live a month at a time on credit cards.
Post August things started falling into place with respect to leaves and finance. Then there was this eternal dilemma about which vehicle to take, the Bolero or the Thar. The Thar was serviced and ready but the news about the horrible road conditions in east Bhutan tilted the balance in favour of the Bolero at the last moment. The Bolero had done quite a few long distance trips this year and had clocked 75K Kilometers on the Odo. Just the day before the trip thought of getting an overall health check done at Mahindra Service centre. The health check proved to be quite an expensive one at Rs. 18K. A lot of parts were changed proactively to ensure nothing would go wrong during the trip. Financially this was a big jolt. But still thumbs up and thanks to the Mahindra service adviser and staff for being there till 9 in the night to ensure that the the vehicle was ready.
Enough background given, coming to the details of the trip. First, the route taken -

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How it actually looks on the map, a plotting from the Garmin eTrex Logs

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Day 1 : Paro

After packing the Bolero to the brim we started from Kolkata around 7 in the evening. Followed google map which took us through the Burdwan-Moregram-Raiganj-Dhantola-Botolbari-Islampur-Siliguri route. Kolkata-Siliguri route is now almost head-ache free, so nothing to report regarding this leg of the journey. We reached Phuensholing at around 9:30 in the morning. Bhutan standard time is half hour in advance. The transformation seen as one enters Phuentsholing is quite remarkable, but at the same time, being an Indian at that point of time brings no joy or pride. We went straight to the immigration office. The process of getting the permits for both human and vehicles has been discussed elaborately in a lot of threads, so not getting into the details. Overall, it was a hassle free and fast process. At Phuentsholling they give permit for 7 days for visiting Paro and Thimpu. Permit for any extension of date or addition of destinations has to be re-issued at Thimpu.
With the permit done and equipped with a Tashi Cell Sim card, we started for Paro. The road to Paro is narrow but the drivers are courteous. There was heavy fog in Gedu.

The White Tusker

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One of the numerous waterfalls en-route

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Crossing Chukha and Bunakha, we reached Chuzom which is the confluence of the Paro Chu and Wang Chu. There is a Y junction here, the left goes to Paro (24 kms) and the right to Thimpu (31 kms). We took the left and reached the enchanting valley of Paro just as the sun was setting.

The welcome board in Paro

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We had contacted the Sherub, the lovely owner of Dharma lodge, before leaving Kolkata. She was kind enough to wait for us at a junction so that we did not get lost trying to find the lodge. The lodge was warm and cosy and we were served traditional Bhutanese dinner that included the famous Ema Datshi.

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We hit the bed immediately after dinner.

Day 2 : Paro

Next morning a lovely view of the Paro Chu and the valley greeted us.

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Soon it was time for us to embark upon the hike to Taktsang Monastery, the most spectacularly located Gompa in Bhutan. It was hardly a 10 minute drive from the lodge to the parking lot decorated with prayer flags from where the hike to the monastery begins.

A view from the starting point -

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It was a continuous and fairly steep climb till the midway cafeteria. There were numerous waterfalls and chortens on the way. It was raining intermittently and the path was quite slippery. It was made more treacherous by the horses and donkeys.

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After around 3 hours of climb we reached a place from where the view of the monastery was magnificent. It was a dream come true moment for us.

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We went all the way up to the monastery which was another half an hour hike from here. The last 300 or so steps were a true test of our stamina. The view of Paro valley from the monastery was beautiful and the picture hardly does justification to it.

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The feeling was fantastic to be visiting one of the most famous monasteries in the Himalayan region. Soon it was time to start the tricky hike downwards. It took quite a bit of concentration to keep a steady foothold on those steep slopes and once a bit of lack of it ensured a nasty fall. It was embarrassing and hurt a bit as well.
Finally after about 6 hours of starting the hike, we reached back to the parking lot. We roamed around Paro for a while, had dinner at a lovely place called Takeaway restaurant before retiring for the day.

A local market on the outskirts of Paro

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Chilli is considered as a vegetable in Bhutan and there are plenty of them everywhere

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The famous Paro Dzong

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Old 13th December 2016, 16:24   #2
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Day 3: Punakha

We bid adieu to Sherub and hit the road for Thimpu.

Just 6 kms before reaching Chuzom one can see the Tachogang Gompa, a private temple founded by the Tibetan saint Thangtong Gyelpo also known as the Iron Bridge Lama
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The morning was so pretty and the scenery so breathtakingly beautiful that progress was slow. We were stopping every few minutes to soak in the beauty. By the time we reached Thimpu, it was quite late and we were famished. Still we went to immigration office first to extend the human permit. Here one has to mention the additional places that one would like to visit and also need to specifically mention the exit point from Bhutan. It was Samdrup Jongkhar in our case. We were asked to come back after half an hour to collect the permit and the time was utilised to grab a quick bite at a nearby restaurant. The food was not too great. After collecting the permit we went to the RSTA office to get the vehicle permit extended. However it was already 1 'o' clock and the office was closed for lunch. It was close to a one hour wait and it was grueling for the impatient people from the plains . The officer was kind enough to sense our impatience and let us enter 5 minutes before the stipulated time. The permit was stamped in a jiffy and we were out on the open road in no time. The destination was Punakha.

A view of Thimpu City
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We reached Dochu La (10,500 feet) after travelling for around 20 kilometers from Thimpu. Dochu La is famous for the Chortens built by Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk as a symbol of prayers to the deities to protect the country.

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From Lobesa we took a left to reach Punakha, famous for the Punakha Dzong, located at the confluence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu. The full name of the Dzong is Punthang Dechen Phodrang meaning Palace of Great Happiness.

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Tried my hand at night photography of the Dzong
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The Dzong from a different angle
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Enchanting Punakha
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We tried to find a homestay in Punakha but could not. It was quite late in the evening and the town was already falling asleep. Finally found a hotel named Kuenga in a place called Kuruthang near Punakha. It was not the best of hotels, but fairly neat and clean. The food was quite good.

Day 4 : Wangdue Phodrang

It might seem strange that we chose to stay at Wangdue Phodrang which is just 20 kms from Punakha. There is a story behind this. We started from Punakha at around 10 am and the destination was Phobjika. We had heard that the road condition was bad after Wangdue. However, after travelling for quite some distance we could not understand how the road could be termed as bad. Me and my wife started discussing that the Bhutanese should travel more often to our country to understand what bad road really meant. Then suddenly we found out that we were just a 100 kms from the border town of Gelephu. We had taken the wrong road! Devastated, we had to go all the way back to Wangdue where we were supposed to take a left towards central Bhutan. By the time we reached Wangdue it was quite late and there was no point to continue. Found a lovely resort by the riverside and decided to stay there. The name was Kichu resort and Kichu means Happy Place.

Wangdue Dzong - this Dzong was devastated by fire a few years back and is being reconstructed

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The Wangdue Dzong can be seen at a distance
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We spent the rest of the day leisurely at the resort and would highly recommend the place. It was a perfect place to unwind after 4 days of hectic schedule.

View from the balcony
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Old 17th December 2016, 01:57   #3
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Day 5 and 6: Phobjika

The start from Kichu resort got delayed due to a flat tyre. Instead of replacing it with the stepney, I decided to fix the leak with the tyre repair kit and a Michelin tyre inflator that my wife had so fondly gifted me before the trip. This process won me great accolades from the hotel staff who could not believe that I would be able to do it. After the tyre was fixed, I could hear the word 'mechanic' being whispered several times behind my back, which I chose to believe was said with high regards.

From the left: Masala The Chef, Me and Sonam the manager of Kichu Wangdue

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The road from Wangdue towards Nobding turned out to be real bad. It was being widened and the entire stretch was in a mess with landslides at some places and slush in a few stretches. The small cars were struggling in the slush and in turn slowed down our progress. We halted at Nobding for a hard earned lunch at the lovely Kuenphen Cafe.

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After Nobding comes a place called Lawala from where we took a right towards Gantey. We paid a quick visit to the Gantey Gompa

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We started looking for an accommodation and found a beautiful piece of property.

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There was nothing written anywhere, so we were not sure if it was a resort or a private place. The advantage of having a Di Bolero is that the engine noise attracts attention. Before I could switch off the engine, a person came out and inquired if he could help me. I said that we were looking for a place to stay and he replied that thee were rooms available at this place. The tariff was 850, then with a pause he said dollars. I was shocked and it was quite apparent on my face. As if to soothe my nerves he said that there was a place further down called Aman Kora whose tariff was 1500 dollars a night. Without uttering a single word I ran away from this person as fast as I could. We started towards Phobjika after muttering a few expletives.

From Gantey, the drive to Phobjika valley is through a scenic road.

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The glacial valley of Phobjika is famous for the migratory black-necked cranes. This endangered species arrives in Phobjika towards the end of October and depart by end of February. There is a Crane observation and education center here.

After going around Phobjika for a while we found a hotel a few minutes drive from the crane center called Gakiling Hotel. The view from the hotel balcony was beautiful and the price was reasonable.

Phobjika Valley

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The initial plan was to stay in Phobjika for a night, but the place turned out be such that we decided to extend one more day. There are several hiking trails around Phobjika that one can explore.

A trail towards Gantey Gompa

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A Raven: Bhutan's National Bird

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Roaming around country roads..

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Old 18th December 2016, 01:28   #4
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Day 7 : Bumthang (Jakar)

We woke up at 3 am and by 4 am everything was packed into the Bolero. The idea was to start early as the destination was far and the road was reportedly in a bad shape till Trongsa. Just as we were about to leave, a good Samaritan waved us to stop. The news that he gave was not encouraging. A vehicle was immobile on the road from Phobjika to Gantey. A truck full of logs, apparently driven by a junior driver, could not gauge the gap beside the immobile vehicle and fell into a ditch thereby blocking the road. I visualised the scene and optimistically thought that I have been in such situations before and my 4WD Bolero has always come out victorious. Said goodbye to the helpful person and started on our way. Secretly I felt cheerful thinking that the time had come again to show off the prowess of a 4x4
Reality was different.

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I realised that there was no way out of this mess, not at least for a few hours. Tried to find out if there was another road. A local guide said yes there was one and 4WD is needed as it was through a village and tractors had dug up that road. He said that my vehicle could go but his Hyundai H1 was a 2WD and he would not take the risk. So I promptly turned the vehicle around in search of the alternate route.

A few kilometers into that road

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There was no way that I could take the risk of going into that mud and slush without a backup vehicle. So we were back to square one. By the time we reached the road block again, there were a few more people trying to assess the situation. I searched for the local guide as he was the only english speaking person in that group. Told him that there was a tow rope with which I could pull the Tata TL a few meters back and create a gap for vehicles to pass. He seemed to understand the plan but said that it would damage the vehicle as the front left of the Tata TL was resting on the lower arm. He then came up with another plan. It was to raise the vehicle on a jack and put a spare wheel from one of the other vehicles. The size of the wheel needed was the same as that on my Bolero. Since I was the most impatient amongst the people standing there, I took the pain to un-mount the spare wheel from my Bolero, hoping that this would be resolved quickly. The Tata TL is heavy. It took an enormous amount of effort to raise the vehicle on a jack. But after raising the vehicle we found out that the mounting point for the wheel was damaged and the entire effort for the last hour or more was futile.

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By this time, one smart person had found out the name and contact number of the owner of the Tata TL. The general consensus was that the owner could take the decision if the vehicle could be towed or not. I saw several people looking at the top of a nearby hill. After inquiring found out that the owner is supposed to come down that hill
The next hour went by looking at the hill, straining our eyes to see if our messiah was coming or not. Finally after one and a half hours, the owner came down that hill. He was a man of action. He immediately announced that there was no need to tow the vehicle. Instead he would start the vehicle, engage back gear and reverse the vehicle a few meters. It was easier said than done. Since there was almost no load on the rear tyres, they were not able to put down the power and started spinning instead. A few guys jumped on to the loading bay of the TL and finally it was able to reverse a bit. That was enough for us to squeeze through. We lost more than 3 hours in the process.
After the morning fiasco was over, we encountered bad roads like we had never seen before. In India we are used to bad stretches of roads, but there it continued for hundreds of kilometers with no respite. The Bolero trudged along. There was hardly any traffic on this route except a few government vehicles and pick-up trucks.
We reached a village named Chendebji and two kilometers further we saw the beautiful Chendebji Chorten on the banks of the river Nikkar Chu. This chorten is built in Nepalese style with eyes painted on all four sides.

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Chendebji to Trongsa was only 41 Kilometers but it felt like eternity. The road was so bad that I started having pity for the Bolero. After many hours of careful driving, we finally saw the Trongsa Dzong from a distance.

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The Trongsa Dzong is one of the most impressive dzongs in the country. This was also the only dzong where we were required to show our vehicle pass along with the human permits. I never got to understand the logic though and the response to my query, on why the vehicle pass was needed, was an utterly blank face.

Inside the Dzong

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After visiting the Trongsa Dzong we had a quick lunch at a nondescript but busy little joint. The road from Trongsa onward was relatively better. We crossed Yotung La and reached the beautiful valley of Chumey. We continued past Chumey and reached a village called Zugney. Zugney is famous for its weavers.

We crossed Nangar, the last village in Chumey valley. The road again went uphill from this valley towards the Kiki La. Just 10 kms from Kiki La is Jakar, our destination for the next few days. Jakar, situated on the banks of Chamkar Chu, is the administrative center of Bumthang in the Choekhor valley. Bumthang consists of four valleys namely Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura.
We reached Jakar just as the sun was setting.

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We crossed the market area and then a bridge over the Chamkar Chu to search for Kichu resort. It was almost dark and road was getting narrower after we crossed the Jakar airport. We had almost given up on the hope of finding the hotel when suddenly saw a vehicle approaching. The driver said that Kichhu resort was a bit further up on that road. We crossed a monastery called Kunchesum and reached another called Tamshing. Just opposite to Tamshing was the hotel we were so desperately looking for after the arduous journey through the day.

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The resort turned out to be quite nice, better than we expected and the price was more than reasonable. The name of the manager was also Sonam! We thought that the Kichu chain of resorts all have managers with the same name

The room that we were allotted, the bed was so enticing. It had a bed warmer as well! -
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Old 23rd December 2016, 00:52   #5
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Day 8 : Jakar

Next morning we left the resort after a lovely breakfast prepared by the master chef Bal D Powel.

The cozy restaurant -

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The first stop was just opposite the resort, the famous Tamshing Lakhang.

Tamshing Lakhang

Tamshing Lakhang was founded in 1501 by Pema Lingpa. One specialty of this monastery is that the paintings on the inner walls are in their original form and not restored like most other monasteries. When we reached there we saw the monks were preparing for the upcoming Tsechu (A Tsechu is a Buddhist festival in honour of Guru Rimpoche, the saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan).

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There is a great view of the Kurjey Lakhang just accross the river and it can be accessed via a beautiful foot bridge

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Kurjey Lakhang

This is the country's most historical holy place. The Kurjey complex is surrounded by 108 chortens. It is here that Guru Padmasambhava meditated when he first visited the country.

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We came back via the footbridge and wanted to visit the local weaving centre. On the way found this little guy who was excited to see the Bolero. He was showing off his handsome red Jeep as I passed by

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Next we visited the Jakar Dzong which was initially built as a monastery and later converted to a Dzong in 1646.

Jakar Dzong

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This beautiful Dzong is situated on a hill and overlooks the Jakar valley like a protector.

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Bumthang Consumer Fair

It had been quite a long time since we had been to a fair and took this opportunity to visit one. It was quite a big affair beside the Chamkar Chu.

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My main interest to visit the fair was for this one which I spotted from the opposite bank of the river!

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After visiting the fair, we went to have lunch at Bumthang Pizza. It is a must visit.

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Jambay Lakhang

Next stop was at Jambay Lakhang. The temple is dedicated to Maitreya (Jampa).

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Bumthang region has the highest number of temples and monasteries. The most important ones are located in and around Jakar valley. By evening we were exhausted after visiting quite a few of them. It was time to call it a day after a full course of Bhutanese dinner prepared by the master chef!

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Old 1st January 2017, 22:36   #6
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Day 9 : Tang

This time of the year is not considered a season in Bhutan, specially in Bumthang. We encountered very few tourists. Also, according to the manager, the number of tourists have gone down in recent times due to the road condition. Since there were no other guests in the resort, the master chef gladly agreed to show us around the valley. He suggested we should visit Tang valley which was less than an hours drive from Jakar.

On our way to Tang we stopped at a nunnery.

Pencholing Higher Buddhist Institute for Nuns

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From there drove on towards Tang. Just before entering the village of Tang comes up the Remochen Lakhang which has body imprints of Guru Padmasambhava. Till a few years back, there was no road upto this monastery and could be accessed by a 3 km uphill walk.

Tang Remochen Lakhang

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The guardians of the Lakhang

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People performing their daily chores

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Next stop was the beautiful riverside of Tang valley. There was not much to see apart from the flowing river, so we left after a customary photoshoot. If planned properly, this place can be a lovely picnic spot.

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Membartso or Flaming Lake

While returning from Tang we stopped to visit the Membartso Lake, one of the holiest pilgrimage places in Bhutan. Legend says that Pema Lingpa had plunged into this lake with a burning butter lamp and after sometime emerged back with a box in his hand.
Membartso is not actually a lake, but a naturally formed pool in the midst of a fast flowing river. It is better to be cautious while visiting this place as the locals claim that quite a few fatal accidents have happened here.

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After coming back from Tang, we visited the Swiss cheese shop. It is famous in Bumthang, started long time back by a Swiss national who had settled here. We picked up a packet each of Gouda and Emmental Cheese.

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Lunch was again done at Bumthang Pizza, second day in a row. The pizza is really that good

Wangdichoeling Palace

Post lunch we paid a visit to the Wandichoeling Palace. This is not open to public and is under construction. All we could do was to take a few pictures from outside the gate.

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The rest of the day was spent relaxing at the Kichu resort.

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Old 2nd January 2017, 15:14   #7
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Day 10: Jakar

We had visited almost every possible place of interest in and around Jakar in the past two days. In our quest to find out newer places not mentioned in the books on Bhutan, came to know about the Padtselling Monastery. The locals told us that the road was suitable for 4WD and as usual I was excited. The direction to Padtselling is clearly marked opposite to the Bumthang airport.

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The start of the road was beautiful.

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But slowly it turned out to be challenging.

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The slush kept on increasing and the Bolero with HT tyres was getting out of control. It was slipping and sliding all over the place. After a certain point it became too scary to continue without a backup vehicle. The place was so desolate that it would be impossible to get help if we got stuck. Turned back just 4 kms away from the monastery



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Nevertheless the scenery was beautiful and will cherish the defeat for a long time to come.

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Next we headed for Chumey valley, but before that, spent some time beside the Chamkar Chu.

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Chumey valley is famous for its weavers and we visited several shops. There is a thriving market in Bhutan for hand made cloth and Chumey is a major source of that.

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After spending about an hour in Chumey it was time to go back to Jakar. We stopped at the Kunchesum monastery which comes up after crossing the Bumthang airport and just before Tamshing Lakhang.

Kunchesum Lakhang

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Before going back to the resort, we visited the Tamshing store just opposite to the Tamshing Lakhang. It is run by the lovely lady Tshewang Choki. She is a descendant of Pema Lingpa and her family runs the Tamshing monastery. Tshewang invited us to meet her family and have coffee with them.

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Several hours went by hearing stories about the Indo Bhutan relationship from the head of the family, Tshewang's father. He spoke fluent Hindi. When he heard that we would be leaving the next day for Mongar, he insisted that we should carry walnuts and apples produced in his garden and not eat junk food like chips and cold drinks! The warm welcome that we received from the entire family will be etched in our memories forever.

Last edited by mobike008 : 13th January 2017 at 16:11. Reason: Added the video. Will exclude from the other post as it was incorrectly added :)
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Old 3rd January 2017, 00:18   #8
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Day 11 : Mongar via Lhuentse

We said our goodbyes to Sonam and Bal D Powel and started for the long journey towards Mongar. People usually visit Lhuentse from Mongar on a day trip, but we decided to visit Lhuentse on the way as we were running short on days. After some time our Bolero went past the turn-off to Tang valley, towards Shelthang La. Suddenly a male Himalayan Monal crossed the road just in front of us. We had heard so much about this shy bird but had never seen it before. I was cursing myself for not switching on the dash cam

Ura valley came up next.

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From Ura we drove around 35 kilometers to Thrumsing La at a height of 12000 feet. The road condition was nothing short of horrible.

Even the Land Cruiser in front of us was struggling for traction!

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We passed through a dense forest and reached Sengor. The next section of the road was dramatic with sheer drop on the side and numerous waterfalls en route.

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From Yangkho La onwards the road descended steeply but it became much wider. There was a distinctive change in the vegetation around as the altitude plunged. We crossed Kuri Chu near which a hydro plant has been constructed. This place is famous for production of lemon grass oil. From here the road started ascending again and we reached a junction just 12 kilometers short of Mongar. This place is Gangola. The road on the left goes towards Lhuentse and the one on the right bends sharply towards the town of Mongar.
It was already late in the afternoon and Lhuentse was 65 kilometers from Gangola, which is a substantial distance in the hills considering the round trip back to this point would be 130 Kms. It took us a few minutes to decide whether to go for it or not. But then we thought that it is not everyday that one gets a chance to visit Lhuentse. So we decided to go for it and can definitely say that it was one of the best decisions.

The fast flowing Kuri Chu kept accompanying us all along the way to Lhuentse.

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We crossed the small hamlet of Rewan and then the village of Autsho. Just before entering Autsho a beautiful white chorten came up in the middle of the road. Our brisk pace continued and we reached Fawan. A few kilometers after Fawan we crossed a bailey bridge to reach Tangmachu. Lhuentse was about 13 kilometers from this place.

A confluence en-route
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It was almost evening by the time we reached the small town of Lhuentse. We headed straight for the Lhuentse Dzong perched atop a hill that provided a wonderful view of the Kuri Chu valley.

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Lhuentse Dzong

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Inside the Dzong. The woodwork is beautiful.

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Soon it was time to trace our way back to Mongar. I tried to drive as fast as possible on the mountain road but it seemed to be a never ending journey. Traffic was sparse and villages were far and few. Finally we reached Mongar at around 8 in the evening and started looking for a hotel. The master chef at Kichu had mentioned about Wangchuk Resort and it was quite easy to find. Though it turned out be an excellent hotel, it was over our budget, which had diminished to a few thousand after spending 11 days in Bhutan. But we were too tired to look around for another accommodation and decided to stay at Wangchuk resort after a little bit of negotiation.

Inside the Wangchuk Resort

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View from the hotel room next morning

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Old 4th January 2017, 02:26   #9
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Day 12: Siliguri via Drametse, Trashiyangtse, Trashigang, Samdrup Jongkhar and Phuenstsholing

Mongar is the fastest developing district (dzongkhag) in Eastern Bhutan, but it does not offer much sightseeing opportunity. It is more of a transit point en route to Trashigang. We had heard that the dzong in Mongar is not impressive, so decided to give it a miss.
Destination for the day was Trashigang. We filled up diesel in the Bolero and started the journey. The road condition was again nightmarish. At one point a sound started coming from underneath the vehicle. It went on for sometime, then after sudden loud metallic sound everything went silent. I continued for about 50 meters arguing with Rajsri that it must have been a big stone stuck somewhere and just fallen off with that sound. She insisted to stop and have a look. When we came out of the car, we could see something lying at a distance in the middle of the road. An Alto came that way, hit that thing and there was a loud bang. The Alto immediately stopped on the side. Another Alto was following it closely, and the exact same thing happened to it. Both the alto drivers were bewildered and came out of their vehicles thinking what it might have been. By this time Rajsri had reached the spot and picked up a metal bar. I immediately realised that it was a part of a leaf spring. When I told the same to the alto drivers, they were visibly happy. Now the question was which leaf spring. After inspection I found that it was the third leaf spring from the bottom on the rear right of the Bolero that had broken in half! Not much to worry.
Around 70 Kilometers from Mongar came a place named Thungdari. This is the turn off point for going towards Drametse Gompa.
The road to the Gompa was unmetalled and a bit tricky at a few places. It is better not to take chance with a low GC vehicle. The gompa was about 19 kilometers from Thungdari. Drametse is the largest and most important monastery in Eastern Bhutan. Drametse literally means 'peak without enemy'. In 2009, Drametse lhakhang and its adjoining structures were severley damaged in an earthquake. The reconstruction is still going on.

Drametse Gompa

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An excerpt from Lonely Planet on Drametse

"Drametse is the biggest and most important monastery in eastern Bhutan. It's an 18km, hour-long drive on a dirt track off the main road, gaining 1350m, and you'll need a 4WD vehicle if it's been raining"

Source - http://www.lonelyplanet.com/bhutan/drametse-goemba/

We drove back to the main road which soon became wider with the Gamri Chu flowing on the side. After 12 kilometers came up Chazam where the great Iron Bridge Builder from Tibet had built a bridge in the 15th Century. We saw a Dzong on the top of a hill on the other side of the river but could not find out the name.

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At Chazam, one will have to cross the bridge to go to Trashigang which is 10 Kilometers away. We, however, continued straight towards Trashiyangtse.

Chazam

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3 kilometers after Chazam comes up the confluence of the Bamri and Gamri Chu.

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A few kilometers later, a tumbling waterfall.

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We crossed Gom Kora, a small gompa on the river bank, and continued on our journey along the beautiful road.

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Another Dzong could be seen at a distance

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The main reason to visit Trashiyangtse was for Chorten Kora, one of the largest Chortens in the country and a truly impressive structure in a picturesque setting. It was constructed in the 1700s by Lama Ngawang Loday, on the banks of Kulong Chu River. It is modelled after the great Bodhnath Stupa in Nepal and looked quite similar the Gorsam Chorten in Zemithang, Arunachal Pradesh. Later we found out from the map that Gorsam is just 40 kilometers from Chorten Kora and every year people from Arunachal visit this place!

Chorten Kora
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After visiting the Trashiyangtse town, we retraced our path back to Chazam, crossed the iron bridge and went towards Trashigang. It was around 7 in the evening when we reached Trashigang. Found a sweet little restaurant and had our fill. After dinner we decided not to take a night halt at Trashigang. Instead we pushed on towards Samdrup Jongkhar.

The road from Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar was beyond comparison. Nightmarish would be an understatement. After a turn suddenly I found that the steering had become quite heavy. Immediately got down from the vehicle and it was just as I was dreading. The front right tyre had got completely deflated and had come out of the rim After a close inspection found that the valve had been sheared off from the base. The drama did not end there.
It was pitch dark and Rajsri held the torch while I was changing the tyre with the stepney. Just as I was about to put the deflated tyre back at the rear, a loud sound came from about 10 meters ahead of us. We looked at each other and realised that a landslide had started. It was a moment we will never forget. The Bolero was still up on the jack and both of us were absolutely indecisive, whether to get the Bolero out of the jack, or to put the stepney back or just run for dear life. We did not do any of these, instead our hands were shaking beyond control and we just stood there holding the stepney. After a few seconds, which seemed like eternity, the landslide stopped. My hand was still shaking so much that I was not able to put the nuts of the stepney into place. After a desperate attempt I could fit two of them but failed to fit the third. Did not try further. Instead tightened the wheel nuts, took the vehicle off the jack and sped from the place. We stopped after about 5 kilometers and tightened all the nuts once more. It was really an experience of a lifetime. We had faced several landslides before, but the darkness of the night and the handicapped vehicle made it all the more dramatic.
Without further drama we reached Samdrum Jongkhar at around 5 in the morning. But the gates of the Indo-Bhutan border does not open before 6 am. We waited there for about 15 minutes. By that time the guards took pity on us after hearing that we were coming straight from Mongar! One of the guards took me to the officer's house nearby, woke him up and requested him to make an exception for us. The officer obliged and allowed us to leave 30 minutes before the stipulated time.
The next decision was whether to go to Guwahati which was nearby, or to go towards Siliguri. We decided to go to Phuenstsholing once more. But little did we know what was in store for us there.

The drive from Rangia to Phuentsholing was uneventful and we took turns at the wheel. Finally reached at around noon, almost 29 hours after leaving the hotel in Mongar!
Going to Phuenstsholing was a wrong decision. It was Durga Puja time and the whole of Bengal, if not India, seemed to have landed up there. We were not able to recognize the immigration office that we had visited just two weeks back. It was overflowing with people.

Immigration office in Phuensholing

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There was not a single vacant room in any hotel, such was the rush of tourists. The situation was unbelievable. After close to 30 hours of travel, we were without a place to stay! Decided to have lunch at Zen family restaurant. It was a wise decision. The good food and the bit of rest allowed us to think rationally on the next course of action. Rajsri looked up on Make My Trip and found a sweet deal at Sinclairs Siliguri. Siliguri was 160 kilometers from Phuentsholling, but that was the best option that we had got at that moment. After lunch I decided to get the stepney repaired at a local tyre shop. Just as we were about to leave after fixing the tyre, I saw that the Bolero was leaning a bit more on one side. A quick look revealed that another tyre had got deflated
By the time everything was fixed, it was close to 5 pm. The journey towards Siliguri started and once on the open road the Bolero was going as fast as the 63 Bhp engine would allow. I felt like Johnny Blaze of Ghost Rider, burning up the streets of North Bengal with the White Tusker!
We reached the outskirts of Siliguri by 8 pm, but the last few kilometers through the puja traffic was excruciatingly painful. Finally at 8:30 p.m., 35 hours after leaving Mongar, we checked in at Hotel Sinclairs. Both of us could donate a few organs at that point to get a good night's sleep in exchange.

The enticing bed at Hotel Sinclairs, Siliguri

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Day 14: Kolkata

Next morning we woke up late, had breakfast and left for Kolkata. The journey from Siliguri to Kolkata was completed in about 10 hours, which has become the standard in recent times.

Sweet home after 14 days

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Last edited by BlackPearl : 5th January 2017 at 16:57.
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Old 5th January 2017, 16:20   #10
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The itinerary of the entire trip in a gist so that it may help fellow travelers to plan -

Days 1 to 6

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Days 6 to 14

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A few references on Bhutan from Team-Bhp -

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...ota-etios.html (Ecstatic Bhutan and lush green Dooars in a Toyota Etios)

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...ng-bhutan.html (Driving from Kolkata to Bumthang (Bhutan))

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...nda-civic.html (Drive from Kolkata to Bhutan in my Honda Civic)

Last edited by BlackPearl : 5th January 2017 at 16:24.
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Old 5th January 2017, 17:00   #11
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Default re: Throwback to a bygone era - Bhutan in a Bolero 4x4

Note from Mod : Thread moved from Assembly Line to Travelogues section. Thanks for sharing
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Old 5th January 2017, 17:40   #12
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Arguably the best travelogue on Bhutan till now, i have read! Rated a very deserving 5*. The pics are fabulous and the travelogue is a very detailed one. It can be a one stop guide for Bhutan travelers planning to do a Bhutan west to east trip.
Bhutan is a beautiful country with nice people all around. Am in love with this small country since my last years visit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackPearl View Post
He was a man of action. He immediately announced that there was no need to tow the vehicle. Instead he would start the vehicle, engage back gear and reverse the vehicle a few meters. It was easier said than done. Since there was almost no load on the rear tyres, they were not able to put down the power and started spinning instead. A few guys jumped on to the loading bay of the TL and finally it was able to reverse a bit. That was enough for us to squeeze through. We lost more than 3 hours in the process.
Woho what a waste of 3 hours! Had the other guys agreed to your suggestion at the very beginning, you could have towed back the vehicle by few meters in 3 minutes! Time is precious towing saves it.

In the beginning i thought of not sharing any pics from my trip to Bhutan but later i thought how can i be that matured to resist myself from doing do.

Few random pics around Thimpu, Punakha, Haa valley & Paro.

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Last edited by Samba : 5th January 2017 at 17:50.
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Old 5th January 2017, 19:54   #13
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Awesome write-up BP, along with the fantastic pictures to accompany them!! I am sure you'd argue that Samba has better skills behind the lens, but you are no slouch either
Rated a deserved 5 stars.
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Old 5th January 2017, 20:12   #14
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This is an amazing travelogue. The long unknown journey through a land lesser known to the outside world makes the journey even more adventurous, epic and thrilling. The photographs are beautiful to say the least as they perfectly balance the writeup. Reading the travelogue seems like actually going through the sequence of events. The landslide, punctures at darkness, loosing a leaf are all scary and do underline the fact that the trip was not at all easy. The experience is definitely once in a lifetime like.
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Old 5th January 2017, 20:17   #15
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BlackPearl,

What a brilliant experience and even better travelogue. I had planned to do Bhutan in December but chose Goa instead. I'm wondering now, after reading your stories and seeing the pictures if that was a right decision!

Thanks for sharing, makes for a pleasing read and useful for anyone planning a trip.

Cheers,
Sting
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