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|9th May 2008, 21:54||#1|
Senior - BHPian
An incredible journey of a lifetime to Bhutan, Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Gangtok!
This is the first part of my travelogue of my incredible journey to Bhutan, Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Gangtok. As always, wifey dear was my companion!
My wifey and I were planning for a long vacation since a long time. We had already visited Shimla and Manali, hence we decided to go to some unexplored territory. After a lot of debate, planning and fighting, we decided on Bhutan and Darjeeling.
I searched the Internet extensively and was very impressed with the information I got about Bhutan. Most of the websites of Bhutan tourism department and travel agents are made, keeping the Americans and the Europeans in mind. They have to apply for Visa well in advance, through a Govt. of Bhutan authorized travel agent. They are also not allowed to travel freely!!! They have to be accompanied by an authorized guide at all times and can opt only for conducted tours!
Foreigners have to pay around 200 dollars per day for food and accommodation. This fee is compulsory. Visa fees and travel agency fees are extra !!! It is compulsory for Foreigners to use Bhutan's national airlines, DRUK Air, to fly into the country. This makes Bhutan one of the costliest destinations in the world!!!
I wrote to the Ministry of Tourism of Bhutan and I got the answers that I was expecting and hoping for! Bhutan has a great relationship with India and Indians are always treated like VIPs. I was informed by the ministry that Indians do not even require a passport to enter Bhutan. Any identity card issued by the Govt. Of India is sufficient. Even a driving license is enough! Indians can travel freely and they do not have to pay in USD. Indians also can travel by road to Bhutan! This was indeed very good news for us. I planned my journey to the minutest details and made most of the reservations over the Internet.
My wife and I took the Dadar- Guwati express from Mumbai on the 28th of December 2006. The train journey was very tiring. One thing I hated about the journey was that there were beggars and hawkers roaming around EVEN in my 3AC compartment. The attendant did nothing to prevent this. I think he must be getting favors from those people!!! The food was not good, but we can rarely expect anything good in our trains. We really enjoyed the beautiful scenery en-route! Each state was different from the other and had its own natural beauty!
We reached New Jalpaiguri on the 30th of December early morning, by 2am. When we got down from our 3AC compartment, we were taken aback by the weather there. It was very comfortable inside the bogie, but the temperature outside was less than 5 degree C and the whole station was covered in fog. We really enjoyed the sight! We were shivering and had to quickly put on our heavy woolens and winter jackets. Gloves were a necessity and we were freezing. We decided not to travel at that hour and there was nothing much we could do at 2am. So we decided to spend time in the high class waiting room in the Railway station. We had hot omlette and bread from a stall on the platform! It was really yummy!
By 5 am, we decided to move on. When we enquired at the taxi stand, the rate quoted was Rs. 2000 for the short trip to Phuentsholing, the border town of Bhutan. We decided against taking a taxi and hailed an auto and made the short trip to Siliguri. We were charged Rs. 100 for the 8km trip!!
We knew that the Govt. of Bhutan runs a bus service from Siliguri to Phuentsholing. We reached Siliguri and waited for over an hour for the bus office to open. We then reserved our tickets and got inside the bus. The seats of the bus were very narrow and we needed three seats for the both of us to sit! Luckily the conductor did not charge us for the third seat!!
Our journey to Bhutan, on the Bhutan Transport Corporation’s bus, took five hours. There were atleast 40 other Bhutanese and Indians in the bus. The route we travelled on was very scenic and it was a pleasure seeing hundreds of tea estates on the way. But I must say that the bus journey was bone shattering!!! It was like a bullock cart ride!
We reached Phuentsholing by 12 pm. We really liked the border gate of Bhutan. It was really beautiful. The indian city bordering Bhutan is Jai Nagar. Indians can go freely to Phuentsholing and the Bhutanese can come to Jai Nagar, without any permits or visas.
Bhutan time is half an hour ahead of Indian standard time. We had a tasty Chinese lunch, from Phuentsholing. We were surprised to see that 99% of Bhutanese go about their daily lives in their traditional Gho, which is a knee-length robe tied around the waist by a cloth belt. The women wear ankle length Kera. Bhutanese people are very proud of their country and wear their national dress as a sign of respect for their country.
Indians, who do not have a passport, require a tour permit from the Indian Embassy in Phuentsholing. This permit is issued after the Immigration officer checks the authenticity of the Indian’s identity card (voter’s id, driving license, PAN card, etc). This permit has to be produced before the Bhutanese Visa office in Phuentsholing and a travel Visa is issued for 7 to 30 days, depending on the purpose of travel of the applicant.
For Indians with a valid passport, there are absolutely no hassles. We went to the Bhutan Embassy officer directly and filled up the visa application forms. We had to submit two photos along with our passports and application forms. The officers were very polite and helpful. They too wore traditional dresses, complete with caps also. We got our one-month tourist visas by 2 pm.
We hired a taxi from Phuentsholing and started our journey to Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, by 3 pm. The distance is around 180 kilometers, but because of the almost vertical roads and innumerable hairpin bends, the journey time would be around 6 hours! We negotiated a rate of Rs. 900 for the trip. Almost 90% of the taxis in Bhutan are our very own Maruti Omnis. Those taxis are all petrol variants! Our driver’s name was Tashi and he spoke good Hindi. Our passports and visas were verified at a checkpost, as soon as we entered the Thimpu highway. The policemen in Bhutan are very good mannered and helpful to the core!
The road to Thimpu was very narrow and full of hairpin curves. There must have been at least a 1000 of them!!! We lost count pretty soon! India’s Border Roads Organization has built Bhutan’s roads and it was very well maintained. The highway to Thimpu crossed through countless mountains. The view was always very scenic. We saw some waterfalls also on the way.
As we started our ascend into the mountains, we noticed that the temperature had come down drastically and was near freezing. We quickly put on our heavy duty jackets and gloves! Even Tashi, our driver, wore a leather jacket on top his traditional dress! Tashi was an expert driver. I relaxed almost immediately seeing his fantastic driving. I was sure that we were in safe hands! Our visas and passports were checked 10 times at various police check posts en-route.
We saw Bhutan’s hydro electric project office en-route. The technical expertise and manpower for the project is supplied by India.
Travelouge to be continued in this thread....
|9th May 2008, 23:19||#3|
Senior - BHPian
Photos are named according to places!
Dear Team, all my photos are named according to the place where it was clicked. Please hold your mouse over the photo. The last part of the name, after an alphabet, is the name and description of the photo! Hope this is OK.
Happy reading! I have more stunning photos to be posted!
Last edited by Chevy_lover : 9th May 2008 at 23:21.
|9th May 2008, 23:27||#5|
Senior - BHPian
|9th May 2008, 23:48||#6|
Senior - BHPian
Join Date: Nov 2006
Thanked: 3,317 Times
Reminds me of my 1994 trip in my 100 cc Ind-Suzuki bike from Bombay (as it was known at that time!!) to Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Sikkhim (Gangtok, Mangan, Pemayangse, Kechopari, Yakshum), Bhuttan (Thimpu, Paro) and back. The toughest part was the 4-day/3-night non-stop (in 2 legs of 45 hours each) from Paro to Bombay.
Will recommend the drive by bike anyday.
|10th May 2008, 00:30||#7|
Senior - BHPian
After a long winding, stomach churning drive, we stopped at a road side restaurant en-route to Thimpu, for an evening meal. The time was around 6 pm. It had become quite dark by then. Thimpu was still three hours away and we were very hungry!!!
The restaurant was made out of wood and cement and had a small fire-place, made out of iron, in the middle of the room. By this time, it was freezing cold and we were literally shivering. We pulled two chairs and sat beside the wood stove. It gave us instant relief from the freezing cold. My wifey really liked the comfort provided by the stove and spent the whole time near it! She absolutely refused to move away!
The restaurant was a small cozy place and the Bhutanese King’s photos were displayed everywhere. Bhutanese people respect and love their king very much. We later saw the King’s photo exhibited prominently in each and every house, shops and other buildings!!!
We had some piping hot coffee, made out of Yak’s milk and some super tasty Pork momos. Tashi, our driver, was blissfully munching Ema Datchi. This dish comprises of rice and Chicken with red hot red chillies. It is very spicy and tasty too!
Almost all varieties of snacks and beer were available in that restaurant. There were other Bhutanese people in the restaurant. They were guzzling Carlsberg beer and gazing at us with inquisitive eyes! I chatted up with the owner and his kid. Their curiosity vanished, when we spoke to them in Hindi. Lesson learnt -Bhutanese people are fluent in Hindi!
It was our first experience interacting with Bhutanese people and we were really very impressed. They are very gentle and polite people. Everyone was wearing Gho and posed for photographs. Our driver Tashi can be seen on photo H. He is sitting on the sofa by the wall, wearing a black leather jacket. The owner and his son can be seen in photo E.
Travelouge will continue.....
More stunning photos coming up...
|10th May 2008, 01:39||#8|
Senior - BHPian
We finally reach Thimpu!
We continued our journey to Thimpu after the short food break. We were pretty relaxed after a wonderful meal. But Tashi was driving very fast. We got a bit scared and asked him to slow down. He just smiled and continued driving fast. We found out the reason for his speeding only later.
The roads were quite bad towards the latter part of our journey, as road widening work was going on. We finally reached Thimpu by 9:30 pm. Tashi took us to a good hotel on the city’s main road. Accommodation for Indians is cheap in Bhutan. Luxurious double rooms are available in the range of 450 -1000 Ngultrum. Bhutanese currency is at par with the Indian Rupee.
The hotel room, which we stayed in, was on the third floor. It had a heater, geyser and wood paneled walls. When we reached Thimpu the temperature was frosty, probably just 1 or 2 degrees.
After our check in, we ventured out into the city for a quick bite. The time was around 10:30 pm. We were shivering because of the biting cold. We were really surprised to see all restaurants downing their shutters. We enquired at one hotel and found out that all restaurants close by 10 pm, as Bhutanese people sleep early and rise early. We then realized why Tashi had driven like a maniac to reach Thimpu before 10 pm. We roamed all over the city and still couldn’t find a single open restaurant!!! Worst of all, we had to battle the sub-zero temperatures!
We gave up our quest for food and were walking back to our hotel. We saw three Bhutanese teenagers coming towards us. We were happy to see that they were dressed in Jeans and leather jackets, after seeing most of the Bhutanese dressed traditionally. I had a word with the young men and requested for help. They were very kind and came with us, knocking on the restaurant’s doors, asking for food. But we were unsuccessful!!! We thanked the young men and returned to our hotel, with a heavy heart and an empty tummy!!!
Our hotel had a vegetarian restaurant on the first floor, but that too was closed. But I wasn’t ready to give up. I chatted up with the hotel owner’s daughter and slowly explained our predicament. She was very sweet and gladly made a nice vegetable salad for us. We couldn’t thank her enough!! We had salad and Lays potato chips with beer for our dinner!!! We were so hungry that we felt that the salad was the tastiest meal we ever had!
We then retired to our room and had a sound and peaceful sleep!
Travelouge will continue...
Photos of Thimpu coming up....
|10th May 2008, 23:57||#13|
Senior - BHPian
Join Date: Jul 2006
Thanked: 64 Times
This is a not only a very interesting travelogue but is also packed with tons of useful information. Keep going mate. Looking forward to the rest of it.
|11th May 2008, 00:22||#14|
Join Date: Feb 2008
Thanked: 15 Times
Can you tell me the name of the Hotel and
contact details in Thimpu ?
|11th May 2008, 00:36||#15|
Senior - BHPian
Join Date: Sep 2006
Thanked: 644 Times
Interesting journey. I feel very excited when bhpians visit my place and enjoys the stay there.
yeah indians are treated as VIPs, as almost all the aids are by indian govt. Roads (BRO), Army (IMRAT), Electricity etc are indian aids to kingdom of bhutan.
Bhutan was so prosperous in monarchy that almost 75% of people didn't felt the need of democracy there.
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