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Old 11th July 2010, 22:26   #16
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Originally Posted by amrisharm View Post
The whole stretch of 180 kms from the border to Thimpu is in a state of being widened so in many places the tarmac is non-existent.
The road from Tsimasham to Gedu was still being widened in March 2010 (Gross Travelling Happiness - Bhutan, Sikkim, Darjeeling) when we were there, so obviously the work has not been completed and traffic is being diverted through Dala even now.
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...these permits have to be made for each and every place you intend to visit.
Phuentsholing issues permits only for travel to Thimphu and Paro. Further movement within Bhutan requires new permits to be issued from Thimphu.
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Originally Posted by TaureanBull View Post
In case of Vehicle permits what all documents are required?
HVK explained it perfectly. The only addendum is that your car should prferably be less than 5 years old and must meet Euro-III / BS-3 emission norms.
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Old 12th July 2010, 11:38   #17
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woow "hvkumar" and "SS-Traveller" seems like you two have such vast knowledge about all this. I am glad you two are around to give the other members the information that they require as I would have only been able to provide them with limited info.

Anyways, I will be posting the next leg of the trip today. Sorry to all for the delay, I was temporarily distracted by the world cup finals.
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Old 12th July 2010, 12:22   #18
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Hi Amrish,

Good start to this travelogue. By the way, HV Kumar is considered as the God of Indian Roads. He is the one person we all turn to whenever we have any doubts about what routes to take. Looking forward to this TL.
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Old 12th July 2010, 13:09   #19
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Back to the Travelogue.
Border to Thimpu:

So after lunch we went and met up with our local contact inside Bhutan in Phuentsholing only to find out that the offices are closed for lunch. So it was a few hours of waiting till the offices open. As for the procedure of obtaining the permits itself, it was quite straightforward for us. I don' t know whether it was due to the fact that we had a local contact helping us or not, but we got our permits on the basis of our drivers licence and did not have to get the xerox certified by the Indian Embassy out there. A quick dash to get the permits for us individuals and then off to the Bhutan RTO to get permits for our bikes. The procedure and steps to procure the permits are well described and documented by "hvkumar" and "SS-Traveller" in the above posts so I wont go into too much repetitive detail.

So we had to wit till 3 pm before we got the permits. Then by 3:30pm we were all packed and ready to start on our journey. So far into the trip, someone or another had already been on the route traveled so far, so it was comforting to know that there was someone who had traveled the route before. But from here on end it would be a case of everyone exploring the route ahead for the first time. The unknown factor added to the excitement. Also what caused a lot of confusion was the time it would take to reach Thimpu from Phuentsholing. We asked around and got estimates varying from 6 hrs to 10 hrs! Later we found out why. The roads are in such bad shape in some sections and with on going widening work, it would be hard to predict how long it would actually take. Factors like traffic jams and our speed would determine the duration of our journey. Either way we knew we were in for a long long bike ride onto unchartered territory, that too at night!

The journey began. It started off great! the roads just outside The town of Phuentsholing was fantastic and I was grinning from ear to ear. The roads were perfectly paved and winding. The winding sections were wide enough for trucks to turn in therefore for us bike riders it felt like one fast flowing twisty section. 15 minutes into the journey we came across the first check post. We stopped registered ourselves and off we went. I must stress it is vital to check in at every post you come across. As we went further the quality of the roads start to change. First it got narrower, with barely room for 2 suv's to pass. Then few kms from there, the tarmac started to disappear and replaced by dust covered so called "roads". We were in for a bit of shock. We all knew the roads were bad, but did not realise how bad it actually was. The first thought that came to mind was Punctures. We were hoping and praying that none of us suffer one as we absolutely had not come across any tyre repair shops along the way so far.

The journey to thimpu was a long and tiring one. 180kms of unchartered hilly roads that too at night forced us to concentrate extremely hard. Along the journey, we faced extreme cold, we faced rain, dense fog and ample amount of dust as you will see in the pictures. But never did the mood of our group turn sour. We were all excited and laughing about the rain and the cold and what an adventure it was turning out to be so far.

But I have to admit the journey was more of trying to get to Thimpu as fast as we could and sleep in our pre-booked hotel rooms as soon as we could. On the way to Thimpu, it started getting dark few hours into our journey so we were not able to enjoy the view or see clearly what the roads were like apart from what our headlights showed us.

It was only on our return journey to India along the same route that we saw the extent of the roadwork and felt chills on our backs. Thats when we realised how risky riding at night was on the first day and how lucky we were to have reached Thimpu without any major or minor incident. Now when I think back to the journey from Phuentsholing to Thimpu in a way I am glad we did not see much apart from what our headlights showed us, as if we had, I am sure we would have taken a whole lot longer or even decided to stop over in one of the towns along the way.

Then after all that we went through, we finally came across the final check post before entering Thimpu. By then it was 10:00 pm. The guards there were totally surprised by our arrival and was in a way making fun of our crazy journey so far after we told them we had left the border at 3:30 pm the same day. They also gave us the good news that the roads were in much better shape from there on end and that our destination was only 45 minutes away. With those sweet words in mind we set out towards our final destination of the day. Like what the guards had said, the roads improved as we progressed. First the tarmac got better, then wider. we were riding along the road and then we came to a big blind right turn, As we turned it, we were all so shocked and pleasantly surprised by what we saw. Two lane gave way to 4 lanes with a divider in the middle. Honestly it felt like I was in Switzerland right at that moment. We were all in awe of the condition of the roads so deep into this mountainous Kingdom of Bhutan. A very very unexpected sight indeed. Thats when we realised we had reached the outer city limits of Thimpu, so we rode in formation. The roads were deserted as it was already 11 at night. We were a little worried about how easy it would be to find our booked hotel (thanks to our local contact in Phuentsholing). But the town of Thimpu is very well planned and there were police at hand to guide us to our hotel.

Once there it was a quick check in, shower, dinner and off to bed. Honestly speaking I don't remember what we ate or whether i actually ate or not that night, I was so tired.

It was one hell of a ride to Thimpu and I am proud to claim we rode from Siliguri to Thimpu in one single day. Started off at 6:30 am, reached Thimpu at 11:00 pm with a 3 hour break at the border to get our permits. So it was 13.5 hrs on the road on our bikes. Hmm A bikers idea of heaven :-).

Below I have attached pictures taken on the roads from Phuentsholing to Thimpu and vis-a-versa. As I mentioned earlier, the journey to Thimpu was taken at night so I was not able to click that many pictures. So I have combined pictures from our journey to Thimpu and Back again which was done in the day time to the border. Hopefully this will give u an idea of what the roads are like out there.

(Thimpu-Paro-Siliguri section of the travelogue to come soon)
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Old 12th July 2010, 13:27   #20
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That was quite a drive from Siliguri to Thimphu.
Ideally, you should arrive the previous night, visit the Immigration Office when it opens at 9 am, get your permits processed and then take your RSTA permits. That is what I did and I was able to get out on the road to Thimphu by 11 am.

THe road widening is on for last 2 years or so, hence the bad condition. A couple of places en route (before Gedu) see massive landslides during rainy season. Roads in Bhutan are otherwise fantastic. The 4-lane road you mentioned is the Chhuzom-Thimphu expressway.

sami316, I am but an ordinary mortal!!!!
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Old 12th July 2010, 13:32   #21
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First part of the journey to Thimpu from Phuentsholing: The climb up the hills.

Pic 1:

Pic 2:

Pic 3:

Pic 4:

Pic 5:

Pic 6:
Attached Thumbnails
Bike Trip: Siliguri-bhutan (thimpu & Paro)-p1010354.jpg  

Bike Trip: Siliguri-bhutan (thimpu & Paro)-picture-364.jpg  

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Old 12th July 2010, 13:42   #22
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Originally Posted by hvkumar View Post
Reminds me of my solo mobike rode from Bombay to Bhutan in 1994.
I went again to Bhutan in Apr 2009.
Roads in Bhutan are excellent, no problem for any car, although there are currently some bad sections thanks to road widening between Phuntsoling and Chuzhom en route Thimphu/Paro.

navan49, that must have been an incredible/miserable experience working in Bhutan in the 80s. Were you a Electricity engineer, I have known most Indians there to be power and civil engineers? Or teachers. Share with us some stories from your experiences there.
>>> hvk,

Spot on - my late father went on deputation from Delhi University under a Colombo Plan programme to teach at Sherubtse College. He was there from 1986 to I think 1992 or 1993.

Quote:
Originally Posted by amrisharm View Post
Hi all, I am glad to see you all enjoyed my travelogue so far, very encouraging for a new Team-bhp member like myself. Anyways it seems there are a few inquires that have come up so I shall answer them in order of the posts.

@" issigonis"

I am glad you enjoyed my pics, and my advice to you is to avoid taking your Civic to Thimpu for at least another 3-4 years. The whole stretch of 180 kms from the border to Thimpu is in a state of being widened so in many places the tarmac is non-existent. You will know exactly what I mean once I post the next lot of pics. After seeing those you yourself will come to the same conclusion.
>>> amrisharm,

Three -four years(!) to get 180 kms widenened by (our) BRO is a stretch, don't you think. But I believe you-will await pics of the non-existent tarmac in any case.

Regards & safe driving
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Old 12th July 2010, 14:26   #23
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The second part of the journey to Thimpu: The (cold cold and wet) top

After climbing for a few hours from Phuentsholing, we came to probably the highest point of the trip altitude wise. Here the roads leveled out a little bit. The roads around here was fantastic! This 20-30 kms of the road is what the Bhutan Govt hopes the whole stretch of road to Thimpu will like in a few years.

When we actually got to this stretch of road on the trip to Thimpu, it was raining and freezing and pitch dark!! So though the roads were fantastic it was wet as well as other sections were foggy compiled with it being dark, so I was not able to gun this section as much as I would have liked. But on the return journey i got my thrills :-). One of the most enjoyable parts of the whole trip riding wise. But be warned, some bends start out as medium turns and then suddenly sharpen unexpectedly so always try to look far ahead before you twist the throttle and never never speed up into a blind corner.

These pics were taken on the return journey. Please check the state of the tarmac (almost perfect). But the Fog (as seen in the pics) and rain sometimes make it very very challenging for riding. Also before u get to this point of your journey, make sure you add a few extra layers of clothing as we did in one of the pictures below.
Attached Thumbnails
Bike Trip: Siliguri-bhutan (thimpu & Paro)-picture-355.jpg  

Bike Trip: Siliguri-bhutan (thimpu & Paro)-picture-356.jpg  

Bike Trip: Siliguri-bhutan (thimpu & Paro)-picture-358.jpg  

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Old 12th July 2010, 14:58   #24
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The third stretch of the journey: The descend (the most scary part of the trip to Thimpu).

This was a very very scary part to ride through. While going to Thimpu as I mentioned it was dark so we got through the section without thinking twice as we did not quite know what we were riding on. But on the return journey which was done during the day, we crossed this point and stopped to look at the section we had just crossed and we were amazed at how dangerous it looked. The roads were very very rough.
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Old 12th July 2010, 15:18   #25
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The photo above which has the mountain side virtually spilling its guts is a place named Lachungang, just beyond the excellent Indian Army Dantak canteen, which is the halfway mark between Phuntsoling and Thimphu. This particular spot gets badly affected by landslides leading to road closures of 2-3 days at a time during rainy season.

And this is my bike on its 1994 drive to Bhutan, somewhere on the road to Thimphu - Apr 14, 1994.

Last edited by hvkumar : 12th July 2010 at 15:20.
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Old 12th July 2010, 15:46   #26
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The Arrival into Thimpu.

It was a great relief to finally arrive at Thimpu. You can see the condition of my bike. Covered in dust by mechanically fine. Then the entry into Thimpu, the 4 lane highway leading into the heart of town. If you look carefully you can see the lights in the town of Thimpu in the background. Then there is one picture of me in the hotel room , you can see how tired i look, but it was worth it :-).
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Old 12th July 2010, 18:33   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by amrisharm View Post
First part of the journey to Thimpu from Phuentsholing: The climb up the hills.
Looking at your pics, I think you took the main (shorter & direct) route from Tsimasham to Gedu, rather than diverting via Dala. That would also be expected, since the direct road remains open from 4PM to 8AM to traffic, and is closed for construction work in the daytime. We took this route on the way back from Paro to Phuentsholing, and intentionally delayed our departure to be able to take the shorter route.
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Old 12th July 2010, 19:29   #28
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A very informative travelogue with some nice additions from SST and HVK.

The roads indeed look bad. If you say you felt scary on a bike, I wonder how would it be on a SUV! Is the road a "No go" during monsoons?
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Old 12th August 2010, 10:08   #29
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Smile Waiting for the Paro part.

Thanks for sharing your travel experience in Bhutan. I have fond memories of visiting the border town of Phuentshling way back in 1987 as a schoolboy. Our family travelled from Goalpara in western Assam and spent a night there. Back then foreign goods were hard to get and people from Assam would go there just to buy a few Made in Taiwan, Thailand stuff there, even if a Fa roll on or soap. As a man of mid 30's now, i wish to visit this place again some day and go all the way to Thimphu. Please do share your ride experience to Paro and the journey back. And hope to see many more pictures.
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Old 24th August 2010, 10:18   #30
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Hi all, sorry for the delay in posting the pics, I had to go to Kathmandu for a few weeks unexpectedly. But I am back and here are the rest of the pics.

The pics in the below set are taken in and around Thimpu. Since we were there in Dec, I guess it was off (tourist) season, so the place was very quiet and peaceful. The plan was to stay in Thimpu one whole day so we left the bikes at the hotel and hired 2 Omni taxi's for the 6 of us and went on a sight seeing tour which lasted 2-3 hours. Cost of taxi was 500Rs each.The pics include those of the hotel we stayed in, the parliament of Bhutan, the local zoo, view of Thinpu and surrounding areas from a hill top and a few monasteries.
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Bike Trip: Siliguri-bhutan (thimpu & Paro)-p1010309.jpg  

Bike Trip: Siliguri-bhutan (thimpu & Paro)-p1010312.jpg  

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