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Old 5th March 2018, 05:11   #1
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Default Bhutan: The Land of the Thunder Dragon...err SUV

I know it is a weird title but I will explain that later.

All started with a big bang! (Couldn't help that catch line!)

This year we decided to shift from 'dal-chawal' (the staple) to 'Biriyani' (the specials!), which translates to us deciding to NOT go to Darjeeling for our Annual trip( lost count now!) and try uncharted (by us) territories. Generally, our trip means going to Darjeeling and simply lazing around with frequent trips to Glenereys (yes, that much in love with Darjeeling!).
Anyway, so we were thinking of North India or somewhere in Asia. Like big bang (or dimaag ki batti jali?!), one fine day I thought why not a road trip this time. Conveyed the same to my better half and bang, she readily agrees. Yes, she is more enthusiastic about road trips than me! Now came the difficult part - our destination. Options narrowed down based on our eternal love for mountains. We decided against North India as I was unable to take long leaves. Also, we were not sure if we should take such a long road trip. All our road trips so far have been around or less than 300 Kms. The next option was, of course, Sikkim but we were unable to finalise a place and the discussions went on for a few weeks.

On a lazy night, while I was going through my daily dose of TBHP, I came across the following thread: http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/travel...nda-civic.html

I was excited about two reasons. Reason one - Bhutan made our bucket list long back, but somehow did not materialise. The second reason being that the trip (of the travelogue mentioned above) was done in a Honda Civic AT. Now that was important/exciting as my current ride is a SX4 AT and I was curious for long as to how my AT is going to perform in the hills. Though being a torque converter I was fairly confident that it can go to most of the places but still wanted a validation. BTW, by most places, I meant where FWD can go and not someplace like Sandakphu (shall we call it the erstwhile roads of Sandakphu now?)

Went through the beautiful travelogue and informed wifey about Bhutan and she agreed. Checking further on TBHP got two more beautiful threads by Samba and Blackperl. Between those threads, we got almost all the information we needed about destinations in Bhutan, where we can or can not go (you may need 4X4 in some places), what sort of permits would be needed and how to obtain them. We decided to travel mid-November. Fast forward to October, we went to the Bhutan Embassy in Kolkata and got the first shock. They no longer issue permits from Kolkata and we will have to get the permit from Phuntsoling, Bhutan. We wanted to avoid this to save time but sadly we could not. Meanwhile, I also got my TBHP membership approved after trying for the umpteenth time and went to my first TBHP meet also. I was really hoping to meet Blackperl and Samba, in particular, to ask some tips about Bhutan. Unfortunately, Blackperl could not make it but I met Samba and he promised he will help if needed. Later over a Whatsaap chat he even said I can call 24/7 if needed. That was extremely kind of him, as I was almost a stranger to him.

In between, we did go through certain doubts such as, whether I can drive straight to Siliguri as this was going to be our longest drive. Plus this was to be my first drive on hills. I personally think those doubts as positive because a little fear and respect for roads/hills would keep me cautious. Also, we were worried about the route because we would have to depend on Google maps only. Google maps sent us to some non-existent roads on our last trip to Dolma, so naturally wifey was a little sceptical. But I have always had faith in Google, so told her not to worry, I will additionally carry a print out of the text version of the map. We decided to take the Bengal to Bengal road.

Meanwhile, I bought a few things for the car. Got Osram night breaker headlights (which proved to be as useless as the stock bulb), a jumper cable and a towing rope (thanks to blackperl for that suggestion), Tyre inflator and a MI dashcam. I also bought a TPMS, but unfortunately, that did not work and had to ask for a refund from Aliexpress. Did not have time to order another one. About two weeks before the trip, my family got to know we are going on a road trip and their reaction was like "one does not simply walk into Mordor". Word got out very fast and a close friends mother too sent us word that she was very tensed! She thought I have lost my marbles! She got more convinced when she got to know, I am the sole driver and Sumana, my wife, is not going to drive. My parents tried a little to convince me to get a driver but they realised fast that it was a lost battle! So the compromise was that we have to inform about our progress every now then to let them we are alive and rolling!

The D day came and we started at 4:30 am in the morning. Since I did not have much experience in night driving, hence planned the start with very fewer hours of driving in the dark. Our progress and the roads were good until Bolpur. After which the State Highway roads started with the traffic of small town and school. There was a stretch that I cannot call a road, of around 15Kms from Kuli. Although a low ground clearance car can also cross the stretch but needs to be really careful. It took us more than an hour to cross 20Kms.

Our target destination for Day 1 was Siliguri. I wanted to book a hotel in advance. MMT was giving a very low price for Sinclairs Siliguri but my wife wanted to book the hotel on the go because if for any reason we could not make it till Siliguri on the day, we would not have to lose on the booking money. We had taken enough dry foods to munch on the way and our first targeted break was Golden Park Malda (a little away from the city and right on the high road) for lunch. Till then we had not taken any breaks except for the bio-breaks. So far, progress was alright until Malda but crossing Malda turned out to be a nightmare. Unruly traffic, narrow lanes and lorries made it worse and the road widening construction work added on to it. We were stuck in a long queue of lorries and to my surprise, most of the vehicle started going to the wrong lane. Whenever there was oncoming traffic they would go down from the road and do some sort off-roading, which can be used for the testing skill of the driver or ground clearance of the vehicle. Saw some local buses who were driving like maniacs on those "off-road" tracks. At one point in time, I thought they will break into pieces but guess the gods have mercy on those maniacs. After a while, I also became impatient and was thinking if I should also use the wrong lane but I was sure I will not try to do the off-roading like locals. I was also afraid to get caught in the wrong lane. Ultimately, I lost my patience, saw a convoy which had buses and cars and I decided to follow them, thinking the police may not be that strict to a group of local cars and buses. To my bigger surprise when I reached the bottleneck where cars from the wrong lanes were going to the right lane, there were plenty police officers and they are kind of encouraging to do wrong lane thingy to avoid the lorry traffic!

Eventually, we have reached Golden Park, Malda for our much needed break and lunch, where my wife asked me if should continue or stay back in Malda. I flatly refused and said will continue to Siliguri as planned. Then, the second shock of the trip came. Almost all good hotels in Siliguri were booked. We could not find anything on MMT or other such sites. My wife then called up Sinclairs and asked if they had any room they said they have but it is suite room and the charge was 10K. We were not prepared to shell out such an amount for just a few hours stay. Wifey then asked them if they can suggest some hotel names which are on par with Sinclairs, they suggested some and as luck would have those are booked as well. We finally liked a Hotel named "Moutain Miles" which had rooms available and booked it promptly. After a light lunch and a black coffee, we started for Siliguri. We liked the hotel and the food and decided we will stay here on the way back. We should have booked a room then only but we wanted to have an open-ended itinerary and did not book the same, which was a mistake, more on that later.

Anyways, after the good food and now a 4 lane highway, I was very happy and wanted to cover up for the lost time. I had a plan to fill up the tank in Malda and Samba informed me, I will get good pumps after Golden park hotel, however, in the joy of the open road I forgot it completely.

It was my wife who reminded me to take petrol. It is not that I needed petrol badly but I just did not want to take any chance. Unfortunately, by that time we are a long way from Malda and did not want to get petrol from an unknown pump. After driving for a while had an "eureka" moment. I decided to take petrol from a pump where I can see bikes are filling up their tank. The logic behind this was, most bikers will be local and all almost all bikes are driven by petrol. Although I was not keen on buying too much petrol as I knew the price of petrol will be cheaper in Bhutan.

Roads from Kolkata to Siliguri is extremely unpredictable, without a warning a single lane highway can go four-lane and a four-lane can be a single lane at a moment's notice.

So my joy did not last much and we are back to a single lane. After a while, it was evening and mighty lights from trucks could put our Durga Pujas to shame. Lights on every possible colour and design. However, I could not enjoy the slightest bit because I was having the toughest time of my driving life, a single lane highway with blinding lights from oncoming vehicles. The speeds trucks and cars doing is nothing less than madness. The headlight of SX4 is the worst part of the car. Somehow, we reached the entry point of Botolbari, which is suggested here and by Google also. So, we have moved to botolbari and next part of the ordeal started. It was DARK in the capital with narrow roads and headlights of the oncoming vehicle. Although the traffic was really less, however, I had a hard time to see anything far. After driving for half an hour, it became a little scary. Firstly it was really dark, second not many people on the road. Although we could see lights and people in "bazar" areas, however, those usually came, every 2/3 kilometres or more. I was really getting tensed and was thinking what will happen in case of a breakdown. Later, got to know wifey was thinking the same but we did not talk about it then.

I have tried to follow a couple of cars but all of them doing really high speeds and I was not comfortable following them blindly on closer to triple digit or more. However, we got lucky after a while, a lorry was ahead of us and also on reasonable speed. We followed the lorry to the end of Botolbari. Smiled a little as remembered the "swiping car" concept of GTO. The last 200 hundred meters of Botolbari can be best described as an angry sea on the rainy season. Yes, the road was with BIG waves.

We were back to the national highway with wide roads. However, I was unable to good speed because of the same reason as before, the headlight of the SX4 and blinding lights from oncoming vehicles. We could not see anything on our left or right also. After, crossing the Bagdogra airport on our right, we were elated. Felt like, now we are on the known road :-). We saw some lights on high above the ground far away, was wondering was that a hill but it was so dark we could not be sure. Later, found out that was indeed a hill while crossing Bagdogra. Once we reached Siliguri we started grinning, the countless time we have talked about driving here and alas, we have reached. There was little drama finding the Hotel, though it was on the main road itself but did not have any clear indication of the entrance and or signboard of the hotel. Though Google claimed we have reached. It seemed we were in front of a complex with some office, clinics etc. I also saw there is no place to park the car as the parking is full. We had already checked with the hotel for parking.

Sumana called up the hotel and they sent someone to guide us and it turned out Google was right we were in the correct location and entrance of the hotel is not visible from outside. The guy told us we may not get parking as some big party going on and parking is full. I was tempted to ask am I expected to park in the middle of the road. However, we got a parking on the backside of the hotel. The moment I had opened the door, felt the chill! the temperature inside the car nice and comfortable, so it was a little shock, though we enjoyed it. We were expecting this and hence kept our jackets handy. Checked into the Hotel and saw it is part of the Summit group of hotel, which have quite a few properties on this side of the country. We got to know the hotel has 24/7 room service and all kitchen is open all night. We were more than happy to hear that. Checked into the room it was big, tastefully done and clean. Got refreshed and indulged ourselves in our favourite poisons "wink wink" and Sumana informed all the concerned party that, we are still in one piece. It took us almost 15 hours to reach Siliguri with one big break in Malda. I believe with powerful headlights, I could have shed an hour or two. Nevertheless, we were really happy. We have ordered Chinese food and to our surprise, it was really good and certainly one best in the region.

Last edited by hok kolorob : 13th December 2018 at 09:13.
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Old 5th March 2018, 10:59   #2
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Default There and back again, our Bhutan Diary

Day 2 to Siliguri to Phuntsholing

We have decided to take a little easy on the next day and our target was to go out by 8:30/9. Though the plan was not to delay unnecessarily but with our morning cup of tea and seeing the relatively free Siliguri road, we went nostalgic. We wanted to drive to hills for many years and finally, we are in Siliguri and will move towards the hills shortly. It is a feeling my writing skills cannot express. We had decided, that we will reach Phuntsoling by 12:30 and then go for the permit, if everything works out well then, we will proceed towards Paro or will stay at Phuntsholing and then move to Paro next day if it is too late. The plan was to enjoy the drive and not bother too much about the destination. We had breakfast at the hotel and was really excited about our first drive in the hills. Stopped to take photos en-route to Phuntsholing. Please excuse the quality of the pictures.

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Ok, Time for some colour and posing.


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And some more

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Below pictures may look stupid but this the first time we could see snow capped mountains from the plain land hence got a little excited.

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Roads were excellent for most of the part and keeping a steady speed was not difficult. Google map works till the border town of Jaigaon, though it was not difficult to locate the gate of Bhutan. But the traffic near the gate is nothing less than chaos or maybe chaos is an understatement.

Though I was prepared to see the stark difference between the two countries, however, in reality, I was still shocked and felt very sad. From the gate of Bhutan if one looks towards India they will see chaotic traffic and roads full of dirt.

Anyhow, we moved and had little difficulty looking for the immigration office. Had trouble understanding direction locals were providing. After 5/10 minutes we could finally locate the office and started looking for a parking and as luck would have it, we got the parking in front of the Park Hotel, where we planned to stay for the night if we can not get the permission timely. Unfortunately, when we reached the office it was 1 p.m. and the office closed for lunch. We thought we will copy our documents and will look for office to take the permit of the car. I asked my wife Sumana to stay in the office while I go for the photocopy. I Met an agent on the copier shop who offered to do the permission on behalf of me for just 300 INR. The official cost of the permit is 100 per day. Gave him the money and required document. I Went back to the immigration and office and the nightmare started. Meanwhile, Sumana also met a fellow traveller and got to know you will need to have confirmed hotel bookings to get permission for Bhutan and I got the shock of my life. We did not book any hotels, though we had our basic planned and shortlisted a few hotels. We wanted an on the go plan. To top the drama our phone also disconnected from the Indian network and we did not have international roaming activated because we were going to take a Bhutanese sim. We also had to write a detailed itinerary of our travel plan. We had a flexible plan in mind and here that goes out of the park or Bhutan.

The day we reached was Friday and we can't get confirmed bookings and permit by Friday then, we are stuck for the weekend as Government offices are closed on weekends. Now when I am back and not panicking, I know the smartest thing do was to go out of Bhutan and get the signal on your phone and book whatever I wanted, which is like 5 minutes walk. In the meantime, the agent was back with a form so my wife can sign( the car is in wife's name) with a local cab driver, who was claiming to hire him because according to him driving in Bhutan is very difficult and I might attract a fine every now on then! Politely refused the driver but he gave his number in case I change my mind. The agent got know the hotel situation and said he can arrange some. I refused that and I was not game to booking anything without knowing or seeing from an agent in a copier shop. Though sometimes I wonder now, maybe I should have gone with him.

By that time we have realised there is no way, we can move from Phuntsholing this night and decided to check if the Park Hotel has any room available. Fortunately, we got a room in the park and then Sumana asked the receptionist if they have any other property in Paro and Thimpu. She said we do not have one but she knows a few hotels in Thimpu and she could ask them. We were elated to hear that but since our phone was not working and she called a hotel on our behalf, that hotel spoke to Sumana and she had to convince them hard that we are not fooling them to take booking receipt and then book with someone else. Seems they had faced such issue before and finally they said they are going to send an email in in next 15 minutes. She also gave the hotel wi-fi access so that we can check for other options but the wi-fi was pathetic and we could not manage anything. Mind you till now we have not officially booked a room, means we did not pay or sign the register. We only said we will take a room. It was an extremely helpful and kind gesture. Unfortunately, she could not get hold of her contacts in Paro and so the problem is only half resolved. Sumana decided to move to the room to take some rest and look for some hotels. We were still waiting to get back an email from Thimpu and to take print out of the Hotel. Unfortunately, we did not get an email in the next 30 minutes also. I went back to the reception and asked her if she can check again and if she knows any Good agent by that time the lady who was helping us has left for the day and a new one joined in and she was also kind enough to help us. When I was asking her about an agent a guide was standing in a reception( guides are very common in Bhutan) he said he can help us. I am a little weary about such unknown agents, as we had a bitter experience in the past, though later it turned to be good for us. However, that is a story for another day. I asked him to stay put and went back to room informed the home minister and asked her to come down and meet the agent. She also talked to the agent and he informed her that he can only do 3 stars, we said we are okay with that. He made a couple of calls and said he can arrange for one but the charge is 10k for 3 days. We agreed and ask him to inform the hotel to send the email ASAP. It was 10 passed 3 by then and we had a little hope of getting the permit.

Finally, after a lot of drama and nerve-wracking moments, we got emails from both hotels. but it was around 3:35 PM and we have just 25 minutes to get our permission. The agent asked for the money for the hotel which is 10k for 3 days but Sumana requested if we can pay after we get the permission else we will lose the money, after some convincing he agreed.

The hotel was around 2 minutes walk from the immigration office. We have reached the office and it found out the person who will see the documents first are no longer there as they check till 3:45 PM but it was still some 6/7 minutes before that and also it was not written anywhere they will close down by 3:45 PM. However, a lady from the office asked us to go upstairs and try to convince the officer in charge. We ran through the stairs and located the person in charge and requested him for the permission. He flatly refused and was rude. I said I am sorry but I was not aware of the new rule, he said then you should have come in the morning, which I grudgingly had to agree, all this was happening around the office floor as he was walking around and we were walking with him! finally, he went to his office and sat down and with more pleading, he finally agreed and asked for the document, we started to take out all documents but after 15 seconds or so he again started cribbing and said we should have kept all the documents ready, we had politely informed everything is ready, we are just taking it out. To cut a long story short, he did sign the document and ask us to move forward to the next step. We thanks him profusely and moved to the counter where official permission is issued. Although the officer was a little rude, he helped us. In the next counter, they take a photo of the applicant, verify the documents again and then issue the permit. The lady officer who was issuing the permit appreciated my hair cut! I do go for unconventional haircuts and asked my wife if it was her design and she informed the honours goes to me

It was something like this. One of my friends calls this "Highway on my Head"!
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We then asked to wait and after a couple of minutes it was 4 and the security guard asked all of us to leave, other people also waiting for the permit. We got confused and didn't know what to do and the lady at the counter was also missing, however, she came back after a minute and gave us our treasure aka permit. We were overjoyed and almost floated out of the office. We won the race against time The agent for car permit was waiting downstairs, he took our permit copied the same asked us if we need a sim card, we said yes we will need Tashi sim, the copier shop was selling some other sim so he guided us to Tashi store while he went to take the car permit. While we waiting at the Tashi store he was back with the permit. We then realised how hungry we are, no food since the breakfast which by now seems ages ago. Though there were food shops near the Tashi store, however, we had to go back to the hotel to pay the agent who booked the room for us, paid and thanks him for waiting and then went to a shop which we saw earlier.

We have ordered for Bhutanese Pizza and some green tea from Bhutan. Both were excellent! I bought some Bhutanese green tea while we were coming back to India. It is a bit expensive 550 for 25 sachets.

Some pictures from the cafe.

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After making the tummy happy, we went walking around Phuntshoeling. To be honest, it is nothing great and got loads of shops with overpriced items. Though I was enjoying watching some BIG burly SUVs. We went back to the Hotel, enjoyed some local drinks with local cuisine. Our first encounter with famous ema datshi that evening and had every day whenever possible. Our room was on the main road facing and we have come to the hotel in the evening, the road was very busy. As the evening started to turn into night, the busy road becomes less busy and almost empty. Somehow, I love watching empty roads especially the ones which are busy in godly hours. However, we did not want to do late night and our plan was left for Thimpu early and to be I was honest little nervous also. This would be my first mountain drive on all unknown roads. We ordered the traditional Bhutanese thali and it was yummy. Where ever we had food it was good. Some random pictures of our hotel and food.
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Last edited by hok kolorob : 13th December 2018 at 09:14.
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Old 15th March 2018, 10:25   #3
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Default There and back again, our Bhutan Diary

Day 3 Phuntsholing to Thimpu

Although, the hotel was very nice and well maintained. It has a certain similarity with another hotel from the movie The Shining (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081505/). If you have watched the movie then, you could be a little scared. Something else I remember from the hotel also, Although, now I find this funny but it was not funny at all then, The jet spray in the toilet is connected to the Geyser and I was not aware of that. You can well imagine the shock I got in the morning!

The food here was much better than the hotel in Phuntsholing. They have also advised us on a local peach wife. Which according to my wife is good and it is very cheap as well. The hotel is just beside a Ford Showroom and it was a little fun watching the activity of the showroom. BTW, car showrooms are also closed on weekends. Imagine that!

I made a major mistake in panic while trying for permission. Our original plan was going to Paro earlier and then to Thimpu. You will need to take permission for certain places from Thimpu only. I booked Thimpu first and got stuck for the next two days as the office were closed and we didn't permission to go elsewhere. We were bit disappointed but didn't want to ruin the holiday so took the setback sportingly. I have noticed some old Toyota Corolla in Thimpu. I have also realised Bhutan has all the car which we get in India but the same companies do not sell a few cars in India which they do in Bhutan. I saw many SUVs Tucson, Prado, Santa FE, Vcross, MUX, Fortuner, Pajero, SUVs from KIA and what not. I have never seen so many big burly SUVs together. Hence for me, it is the land of SUVs. I fell in love with pick up trucks in Bhutan. There is something with the open mountain road and pick up trucks. I could easily imagine myself driving one of those and going back home after a hard and long day of work. I know it sounds cheesy but I can't help it. Even, the home minister agreed there something about those trucks. If we were to stay in mountains guess we would have gone for one, lol.
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Last edited by hok kolorob : 2nd December 2018 at 01:30. Reason: Missed many SUVs
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Old 23rd March 2018, 08:22   #4
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Day 4 Thimpu sightseeing

Next day, we have decided to do some local sightseeing. We hired a local cab. The main reasons behind hiring a cab were, I was feeling a bit lazy and roaming around the town in a local cab is easier.

We went to the famous Buddha Dordenma Statue. The place had some event earlier that week and there it was a little littered. Which was very surprising. Guess they didn't have enough time to pick that up. Some photos from the same place.

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The divine glow
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A picture of the Thimpu city from the top.

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Some posing time. We could also, see a snow-capped mountain. Upon asking our driver about the name, he gave a very funny answer, said that is very far and nobody goes there so we don't know the name!

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We also wanted to visit the Folk Heritage Museum & Restaurant, mainly for food but guess what? yes, you are right it was a Sunday and closed. Now, this place is located in a Government office area and there were not many cars plying. We did get a car eventually and got back to the hotel. A couple of random pictures in front of the hotel.
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Last edited by hok kolorob : 13th December 2018 at 09:15.
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Old 26th March 2018, 05:31   #5
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Day 5 Thimpu to Dochula Pass and Paro.

Woke up early the next day and had a quick breakfast. Hired a local cab, once again. We got permission within half an hour. Unfortunately, we took the permission for Dochula pass only. We had to miss Punkha as we lost two days in Thimpu. Our next stop was RTO office Thimpu to get the permission for the car. Now, this office is more chaotic than the Indian government office. Nobody had any clue where is the office to get permissions and this was a relatively big office building. Met a gentleman from Chennai whos name I believe is Vijay but sadly I forgot and not sure. He came with friends and family in an Inova and was looking for the office. We met a nice guy who tried to help us and took us to the server room for permission! despite telling him, server room will not provide the permission. After going around in a circle for a while, we finally located the office room which was in downstairs and a nondescript room. We started our search from the 3rd floor. Please note there is an entrance from the road for the third floor as well, mountain home/office. The officer was very rude to Vijay because he took some 15/20 seconds to give all the paper. Luckily my papers were correctly arranged and he promptly signed those. We dashed off the room and said bye to each other. Hired another car and went back to the hotel. Our luggage was almost packed and we threw some last minute stuff and went off Dochula.

Here maps.me went for a toss. Firstly it guided me to all the local steep narrow roads then, took us back to almost the same where we started. We tried again and this it suggested a different route, after going for 2/3 kilometres, it again re-routed asked turn back. Now this is a proper highway and there is no turning and we are back to the square one again. This time we have decided to ask the locals. We went back to the same place where the asked to take a U-turn room.

Drive to Dochula is beautiful. Unfortunately, we did not stop for any photos, as we have lost some time for maps.me and we had to reach Paro as well. I didn't want to drive at night with my headlights. We were blown away when we reached. The place was stunning, quiet and clean. No vendors, no food stall, felt almost divine. Drive to Dochula is beautiful. Unfortunately, we did not stop for any photos, as we have lost some time for maps.me and we had to reach Paro as well. I didn't want to drive at night with my headlights. We were blown away when we reached. The place was stunning, quiet and clean. No vendors, no food stall, felt almost divine. The view which greeted us.

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Met a fellow traveller and his mother. He was nice enough to offer to take our pictures together. We were a little bit hesitant initially but he insisted and we agreed. We hardly had any picture together. We also offered him to take his picture with his mother. Unfortunately, most of the pictures taken by him were extremely hazy, which we realized when were back but still I am thankful to the person. Some of the pictures of and around from the Stupa.

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Birdseye view of the parking lot. The building you can see on the opposite is a hotel. We have decided to come back here in future and spend at least 2 nights here. To be honest we can go back to Bhutan for this place only. This place has paid public toilet which I have not checked but I guess it will be clean.

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We would have liked to spend more time here but I wanted to reach Paro by daylight. I simply didn't want to drive in mountains with the headlight of SX4. The hotel got a restaurant which is open to the public and I had the best Éclair of my life. I don't have a sweet tooth but this one was so good.

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A parting shot of the parked car. oh, and can you sport the helicopter? Also, a picture from the restaurant to the stupa.

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We started towards Paro with a heavy heart. It was raining lightly and the drive was fantastic. We have reached Paro before dark and it took a little while to locate the hotel. It was in a narrow street and had to park the car way ahead of the hotel. To our dismay, the hotel was BAD. It was not a 3 star as promised by the agent. It is that kind of a hotel one may use to spend just the night. It is a very ordinary hotel without much of a service. It didn't have a tea/coffee maker also. So much for 3 stars! and we paid 10K for 3 days. Even if we had paid less it is not a hotel I would ever go back. I was ready to forgo the money and look for other hotels. However, Sumana pointed it may take a while to get a good hotel and we will go to our first trekking tomorrow(Tiger's nest) and have to start early. It was a very valid point, we have decided to stay for the night and will take a call after the trekking tomorrow. By this time we were hungry but the hotel could not arrange for any food before dinner time, so we decided to go out. It was turned out to be a better decision. Paro has plenty of options. The number of non-descript bars and restaurants. I spotted a small momo joint where locals are going and decided to go there. Normally, these joints are always good. Local know the good and no expensive food. As usual, this turned out be right. We had very nice momos. After making the tummy happy, we decided it is time to attend our thirst also

Went back to the hotel a while and asked them, when can they server breakfast tomorrow as we wanted to start early. They said they can do it by 8 am, we were a little disappointed, wanted to go out by 8 but said okay. Had an early dinner(our standard) and went to the bed, by that time it was chilling cold.

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Old 6th April 2018, 08:33   #6
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Day 5 Tiger's Nest


I woke up early and saw she was still sleeping, decided to go for a morning walk, which I will never do when I am in Kolkata. Our room was on the second floor, came downstairs saw the hotel door is locked and a guy sleeping near, didn't want to wake him so unlocked the door and went out.

After a couple of meters of walking, I realised it is chilling cold and I don't have much protection, just a simple jacket. I thought I could manage it and started walking fast. For the first time I saw ice on my car , took a picture also but the phone had to be formatted later and lost many images from the trip :(. I was looking for a tea shop but nothing was opened. Normally hill dwellers are early risers and tea shops are open from early morning or at least that is what I thought. However, the whole town looked to be dead and nothing was open and hardly anybody on the road and by that time it was becoming difficult for me to fight with the cold so tucked the tail( read pride, that I can stand cold) in between two legs and went back to the hotel.

There was still nobody at the hotel and guy downstairs had no clue when will the cook come, however, someone came after 8:15 and gave us breakfast, by the time we left it was 8:45 and we were running later. It took us 20/25 minutes to reach the base area of the Tiger's Nest. Parked the car got the tickets to enter the temple complex(1k each), it was not mentioned anywhere that you need to have the ticket else, you can't enter the temple complex but you are welcome to wait outside! We were lucky to sport the office to buy the ticket. Hired two walking sticks for NU/INR 50 each and started the famous trek, which turned out be one of biggest adventure of our life. Here is our target destination of the day, taken very early in our journey.

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Some other random pictures of our journey.


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Anyone who tells you this trek is easy has got to be either of the two.

1)Lying
2) Really fit/ a regular trekker.

You may take a horse ride also, which will take you to almost halfway up after that walking is the only option.

It took us longer than expected to the halfway. You get one restaurant and a souvenir shop around the halfway. We were completely exhausted by the time we reached halfway. You will get the veg buffet and coffee/drinks. Lunch was yet to be prepared, we ordered coffee and took rest. They server lunch till 4 and one have to pay and order in advance while going up. We didn't order for lunch because we had doubt if we can come back by 4 and it was around 500 per head. Anyways, we started again, maybe more slowly. What I loved about the journey is whenever you stop breath there will be someone to encourage you to go further. It is a community feeling at it's best. We made slow but steady progress and reached the last bit of our journey which includes around 700 steps up and down. While going you will need to go down and then up. Now, Sumana got major vertigo issue and became slower to overcome her fear, unfortunately, I was getting impatient and time was running out and acted like a jerk. Told her few bad things without understanding. Ultimately, a time came when she could not continue any longer and asked me to continue alone, we talked for a while and realised both of us can't go as time is running out it will be dark while we go back and there are no lights.

I continued alone and reached the temple complex, by that time I was really out of breath and had to sit for a while before I could make a move. You are not allowed to carry a mobile/camera, sunglass etc, inside the temple complex. Have deposited all those and entered the temple, inside looked straight out of any period film/ Lara Croft game. I can't describe the atmosphere there and the exact feeling, you will have to go to understand. We didn't have a guide and so I didn't understand the meaning of all different places. It is advisable to take a guide if you are interested in details, of the different deity, rituals etc. I also didn't want to linger for long and wanted to go back to Sumana. I had reached the place where we parted and I could not see her, by that time my phone was out the battery and also in the most of the place there was no signal and the power bank was with her! I got really scared and started walking back to the halfway mark. Though I understood something bad should not happen in a place like with so many local and tourist but still was scared. I thought she must have gone back to save time rather than waiting for me, which was turned out to be a brilliant decision. I caught up with her after a while and reached the halfway mark it was passed 4 but they were still serving lunch, I was extremely hungry and almost jumped in joy when I heard they still server lunch. It was the simple veg meal and we enjoyed it thoroughly, though I am not exactly a veg lover, however, with hunger sauce, everything seems to be perfect.

A random shot of a bird before leaving.

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We were a little tired but we didn't want to laze around. The evening was approaching fast and we didn't want to walk around after the dark. Although, we knew it will be impossible to avoid that however, we wanted to go as far as possible. By the time we finished lunch, we were almost the last to leave the place. The darkness approached faster than we expected and it soon it was PITCH dark in the capital. We were not carrying a torch and we didn't expect to be this late and my phone was already off due to no charge. The torch on my Mrs phone was the only source of the light. It was a little scary. We could hear a group ahead but could not see much due to the darkness. We did, however, got an unexpected guide, it was a dog. Yes, you read it correctly, it was a dog. The dog started to walk in front of us and would also wait for us when we were a little slow. If there was a turning the dog would wait for us to come to the turning and as soon as he sees us, he would start walking again. We eventually caught up with the group in front of us. There were few Chinese ladies and a local guide. They were a part of a big group but most of them already left. The strange part is as soon as we joined the group the dog left us. The other group didn't have a torch as well and was depended on a mobile torch. We reached the parking log eventually and our car and their bus were last in the parking.

Our original plan was to roam around the Paro after the trek but both of us were very tired by that time and didn't have the energy. We reached the hotel and decided to change our itinerary. Our original plan was to go to Chelela pass and haa valley on the next day and come back to Paro and then on the next day, we will go from Paro to Malda. However, we have decided, we will not come back to Paro and will go to Phuntsholing. Our main reason not to come back to Paro was the hotel. After a tiring day, you would want to indulge yourself in a certain bit of luxury but it was not possible in our hotel. Yes, we could have gone to a better hotel but after a full day trip, it was not making much sense to go to some other hotel. Informed our hotel we will be checking out early and asked if could get a refund for the 3rd day, as expected they didn't refund but then again that would have been the case for other hotels as well.

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Old 7th May 2018, 03:12   #7
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Day 6 Paro to Chelela pass, Haa Valley and Phuntsoling


We started early and left for Chelela pass and Haa valley. Unfortunately, maps.me was not showing Haa valley and we decided we will figure it out once we reach Chelela pass. Paro in the early morning was beautiful.

Some random shots of Paro in the morning.

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Please excuse the quality of the pictures.

There was hardly anyone on the road and we enjoyed the drive very much. Wish we had stayed in a better hotel and location. While going from Paro to Chelela, you will have to take a right at a certain point. However, maps.me didn't prompt that and we have missed the turn since there was not much traffic and the drive was so nice we didn't bother to check the map much and soon we have reached the bridge to enter Paro from Thimpu or Phuntsoling. We then realised we have overshot the turn by long. Unfortunately, locals could not direct to roads to Chelela pass but they knew the road to Haa Valley, I checked the map and it is now showing more time to reach Chelela pass but instead of turning back it is asking to drive straight. We met a young monk[not old ] he had a vague idea about Chelela pass, said he was going that direction and wanted a lift. I thought it was a good idea as he could speak the local language, as it was difficult to ask them the direction. However, Mrs was really unhappy about taking a stranger but I somehow could convince her. As the map guided we started straight but time to reach the destination was now double. We drove for a while and asked for the direction again, here a couple of them knew about Chelela pass and asked us to turn back. We did that and soon we were on the way to Paro and this time we could spot the turning. The monk then asked a local for the exact direction and he pointed steep narrow road going upwards. The road to Chelela pass is good in most places but it is steep and narrow. There were some beautiful places to stop but Mrs didn't want to stop with the monk on board and wanted to go to Chelela pass as soon as possible and drop off the monk. We saw little ice here and there on the way to Chelela pass.

Couple of random shots at Chelela.

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It took us little more than an hour to reach Chelela pass. The place was beautiful. There were not many tourists. The place had to "mobile" food van. Both Bolero 4X4 customised. You will get ready-made food such as Maggie or Pasta and some ready mix coffee. Chips and other such fries also available. Like any other tourist spot, this place was also clean. They even have a "bio-restroom", which is also as clean as possible, considering there is no water or plumbing available. You will need to use saw-dust after finishing your business. We had coffee and said goodbye to the monk and started towards Haa valley. The roads towards Haa valley are more wide and better. We saw many foreigners cycling their way towards Chelela. It would be a daunting job cycling on such a steep road which above 10000 feet from the sea level.

It took another hour or more to reach Haa Valley. To be honest, nothing special about the place and one may avoid the same. We didn't spend much time in Haa Valley or should I say I didn't? because Mrs was once again sleeping away to the glory. Anyway jokes apart, we could have taken the same route to go back but we have decided to take a different route. This route goes through rural Bhutan and you will be able to see the typical roads/houses of any village. If you come to Haa valley, I will recommend taking this road to see a different Bhutan. Please note it is not bad or anything like that, just the difference between Big cities and villages. However, do note there is no food option on this route so you better carry your own food. It took us 3 or more hours to reach the place since we took the U-turn in the morning, the circle of life, anyone? Soon we were on Thimpu-Paro highway and going towards Phuntseling. We shopped some fruits and plenty of Bhutanese chilli on the way. A couple of pictures of our buy.

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By the time we have crossed the narrow roads towards Phuntseling, it was dark again and started raining as well. However, didn't have much difficulty and reached our hotel. We have booked the same park hotel. Soon we went to the local market to buy cheese. It took us a little while to locate a shop who is selling local cheese. We had to go to a local vegetable to marked to buy the same. Unfortunately, I don't have a photograph of that place, I took it using my mobile but had to format the phone and there was no backup. Yes, I am stupid. It was a long day but we didn't want to end it, delayed the dinner as late as possible.

Last edited by hok kolorob : 2nd December 2018 at 02:03.
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Old 5th June 2018, 09:32   #8
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Day 7 Phuntsoling to Malda

We had decided to stay at Malda while coming back and then from Malda to back home. A direct drive from Bhutan to our home would have been too much for us. Though later we did a marathon run from Darjeeling to Kolkata and thanks to a few deadlock situations it took us 21 hours of drive to reach home. However, that's a story for another day. Started lazily in the morning. Since a drive to Malda would be 7/8 hours we did not rush. We had decided to have our lunch in a famous Bengali restaurant called Kalpana pice hotel at Siliguri. If you are in Siliguri or near do not miss this. This is a shabby hotel in the middle of a very crowded Vidhan Market. However, the food quality will put much bigger restaurants in shame. Please note there are two hotels with the same name but do go for the shabby one and not new little flashier one. I don't have any photos of this place, thanks to my stupidity in not taking backup of my phone. We ate like maniacs. Two kinds of fish, mutton, vegetables etc. The size of the of the Chitol/Chitala fish is bigger than a standard plate.

Edit: found a couple of pictures but since this from Whatsapp, please excuse the quality.

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We roamed around Vidhan marked and shopped some. You will get cheap jackets, shoes, electronics there. Now, Vidhan marked is a very crowded place and there was no way I would have gotten a parking nearby, sensing that I parked my car a couple kilometres far in shopping mall cal Citi centre and took an auto from there. Thanks to our eating and shopping we were very late to start our journey from Siliguri. I wanted to drive as less possible after dark but we could not start before 4:30 and Malda was good 4/5 hours away. Soon it was dark and driving was difficult. We had decided not to the botolbari road due to our security concern. I have checked many threads in TBHP and none suggested this route is unsafe. However, we still didn't want to take chance but when we were near I have asked Sumana if we should consider it as travel time is less. She got a little angry understandably but I took my chance, which eventually turned out to be good. This time the whole stretch had lights and our fear for botolbari is gone , this time we did see many people on the road as well. We reached Malda around 9 and checked into the Hotel Golden park where we had our lunch while going. We had great difficulty booking this hotel. There some event going on by a company and they have booked the whole hotel and for some reason, all other decent hotels in Malda was booked. However, Golder Park had the last moment cancellation of a single room and they booked it for us. The staffs of the hotel are very nice.

Next day we started a bit late and have reached home by evening. Nothing to write about Malda to Kolkata, it is the most boring part of the journey and driving. Thanks to many bottlenecks, two-way lanes, a densely populated area, etc.

How did my car perform?

Negatives first.
  • Horrible stock headlights. I should have changed this a long back.
  • Very very thick A pillar. Turning on narrow mountain roads can be scary.
  • This is exactly not the car's fault but the car is old and 4-speed gear is not adequate sometimes.

Now positives.
  • High Ground clearance for a sedan.
  • Got fair mileage for an AT and TC. Overall mileage of the trip was 14+.
  • Huge boot space. Just throw anything you wish.

Please note the above observations is related to my trip and nothing else. The overall performance I would say more than satisfactory for me. The car is not a looker or neither has any features which will make you excited. This is a car which will do your duty without any complain or breaking your bank(as of now). Overall I am happy with the car and no plan to sell it in near future and would like to keep it as long as possible. The car will be 9 years old this November and I am with him for the last 6 years and happy to be with more. Our M800 was with for 20 years and land master was also 15 years.

If you are not a moderator and read thus far then I applaud for your patience. Being an avid reader I understand how pathetic is my writing skill. I only wanted to document my experience and if any information helps a future traveller.

Never wrote so much in my life!

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Old 14th December 2018, 07:21   #9
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Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 14th December 2018, 10:03   #10
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Thank you Rahul da for this thread. It's very good as a guide for someone who wants to go via road and do not own a 4wd or Awd. Thanks again
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Old 14th December 2018, 14:18   #11
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Thanks for the lovely tlog. Now it seems things have changed, what I noticed is:
1. You will need prior hotel confirmations for the permits. This was not required earlier.
2. Entry fee of 1K/pp for Tiger's nest. This was also not there before.

And you get one of the best wood fired pizzas in Paro. I hope that has not changed. Once again nice information and pictures.
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Old 15th December 2018, 04:55   #12
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Hok kolorob, a rather detailed and descriptive travelogue.The kol-bhutan drive is becoming very popular.

I was chalking out a plan for Bhutan in Feb with my parents, but in all likelihood will have to shun it for some other non kol-siliguri route places because I feel the arduous journey from Kol to Siliguri will be too much for my above 65 parents.

On an optimistic note, with the repair of Farakka Barrage and the soon to be opened Malda Bypass and slow but steady construction work of the East West Bhutan Highway, many unexplored places of East Bhutan will be accessible with comparative ease.

However, I aint getting too critical but you could have researched better. It is best to avoid Phuentsholling on Fridays and Mondays. Hotel booking is mandatory, at least the Thimpu one and it can be jolly well booked online at hotels.bt. The Botolbari route after dark is an absolute no no unless you are traveling in a group.

By the way, nice haircut.
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Old 15th December 2018, 10:53   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AKSen2015 View Post
Thank you Rahul da for this thread. It's very good as a guide for someone who wants to go via road and do not own a 4wd or Awd. Thanks again
Thanks a lot. Yes, apart from east Bhutan most of the known places can be covered in any car. You can certainly try with the Sparky but I guess it will be more comfortable in Compass. Bhpian Swapnil did it in his Alto with the family.

Quote:
Originally Posted by wanderernomad View Post
Thanks for the lovely tlog. Now it seems things have changed, what I noticed is:
1. You will need prior hotel confirmations for the permits. This was not required earlier.

Thank you. Yes, hotel booking with a detailed itinerary is a must. These things should be clearly stated in the immigration office. They should clearly specify this before handing out the form or a big notice somewhere. Bhpian Blooming_flower had to stand in the queue again because he didn't have it written. They also don't entertain bachelors nowadays.


Quote:
Originally Posted by wanderernomad View Post
2. Entry fee of 1K/pp for Tiger's nest. This was also not there before.

This is also not written anywhere.

Quote:
Originally Posted by wanderernomad View Post
And you get one of the best wood fired pizzas in Paro. I hope that has not changed. Once again nice information and pictures.
As far as I know, it is still available. Unfortunately, we didn't have it
We thought we will go for the after tiger nest but we were really tired and couldn't manage it.


Quote:
Originally Posted by On_the_drive View Post
Hok kolorob, a rather detailed and descriptive travelogue.The kol-bhutan drive is becoming very popular.

I was chalking out a plan for Bhutan in Feb with my parents, but in all likelihood will have to shun it for some other non kol-siliguri route places because I feel the arduous journey from Kol to Siliguri will be too much for my above 65 parents.
You can ask them to fly and you can pick them up from Bagdogra or Paro. A practice Bhpian me_sid follows for long trips.


Quote:
Originally Posted by On_the_drive View Post
On an optimistic note, with the repair of Farakka Barrage and the soon to be opened Malda Bypass and slow but steady construction work of the East West Bhutan Highway, many unexplored places of East Bhutan will be accessible with comparative ease.

However, I aint getting too critical but you could have researched better. It is best to avoid Phuentsholling on Fridays and Mondays. Hotel booking is mandatory, at least the Thimpu one and it can be jolly well booked online at hotels.bt.
Yes, I should have, that was a big mistake. The trip would have been much better with more careful planning. On the positive side, we now enjoy speaking about it and almost feel the same thrill what we felt after getting the permit, but yes I would not like to be in such a situation ever.

Quote:
Originally Posted by On_the_drive View Post
The Botolbari route after dark is an absolute no no unless you are traveling in a group.
Yes, we did cross it after dark but it was not that late I guess we entered after 5:30 but yes, would like to avoid it after dark. Though there will be much more which we saw later from a Darjeeling trip.

Quote:
Originally Posted by On_the_drive View Post
By the way, nice haircut.
Thank you
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Old 17th December 2018, 02:43   #14
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Default Re: Bhutan: The Land of the Thunder Dragon...err SUV

Those pictures just made me relive my trip to Bhutan in 2017 with family which included my Ford Figo then ! Nostalgic

Sharing a Link :www.team-bhp.com/forum/travelogues/191401-figo-explores-kingdom-bhutan-land-thunder-dragon.html

The Best Part undoubtedly being the Eclairs at Dochula !! Can go back just for that !!

Sharing some pictures from my trip :
Bhutan: The Land of the Thunder Dragon...err SUV-img_6556.jpg

Bhutan: The Land of the Thunder Dragon...err SUV-img_7127.jpg

Bhutan is a wonderful place to be for all that it has to offer. Keep sharing !
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Old 17th December 2018, 10:35   #15
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Default Re: Bhutan: The Land of the Thunder Dragon...err SUV

Quote:
Originally Posted by AJ-got-BHP View Post
Those pictures just made me relive my trip to Bhutan in 2017 with family which included my Ford Figo then ! Nostalgic
Actually, I have missed thanking you. I have decided to book the park hotel after reading your TL only

Quote:
Originally Posted by AJ-got-BHP View Post
The Best Part undoubtedly being the Eclairs at Dochula !! Can go back just for that !!
+100. One can certainly go back for the Eclairs.
hok kolorob is online now   (1) Thanks
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