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Old 2nd June 2018, 02:04   #1
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Default A road trip to Bhutan & North-East in a Linea

How many cars? 1
What car? Fiat Linea
How many people? 4. Me, Wife and 2 kids
So you are driving alone? Yes
Are you crazy?

These are the exact questions asked by one of my family friend when I told him I am planning on a road trip to Bhutan, Assam and Meghalaya in my car. He was taken aback and did not believe me until the day I started.

Doing a long road trip was my longtime dream which I was finally able to do it in the last Sep/Oct period (28-Sep-17 to 20-Oct-17). I will go with the usual quote of 'Better late than never' for this delayed Travelogue.


Some teasers

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Initial Planning

I drive Fiat Linea MJD since 2011 and I was very well aware of what it can do and what it cannot. I had no intention of replacing my car and decided to make my first long road trip in my Linea itself greatly inspired by J.Ravi sir’s adventure with his erstwhile Linea. I started planning for this trip in May’2017 and I had two itineraries in my mind. One was to Bhutan and NE and another was to HP (Spiti Valley). Having decided to take my 2 Daughters as well who are 7 and 3 years old, I was more inclined with Bhutan than HP because of the altitude. After refining the itineraries further, I decided to stick with the Bhutan Itinerary and proceeded with my plan for the same. Then I tentatively decided to drive during September/October period but did not decide on the dates.

The Challenge

Having inclined with the Bhutan trip, one immediate challenge came to my mind was the Visa requirement for my younger Daughter. She is an US Citizen by birth. Bhutan exempts citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives from obtaining prior Visa and other requirements. All other nationals must pay $250 (USD) for each day of stay in Bhutan which includes their local transport, stay, accommodation, food and Visa fees. They have to get in touch with the Government approved tour operators to plan their trip to the country. Everything will be taken care by them with the $250/day/person payment. However, kids below the age of 5 are exempted from the payment of $250/day but still need to obtain prior Visa to enter the country. I then started researching on obtaining the Visa for my Daughter. There was not much information available on the Bhutanese websites.

I then contacted the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) in Thimphu explaining my situation and the need for Visa for my Daughter. They advised me to still contact an approved Tour Operator to obtain the Visa. Bhutan does not issue Visa directly to the individuals and it must be obtained only through a Government Approved Tour operator. And they sent me a long list of approved tour operators with their contact details. I started contacting the Tour operators and almost everyone replied me that they can get Visa only if I buy Bhutan Tour Package with them.

I almost wrote to everyone in the list and finally one sounded positive. He offered me to get the Visa for my Daughter for a service charge of Rs. 5000 and Visa fees of $40. Optionally, he offered to book the hotels for me if I wish to go through him. I immediately accepted his terms for Visa alone and told him that I will decide on the hotels later once I finalize the dates. Even for Visa they needed my detailed itinerary. I haven’t decided the dates yet and told him I will get in touch a month before my trip. All this happened in the month of June’2017.

Last edited by rameshnanda : 21st December 2018 at 11:01.
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Old 2nd June 2018, 02:12   #2
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Preparing the Car

My Lineaís Odometer was inching closer to 1,00,000 Kms and decided to do some preventive maintenance in phases before the planned trip in September. Below are the major works undertaken on the car over two months and majority of the mechanical works were done at True Sai Motorss in Salem. Some were done by Murugan of SMK Automobiles in Chennai.

- Replaced Suspension to upgrade the Ground Clearance to 185mm
- Timing Chain & Water Pump replaced
- Replaced the Battery
- Turbo Hose replaced
- Engine Guard replaced
- Replaced tyres with Bridgestone Turanza ER60 (195/60 R15)
- All oils (Gear, Brake, PS) replaced and for engine oil, went with MGDO
- Brake Pads replaced

Other Non-mechanical items
- Got Fastag
- Upgraded ICE (Replaced HU with Pioneer DEH-80PRS)
- Wiring for Dashcam (Viofo A119)

Final Planning

My plan took a good shape around end of August and decided to start the trip on 28th September 2017. Fine-tuned the itinerary and I even spent a whole day at J.Ravi sirís residence to get his inputs. And below was the plan.

A road trip to Bhutan & North-East in a Linea-itinerary.png

As you might have noticed, I planned to drive from West to East Bhutan all the way to Trashigang and re-enter India at Samdrup Jongkhar. I did some research on the road condition from Thimphu to Trashigang and I found it to me mixed and may be very bad during monsoon. This was another reason for me to start the trip towards end of September which is almost the time the monsoon ends as well.

Having decided the dates, I immediately contacted the Tour Operator again with my Itinerary. I was told he will be able to get the Visa one week before my departure date from Chennai and suggested me to stick with Thimphu, Paro and Punakha alone in Bhutan and not to go beyond saying I will not have enough time. Below is the extract from his email.

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I ignored his suggestion and asked him to obtain Visa for the planned Itinerary. Two points to note here, 1. Tour operator did not tell me why there will not be enough time and 2. I did not plan for a buffer day in Bhutan. Why these are crucial points? We will know when we go on. 

The tour operator also collected our Indian Passport details telling he will get the e-Permit for us (Me, Wife & Elder Daughter) along with the e-Visa for my younger one, so that we donít have to wait longer at the border. This was great and thought all my Bhutan entry issues resolved (until I reached at the border).

Two weeks before the start date (28-Sep), I started booking hotels and decided to handover the hotel booking in Bhutan to the Tour operator. I finalized most of our stay within a week. I will share my rating on the hotels we stayed towards the end of this travelogue.

I bought some essential things (for car, for us) which I thought may be needed just in case.

For Car
- Hydraulic Jack
- Towing Rope
- Jumper Cable
- Puncture Kit
- Fuel Can (10 Ltrs)

For Us
- Emergency Medicines
- Nuts
- Ready to eat Cup Noodles
- Lot of Chocolates, Biscuits

The Day

We starting packing our bags well before our start date. However, I started loading bags into the car on the morning of our trip day. As I was loading, I realized how difficult this is to organize all the stuff in to the car. The entire 500 ltr boot space was packed with bags and few more stuffs were loaded at the back seat of the car. I planned to use 2 car seats for the kids and there was some space left for the bags as well in between.

Two of my friends, Sundhu Kumar and Prasanna visited us in the afternoon to send us off. Thanks to Prasanna, he provided his Michelin Pressure Gauge system which I was able to squeeze it below the driverís seat. And Sundhu came with bag full of snacks. Another bag for me to organize.

Few pictures of the car before our departure.


Linea ready to depart

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Fully loaded boot of Linea

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Last edited by rameshnanda : 19th December 2018 at 04:02.
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Old 2nd June 2018, 23:50   #3
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To make the reading much easier, segregating the whole travelogue into multiple chapters.

Index

Page 1
Chapter 01 - Driving Chennai to Bhubaneswar
Chapter 02 - Visiting Konark
Chapter 03 - Driving Bhubaneswar to Kolkata to Siliguri
Chapter 04 - Driving Siliguri to Paro
Chapter 05 - Paro Sightseeing
Chapter 06 - Thimphu Sightseeing
Chapter 07 - Dochula Pass and Punakha
Chapter 08 - Gangtey Monastery
Chapter 09 - Driving Gangtey to Bumthang
Chapter 10 - Driving Bumthang to Trashigang to Guwahati
Chapter 11 - Guwahati

Page 2
Chapter 12 - Kaziranga National Park
Chapter 13 - Cherrapunjee
Chapter 14 - Dawki
Chapter 15 - Return journey to Chennai

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Old 3rd June 2018, 00:03   #4
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Driving Chennai to Bhubaneswar

28 Sep 2017
We planned to start at 4pm on Day 0 and drive non-stop and reach Bhubaneswar before 4pm the next day. But, we couldn't start on time. It was almost 5pm when we started from our home at East Tambaram, Chennai. Our first stop was at the Shell pump near home to tank up and proceeded towards taking the inner ring road which will take us directly to the north of Chennai to hit the highway to Vijayawada. Unfortunately, the traffic was severe that day and it took almost an hour to cross the toll at Maduravoyal beating the long queue. And to my annoyance, it started to rain after the toll. The rain was so intense that the road got flooded within no time. I had go through that stretch and within minutes I got to see the Check Engine light on my Odo. However, the car was behaving normal otherwise with the acceleration and braking. I then safely parked and called the Service Manager at True Sai, Salem. The call was attended by the CRM and I explained him the situation. He told the severe rain might have wetted some sensors and that the error should go away on its own. That gave me some comfort and decided to proceed. It took almost 2.5 hrs for us to get past Chennai.


The Odo before our departure

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The planned route

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Just before Nellore, we stopped here for Dinner

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29 Sep 2017
I hoped the Check Engine light will go away when I restart my car after dinner. But, it didn't. I continued driving and crossed the city of Vijayawada around 2am. And stopped at a Reliance pump to tank up the Diesel. We took a short break here and when I started the car, the Check Engine light gone now . I continued to drive and felt sleepy at around 4am and parked the car just after a toll (before Rajahmundry) and took nap for 2 hours. Woke up after 6am and started driving immediately. After an hour of drive, found very decent family restaurant (One Food Courts) on the highway near Annavaram. We broke here.


At the parking lot

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The Restaurant

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We refreshed, had breakfast and continued our drive. I realized we would not be able to reach Bhubaneswar by 4pm as we got delayed in Chennai itself. We crossed the city of Vizag by noon and had lunch at a small dhaba near Srikakulam.


Kids in their car seats (somewhere after Vizag)

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Shot taken near Srikakulam

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The condition of the road became average after entering Odisha. And stopped at a BP CoCo pump to tank up the car. The time was already 4pm and we were at least 2 hrs from reaching Bhubaneswar. After filling up Diesel, I drove non-stop and reached Ginger Hotel in Bhubaneswar at around 6.30pm.


Ginger Hotel in Bhubaneswar

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Odo reading after reaching Bhubaneswar (1320kms from our home to Ginger)

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Dinner at Priya Restaurant

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We all crashed after the longest non-stop journey ever in our Linea. The plan was to stay 2 nights at the Ginger Hotel in Bhubaneswar. The plan for the next day is to visit Konark Sun Temple and also visit Jagannath Temple in Puri.

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Old 3rd June 2018, 03:29   #5
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Visiting Konark

30 Sep 2017
We all woke up a bit late and we had our breakfast at the restaurant of Ginger Hotel. Breakfast was included in our tariff. The food was good and they had choice of south indian as well. Finally we started at around 10am. The plan was to visit the Konark Sun Temple and then head to the Puri Jagannath Temple.


Linea at the parking of Ginger Hotel (before heading to Konark)

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The road to Konark from Bhubaneswar

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Way to the Sun Temple

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The Entrance

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The Sun Temple

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Another Shot

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The Architecture

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View from the Temple

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My Daughter

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Another view of the Sun Temple

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Platform at the Temple

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There was not much choice for food in Konark. And we decided to try our luck at the State run Geetanjali Restaurant. Food was definitely below average and the service was poor. It took almost 30 mins for them to even take our order.


Our lunch spot for the day

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The Beach at Konark

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Marine Drive (The road to Puri)

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The road to Puri

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It was completely dark when we reached Puri. It was a struggle to park the vehicle and take the shuttle bus service to the temple. After reaching the temple, it started to rain heavily and we also realized that we can't carry our mobile phones inside the temple. It has to be deposited at a locker facility. Looking at the crowd and also the misery of rain, I decided to stay back outside with my younger one, and asked my wife and the elder one to visit the temple. After all the struggle, we left Puri and reached Ginger at Bhubaneswar by 9pm.


The Odo reading at the end of the day

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Old 3rd June 2018, 05:38   #6
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Driving Bhubaneswar to Kolkata to Siliguri

01 Oct 2017
After spending another night at the Ginger, Bhubaneswar, the plan for the day was to reach Kolkata and call it a day. The drive was limited at around 470kms for the day. We started bit late at around 10.30am after our buffet breakfast in Ginger. It was a pleasant drive through out the day. I booked accommodation at Kamala Inn near Dankuni thru Oyo Rooms. The Hotel just off the highway to Bardhman. I don't recommend this hotel and it was by far our worst stay in the entire trip.


Route taken from Bhubaneswar to Kolkata

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Somewhere near Balasore

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Fuel Stop (near Balasore)

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A scene on the Highway after Kharagpur

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The Odo after reaching our stay in Kolkata

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02 Oct 2017
We started very early the next morning for Siliguri. I knew it was going to be hectic having known about the condition of roads in WB. I estimated it would take almost 12 hours to reach Siliguri from Kolkata. We started at 6.15 am in the morning. The route we took was Kolkata-Bardhman-Khargram-Morgram-Farakka-Malda-Raiganj-Botolbari-Dhantola-Siliguri.


Route to Siliguri

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A scene after Burdhwan

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Roads turned bad after Khargram

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On our way to Morgram

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At a Dhaba near COCO BP, Morgram

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Dhaba (They served very good tea)

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Somewhere after Morgram

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The Farakka Bridge over River Ganges

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A scene near Malda

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Our Food break after Malda

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Bad 4 Lane Roads after Malda

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A Mishap

After Raiganj, I deviated at Botolbari to avoid the traffic jam at Dalkhola. But, it turned out to be a wrong decision. I realized the mistake when I started to drive along. The road was so narrow that I couldn't exceed more than 30 kmph or 40 kmph. And the road went along so many villages and was heavily commuted by locals. At one point, suddenly a goat tried to cross the road and I applied the brake to avoid hitting it. Unfortunately, a biker who closely followed me could not stop and he hit really hard at rear. He got very minor injury and soon locals started gathering at the place and the biker turned the blame on me saying I applied brake suddenly. Another young biker who also followed me that time, came to my rescue. He endorsed my view and said it was not my fault at all. He privately told me to pay some money for medicine to the biker and leave the place without delay. I was desperate to leave that place and gave Rs. 300 to the biker which he accepted and I fled the place immediately.


The Damage to my car

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We reached Siliguri after 7pm and checked into our hotel Elan Sky View. They had small parking area however the rooms were very spacious and neat. We found a Handirams shop in the next building and decided to have our dinner there. To our surprise, they serve Idly, Vada and Dosa . We already made up our mind to come back there for Breakfast as well.


The Odo reading after reaching Siliguri

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03 Oct 2017
The next morning soon after the breakfast at 9am, I decided to check with a local mechanic to see if he can do a quick fix to the rear bumper damage. Fortunately, I was able to find a garage near to our stay. The mechanic told he can fix it quickly. But, he didn't know to remove the rear bumper on my car and took sometime to take the bumper out. The bumper automatically took its shape and was 70% good. He then did a treatment with hot water and its almost back to its original state. He charged me Rs. 600 and took 1.30 hrs.


The result

A road trip to Bhutan & North-East in a Linea-bne5702.jpg

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Old 3rd June 2018, 12:02   #7
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Driving Siliguri to Paro

Fixing the rear bumper delayed our departure by almost 2 hours. My original plan was to start by 10am and reach Phuentsholing by 1pm. But, we were able to reach Phuentsholing at 3pm only. The travel agent from Bhutan who helped to procure the Visa for my Daughter said he will have his guide at Phuentsholing and help us to complete all immigration and vehicle formalities. Bhutan Immigration mandates to have a guide to clear e-visa for US Citizens.

I called our guide Mr. Sonam as soon as I reached Phuentsholing at 3pm IST. Note that Bhutan time is 30 mins ahead of IST. So, it was 3.30 at Phuentsholing. I tanked up my car at a BP pump there (Fuel is at least Rs. 5-6 cheaper than India) and met Mr. Sonam. He rushed us to the e-Visa counter and submitted documents from his side. He had e-Visa for my Daughter and e-Permit for rest of us. Officer at the e-Clearance counter verified our documents and asked us to get the Exit Stamp on the US Passport of my Daughter from the Indian Immigration office in Jaigaon. I didn't even think about this earlier nor my Visa agents told this to me. Time was already 4.15 and they asked us to come back before 5.00 or we have to wait for another day at the border. We immediately came out and got an Auto Rickshaw to reach the Indian Immigration office in Jaigaon. It took 15 mins for us to obtain the Exit Stamp on her US passport. We returned back to the e-Clearance counter by 4.45.

Now, we got the second shocker from the e-Clearance officer. He told us that we cannot take our own vehicle into Bhutan with the e-Permits. I then enquired with them if I will be able to drive my vehicle if I obtain regular permit issued at the border. He said yes but we will have to wait till next morning as they will be closing office sharply at 5pm BST. I also asked them if my Daughter's e-Visa should be good still for us and they confirmed it. I immediately made the decision that we will wait till next morning. Now, they started telling me that my US born Daughter can't stay in Phuentsholing as they will clear her e-Visa only after we get our permits. I requested them to clear her e-Visa as I already obtained the Exit Stamp from the Indian authorities. The officer understood our situation and finally cleared her e-Visa.

We came out of the office and decided to have our late lunch before we find a place to stay for that day. We were so hungry. Mr. Sonam said he will look for the accommodation while we have our lunch. He got a room for us at the Bhutan Residence. I thought I should get a Bhutan Sim before heading to the Hotel. However, I was told that I will be able to get a sim only after obtaining the Permit. We just headed to the hotel and we got a room in the 4th floor and they do not have lift. The room was neat and clean though.


The route from Siliguri to Paro, Bhutan

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The road after Siliguri

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Tea plantations near Siliguri

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The Bhutan Gate (We are about to leave India)

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Just after entering the Gate

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Linea parked after entering Bhutan

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School children at Phuentsholing

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04 Oct 2017
The security guy at the Bhutan Residence offered to wash Linea and I asked him to go ahead. The car was so dirty and it definitely needed a wash. He did pretty good job and charged me Rs. 150.

Mr. Sonam asked us to be there at the immigration office by 8.30am in the morning so as to complete the permit formalities as soon as possible. We promptly reached the immigration office at 8.30am. At around 9.00am they collected the applications from the front office and later they called the names and we had to go to the 1st floor for the biometrics. And then we were told the permit would be ready in an hour. We went to have our breakfast during that time. By the time we came out of the restaurant, Mr. Sonam already got our Permits. We then quickly went to a mobile shop to get a tourist sim from Tashi Cell. Got a sim with 30 day validity.

Without further delay we then headed directly to the RSTA office in Phuentsholing to get our car permit. I parked the car in the RSTA premises and I along with Mr. Sonam went to the car permit section. We saw few more people waiting to get the permit. The officer at the desk collected our application and upon verification, he replied that he can't issue the permit if there is an e-Clearance (My daughter got e-Cleared for her e-Visa). Mr. Sonam explained our situation to the officer in local language and also told the officer that the e-Clearance that we got is only for the kid who is less than 3 year old. The officer refused to make his own decision and asked us to meet his boss. We then met his boss and Mr. Sonam did one more round of explanation to him. He then dialed to few more people and finally he provided his approval. That was a great relief for us after 2 days of painstaking experience in the whole permit process.

We left immediately for Paro after having our car permit on hand. Our guide Mr. Sonam wanted us to drop him at Paro and we will be on our own from there. He told us it would take at least 5-6 hours to reach Paro. We decided to break for lunch somewhere on way. Mr. Sonam helped us to go to a decent restaurant (Wangkha Dam View Hotel near Chhukha) where we even got Dosa.


The RSTA building in Phuentsholing

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Short break after Phuentsholing

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With our Guide Mr. Sonam

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The road to Paro

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View before sunset

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The Odo reading after reaching Paro

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Usually it starts to get dark after 4pm in the north east and Bhutan. By the time we reached Paro, it was 6.30pm but it looked like a late night as the whole city was calm without any traffic. We bought fruits from a shop on way to our place of stay, Janka Resort. We checked in and Mr. Sonam left us here saying he will get to his Cousin's home in Paro and go to Thimphu, the next day. The resort was well maintained and clean. We ordered dinner and we liked it as well.

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Old 3rd June 2018, 13:04   #8
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Paro Sightseeing


05 Oct 2017
After the WB mishap and the damage to the rear bumper, and the time taken to fix that in Siliguri had a cascading effect which eventually costed us a day. The original plan was to spend 2 nights in Paro but we now have to get away with a nights stay there. I decided to give the Tiger's nest a miss as I did not have plan to trek there either. Also, I decided to skip the Rinpung Dzong in Paro. Dzongs are the fortresses constructed in each District which houses the Government administration offices for that District and also a monastery within the facility.

Now, my plan was to leave early in the morning and visit Chelela Pass and come back by 11am to checkout and then head to Thimphu. Chelela pass was around 38 kms from the place where we stayed. We started at 6am in the morning. We took short break at the view point of Paro's Airport, the only International Airport in Bhutan.


Runway of Paro International Airport

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Bird's eye view of Paro Airport

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A shot of Linea from the view point

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Clouds were going down as we were driving uphill

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Another view on way to Chelela Pass

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I was shot at the Chelela Pass

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Linea at the Chelela Pass

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This road will lead to the Haa Valley

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Weather was bitterly cold at Chelela pass compared to Paro. It must have been in single digit. I don't remember what I saw in my car's instrument. We decided to try our breakfast there from a food truck. They had hot veggie momos available for Rs. 40 a plate. It was really delicious and we ended up ordering two more plates.


A Honda Navi from Mumbai

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And the biker who drove all the way from Mumbai in Honda Navi

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An old Woman at Chelela Pass

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The momo seller

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More shots at Chelela Pass

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The mobile shop

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The Altitude as shown in the App in my mobile

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It was 10.30 when we came back to our Resort in Paro. I informed the front desk that we will be checking out by 11.30. We packed our stuffs and started at 11.45 and I decided to just do a drive to the base camp of Tiger's nest as it was only 10 kms from the resort. The monastery in the mountains was not visible at all from the base camp. I turned around and started to head towards Thimphu.

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Thimphu Sightseeing


It is usually around 1 to 1.5 hrs of drive from Paro to Thimphu. I planned to reach our hotel in Thimphu by 1.30, have lunch and do some sightseeing in the city. We had one photo break on our way to Thimphu. The road was well laid between Paro and Thimphu. Given the fact that Thimphu doesn't have airport and Paro being the only International Airport in Bhutan, both cities were well connected with good roads.


The route from Paro to Thimphu

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Somewhere between Paro and Thimphu

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Me again

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View of mountains

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Hotel we stayed in Thimphu (Amodhara)

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Linea parked at Amodhara

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We ordered our lunch at the Hotel itself and the food was above average. For sight seeing in Thimphu, I decided to park my Linea for that day and take local taxi for rest of the day. I did not want to take the pain of parking in the City. Hotel folks arranged a taxi for us, and it was relatively new WagonR. The driver was friendly and he almost became a guide for us. Our first stop was at Buddha Dordenma (also popularly referred as Buddha point). There was some festival going on at the place and parking the vehicle would have become a challenge if I drove there myself. It was good decision on my part to take the Taxi. We could see monks everywhere inside the Buddha point that day. We spent around an hour at the Buddha point. There was also a shrine just beneath the giant Buddha statue.


Buddha Dordenma

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Heavily crowded for the festival

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Another Shot

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An young monk

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Another view

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Monks everywhere inside the facility

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An old man lost in Prayer

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Elders at the Buddha point

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A view of City of Thimphu from Buddha Point

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I made a call to the driver as he told he will come near to the gate to pick us up. Our next planned stop is to one of the oldest monastery in Bhutan, Changangkha Lhakhang.

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Thimphu Sightseeing (Continued...)

Our taxi driver took us next to one of the oldest Monastery in Bhutan, Changangkha Lhakhang. They usually will close at 5 while we reached there at 4.45pm. It is one beautiful Monastery we have ever visited. We were told that the new born are taken here for naming and to get the blessing.


School children on a Military vehicle

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A devotee at the Monastery

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A view of Changangkha Lhakhang

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The next plan is to see the Tashichho Dzong from a view point. Tashichcho Dzong houses many of the Government administrative offices of Bhutan. They usually open for public visit after 5 in the evening. We also got to know that they charge Rs. 350 for adults. Our driver suggested to give a skip to this Dzong as we have planned to visit the Magnificent Punakha Dzong. However, he took us to a view point where we could very well see the Dzong from a distance and also the view of whole Thimphu city.

I asked our driver to drop us somewhere near the city center so that we can take a walk and also have our dinner there. That day we tried a Korean Restaurant (San Maru) and it became an unforgettable experience as the food was horrible for us . We then reached Hotel Amodhara by walk and called it a day.


Tashichho Dzong as seen from a view point

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View of Thimphu city and the Buddha Point

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06 Oct 2017
The plan for the day is to get further permits (to travel to Trashigang) for us from the Immigration office and the permit for the car from the RSTA. The original permit which we obtained at Phuentsholing only has authorization to Visit Paro and Thimphu. Our Visa agent promised to send his guy to the Immigration office to help us get the permits as we have an US passport holder with Bhutan Visa. The immigration office was very much at a walk-able distance from Hotel Amodhara and we reached there around 8.50am. The Visa agent came around 9.10 and he got signatures from me and my wife. He told us to be back in an hour. As we haven't had breakfast, we went to a nearby restaurant while our applications were being processed.

I got a call back from the Visa agent and was told the permit is ready with him and he asked me to come directly to the RSTA office which is located near the Bus Station. We hurried back to our Hotel and I drove my Linea to the RSTA office. Met the agent and we directly went to the RSTA office and the permit was done within 5 minutes without any questions. I thanked him for his assistance and got back to the Hotel. Time was around 10.45 when I came back to the Hotel. We decided to rest for sometime, have lunch at the hotel and then visit the Momorial Chorten which is located in the heart of the city and again take a walk at the city center.

Memorial Chorten also referred as Thimphu Chorten is a stupa built in 1974 in memory of the third king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.


The Memorial Chorten

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An old woman at the Chorten

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Some devotees

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An elderly woman who happily posed for the Photograph

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The Stupa

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Another shot of the Stupa

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Around the Stupa

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More faces of Bhutan (shot at the Memorial Chorten)

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Bhutanese in general are very friendly and none of them objected when I photographed them. They indeed happily posed for it and then gave their blessings. They were happy that I photographed them. I then went to a BP fuel station to tank up. As planned we went to the city center, parked the car and we then went on a walk. We had delicious momos and noodles from a small shop at the city center. We returned back to our hotel by 7.00pm and did some packing as we wanted to leave little early the next day for our drive to Dochula Pass, Punakha and then to Gangtey Monastery.

A street in Thimphu

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Linea parked in the City center

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Dochula Pass and Punakha


07 Oct 2017, Saturday
I had aggressive schedule for this day. The plan is to checkout early and head directly to Dochula Pass and then to the Punakha Dzong. And then drive down to our resort which is located very near to the Gangtey Monastery. It is around 70 kms from Punakha to Gangtey but heard that the roads are not in good shape after Punakha. I hoped I would be able to handle it.

As planned we checked out from Amodhara at 8.30am after having our breakfast there. I then drove towards Dochula Pass. Just after crossing Thimphu city, I had to stop at the Immigration check post to show our permits and get the seal from them. There I happened to meet a group of bikers from Mumbai. Looking at the Registration of my car, they came to me asking about what I have planned. After knowing that I am driving all the way to Trashigang, they warned me that the roads are in very bad state and some stretches even has 1.5 ft deep slush. They informed me that they met few bikers who have returned back to Thimphu after venturing into this road and they asked me to be extra cautious. This did give me a little worry but again decided to proceed as planned.

The road to Dochula pass was very good and reached the parking spot near the 108 chortens by 10am.


The route from Thimphu to Punakha and Gangtey

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108 Chortens at the Dochula

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A view from the Chortens

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Druk Wangyel Monastery

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Another shot from the Chortens

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At the top

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Parking area at the Dochula Pass

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Another shot of the Parking area

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Our parting shot at the Chortens

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We spend an hour at the Dochula pass and started to drive towards the Punakha Dzong. Did a quick stop on way to pick cucumbers from a roadside shop. It was so cheap that I even paid some bucks extra to the old woman who was running the shop. And when we were about to leave, she again came towards our car and gave some cucumbers to the kids. Instead of we paying extra, it ended up we getting extra from her.


Roadside shop

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The old woman

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The road was in very good shape till Wangdue and then it was average till the Punakha Dzong. However nothing to complaint about. We reached the Dzong at 12.30pm. We decided to complete the tour and then have lunch somewhere near the Dzong. Our destination for the day was around 70kms from Punakha and I made a call to them to enquire on the route. The caretaker advised to call him back when we are near and that there won't be any network issues there. He also told that it may take around 3 hours to reach their facility due to the current condition of roads. 3 hours for 70kms. It became clear to me that I won't be able to reach Gangtey before sunset. It usually starts to become dark after 4.30pm.

We had to cross a river bridge by walk to enter the Dzong. And the fee for adults was fixed at Rs. 350 with the guide service. They waived for kids though. They wait for around 10 people and a guide takes them inside the Dzong. Our guide for the day was an young lady and she spoke well in English. Over to the pictures shot inside the magnificent Punakha Dzong.


Linea parked at the Punakha Dzong

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The entrance

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The wooden bridge over the river

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The Dzong

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Inside the Dzong

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Another shot inside the Dzong

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Our guide

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Another group of foreign tourists

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An elderly woman at the Dzong

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As seen from the bridge

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The river (Mo Chhu)

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The Punakha Dzong as seen from a distance

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A closer shot

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It took an hour and half to complete the tour and on way back to Wangdue, we found a small restaurant and we had our lunch there. The food was good but the bad part was they took lot of time to cook and serve. It took away an hour. It was exactly 3.30pm when we started from there.


Lunch plate

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After crossing Wangdue Podrang, the road started to deteriorate. I would say it was average, bad and very bad. I slowed down much more than I anticipated. Even the raised GC of Linea was not good enough to handle those bad roads. I was extremely cautious and drove very slow. It took almost 3.5 hrs for me to reach Gangtey. 30 mins more than the estimated time. I then called our Resort guy to get his guidance on the route to reach the resort. There were few divergences on way to the Gangtey Monastery and I somehow took a wrong road which is away from the Resort. I then realized I may have done a mistake and stopped the car after looking at a signboard. I accidentally switched off the car and only then I realized how dark the whole place was. I have never in my life experienced such a darkness. I was able to see thousands of stars very clearly in the skyline that night which I have never ever seen. That was some unique experience for me that night. Even though we missed our way, the experience at that moment was unique. The whole place was completely deserted and I did not have mobile network as well. When I was about to return back to call our resort again, a vehicle (a Jeep) came on that road with lot of people traveling in it. They may be heading back to their village. I stopped them and enquired about the route to reach Gangtey Monastery. They did not understand what I spoke. I tried in English and Hindi. They didn't know both. After some time the driver on that vehicle somehow understood about our situation and quickly showed me the way back and told 1.5 kms. I knew what needs to be done after going back. I thanked them and drove back 1.5 kms and now I got access to the Mobile Network. I called the resort again and now he got to know about our location and provided proper guidance. Finally, it was 7.30pm when we reached the resort.


Odo after reaching Gangtey

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Gangtey Monastery


08 Oct 2017, Sunday
I did not have plan to drive much but still we decided to leave Gangtey as early as possible so that we can visit some places before reaching Jakar, Bumthang. The distance from Gangtey to Bumthang was around 140 kms. After our morning breakfast at the resort, we made a quick visit to the Gangtey Monastery which is located right next to our Resort.

Our Resort (rather Home stay)

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Gangtey Monastery from outside

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The entrance

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Structure inside the Monastery

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Monk at the Monastery

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Another young Monk

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Butter lamp offering room

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Another shot inside the Monastery

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Driving Gangtey to Bumthang

08 Oct 2017, Sunday
We left from our Resort at Gangtey exactly at 8am. The road condition from Wangdue Podrang to Gangtey really worried me and moreover, another driver who drove from Bumthang to Gangtey that day told me that the roads are in bad condition and I have to be extra cautious. This pushed me to leave early that day. I estimated it may take 7-8 hours to reach Bumthang in the worst case scenario for that 144 kms. However, the road condition just after Gangtey intensified my concerns. I was only able to do 10 kms in 1 hour. The roads were really really bad and couldn't drive in any gears other than 1 & 2. The roads laughed at the 185mm GC of Linea. Got multiple hits to the engine guard. After 2 hours of grueling drive, I looked at the odo and realized I have covered only 18 kms. since I left from Gangtey. As the roads were getting even worse, I even started thinking about getting back to Thimphu and take the Phuentsholing route to get back to India. The suggestion made by the visa agent not to venture into this stretch popped up in my mind. But, he never spoke about the condition of the road but spoke only about the time. What a miss and I also blamed myself for underestimating the terrains.

Excuse the bad quality photographs. These were actually the screenshots taken from the Dashcam Video.


Route from Gangtey to Bumthang

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We took a break here after 2 hours from Gangtey

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Linea going through the tough terrains

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Some Shots of the condition of the road from Gangtey to Trongsa

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This might be the stretch that the bikers warned me after crossing Thimphu. This location is 6 kms before Trongsa. The slush here were almost a foot deep and I couldn't handle it on first attempt. Car was stuck and fortunately was able to reverse and tried again with full throttle in gear 1. To my peace, was able to get over this.

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We took a break in another restaurant before Trongsa. It was almost the lunch time and the restaurant only had maggi noodles. We went ahead with the available option. Kids loved it though.

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A waterfall

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Shot near Trongsa

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The below stretch was just after crossing Trongsa. My Linea got stuck in this slush and refused to move in either direction. The folks in the small Hyundai (seen in the picture) were generous enough to come and push my car to get out of this situation.

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An incident

Weather began to change (deteriorate) after crossing Trongsa. It slowly turned out that my worst fear started happening. Yes, it started to rain. The already bad road with slush started to become even bad. In one of uphill stretch, I saw couple of cars got stuck and few were pushing it from behind. Will I get into trouble as well? I had no option but to proceed as there was no option for me to park in that road. The road became slushy and with pouring rain the slush has become really soft. As I neared those cars (an Omni and Getz), they were struggling to get out of it. To my frustration, I got stuck before them. Linea refused to move a bit. I decided to seek help from them but they had to clear their trouble before they can help me. I got out of the car and joined them to push to clear that stretch. It was relatively easy with Omni and to some extent Getz as the cars were light. I got 4 people from that group to help me get out of this mess. However, despite trying in both directions, Linea did not move an inch. Linea is heavy and also with fully loaded boot, it was more heavy that it did not respond to our efforts. Started to get the clutch burn smell and I stopped accelerating as I was not ready to end up with a burnt clutch in the middle of nowhere outside the country without any FASS. Some more cars and a truck stopped behind me waiting for me to clear the road. A folk who was driving Omni suggested that the car may need to be towed. While we were having this conversation, the driver of the truck waiting behind us came down himself and offered his help. I immediately retrieved the tool kit and the towing rope which I was carrying. The truck somehow managed to squeeze in and got in front of me. We fitted the towing ring and the rope and connected it to the rear of truck. I got back to my car and engaged in first gear with light acceleration. And when the truck started to move, Linea got out of this mess immediately. He went on for about 200 meters and then he stopped. He thanked him for his timely help. And he did not stop at that and asked me to move forward and that he will follow me. And we were almost 35 kms away from our destination. The roads got slightly better and I was able to maintain 30-40 kmph. The road to Bumthang turned out to be a downhill road and did not face more issues before reaching Sanye resort in Jakar, Bumthang.

Linea however after going through tough terrain and getting multiple hits to the engine guard (no less than 40 times), the car was making a weird noise while accelerating. It should be due to the bent engine guard. This has happened to many and can be fixed with any mechanic. I however decided to visit FASS after reaching Guwahati. The car was driving normal except for that weird noise from the engine bay.


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We reached Bumthang at around 8 pm. The folks on the Omni and the Getz were waiting for me at a junction there and we shook hands before parting . The guy driving Omni told me he is heading to Mongar and may meet me there the next day. My next day's plan was to reach Trashigang through Mongar.

Even before reaching our resort, I got to see a fuel pump and decided to tank up right away so I don't have to waste time the next morning. And while filling got to know that is the only fuel pump available in Bumthang. We reached our resort by 8.30 and they were really courteous and took the order for preparing dinner for us. Not many were staying there, but it was clean and maintained really well.

Finally, an adventurous day came to an end.


The odo reading after reaching Bumthang. The worst figure ever for my Linea

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Driving Bumthang to Trashigang to Guwahati

09 Oct 2017, Monday
It took almost 12.5 hours (including breaks) for me reach Bumthang from Gangtey for a stretch of 146 kms. As per my plan, I need to drive 264 kms for today to reach Trashigang from Bumthang. The good news is that, I was told the roads from Bumthang to Trashigang are not bad since the road widening has not yet been started in this route. However, I wanted to leave as early as possible to avoid any other surprises on the way.

The mistake I did on the planning is that I should have planned for an additional day at Bumthang so that we could have rested and visited some places in Bumthang. I can't change my plan now as I need to exit Bhutan by 10th Oct 2017 as per the permit. And the permit can only be obtained in Thimphu.

I got out of bed early and gave a quick wash to the car as it was too dirty and slushy after an hectic day. The resort had a car washing place with hose and running water. We also had our breakfast (bread toast and poori) there and were ready to leave by 8.30am.


The planned route for the day

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Samyae Resort - We were preparing to leave

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Another shot of the Resort and the Restaurant

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The road condition was much better from Bumthang towards Ura. I was able to maintain 30-40 kmph. The route goes through the most scenic mountain ranges and I had to break at multiple places for the photograph. Better road condition also helped us to enjoy the ranges even more.

Quick tea break near Ura

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Women at the restaurant

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An elderly person near Sengor

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The road after Jakar, Bumthang

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The Linea

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Another shot of the car

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The beautiful mountain ranges

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Namling falls (somewhere between Sengor and Mongar)

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Closer shot of the falls

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A village

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We were thoroughly enjoying the scenic route combined with much better road condition, however our pleasant experience did not last beyond noon. Suddenly, I started to feel more play with the brake. I need to push all the way down for the car to respond with the braking. Something was not right. But, I couldn't figure it out. I reduced the speed as much as possible to align with the cars braking response. We were 30 kms from Mongar, a small town where I wanted to break for lunch. Situation started to become more serious as I started to hear metal noise from the right rear wheel and still the braking feel remained the same. Also started to get the ABS failure message on the Instrument. More play, less braking response. That's when I decided that I won't be able to proceed beyond Mongar without fixing this. Trashigang is 90 kms away from Mongar which could easily take 3 hours to reach. I decided to take it to a local mechanic in Mongar. Soon after reaching there, found a fuel pump and checked with them for a car mechanic. They directed me to a place which was 1 km away. I also found a small restaurant near to the pump and dropped wife and kids for them to have lunch. I, then proceeded to the mechanic's place.

The garage was decently sized and had many cars (mostly Suzuki, Hyundai and Mahindra). I explained the situation to the mechanic and he quickly did a test drive and acknowledged the problem. They quickly removed the rear right wheel and also opened the drum and found a broken part which was the one making the noise. No way I could get a replacement part there. While there were trying to fix it with the same part, I immediately called my known Service Manager at True Sai, Salem. Explained the problem and he immediately provided a solution. He asked not to fix anything with the broken part but block the rear right brake and I should be fine to proceed. And fix rest of the things at FASS, Guwahati. I passed on the message to the mechanic and he told it should be very simple and did the same. The play has gone and also the braking was near normal. All happened in an hour. I couldn't express how thankful I was after they fixed it. When I asked about his charge, he just asked for Rs. 80.

Another pleasant surprise there was that I met those 2 omni guys who helped me the previous day when I was stuck with the slush. They also were at the garage to fix some issues with their Omni.

It was 4.30 when I rushed back to the restaurant. I did not waste further time and wanted to proceed towards Trashigang which is still 90 kms away. Planned to reach before 8. The road after Mongar was again a mixed bag. I can put the condition at bad to below average.


Garage at Mongar

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This was the one - It links the springs inside the drum

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Inside the rear drum

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Mechanics working on my car

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The mechanic who fixed it

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Few pictures of the road condition after Mongar (Pics from the Dash Cam)

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I did not stop anywhere between Mongar and Trashigang. It was around 8.30 when we reached our Hotel. Trashigang is situated at a lower elevation (relatively) as the whether there was little warmer than other places where we stayed. I used the ready to eat cup noodles for dinner with some fruits. I also mailed Mr. Mangesh Kodalkar, Head- CRM at FCA India asking for further assistance at Guwahati. Even before starting this road trip, I wrote to Mr. Mangesh Kodalkar seeking assistance on priority at the FASS's and he promised me, he would take care of it.


The Odo after reaching Trashigang

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10 Oct 2017, Tuesday
Next day, I planned to drive to Guwahati from Trashigang which is around 340 kms (Trashigang to Samdrup Jongkhar - 240, and then to Guwahati - 100). One another task I will have to do at the border is to get the exit (from Bhutan) and entry (In India) stamping on my Daughter's Passport.

We checked out early from the Hotel and planned to have breakfast somewhere outside. Soon after check out, filled tankful of Diesel and also went for a car wash nearby. Car was heavily battered with full of slush. It was begging for a wash. Full wash costed Rs. 250 and proceeded towards Samdrup Jongkhar. We took a break in between for the breakfast. We didn't break for lunch but had many breaks in between to enjoy the scenic mountain ranges.


Planned route

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At car wash place

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Linea takes shower

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An under construction stretch

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The mountains

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More scenes

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Linea taking a break

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When Samdrup Jongkhar is 50 kms away, we were stopped for almost an hour due to the road construction. We reached India border by evening and before exiting Bhutan, I went to the Bhutanese Immigration office to submit our permits and to get the exit stamp on my Daughter's Passport. It took almost 30 mins at the immigration office. They told me that the Indian Immigration office is 4 kms away from there on my way to Guwahati. After the formalities, we left immediately and started to look for the Indian Immigration office. Unlike the Jaigaon/Phuentsholing border, here it is desolated. We hardly saw vehicles at the border. Not much shops, lights, or people around to check the location of Indian Immigration office. Somehow, I managed to locate the office and to my shock, it was closed. No one around. No other shop or building and roads were also completely deserted. I got down from the car and walked towards the closed door to see if there is any information. There were few homes to the backside of the office and I started thinking if I should go there and check. Suddenly, one person with a flash light came out of nowhere and started walking towards us. After reaching us, he asked what are we looking for. I told that we need to get the stamp on passport. He asked us to wait and told he will come back with the officer.

Within the next 10 minutes, he came along with another person who is the Immigration officer. He opened the office and helped us with the formalities. They asked me write the registration number of my car and also they took a picture of the registration plate as well. Not sure why they did that. Time was around 6.30pm when all formalities were completed. Guwahati is still 90 kms away and I left there immediately. Roads were excellent till we reached Guwahati. No complaints. Headed directly to the Ginger Hotel where I booked the accommodation. Dinner buffet was open at their restaurant and we directly headed towards Restaurant even before we went to our room.


The Odo after reaching Guwahati

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Guwahati


11 Oct 2017, Wednesday
Per my original plan, I had only a nights stay in Guwahati and proceed to Kaziranga in the morning. However, with the car having braking issues and the engine guard being bent, I decided to move all plans by a day and extend another day in Guwahati. Mr. Mangesh already replied me copying the CRM at the Mahesh Motors (FASS) in Guwahati and promised to fix the issues at the earliest. I made calls to the resort in Kaziranga and the planned home stay in Cherrapunjee to move the dates. They were also fine with that since they didn't have any other booking.

My plans for the day was clear. Drop the car at Mahesh Motors first thing in the morning. Come back to hotel. Rest. And plan for the Brahmaputra Cruise and visit Kamakhya Temple. And pick the car next morning.

I reached Mahesh Motors by 9.30am and met the CRM (Ms. Juri Sarmah). She immediately assigned an SA and I reported the issues that needs to be fixed.
- Rear right side brake issue
- Bent engine guards
- Glow plug warning

He created the job card and promised that he will call back in an hour and provide an estimated time for completion. I took an Uber and got back to the Hotel. While I was researching about the Brahmaputra cruise, the SA as promised called me back and informed that apart from that broken part, the rear brake shoes needs replacement and it is not advisable to drive again to mountains in Cherrapunjee without replacement. I asked him to go ahead and replace it. Then he says, "Sir, the part is currently not available with us and even if we place order it will take more than a week to get the parts". Then I asked him why can't they get it from a next nearest FASS (in Kolkata) or expedite the shipment from Pune so it can reach in few days and by that time I can visit Kaziranga and come back for shoe replacement. Then he advised me to talk to Mangesh directly and explore options. I immediately called Mangesh and explained the situation. He asked for an hour again and told he will discuss with regional heads and get back to me with a solution.

It was almost lunch time when the SA called me again and told that they have arranged the brake shoes for my car and they will complete all work by evening. When I asked how did they suddenly get the part, "CRM will call you and explain, Sir" was the answer. And within the next few mins, got call from the CRM and she explained that they have got the part from another vehicle which is due for delivery in 10 days. And she promised that the part is completely new and nothing to worry about. It was an easy guess for me as well on what they did. However, have to thank Mangesh and team at Mahesh Motors for bringing this to closure within hours.

Even though the SA said that the car would be ready by evening, I decided to take the car next morning as I planned for the evening Sunset cruise and a visit to Kamakhya Temple.


Mahesh Motors Service Centre entrance

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Boarding area for the Cruise

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A boat seen from our cruise ship

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Sunset at river Brahmaputra

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Another shot

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Statues

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Kamakhya Temple Premises (Shot using iPhone 5s under low lights)

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Sunset Brahmaputra Cruise was nice. The cruise starts at 4.30pm. Sunset time at Guwahati was before 5pm. On Cruise ship, they serve food and drinks. We just ordered some snacks. After the Cruise, he headed to Kamakhya Temple. We used Uber for all our local transport in Guwahati. More than 90% of the cars tagged with Uber should be Alto 800. Every time I booked a car, I always got an Alto. After the temple visit, we headed back to the Hotel for Dinner. I planned to checkout from the Hotel, the next morning and directly go to the service center to pick the car and then proceed to Kaziranga National Park.

Continues on Page 2...

Last edited by rameshnanda : 12th November 2018 at 10:28.
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