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Old 5th March 2019, 23:41   #1
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Default The Big B Trip – Bangalore to Bhutan in a Blue Beast

It’s been now quite some time since I did the Big B trip – Bangalore to Bhutan. Plan was to post this travelogue immediately upon return but thanks to various reasons including work pressure plus my lethargy; and so, this delay. However, the memories of this trip are still so vivid in our minds that we still are not over with it; and don’t think we will ever be.

Some quick facts:
  1. Total distance traveled: 6148 km
  2. Total driving hours: approximately 150 hours
  3. Trip duration: 16 days
  4. States crossed: Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal
  5. Most difficult stretch: Kolkatta – Siliguri
  6. Fuel Efficiency: ~15 kmpl (full AC on)
  7. Fuel consumed: 421 ltr
  8. Total Toll paid: Rs 4745

Our itinerary for the next 16 days
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Special preparations:
  1. Changed wheels about 3 months prior to the trip
  2. Bought inflatable car bed from Amazon for kids
  3. Full car service including all fluid change
  4. Brake and clutch overhauling
  5. Basic spares like extra head light, fuse, windshield cleaner, tug rope carried
  6. Accommodation in Bhutan pre-booked; rest booked on the go thru YoYo rooms
  7. Tyre inflator borrowed from a friend
  8. Avomine and Diamox - medicines for altitude and motion sickness stocked (not really needed as the ghats are not very steep and difficult and the altitude is also not that high; kept it just as a precaution)

Our observation about the Place/Country
  1. It is truly the ‘Land of Happiness’; there is a sense of tranquility and peace in the atmosphere. May be the effect of the Himalayan air
  2. Nobody is in a hurry to rush ahead in life. Life goes on at its own pace.
  3. Lovely simple people, always ready to help with a broad smiling face
  4. Roads in western Bhutan where we had been are fairly good; although the whole region is hilly, the ghats are not very steep
  5. Very disciplined and organized when on the road; nobody is in a rush to overtake;
  6. Pedestrians have the right of way and motorists wait patiently to let them pass without unwanted honking
  7. Vehicles are systematically parked in designated areas and not left anywhere
  8. Women folks are very hardworking. Infact most of the commercial establishments were run by women including the housekeeping, restaurant and front desk of the hotels we stayed
  9. Bhutanese cuisine is not a very popular and rich cuisine; Indian food is freely available though taste is very different
  10. Fuel for the vehicle (petrol) and for the body (liquor), both are available at a much lower price
  11. Vegetarians can find it difficult as they have very limited options
  12. The King and the royal family is highly revered. They do not tolerate any loose talk about their royals
  13. Cities are scattered and there is very little civilization between the cities. So you wont find any restaurants or fuel pumps in between.

The Genesis
It all started with an innocuous post of Bhutan tourism on wife’s FB; a casual comment by me that Indians can drive to Bhutan in their own vehicle; my confirmation to her ‘not-so-sure’ question whether the trip can be done in our Blue Beast (read our Blue Verna) and the trip was sealed.
Even today, when I think back of the whole trip, right from conceiving the idea to actually returning back home after the trip, it feels really like a huge dream.

I named the trip as the Big B Trip because that’s what it was – from Bangalore to Bhutan with a Biwi and 2 Bachas in my Blue Beast.

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Once the plan was finalized, (one of the fastest amongst all our trips, I must say), the next few weeks went about in preparing for the trip. Since this was a super long drive, covering long stretches every day, we decided to do the hotel bookings only for Bhutan; all daily night halts will be managed on the go so that we have the flexibility to break the day any time we feel like.
A week before the drive, I had the Beast go through a thorough checkup and some tightening and tweaking here and there at the Hyundai Service Center in Jakkasandra.

The route was fairly simple – Bangalore – Tirupati – Nellore – Bhubaneshwar – Kolkatta – Burdwan – Siiguri – Phuentsholing – Bhutan and the same route for the return. Thanks to TBhpians themagicclicks, gmhossain, PointZero, and Bulletchach for all the inputs and useful information that helped me plan the trip.

The inflatable car bed came very handy for our kids
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Day 1-2

Finally, it was the D-day and we all were super excited. Taking a break from our tradition of starting our long drives at 4.00 am, this time we started at 12.30 pm since it was my son’s last annual exam. First leg of the trip was Bangalore to Konark via Vijaywada - Vishakhapatnam. Getting out of Bangalore via KRPuram was a pain as usual but once on the Hoskotte highway it was much better. Our first night halt was at Nellore.

Distance traveled: 387 km; time taken: 8 hrs 23 min.

Next day plan was to drive till Brahmapur but by evening, wife was feeling unwell. So had to break our day at Vishakhapatnam.

Distance traveled: 658 km; time taken: 12 hrs 28 min.

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A different experience having breakfast at Hotel NH 5, above a toll plaza near Ongole.
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Thats my manual trip log
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Kids comfortably sleeping in their 'bed'
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Day 3

After a good night sleep, next day wife felt much better and we were back on road but at a leisurely 8.00 am. Our destination for the day was Konark and so we were in no hurry. Roads were super excellent all the way as we crossed Andhra and entered Orissa. Thanks to the car AC, we were comfortable against the scorching heat outside.

Having travelled extensively from Rajasthan to Kerala, we were well acquainted with the site, smell, costume, cuisine, life of the western region. But everything about the east was new for us. The rural country side, the people and their attire, the language, the accented hindi, the landscape; I enjoyed every bit of this as I powered my Beast further on. Since it was noon when we crossed Chilka, we didn’t stop; instead we just drove slowly to see the lake from a distance in the comfort of our car.

At Bagheiput, we turned right on to the New Jagannath road; a turn which we would have easily missed had it not been for Gmaps. Infact during this entire trip, Gmaps was our constant companion and guide. This narrow 2-lane road was in surprisingly excellent condition and passed through many villages and fields giving you an excellent view of the country side life in rural Orissa. There were stretches were the trees line on each side converged in the middle making it look like you are driving through a green canopy or a tunnel.

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The green canopy
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We reached Konark at 3.00 pm super excited to see the famous temple; but honestly it was a great disappointment. Repair work was going on and there were scaffolding on all sides which was a big eye sore for whatever little was left to see. What came as a bigger shock for us was that the temple interiors were long sealed by the British and so you could not enter it. We somehow were not aware of this and felt heavily disappointed. The granite plaque at the entrance said that the temple inside was sealed by the British to protect the rich cultural heritage and engineering marvel of the structure which to me didn’t make any sense. By that logic, every ancient monument across the country should be sealed!

Any ways we spent time going around the temple at leisure and clicking lot of pics. Since it was close to the sea, you could feel the sea in the air. Around 5 pm, we checked in to Hotel Yatri Nivas, run by the Tourism department of the state government.

Distance traveled: 485 km; time taken: 8 hrs 12 min

The Konark beach
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The Marine Drive
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The crowded approach road to the temple
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The scaffolding was an eye sore
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The world-famous wheels
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Day 4

Post breakfast, we were back on the road with plans to drive till Howrah. Roads continued to be super cool and scenic. Fuel price in Odisha is pretty low compared to that in Andhra Pradesh or West Bengal; difference of almost Rs. 7-8 per litre. We reached Howrah around 5.00 pm; so decided to continue till Bardhaman. The traffic by now was at its maddening best as we meandered our way through Dankuni towards the Bardhaman highway.

When we were on the outskirts of Bardhaman around 6.45 pm, I was taking a U-turn on the busy highway, when suddenly I ran straight into a huge boulder placed dangerously on the side of the road. Due to the heavy traffic, I was focusing on the vehicles and since it was pretty dark already, I somehow didn’t see the boulder. When I stepped out to check the damage, there was water flowing from underneath the bonnet. My immediate fear was that the radiator had burst. A small crowd had by now gathered and luckily there were two auto mechanics in it who came to our rescue. After checking the radiator and the other parts, they gave me the good news that nothing is wrong with the radiator nor was there any major damage. The water was from the wind-shield fluid container which had broken due to the impact. They confirmed that the vehicle was absolutely fine, and I was relieved.

I did some quick basic checks and found the beast responding normal. Since the container was broken, I will have to use water externally to clean the windshield which was fine. I was relieved and we proceeded further, little knowing that there was something in store for us. But for now, we had lost almost an hour due to this incident and finally checked in to Hotel Pearl Bardhaman at 8 pm. The next day was going to be a hell of a drive – the most dreaded stretch of our entire journey.

Distance traveled: 593 km; time taken: 11 hrs.

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Day 5

Today was the most strenuous stretch of our entire journey. I had read enough about this stretch and I was constantly preparing myself for some really grueling drive. We started off early at 6 am and as advised by TBHPians, took the Morgram (via SH7)-Farakka-Malda-Botolbari-Dhantola-Siliguri route. Since Hotel Pearl Bardhaman was close to the entry to SH7 and given the early morning hours, we were soon on the picturesque SH7 driving towards Morgram. We thoroughly enjoyed driving thru the early morning misty fields on either side of the road, the soft sun light that lit up the vistas, rural folks going about their morning activities. The road was narrow but pretty decent. We were cautioned that there would be no hotels on this stretch and so were well stocked on eatables.

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Old 6th March 2019, 22:30   #2
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Default Re: The Big B Trip – Bangalore to Bhutan in a Blue Beast

As we got closer to Farakka, we got stuck in a long que of slow moving trucks. Road work was also going on adding to the chaos. We drove at a painfully slow pace as we inched forward towards the dreaded Farakka bridge crossing the Ganga. Finally, we reached the bridge and caught the glimpse of the holy river, but all we felt was irritation at being stuck in the endless que. Thankfully there were cops on either side controlling the traffic flow and so there was no chaos on the bridge. It took us about 1.5 hrs to cross the nearly 3-km long bridge and were glad when we finally crossed it. But our happiness was short-lived as we realized that there was no letup in traffic which continued to haunt us till we crossed Malda at 1.15 pm. Had a quick lunch in some highway hotel and moved on.

After Raiganj, we turned right onto the Botolbari-Dhantola road. The right turn is very inconspicuous and unless one is following the G-map or is well versed with the route, there are high chances of missing it. I was highly skeptical of this stretch especially considering that it is not even a highway. But while the road remained narrow throughout, it was in very good condition. G-map was accurate to the core and I just followed it blindly enjoying the drive through some of the very scenic rural and rustic Bengal countryside. A word of caution though – the roads are very narrow and passes through many villages and so be aware of kids, men, women, goats, sheep, hen, dogs, cats et al anything crossing the road unannounced and it is your fundamental responsibility to protect them from getting hit by your vehicle.

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Narrow but good roads on the Botolbari - Dhantola section
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You need to be very careful while driving on this stretch
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How can you drive thru West Bengal without having Rosogulla!!!
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At 4.10 pm, we exited at Dhantola and connected back with the Siliguri highway. We reached Siliguri and decided to stretch till Jalpaiguri for the night halt. Siliguri to Jalpaiguir however turned out to be heavy truck traffic and we took about 1.5 hrs to cross the 49 km. Few phone calls enroute and we had our stay at Hotel Golden Tulip booked and we checked in at 7.45 pm.
Distance travelled: 526 km; time taken: 13 hrs 50 min.


Day 6
Finally, it was the D-day. Today we will be driving into Bhutan. Or rather we will be driving out of India . So much was the excitement that even kids got up with a jerk when I woke them up in the morning. We started from Jalpaiguri at 5.20 am as I wanted to be at the Immigration office in Phuentsholing by 8 am. I was well advised by fellow TBhpians to avoid reaching late as I could get stuck in the paper processing work due to the holiday season.

The drive to the border was very smooth, with minimal traffic, cool climate, a warm sunny morning and some good scenic views enroute. We had packed couple of aalu paratha from Golden Tulip for the morning as we knew there will be no restaurants on our way and this came very handy. I fueled up at a BP petrol bunk only to regret it few hours later.

At 7.45 am we reached Bhutan Gate, the entry to the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan. I had seen numerous pics of this gate during my research prior to starting our trip; but it was a very different feeling to be standing in front of it physically. Although it was an international border, the steady flow of vehicles and people through the gate will make you doubt it for once.

Tea Plantations on either side of the road
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The mountains start showing up as you near the border
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At the Bhutan Gate, finally
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After the ceremonial photo ops, we drove through the ‘border’ and were now officially in international territory. Finding the way to the Immigration office was not very difficult. It is next to Hotel Druk adjacent to a BP petrol pump. A very friendly police man guided us to a parking slot and we proceeded to go through the immigration formalities. That is when I saw the petrol price – Rs 55 per litre and regretted having tanked up earlier in the morning.

There was a small crowd already gathered at the immigration office. We collected the blank forms, filled in the details, attached necessary supporting documents and were ready for the submission. There were boards with instructions on how to identify authorized agents. All Bhutanese citizens had to be necessarily in their traditional attire when in the campus.

The immigration office at Phuentsholing
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The tourist crowd at the immigration office
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The Bhutan Immigration Process at Phuentsholing
The immigration process per se is not very complicated, provided you have all the documents ready. The process is fairly simple:
  1. Collect a blank application form for applying for Inner Line Permit and fill it up with necessary details. Separate forms need to be filled for each traveler.
  2. Attach copies of passport (or voters ID), proof of accommodation and a pass port size photo of each traveler.
  3. A team of officials will initially verify the documents on the ground floor and if everything is in order, they will allow your group to go to the first floor for further processing.
  4. On the first floor, go to any of the 1-8 counters and wait for your turn to submit your documents.
  5. When its your turn, the official at the counter will enter your details in his system; make sure to check the details being typed for any errors. This is important as you could face issues when applying for your vehicle permit if there is any error or discrepancy in your name or other details
  6. He will then take your pic and scan your index finger prints.
  7. Once all data entry is done, you are required to wait for your permit to be issued. Depending on the crowd this can take anywhere from 5 min to 30 min. Collect your Inner Line Permit from counter 12 and you are all set to go into Bhutan.

The Inner Line Permit issued at Phuentsholing has a standard validity of 7 days and is applicable only for visiting Thimpu and Paro. For going to any other place or for staying more than 7 days, one needs to reapply at the Immigration office in Thimpu. I will explain about that later.

For now I needed to get the permit for the car. After collecting our permits, we moved towards the RSTA office to get the permit for our vehicle. The RSTA office is situated close by (about 4 min by foot; 10 min by car) inside the Phuentsholing Bus Stand. Collect the application form from shop no. 6 on the first floor, fill in the details and pay the fees @ Rs 100 per day on the 2nd floor. Now attach the payment receipt to your form alongwith your vehicle's RC, Insurance, PUC copy, your driving license copy and entry permit copies of everyone in your group and submit it in the office of the Transport office on the first floor opposite to shop no. 6. The officer will verify your documents and issue the permit after entering the details in the computer system. While it is a simple process, the waiting time depends on the number of forms submitted prior to yours.

The Inner Line Permit
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The vehicle permit issued by RSTA
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Finally, around 11.30 am we got our vehicle permit issued and we were good to proceed. First thing, we bought a Tashi sim card which would be our lifeline for the next few days while we are in Bhutan and loaded it with enough data balance. Shared our new ‘international mobile number’ with folks back in ‘India’. Next was some much needed food for our near empty tummy. Lastly, we took photocopies of our permits for safety purpose and we were all set to hit the Phuentsholing – Thimpu highway.

Soon after exiting Phuentsholing, we reached the first border checkpost where all foreign visitors travelling by road are supposed to present their entry permits and get it stamped. As we moved further, the road got more and more twisty and curvy. Lofty mountains surrounded us on all sides and there was a nip in the air. The roads were pretty decent and traffic was sparse.

It was sunny yet cool. For the first time after starting from Bangalore, I switched off the car AC. I was driving at a sedate pace partially because of the hilly terrain and partially to also enjoy the vistas. After driving for about an hour and a half, the road began to narrow to almost a single lane width. There was hardly any human civilization enroute except when crossing some villages. No petrol pump or restaurant after Phuentsholing all the way till Thimpu.

I had forewarned wife about the heavy ghat sections and she had popped in an Avomine at Phuentsholing. That was very helpful. We took plenty of photo-stops along the way.

The winding roads on the way to Thimpu
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Around 5.00 pm, we entered the city of Thimpu, our first destination in Bhutan. With the help of GPRS and guidance from the local public, we soon reached Hotel Kisa and were welcomed with a cup of delicious hot apple tea. Our room had wooden floor panels which is common in Bhutan due to the severe cold. There was no AC or fan in the room, only a heater. Infact my daughter was very amused when I told her that what she thought as an AC was actually a room heater.

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A Picture of the Royal couple. Such pictures are found across Bhutan
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At the entrance to Thimpu
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View of Thimpu as you enter the city
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Later in the evening, we went to Hotel Bhutan Kitchen and treated ourselves to a typical Bhutanese vegetarian meal of Ema Datse, mashed potatoes, red rice, corn rice, lentil soup, spiced radish, stir fried tofu all served in wooden bowls on your table (though it was supposed to be buffet dinner). The ambience, with its low seating and spacious interiors, was excellent and the staff extremely courteous. Post dinner, we had a leisurely walk back to our hotel and called it the day. It was pretty cold but we were all excited.

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The Bhutanese cuisine
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Old 6th March 2019, 22:55   #3
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Day 7
After a good night sleep, we got up to a bright and sunny morning. People outside had already begun their day. Breakfast in the hotel restaurant comprised of puri bhaji, upma, toast with butter and jam, fresh fruit juice and tea. Not very lavish but very tasty and simple, just like the Bhutanese people.

View from the hotel window
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Our first destination for the day was the National Memorial Chorten. This giant white and golden Stupa was built in mid 1970s as told to us by the guide in memory of the third King of Bhutan. Elderly Bhutanese could be seen circumambulating the structure or rotating the large prayer wheels. Just as the exterior is extremely simple yet imposing because of its height, the interior is equally striking with its magnificent paintings and carvings. A narrow staircase leads one to the upper three floors, each housing numerous deities and religious figures.

The white National Chorten against the blue sky
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Group of local grannies enjoying the morning sun
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View from the top of the Chorten
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A series of large prayer wheels
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Next stop was Buddha Dordenma. This giant bronze statue of Shakyamuni Buddha is more than 50 mt high and is gilded in gold. The towering height of the statue located atop a hill makes it visible from a large distance away and overlooks the city of Thimpu. The drive to the hill top gives a picturesque view of the Thimpu valley below. A series of nearly 250 steps takes one to a huge flat terrace with numerous golden statues with the golden Buddha in the middle. The sight is truly awe inspiring to say the least.

The base of the statue houses a huge meditation hall which has 1,25,000 idols of Buddha placed inside it. It is an amazing site to see so many small Buddha statues stacked beautifully on all four walls of the hall. There were not many tourists around at that time and the whole atmosphere was very calm and serene. Something in the air made me feel very peaceful and light.

View of Thimpu from atop the hill
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The imposing statue of Buddha
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A series of steep steps takes you to the imposing statue
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The many figurines around the Buddha
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If Buddha Dordenma was a more recent addition to Bhutan’s attractions, our next stop was to the oldest temples in Thimpu, the 12th century Changankha Lhakhang Temple. The temple is situated on a small hillock and there are steps leading up to it. It is not very large like some of the other temples in Bhutan but is highly revered by the local populace; especially parents of new born come here with their kid to seek the blessings of the presiding deity.

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Though it was afternoon and it was bright, it was not very hot. There were some clouds and we were enjoying the warmth as we headed towards the Tashichho Dzong. Dzong in Bhutanese means a fortress. But most of the fortresses have now been converted into administrative offices and monasteries. The splendid Tashichho Dzong is located on the banks of the Wang Chu river and houses many government offices including the offices of the King. Unfortunately, when we reached there, we were told that visitors are allowed only after 5.00 pm when the government offices closed for the day. Since 5.00 pm was still a long time away, we just roamed around the exteriors enjoying the view of the river and then headed back. On the way we passed a momo cafι and walked in hoping to get some momos; we didn’t get momos and had to settle for noodles and fried rice, both of which turned out to be yummy.

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Old 7th March 2019, 22:32   #4
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Our next destination was the Bhutan Takin Preserve, a wild life reserve that houses the Takin, the national animal of Bhutan. Takins are a very shy and gentle animal and closely resembles the goat and the antelope. The reserve is pretty large but not much to see. The Takins are also housed inside large enclosures. There were few log seats of interesting shapes and we had some photo ops there.

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By the time we reached back to Thimpu, it was around 4.00 pm. Wife wanted to just explore the city and do some shopping. So we parked our car near the Immigration Office and she went to explore the series of shops selling handicraft items and other paraphernalia. Since I had time and all the necessary documents in the car, I went to the Immigration office to extend our permits to visit Punakha, Wangdue and Haa.
Here again it was a simple process. You just need to attach a copy of your permits issued at Phuentsholing alongwith an application form. Depending on the crowd, they may either issue it immediately or may ask you to come over in some time.
With my permits extended, I joined the rest of the family going around the market. Coming from Bangalore, it was really amusing to see the high level of discipline all around. Pedestrians walked on the footpath. People crossed the road only at designated zebra crossings and not arbitrarily. Vehicles were neatly parked in allotted parking space. No body honked or tried to overtake. Pedestrians always had the right of way and all vehicles would stop patiently until the pedestrians have safely crossed the road.
We roamed around the city, did some shopping, had diner at a restaurant and called it a day.

A market in Thimpu close to the immigration office
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Neatly parked cars along the road
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Day 8
Our third morning was also time to check out of Thimpu. Plan was to have breakfast, checkout from hotel and head straight to Punakha. But there was a nice super market we had seen the previous evening but could not go in. So we decided to stop by for just ’10 minute’ to see if they have anything special. We came out of the shop after ‘80 minutes’ with a bag full of spices, pickles, wine and various other stuff – all local products of Bhutan – and ofcourse a smiling wife.
Finally, we started from Thimpu at 11.30 am and proceeded to Punakha. The route as usual was very scenic with lofty mountains. To add to the pleasure, the weather was excellent with an occasional mild drizzle. We reached Dochula at 12.15 where you have the Druk Wangyal Chorten, a cluster of 108 chortens built in a circular layout. On a clear day, you can see some of the snow covered peaks of the Himalayan range. Like in many other parts of Bhutan, there was a serene calmness in the atmosphere here and we felt very nice just being there. There is a temple opposite the Chorten where you need to ascend a steep flight of steps and you can get a beautiful view of all the Chortens; it is a perfect location for taking some good pics. But I was generally having fun with my kids and few local kids who were there and so didn’t go up the steps.

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As we moved on, we crossed the Royal Botanical Garden but did not stop since we already had a late start. After reaching Punakha, our first stop was the Chimi Lhakhang temple or the temple of fertility. This temple, or a monastery, is perched on top of a hill and is very simple and unassuming in terms of its construction. This temple is dedicated to Drukpa Kunley who is also known as the ‘divine mad man’ of Bhutan. To reach the temple, one has to turn off at an unmarked turn on the main road and drive for about 2 km on an extremely uneven stretch of road (actually there is no road). Around the parking area, there are shops selling artefacts, mostly wooden phalluses of various shapes and colors. After parking the car, there is still a good long walk up to the temple on a mud road that leads through the village with fields on either side.

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The pathway from the parking leading to the temple
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The off roading track to the temple
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By the time, we did our small ‘trek’ to Chimi Lakhang temple, we were pretty exhausted. I wanted to visit the Punkaha suspension bridge, but it was some distance away and it was evening. So we decided to skip it. Although I had read that the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong in Wangdue was destroyed by a fire in 2012 and is currently not fully open to visitors, we just drove around the place.

Finally, it was time to call it a day and we checked in to Hotel Vara. This is a very nice and comfortable hotel with large spacious rooms that are well maintained. There were wooden benches placed in the front courtyard of the hotel from where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Punakha valley sprawled below and the lofty Himalayas rising into the sky afar. Only issue is with the approach road that is absolutely horrible; what makes it even worse is that the property is located atop a small hill and the drive up the steep slope with practically no road but just huge boulders can take a massive toll on your vehicle. But for this bad approach road, our stay in Hotel Vara was by far our best stay during the entire trip and we wished we had more than one night here.

Hotel Vara
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View of the valley below from the hotel
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The approach road to the hotel
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Old 7th March 2019, 22:50   #5
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Day 9

Next morning, after breakfast, we proceeded to check out the Punakha Dzong but not before buying some fresh fruits from the local fruit market on the way. That’s a habit we have picked up over the years – to buy local fruits. These are generally farm fresh and also seasonal and regional. It is definitely better than having the packed junks.

Punakha Dzong is one of the oldest, most beautiful and also one of the biggest Dzongs in Bhutan. It is located on the bank of the Pho Chu river and has a beautiful wooden bridge that takes the visitors from the parking to the Dzong. It was a picture-postcard view from the bridge of the crystal-clear water flowing below and lush green vegetation on either banks. The Punkakha Dzong has 3 courtyards or Docheys as it is locally called. The first courtyard is pretty big and houses various administrative offices. Beautiful paintings and carving adore these buildings. The second courtyard is smaller and primarily a pass through to the third courtyard. This is where the main temple of the Dzong as well as the temple that safeguards various national treasures are located. Entry into this second temple is strictly prohibited for visitors and there are guards stationed at the entrance. Within the third courtyard, there are also classrooms where young monks (students) take lessons in various subjects including Buddhism. It was a very different site to see the students in the saffron robes in these classrooms.

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It was noon by the time we bid adieu to Punakha and proceeded towards Paro. Most part of the 4 hrs drive to Paro was along the same route that we had travelled in the previous days. Soon after entering the city, you will drive alongside the Paro international airport. Compared to other international airports, this is a much smaller airport.

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Our first destination in Paro was the Rinpung Dzong or the Paro Dzong located in the heart of the city. After parking the car, you need to cross a wooden bridge across the Paro Chhu river and then take a short walk along a mud tract to reach the Dzong. Like the other Dzongs across Bhutan, this colorful Dzong also houses various administrative offices alongside prayer halls and monk residences. It houses numerous giant paintings which capture various aspects of Bhutanese life and their culture. The paintings are covered in huge plastic sheets and silk curtains to protect them from external damage and wear and tear. A young Bhutanese guide gave us an informative tour of the structure explaining in detail the history of the Dzong. She also took us to an upper deck from where we could see the royal summer palace. She informed us that students are taught traditional subjects like science, maths, history, art but off late they are also given lessons in English language. Just outside the Dzong entrance there was an orange tree full of ripe oranges that looked very beautiful. The water of the Paro Chhu river was so crystal clear that you could see even the tiny pebbles on the river bed.

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Old 8th March 2019, 10:18   #6
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The Royal summer palace seen from the Dzong
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The wooden bridge over the river. Parking is on the other side
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The street as you near the Dzong
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The orange tree
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The lit up Paro Dzong at night looks beautiful
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Next on our list was the Dumtse Lakhang, a unique temple that is built in the Chorten style, which is rare in Bhutan. I had read a lot about this temple and its rich collections of paintings. I even carried my torch as advised by many as many parts of the temple are pretty dark with little light coming in. Unfortunately, when we reached there we were told that the temple had closed for the day. I don’t remember reading any specific timings for the temple in my research so was quite disappointed.

By now, we were quite exhausted and so drove into the city and checked into hotel Khamsum and called it a day.

Sun filtering thru the gap between the clouds and the mountains
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Window or a frame?
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View of the Paro Valley
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The runway of the Paro International Airport
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Day 10
The next day was the most awaited day of the entire trip because today we were going to scale the Tigers Nest. From the time of conceiving this trip, me and wife were in constant dilemma whether to visit the Tigers Nest or to drop it since it is a long treacherous track and kids may not be able to do it. But having come all the way to Bhutan, we did not want to drop this ‘signature destination’ either. Finally today morning, over breakfast, we took the call – we will all go to Tiger Nest. If enroute, we feel that kids are not able to do the trek, then we will come back with no hard feelings. But, thanks to our kids, it never came to that.

Can you make out the Nest?
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A closer view
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After having our breakfast, we reached the base of the Tigers Nest around 10.30 am. This is undoubtedly one of the ‘must visit’ places of Bhutan. Miss it at your own risk. Perched precariously at the edge of a huge mountain, this temple is by far the most beautiful temples you would see. And what adds to its charm is the long arduous trek to reach it. Enough information about the temple is available on the internet, so I will focus my travelogue on our experience of the day.

The hotel staff had told us that we should have ideally reached the base by 7 am so that we could complete the trek by noon and come back. But now no point talking about it. We parked our car and went to the ticket counter. Expectedly there were many horse vendors offering horses for hire. Since the horses would anyways have taken us only till half way (cafeteria), I was initially not inclined to take a horse. But then we eventually hired 2 horses – one for my daughter and one for wife. Wife was keen to trek but we couldn’t let daughter go alone so she also agreed for a horse. Once they were saddled and started walking, me and son followed them on foot. But our pace was nothing compared to the horses and soon they were out of sight. My son enjoyed every bit of the trek and I was pretty surprised to see his stamina and enthusiasm. We had rented 3 bamboo walking sticks for Rs 50 each and that was pretty handy.

All set to take their next guests uphill
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View of the valley below
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A giant prayer wheel near the cafeteria,
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It took as almost 70 minutes to reach the half mark (till where the horses are allowed). Bought a pack of fruit juice and a bottle of water from the cafeteria and proceeded on our upward trek – now with wife and daughter in toe. As rightly pointed by the hotel staff, we were amongst the few who were climbing up at that time of the day. Most of the people were climbing down. I was a bit skeptical if my daughter would start grumbling about feeling tired and if I will have to take her up or turn back. But every time somebody passes us, they would cheer her up with words like ‘oh you are such a brave or strong girl’, ‘good going, keep it up’ etc and that really charged her. So much so that to our surprise, she trekked her way to the top without any issues.

About the trek – it was an amazing experience. What I liked best was despite the large number of tourists visiting this place, the authorities did not try to create better facilities or lay down proper steps/path with shops and stalls etc. So the whole trek had a rustic experience. Even the path was a mud track which could get slippery at times especially if you don’t have a good pair of shoes. The entire route was shaded by the hundreds of wild trees keeping the atmosphere very cool and refreshing. As you move up, you get a wonderful view of the valleys below and you realize how ‘green’ Bhutan is (not that you hadn’t already realized it). The last part of the climb was the real tough part – the long flight of steps that initially descended and then rose steeply up to the temple. I didn’t feel so much tired reaching till this point as I felt taking the steps to the temple.

My son trying to keep pace with the horses
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Thats the path to the Nest
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Me and daughter going downhill
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Another view of the valley below
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Finally, we reached the temple. Since we were amongst the last few left, there was no crowd and we took our time exploring the temple and the magnificent view around. We spoke to a lama in one of the shrines and were told that only 5 lamas stay in the residential quarter next to the temple. Even at that time of the day (around 2 pm) we felt cold inside and the wind was pretty cool. Wonder what it would be like during the peak winter season.

After almost an hour at the temple, it was time to start our trek back. There were dark clouds hovering in the sky and I was a bit worried if it would start raining but luckily it didn’t. Downward trek was much faster but also tricky as you tend to slip and skid at places if you are not careful. We were almost 70% down when one of the female Bhutanese guides accompanying a group of Western tourists offered to pick my daughter for the rest of the way. I was very surprised to see her stamina and agility as she climbed down easily with my daughter. Once down, she played with my daughter for some time while she waited for her guests to reach down. She told us that she too had a daughter slightly older than mine.

We were back at the base around 5 pm, a full day. Most of the vendors selling handicraft items were preparing to pack up for the day. We returned our sticks and got back into the car to drive back to Paro. As expected, all our conversation for the rest of the evening was about our trek. My son was even ready to go up once again the next day.

After reaching the city, we spent some time walking around to buying some stuffs from the shops. We were back in our hotel by 8 pm and just crashed out.

Such small conical pieces can be found across Bhutan
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Few more
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Some more glimpses of the Nest
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No words can describe the view, feeling and atmosphere
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Old 8th March 2019, 17:38   #7
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Day 11
Today was our last day at Paro. Tomorrow morning we would start our drive back to India. So we wanted to make the best of this day. One option was to drive to Haa valley but wife was not very keen to spend many hours inside the car. So we decided to drive upto Chelela and then depending on mood, we will decide if we wanted to go to Haa or come back to Paro. The drive to Chelela was through narrow winding road that was not in a great condition.

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Chelela was a high peak on the way to Haa Valley. As we neared it, there was a visible change in the atmosphere. It was getting colder and windy. We started to see snow on the road sides – initially small patches which gradually increased. We stopped at various places to click pics of the snow. Luckily, we had the woolens which we had bought from Thimpu in the car.

Once on top, we were blown away by the scenic beauty. It was windy, and the peaks of the surrounding mountains were hidden behind the clouds. There was quite a bit of snow all around and the kids just freaked out. We had piping hot Maggi at the lone stall on the peak and trust me maggi never tasted so nice. We were literally shivering with the wind blowing into our face but it was so much fun. We decided against driving to Haa and instead spent more time at Chelela. Kids were just not ready to go.

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Finally, it was time to return. Back in Paro, we spent time walking around the town and taking a stroll along the Paro Chhu river. Since we were to start our drive back to India tomorrow, which meant next 4 days, we would be literally on the road. So wife wanted to spend some time packing our stuff appropriately.


Day 12

Finally it was time to bid adieu to Bhutan. We loaded our stuff into the car and prepared for the long return drive. That was when I realized that my windshield wiper was not functioning. I checked the fuse but that was fine. That is when I realized that the accident near Bardman may have caused something for the wiper to not work. There was a car mechanic I had seen the previous day and for a moment thought of stopping by and getting it rectified. Our destination for the day was Siliguri and so we had ample time even for a late start. But since it was summer and there was no reason to worry about rains, I dropped the idea and we drove out. Any ways, I will do a complete service once back in Bangalore; so will get this done then, I thought. Later, I realized the mistake I had done.

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We started from Paro at 9.00 am and proceeded towards Phuentsholing. The overcast sky, the cool breeze and the tons of memories of the last few days made our return very gloomy. At few places it was very foggy and visibility was near zero. Since my wiper was not working, I did not push hard on the peddle; not that I felt like doing it anyways. We finally reached the check post where we had to submit our permits and entered Phuentsholing. Since we had ample time, we decided to walk around the town and see if there is any last minute shopping we can do. We had a light lunch at one of the small cafι and generally walked around. Finally it was time to officially exit the city, and the country but not before filling up the fuel tank.

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After the days of systematic and disciplined road behavior, the first thing that hits you after entering India is the chaos on the road as well as off it. Our destination was Siliguri and this time we took the Nagrakata - Sevoke route. Closer to Siliguri, we faced heavy traffic. We had booked ourselves in Hotel Gitanjali Inn in Siliguir thru Oyo Rooms and reached the place at 7.45 pm.

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Day 13
Today was the return leg on the nightmarish Siliguri – Kolkatta stretch. Memories of the traffic jam on the Ganga and the chaos around Malda was still fresh in our minds. At Dhantola, we turned off the highway onto the Botolbari route. Enthused by the smooth and pleasant on this stretch onward drive on this stretch, I did not bother to turn on the Google map and instead relied on my unreliable memory. After driving some distance, I realized that the route didn’t seem to be the same that we had taken. Even wife commented the same. I don’t remember seeing any turn that I could have missed and so continued further. The road was very patchy and crowded unlike on our onward journey. I finally pulled up on the side and checked Goggle only to realize that somewhere I had actually missed a conspicuous turn and got on to this route. Since I had travelled much, there was no point turning back and we continued on this stretch and reached Rudel at 12.00 noon and then joined the highway at Botolbari at around 12.30 pm. My estimate is that I missed about 55 minutes due to the wrong road.

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Anyways since the bigger headache on this route was still to come, we moved ahead. Had lunch at Malda and finally crossed Farakka at 3.25 pm. Since the road ahead till Bardman was good, we were beginning to relax when mayhem struck us. Suddenly it became very dark and the next moment there was a heavy downpour. Without the windshield wiper, there was no way I could drive in the rain and I cursed myself for not having got it repaired the previous day. But that was not all; after about 10 minutes of heavy rain, there was a sudden burst of hail storm. I now scrambled to find a place to park as I was afraid my windshield might crack. Such was the force of the hail storm. Luckily there was a Government Hospital nearby and we drove into its campus and parked under a roof till the hailstorm and rain stopped. It was after 6.30 pm when we finally started moving forward but since the road was still wet and water was splashing from the passing vehicles, my progress was very slow. I found a mechanic shop a little distance and he told me that the wiper motor was damaged and asked me if I had hit somewhere. Since there was no time for a complete repair (not that I would have anyways done it at a highway road side mechanic), he did some temporary arrangement and made the wiper functional. By now it was past 7.30 pm and we were not at all in a mood to drive any more. So we looked up for some hotel nearby and finally found one at Gopalnagar. Although neither my wife nor me were comfortable with the hotel but since we didnt have the energy to hunt any more, we checked in and called it a day.

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Day 14 - 16
We were up early the next morning and were back on the road by 5.25 am as we had a long way to cover. It was very pleasant and cool and we made good progress. Our initial plan was to end the day at Srikakulam but since we had to cut short our previous day at Gopalnagar, we decided to drive till Bhubaneshwar. By the time we reached Bardhman, the traffic had picked up and we took some time crossing the city. Once on the AH highway, we picked up good speed despite the traffic and progressed towards Howrah. We crossed Kharagpur at 1.45 pm, Bhadrak at 4.20 pm and finally reached Bhubaneshwar at 7.30 pm.

Next day, we drove up to Vijaywada and on the last day, we reached Bangalore at 5.25 pm. Since the last 3 days was just straight forward drive with nothing exciting, don’t have much to write or any pics to share. As soon as we reached our apartment, my son ran away to meet his friends and tell them about our amazing and eventful journey. We ‘unloaded’ the car and walked back into our home with a sense of achievement, nostalgia and a feeling of vacuum that we usually feel after each of our trips. It is this feeling that tells us that very soon, we will be back on the highway, driving to a new destination and exploring a new place.

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This is my beast that takes us all around. All thru the trip, it was a great company. My parting words about Bhutan - if one is looking for a relaxed holiday destination with family, Bhutan is definitely a great choice. And if you do a road trip, nothing like it.
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Old 11th March 2019, 07:01   #8
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Note from Support: Thread moved to the Travelogues section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 11th March 2019, 09:27   #9
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Beautiful travelogue brother! What a trip, i must say.
I enjoyed all the pictures and the write-up very much. Bhutan is a beautiful place and is best enjoyed by road.

I have been contemplating the idea of a Delhi-Bhutan-Delhi trip but my daughter is too young (9 months) for this trip and i might just wait for an year or so. The inflatable bed is a must have for such long driving trips. Never realised that it can be used in the car as well.

BTW, did i miss the travel dates? Just curious to know, when did you travel?
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Old 11th March 2019, 10:52   #10
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Great travelogue, plus kudos for the courage to do a cross country trip with small kids in tow

Bhutan is definitely worth visiting in your own vehicle. The overall experience of planning & execution & the satisfaction of completing the trip whilst having done all the driving & documentation yourself, is unparalleled. Hope to do it someday.

I think the main reason that traffic, people & in general life in Bhutan is so streamlined & civic, is that there is less population, so naturally things are not chaotic. Contrast that with the situation in our country, where a billion jostle for limited resources with each other, hence we're always climbing on top of each other & being in a hurry everywhere for the fear of being left behind.
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Old 11th March 2019, 11:27   #11
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Amazing Travelogue with excellent photographs.

Planning this long trip with kids require lots of courage. I regularly take my 4.2-year-old daughter on long trips. I am seriously thinking to buy an inflatable bed. So far I have not bought it due to safety concerns. What's your take on it? How did it work or you?

Thanks for this Travelogue. Rated Five stars.
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Old 11th March 2019, 14:49   #12
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Excellent write-up accompanied with beautiful photographs! I am starting to get the itch to travel to Bhutan after reading your travelogue. Drive from Bhubaneswar would be shorter!

As for the Konark temple, its sad to see the state its currently in. AFAIK the roof and supporting structures had collapsed years ago and hence the interiors were sealed. The scaffolding have been in place as far as I remember. Sadder is the fact the ASI, which is in charge of maintenance, has been replacing the beautifully carved walls with plain tiles now. Soon it'll look like a plain block devoid of all the intricate details. Would've been a sight to behold in its full glory!
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Old 11th March 2019, 16:12   #13
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Just realised that the receipts are from April'18. Not sure how to edit my previous comment and thus posting a new one.
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Old 11th March 2019, 18:30   #14
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Originally Posted by tarik.arora View Post
Beautiful travelogue brother! What a trip, i must say.
I enjoyed all the pictures and the write-up very much. Bhutan is a beautiful place and is best enjoyed by road.

I have been contemplating the idea of a Delhi-Bhutan-Delhi trip but my daughter is too young (9 months) for this trip and i might just wait for an year or so. The inflatable bed is a must have for such long driving trips. Never realised that it can be used in the car as well.

BTW, did i miss the travel dates? Just curious to know, when did you travel?
Thanks Tarik. Yes, the inflatable bed is a must have if travelling with kids. It is very useful. They can comfortably sleep while you are driving which keeps them happy and energetic thru the trip. The bed that I use is specifically designed for use in cars and is available on Amazon and other online portals.

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Originally Posted by superbad View Post
Great travelogue, plus kudos for the courage to do a cross country trip with small kids in tow

Bhutan is definitely worth visiting in your own vehicle. The overall experience of planning & execution & the satisfaction of completing the trip whilst having done all the driving & documentation yourself, is unparalleled. Hope to do it someday.

I think the main reason that traffic, people & in general life in Bhutan is so streamlined & civic, is that there is less population, so naturally things are not chaotic. Contrast that with the situation in our country, where a billion jostle for limited resources with each other, hence we're always climbing on top of each other & being in a hurry everywhere for the fear of being left behind.
Thanks Superbad. Completely agree with you - its an all together different experience to plan and execute a real 'long' trip on my own. And the fact that I drove the entire 6148 km myself is the icing on the cake. I believe, if you are crazy about driving, nothing can be a better stress buster than getting behind the wheels and zipping thru the highway exploring new places.

Smaller population of Bhutan is definitely an added reason for the better discipline out there; but even the culture and attitude of people makes a difference. While the population (of people and vehicles) are low, the size of the city is also small. So to some extent, it gets set off. What I really felt the difference is in the mindset of the people (especially when it comes to road behavior). Overall I felt people were more relaxed and in no hurry. When a pedestrian is crossing the road, we have seen cars, including taxi drivers, stop to let them cross. When taking a U-turn on a narrow road that I entered by mistake, I have actually seen other drivers stop a safe distance away so that I have enough room to turn my beast around. They waited patiently without once honking.

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Originally Posted by SJM1214 View Post
Amazing Travelogue with excellent photographs.

Planning this long trip with kids require lots of courage. I regularly take my 4.2-year-old daughter on long trips. I am seriously thinking to buy an inflatable bed. So far I have not bought it due to safety concerns. What's your take on it? How did it work or you?

Thanks for this Travelogue. Rated Five stars.
Thanks SJM1214. The inflatable bed worked great for us; and still continues to do so on our other trips. No safety concerns at all. These are designed for use in cars. It is very easy to operate - comes with its own blower. Takes about 3-4 min to inflate it. Spread a bedsheet on it and the bed is ready for your kid for a comfortable sleep. When done, just pull the rubber knob and it deflates instantly. You should definitely consider buying it since you often go on long trips with your daughter.

Quote:
Originally Posted by FrodoOfTheShire View Post
Excellent write-up accompanied with beautiful photographs! I am starting to get the itch to travel to Bhutan after reading your travelogue. Drive from Bhubaneswar would be shorter!

As for the Konark temple, its sad to see the state its currently in. AFAIK the roof and supporting structures had collapsed years ago and hence the interiors were sealed. The scaffolding have been in place as far as I remember. Sadder is the fact the ASI, which is in charge of maintenance, has been replacing the beautifully carved walls with plain tiles now. Soon it'll look like a plain block devoid of all the intricate details. Would've been a sight to behold in its full glory!
Thanks FrodoOfTheShire. You should hit the highway before the itch gets burdened with other priorities. From Bhuvaneshwar, it is much more easier to do.

The granite plaque at the entrance of the Konark temple says that the British had sealed the temple interiors. Dont know about the collapse of the roof though the structure is in pretty bad shape. ASI's shoddy 'conservation and protection' measures is just speeding up the final demise of a glorious era.
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Old 12th March 2019, 00:54   #15
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Default Re: The Big B Trip – Bangalore to Bhutan in a Blue Beast

Sandy28

Excellent travelogue coupled with some breath-taking pictures of the trip. Reading this has given me the travel itch. Well written

The inflatable beds certainly caught my attention. I am definitely going to look for one of those.
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