This post is long overdue and I know there are no excuses for procrastination except the good old – ‘I have been busy’. But better late than never. And thus, here I am, writing about a totally unexpected and wonderful trip to the land of thunder dragon – The royal kingdom of Bhutan.
I had planned a trip to the “Sunderbans” in February end when my hubby’s MBA was getting over. The plan was to have a quick two day vacation in the land of the ‘Royal Bengal Tiger’ and then head back home. I reached Kolkata all excited about the trip when my husband let it pass that all his friends were going for a trip to Bhutan and he was not, because we had made our plans for Sunderbans. Those were (hopefully) the last days of his college life and he hadn’t been on a trip with his friends. I asked him to go but he was unwilling to leave me there all by myself. And thus we reached a solution – planning to go to Bhutan, a different country altogether, instead of Sunderbans; a mere eights hours before we were to board the train.
The journey started with nine of us in the train compartment adjusting seats so that we could all play ‘Mafia’ on the way. We reached New Jalpaiguri (NJP) the next morning at about 10 AM, had our breakfast and then booked a tour to Bhutan through the travel agents there. A five hour journey took us from NJP to Jaigaon, the border town with Phuentsholing on the other side. The road trip was wonderful thanks to the amazing roads leading to a smooth drive, beautiful Teesta river flowing alongside and tea gardens on either sides. The company of friends, drinks, music and snacks made it even better 🙂
We stayed the night at Jaigaon and arranged our papers for obtaining a permit to visit Bhutan the next morning. we were required to have a Govt. provided ID proof (Passport/ Voter ID Card/ Aadhaar Card) and photographs to apply for the permit. Apparently the Driving License could be used as well but the Indian Embassy was off on Saturday (the day we were to get out permits). We walked over to Bhutan to get our permits at about 11 AM and then started our trip to Paro, the place we had decided to visit in Bhutan. It was to be a six hour drive. We stopped on the way for food. Two of the company enjoyed Pork and Chicken and God knows what else, while the rest of us gorged on cup noodles, chips, cold drinks and the like 🙂
The scenery was beautiful with lovely hills and mountains on either sides. There were frequent stops on the way to throw up (:D) thanks to the winding roads but it gave us opportunity to click photographs. We stopped at a small restaurant for tea/ coffee and admired the beautiful countryside.
We reached Paro at about 7 PM. The resort booked for us was beautiful. The rooms were compact, colorful and creatively done. The floors were wooden and the ceilings low. We were famished when we reached. A nice lady came to our room to ask for our dinner plan and take order for the same. Why she took the order so soon became apparent to us when we went to eat. They took their own sweet time to prepare the food. The same people were the cook, attendant and at the reception. But the wait was worth it as we had some good snacks and coffee to keep us warm and nice. The food was deliciously homely and wholesome. We talked to the guy at the bar and discovered that he had lived in India (Bangalore) for a while. He spoke decent Hindi as well. Tired of all the travel we went to sleep in the lovely rooms made comforting by the room heaters.
The next morning was beautiful. I could see snow clad peaks from the window of my room. Refreshed after a bath, I went to the restaurant for breakfast.
We asked for the breakfast to be served outside with the sun shining bright and a chill still in the air. Hot parathas, omelette, coffee and butter toast were a delight to be had then.
The sightseeing began with the Paro airport viewpoint. Imagine a nice clean runaway. Now imagine high peaks on one side of it. Then stretch your eyes to the other side of the runway where a river runs clean and bright. And there you have the Paro airport view. It was magnificent. We waited to capture a take off in our cameras.
Happy with the start of the day, we moved to our next stop, Rinpung Dzong, a large Drukpa Kagyu Buddhist monastery and fortress. It was huge and pristine. There were so many rooms, such a big hall and a grand doorway.
On the door I was told to stay back though. Apparently one cannot enter the monastery wearing capris/ shorts. I requested the guard to let me in but to no avail. All my friends had gone in by then and I was being jealous when it occurred to me that I could buy/ borrow clothes. I pestered the guard some more and seeing my determination he smiled and told me to check if I could find something in the canteen nearby. The Bhutanese people turned out to be very helpful. I borrowed a pair of trousers and went in. The inside of the place was even more majestic. We clicked countless pictures, climbed at the top of the structure through scary, steep staircase, looked around and posed with monks and stepped in the worship place. It was a beautiful and calming place which offered a meditating atmosphere to a jumping jack like me, even if for a few minutes.
We then went to see the oldest monastery, Kyichu Lhakhang, I believe. And we were shown another beautiful monastery from a distance, Taktshang Lhakhang (Tiger’s Nest), to reach where we would have had to trek for 3.5-4 hours.
Pressed for time, we let it go. Then we followed the lovely river (I can’t believe I didn’t ask anyone what it was called!). There were archers on the banks at some places and beautiful scenery all around. I could just sit there looking at the water, mountains and the sky forever.
Later we went to the market for lunch and just look around. This was the part of trip that enchanted me the most (and no, it wasn’t because I was in the market to shop 😛 ) There were hardly any people around. And for a citizen of the second most populated country in the world, it is a unique sight. I mean, I haven’t seen such tranquil market anywhere, even in the leanest populated parts of the country. There was a calmness and serenity associated with that experience. Adding to the effect was the fact that Bhutan is a ‘smoke less’ country. Smoking is banned and there is hardly any pollution. It was evident from the night skies full of bright stars that I hardly get to gaze at elsewhere, the pristine ‘sky’ blue color of the sky, the crystal clear lakes/ rivers, clean roads and most of all the, the absence of noise. I loved the place.
After lunch we headed back to our resort, enjoyed and geared ourselves for the return journey down the winding roads of the ‘The land of the thunder dragon’.
P.S. The trip helped me cross one of my bucket list items, yay!