Doars and Bhutan 297 During my stay at “Vinaday.com inn” in  Ho Chi Minh(Saigon) on  my solo  tour of Vietnam and Cambodia in December -2013  happened to meet  Mr Vincent.Yeoh.Koh of Singapore, an avid World  traveler .He  made me realize the advantage of being a Indian national for  visiting Bhutan as he  had personally toured the Country and was charmed by its  natural beauty barring  the exorbitant  cost of touring this tiny Himalayan Kingdom also called the Last Shangrila. All foreigners have to pay a minimum of U.S $250/Day to a local registered travel agent  for visiting Bhutan, except Indian Nationals , making it the costliest tourist destination for a majority of economy or backpacker  World tourists. I was amazed at my ignorance on Bhutan.As usual  on returning to Mumbai  from my tour planned my logistics from my home in Mumbai , the “Internet” being my robotic companion. Paro is the only airport in Bhutan while Bagdogra in West Bengal is the nearest airport to Gangtok or Darjeeling.I decided to  opt for the cheaper but tedious and time consuming adventurer route of train travel from Mumbai to New Jalpaiguri Station in West Bengal.It would be  a lengthy journey of  approx 2185 Kms  by the “15645/Guwahati Express”.From  New Jalpaiguri station  it would be another approx 240 Kms by road travel to Thimphu, the Capital of Bhutan. Hence decided that my next solo marathon travel  adventure tour would be Bhutan and the North -East Indian  hill-stations of Darjeeling in West Bengal  and Gangtok in Sikkim by train and road transport .

Doars and Bhutan 003

.Doars and Bhutan 002 On Tuesday(14-1-2014)  visited “Samarth Services” in Worli fish market and booked a A/c train ticket (Rs1850 approx)  on the “15645/Guwahati Express”  from Mumbai to New Jalpaiguri(NJP) station in the State of  West Bengal.My scheduled date of travel  from  “Lokmanyatilak Terminus(LTT) “ in Mumbai was Saturday(8-3-2014).A week later booked my train tickets for the return journey to Mumbai as its easier to get plane tickets than train tickets in India and hence a minimum of 2 months advance booking is the norm.

Air  & Land Route for touring  Bhutan  and  Indian hill-station of Darjeeling  and  State of Sikkim 

Saturday(8-3-2014) :-  Boarded Nos 53 bus near my residence in Prabhadevi and reached “L.T.T” Kurla station at approx 0630 hrs.India’s most luxurious train the “MAHARAJAH EXPRESS” was parked on platform No 1 and posed for a photo in front of this most expensive tourist train.Made my way to platform No 2 and boarded  Compartment B3 and onto seat 6  of the “Guwahati Express”, the train leaving the station punctually at 0805 hrs.My co-passengers were a young men , a few from the armed forces and hence the grueling train journey was a mixture of conversation and reading the Mike.Tyson biography  “Undisputed Truth” , a real no-holds tell-all tale from one of the World’s greatest and most controversial heavyweight boxer.The train was delayed by 4 hours and thanks to Mike .Tyson biography , a long and tedious train journey was tolerable.

Monday(10-3-2013) NEWS THAT DEVASTED MY LIFE :- Was expected to reach “N.J.P.T” station at the unearthly hour of 0110 hrs , the 4 hour delay adding to the confusion.Couldn’t sleep the entire night as my anxiety of overshooting the station was playing on my mind.Consulted my fellow travellers and one family advised me to get down at “Alipurduar station” and catch a bus to Pheuntsholing.Our train finally reached N.J.P.T station at 0400 hrs and i extended my ticket paying a extra Rs 450.At approx  0630 hrs as  we were approaching the Alipurduar  station i got the “HEART ATTACK NEWS” from my house-keeper Sabina.Dias that my 22 year old Alexandrine parakeet “Mittoo” was lying dead in his cage.Thanks to my “Speculation profession” i am accustomed to reacting to losses, profits and deaths !“Mittoo” has his own “Fan Following” under the pseudonym “Mittoo alias mittoo the poppat” and his untimely death was a body blow , akin to losing a 22 year old son.I gave instructions to Sabina to store his dead body in the refrigerator in order to get him stuffed by a taxidermist,memories of a once lively non-human companion. I have owned and lost many pets over my life-span but “Mittoo “ was special because of his longevity and unbelievable talent for mimicry. “Its better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.”Mittoo” a big thanks for the 22 long years of companionship.I intended completing my entire tour as planned in memory of “Mittoo”.

“Gateway to Bhutan” from India. Entry gate into Pheuntsholing  in Bhutan from Jaigaon  in India.

 

On alighting the train at Alipurduar  i caught a taxi , paying a mind-boggling Rs 1300 for the journey to Pheuntsholing as i had to hire the entire car. It was a beautiful journey through Doar region of forests, passing through the “Buxar Tiger Reserve” which has the highest tiger density in West Bengal .

Doars and Bhutan 006

First time in my life i had seen tea plantations on level fields akin to rice plantations in South India with tea-puckers at their early morning job of “Tea-plucking”. There were a few sign boards in the jungle pathways along the main road labeled “Elephant corridor” , the normal routes of wild jungle elephants  that also occasionally destroy crops or antagonize surrounding villagers.En-route we came across some park-rangers trying to board two domesticated elephants onto a truck.I told the driver to stop the car and was as usual busy producing my “VIDEO-MOVIE DOCUMENTARY”.One of the elephants, a large male tusker was refusing to enter the truck and trumpeted  his anger.Unwittingly the game warden thought i was a nuisance and distraction through my video-filming and he showed his authority little realizing that i too could have been a “Game Warden” with my experience of animals and zoo visits.

Doars and Bhutan 016

The Warden charged at me wanting to seize my camera and i had to beg him with folded hands to let me go, the actor in me  vying for a Sharukh.Khan role.My unique facial appearance and style must have antagonized the game warden as elephants can react dangerously to strangers.Luckily the wardens temper cooled down and he let us drive away, myself having been dealt a double blow, first the death of “Mittoo” and later almost getting imprisoned and my  camera destroyed   by the wild-life authorities. Doars and Bhutan 013In hindsight the Rs 1300 private taxi fare was worth the money as it introduced me to the Doars region and the “Buxa tiger reserve” besides helping  me reach Pheuntsholing early compared to the normal traditional route.At approx 0930 hrs i reached Pheuntsholing and quickly made my way to the‘Bhutan Immigration Office”.I was feeling hot in my sweater with Mumbai seeming colder ! Bhutan time is half an hour ahead of Indian time, hence adjustment of watches.The Immigration office for tourists was on the first floor and after filling a form and attaching a “Passport photo” to the form  sat on a chair  for a computer photo.After approx a half an hours wait  i was issued a “Tourist Permit” allowing me a stay in the country from Monday(10-3-2013) to Friday(14-3-2013) with permission to tour only Thimphu and Paro..The Bhutanese currency is the “Bhutanese Ngultrum” and is on par with the Indian rupee.The “Indian rupee” is also accepted as equivalent currency in Bhutan but mostly only Rs 100 note denominations. Dzongkha is the local Bhutanese language but almost every Bhutanese speaks or understands Hindi language while English is the medium of education in schools. At approx 1030 hrs  boarded a mini-bus for Thimphu , a long journey of 6 to 7 hours  .Thimphu is situated at an altitude varying from  2,248 meters( 7,375 feet) to  2648 meters(8688 feet) in the constricted  Wang Chu river(Thimphu Chu )  valley . “Chu” means river in Bhutanese language.As we gained elevation through the mountainous roads i could literally feel the change in temperature from hot Jaigaon(India)/Pheuntsholing(Bhutan) to the cold clear mountain breeze .My co-passenger was a Indian businessman and he did provide insights into this beautiful isolated Country.On the way i had to show my “Tourist Permit” at two checkpoints.We stopped for lunch at a restaurant where i ordered “Pork/rice curry” with a beer , the pork being as tough as raw hide, dried preserved meat. Came across a “Farmers Market” at a bus-stop type stall where local farmers displayed their wares to locals and tourists.Smoking and Tobacco items are strictly banned in Bhutan but i observed  that “Beetle Leaf(Paan)” and “Beetle nuts(Supari)” was very popular amongst locals, the same being sold at the “Farmers market” along with vegetables.We finally reached Thimphu bus station at approx 1630 hrs.I hired a taxi  being unashamedly  honest of wanting to be guided to the cheapest accommodation in the city.On all my “Solo  Tours” my policy is to  live in the cheapest possible lodging while sightseeing on a billionaire’s tour budget !

At the “Clock-Tower” on Norzim Lam road in Thimphu.

.On a payment of Rs 80 the driver took me to “Hotel Ghasel food & Lodge” situated on  31/A Norzin Lam,  the heart of down-town Thimphu.I spoke to the hotel manager and was allotted “Room No 109” on the first floor . A  tiny attached/bathe room  with T.v at a rental of Rs 400/day(Off-Season rates).It was freezing cold in Thimphu and after a hot geyser shower made my way into the street.Bhutan was the 46th Country on my collection of World tours and hence although alone ,my “Internet Study” and travel experience proved useful  and  was all at home in a strange and new city.Walked down Norzin Lam street  towards the “Clock Tower” , the city centre and couldn’t believe that just six hours ago i was in India.The sparsely populated clean  city and the Bhutanese with their unique traditional attire gave the city a unique look .Can you believe being in a Capital city of a country  having no traffic signals for road traffic ?The 2012  census of Bhutan accounted for a total population of only 6,50,000 in the entire kingdom stretching over a area of approx 38,394 Sq Km.There was a single traffic  signal post on main Norzin Lam road with a traffic policeman directing one-way traffic in the peak evening hours. Most cars and taxi’s on the road were Indian make as also every other consumable commodity.Made my way into “Technet Cyber cafe” and  published the news of “Mittoo’s” demise on the Internet.Internet charges were expensive compared to India at Rs 50/hour.Having a sweet tooth  tasted a pastry and it was delicious, my dinner for the night.Came back to my tiny accommodation and browsed through the T.v, the “Malaysian Flight 370 Plane Disappearance” being the prime news.Bhutan television entertainment was totally dominated by Indian and Western soaps, sports and news with just two or three channels focusing on local entertainment.Except for the tiny t.v and tiny room, i felt i was watching Mumbai T.v at home !Sleep eluded me the entire night, the biting cold adding to my insomnia, a common ailment during my tours as acclimatization takes a few days or a day.

“BUDDHA DORDENMA” statue in Thimphu. One of the World’s largest Buddha statues.

Tuesday(11-3-2014) :- A sleepless night and awaiting daybreak to begin my exploration of Thimphu. After the normal toilet routines and a warm bathe put on my formal attire and made my way to the hotel restaurant.The receptionist Mrs Taqshi.Dheden was helpful and gave me a check-list as well as a bit of guidance  of the normal tour sites of Thimphu.”Hotel Ghasel” was a pure vegetarian restaurant which didn’t even serve eggs and hence breakfast was a normal toast/butter with tea.After breakfast  began a earnest exploration of the tourist sites beginning with  the “Memorial Chorten”.It was walking distance from the hotel, although a long walk in the chill cold morning.At approx 0745 hrs reached the memorial and met a Indian tourist, a travel organizer from Calcutta  who gave me some helpful tips on sightseeing in Thimphu.There were early morning devotees at the temple, chanting prayers holding the Buddhist  rosary and spinning the “Tibetan Prayer Wheels” of the temple. After a brief glimpse of the“Memorial Chorten”  made my way to the main road and engaged a taxi for a tour of the distant tourist sites around  Thimphu.After a bit of bargaining the taxi driver agreed to show me a few sites at a rental of Rs 860.The ” Thimphu Chu(Wang Chu) river” meanders its way across Thimphu and it was a long drive across a winding mountain towards “Buddha Dordenma” statue.On the way we passed by “Pelkhil School”, a scenic educational institution on the banks of the Thimphu Chu river.Finally at approx 0815 hrs reached “Buddha Dordenma” situated on a mountain top with a beautiful view of Thimphu city.I was one of the earliest tourists and later came across a lonely Canadian tourist with her local Bhutanese guide , later more tourists filling the place with their local guides.All foreigners barring Indians have to deposit a daily tourist fee of 250 U.S $’s/day with a local Bhutanese tourist company in order to get a “Tourist Visa” to the Country making Bhutan the costliest Country for budget backpacker economy tourists.After a brief tour of the site walked towards Kuenselphodrang nature park just a few meters away from the Buddha statue.Bhutan is a Bird-watcher and Butterfly tourist destination and the location and isolation of this forested  park in Thimphu city was evidence of a nature paradise.The opening hours for the park was 0900hrs – 1800 hrs and hence i was too early for a exploration walk inside this beautiful forested location.Our next drive was to the “Changangkha Lhakhang Monastery” , arriving at approx 0930 hrs.

 

 “Changangkha Lhakhang Monastery

Its a fortress temple and monastic school perched on a cliff  above Thimphu.There were tourists as well as pilgrims inside the Monastery with a beautiful view of Thimphu from the top of the temple. I removed my shoes and entered the temple where a Tibetan Buddhist ritual  was in progress, a few Caucasian tourists seated on the temple floor along with the monks.After visiting the prayer chamber  had a talk with the local care-taker of the Monastery.The next agenda was the highest priority on my tourist visit list, “The  Takin Preserve Zoo”. It was a long drive to the “Motithang Takin Preserve” located in the Motithang district of Thimphu.Entry to the zoo was free and there were a few American tourists along with their local Bhutanese guide. The Takin is the National animal of Bhutan since the 15th century.A Tibetan saint by the name of  Lama Drukpa.Kunley(The divine madman) is credited for having  created the Takin with its unique features,the head of a goat and the body of a cow.Got to view and pat this animal as a single specimen was next to the wired enclosure.Its a harmless and docile animal with a lazy and slow  gait.

The Takin.

These animals are found in the forests of Bhutan and are unharmed, held sacred in Bhutanese culture due to religious sentiments.This was the last taxi tour of the allotted taxi fare and i was dropped near the main city centre library.The “National library and archives of Bhutan” has the distinction of owning the World’s largest published book certified by the “Guinness book of World Records”. This book has 114 pages weighing over 150 pounds.It opens 5 * 7 feet !The guide of the library Mr Phurva gave me a personal tour as i was the only visitor at approx 1045 hrs in the morning.He was dressed in the traditional  men’s “Gho” of Bhutan and very polite and informative. One glaring aspect that i observed was the Americanized English accent spoken by the elite educated Bhutanese as television programmes are a daily dosage of Indian and American soaps, movies and news.Strolled around the small well maintained library, most of the other books being religious scriptures.Made my way out of the library and was surprised to see a man selling  “Human penis” shaped carvings along with other handicrafts to tourists  outside the library premises.In any other country this would have been a cause for “Pornography ban” but in Bhutan it has a historical religious significance.                                                                              

“Penis Shaped Handicrafts” along with Face Masks

 Lama Drukpa.Kunley(The divine madman) is the reason for the human penis being a source of  talisman in Bhutan used to  to drive away evil spirits.“Penis Paintings” adorn some house walls as a sign of  good luck .Lama Drukpa.Kunley  is also known by the title “The saint of 5000 women” as women would seek his blessing in the form of sex. This is also one of the reasons for Bhutan’s unique and isolated status on the World Geographical map.In which other  country are Penis’s or Vagina’s  painted outside houses akin to art ?The Penis holds a very strong religious and cultural significance in Bhutanese society, totally unpolluted by pornographic hallucinations of the “Sex Industry”.Purchased a “Thunder Dragon” curio  from this handicraft shop, just photographing the various shaped “Penises” for my photographic bank of a “Been here seen that” World collection.I was thinking of purchasing a “Penis Curio” but realized that in India  my house would be “Taboo” if the same was exhibited in my “World art collection”, mistaken for “Dildo’s”.

Common public housing in Thimphu.

The streets in Thimphu were clean akin to First World Country’s with no skyscrapers, most buildings being three or four storeys and uniform in architectural design.Visited the Post office, a large one storeyed building in prime Norzin Lam street.The Bhutan Central bank and the Central Post office  were situated on the ground floor of this  building.All public buildings and places including the Bhutan Central post office  have  a large portrait of the King of Bhutan.  Purchased three Bhutanese stamps, my usual hobby as a tourist  besides purchasing cheap  art and curio collection which has appreciated over the years and decades.Next visited a chic arts shop “Lungta arts craft and jewelries”.Saw a beautiful collection of crafted enameled  small  sea-shells costing between  Rs 15,000 to Rs 30,000 imported from Nepal. Purchased a“Yak bone ring” as a good luck charm and later made my way for lunch at the “Sunlight Restaurant & Bar”, a local restaurant.Tuesday was a “Dry Day” in Bhutan with  no liquor served in public places and hence had to be content with a tame pork noodles lunch.Finished my lunch by 1230 hrs and strolled down the “Craft Bazaar” on Norzin Lam road, a row of small shops selling curio’s , handicrafts and clothes.

Classy  and Billionaire  rental “TAJ TASHI” hotel in Thimphu.

Next visited the “Taj Tashi”, the majestic 5-star hotel of Thimphu. Inquired the cheapest room rates and was horrified to note that the cheapest room was available at only 550 U.S $/Day( approx Rs 34,000/day), the hotel being just walking distance from my Rs 400/day hotel ! Well the billionaire class and the economy class tourist can always rub shoulders in any city, least of all in the “Thunder Dragon”  isolated unique city of Thimphu.From the “Taj Tashi”  walked to the ” Royal Textile Academy Museum” situated within walking distance on Norzim Lam road.

“Craft Bazaar” shops.

 

The “Royal Textile Academy building” was of modern 21st century construction having been inaugurated on 5th June 2013 by the Queen Mother Sangay.Choden.Wangchuk. There was a nominal entrance fee for the museum. I observed that the “Entry Fee” to most museums in Thimphu was cheap compared to International tourist standards and the reasons could be the compulsory 250 U.S $/day tourist fee barring Indian tourists.Photography was prohibited and the museum textile exhibits were unique and beautifully presented.The indigenous Bhutanese textile industry was displayed with captions and mannequin models.The National dress of Bhutan is what makes the Country unique akin to the Scottish Kilts worn in Scotland. A Television displayed the method of wearing the traditional men’s “Gho” a knee length dress akin to the Japanese Kimono which is tied to the waist by  a traditional belt known as Kera. The  traditional women’s  dress is the “Kira”, a long dress upto the ankle with a outer jacket known as a tego and the inner layer known as wonju.The Royal family’s wedding ceremonial dress was also on display.This was the only building in which i used a “LIFT”, the modern 21st century building in Bhutan.Walked towards the “Bhutan Olympic Committee “ stadium complex  and was surprised at the sports facilities and popularity of soccer, tennis and basketball as also the total absence of Cricket.In my entire sightseeing of the city i never came across kids playing cricket nor any cricket pitch.The popular sports  television programmes in Bhutan screened World cricket matches and Indian culture is all over Bhutanese television. It.It would take a psychologist to answer the reason for Sachin.Tendulkar being a total unknown in Bhutanese public advertisements  akin to we Indians being consumers of American culture but still strangers to American Football and Base-ball stars and the game!Archery is the National passion and sport of Bhutan.There were large tennis courts and basketball courts within  the main stadium complex.The main ground  was a olympic style  football pitch with astro-turf.I walked onto the deserted football pitch and for the first time in my life felt the feel and softness of astro-turf. Carrom is a very popular  pastime among the locals,played outside shops.At approx 1430 hrs i returned back to my hotel, all within short walking distance on the famous Norzin Lam Street. Hotel Ghasel seemed to be doing  good business as the restaurant was crowded with customers. Purchased a local “Druk 1100” beer and celebrated my 54th birthday alone in my tiny room  above the restaurant watching television.After the age of 50 i hate celebrating birthdays as they remind me of my mortality on Planet Earth, besides, Mittoo’s sudden untimely  demise altered my mind-set on life and living. Today is to be alive and lived  as tomorrow you might be dead !After a brief rest in my hotel room at approx 1600 hrs  i headed out into the street.

Thimphu Olympic Football stadium.

 

Headed towards Hongkong Market, a parallel street  above  Norzin Lam street.This is a cheaper locality unlike the plush Norzin Lam locality and sells all types of consumable goods.Visited the vegetable markets and on inquiry realized that all the vegetables were imported from India. All the meat shops were closed for the  month  of March due to a Buddhist religious belief and hence the locals ate dried meat and fish.Bhutanese consume all types of non-vegetarian food, pork being the favourite. There were a lot of stray dogs on the streets of Thimphu, well fed and tame strays which tend to bark at night.. Seems Bhutanese are fond of these stray dogs and tolerate their non-earthly hours barking.The cold climate gives most of these strays a good thick glossy coat unlike the mangy strays normally seen in hot climate city’s. Walkled towards “Bhutan-Thailand Friendship Park”, a small park built in 2009 in the heart of downtown Thimphu.Later in the evening made my way  towards the . the local bus-stand as “Taxi Travel” made me feel elitist,very artificial, not my usual back-packers agenda and method of exploring a new city or country.The buses were crowded with local school children, all dressed in the national dress.Intended seeing the King’s residence   and hence inquired with a local bus passenger in the bus queue.He misguided me saying that “Dechencholing Palace”, the  Royal residence was just half an hour by bus.Luckily i got down from the bus before it started, having re-confirmed the address with another local traveller, a young lady who told me that it was the last stop, about 7 Kms  from the city centre.I am a gambler by profession  but definitely weigh my odds.

 

The single and only “TRAFFIC POLICEMAN” in Thimphu on  Norzin Lam Road.

Travelling in a unknown city by local bus at dusk was definitely not worth the gamble, although Bhutan is considered one of the safest Country’s on Planet Earth. .From the bus stand made my way to “Mona Internet Cafe”  a normal internet parlour close to my hotel.Inside this parlour was a video-game parlour called “Aadda” and was surprised to find young kids busy playing “Video Games”, the most popular game being “English Soccer”.From here walked to the local cyber cafe and whiled away my time, the cost being Rs 50/hour.Dinner was at approx 1830 hrs at a plush restaurant “New Ama’s”  on Norzin Lam street.Got to read  the English version of “Kuensel”, the National newspaper of Bhutan which  is  also published in Dzongkha and  Nepali.The restaurant food was average, although classy.After dinner came back to my hotel and spent the night watching T.v, a total sleepless night in shivering cold.My sightseeing tour of Thimpu had come to a end and tomorrow would be departure to Paro. Bhutan has a philosophy of “GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS” to promote social and economic development in the Kingdom.Collective happiness of the people is important irrespective of personal economic wealth.This is what makes Bhutan unique  and a prosperous country where economic prosperity is also linked to holistic mind thinking.

“Rinpung Dzhong” in Paro.

 

Thimphu taxi drivers dressed in their traditional Gho.

Wednesday(12-3-2014) :- Awaiting daylight after a sleepless night i quickly finished my normal toilet routines and packed for departure to Paro.At 0730 hrs made my way to the hotel restaurant and had a breakfast consisting of bread and jam. Hotel Ghasal was pure vegetarian with eggs also being taboo but liquor freely available.After completing the room payments i collected my luggage and headed onto my next adventure, Paro city.It was a lonely walk towards the taxi stand , the street later being crowded with school children.There was a huge hoarding across the main road  advertising a seminar on educational universities in India. Language is not a problem in Bhutan as almost everyone understands and speaks Hindi and hence walked towards the taxi/bus  terminus by asking for directions.

Highway to Paro blocked by “LANDSLIDE”.
Unique “PARO AIRPORT”,Bhutan’s only airport.

On reaching the taxi stand was quickly accosted by a taxi driver Mr Pema  and allotted his “Maruti R Wagon” , awaiting  passengers for a shared taxi drive to Paro.It was a total tourist “Off-Season” month  and hence getting passengers was a problem , besides, time was precious to my solo tour itinerary. I agreed for hiring the entire taxi  at  Rs 400 and so we finally left Thimphu at approx 0900 hrs.On the way he did manage collecting a few passengers and it was a long drive through a clear well paved road.Did stop on the way for a photo shoot of scenic houses and finally reached the bridge over the confluence of the river Wangchu and Paro Chu .It was the main bifurcation highway for Thimphu and Paro,Paro being just 24 Kms away with  the straight main highway leading to Pheuntsholing.Our taxi stopped at this scenic spot which also had small shops selling eatables and vegetables, a normal stop for taxi’s.Spotted a group of Macaque monkeys playing on the rock cliffs above the highway road, the monkeys seemed well fed.

Doars and Bhutan 248

After a brief stop we began our onward journey and came across a traffic jam due to a landslide on the highway. After a brief traffic jam we began our onward journey  and passed alongside Paro airport, the only airport in Bhutan.We finally reached Paro town at approx 1045 hrs and taxi driver Mr Pema guided me to cheap lodging also explaining me the main tourist locations of this small town of Bhutan.The taxi drivers in Bhutan are excellent guides, very helpful although the charges steep.

Main road of Paro Town.

On alighting from the taxi i walked across the road onto a cluster of small buildings and inquired for cheap lodging.  Paro town reminded me of a typical Swiss village, small, clean , sparsely populated and excellent cool weather.I was guided to “Brothers Hotel”, a small old building having a electrical/electronics workshop on the ground floor and situated next to the landmark Bhutan telecom transmission tower.A young lady with two young kids greeted me at the reception and allotted me  “Room Nos D-104” on the first floor, myself being the only guest in the entire lodge!Checked into my room and found it very spacious having a television  along with a large gallery with a grand view of the “Paro Chu “ river.Only drawback was the lack of running “Hot water”, the same provided through a heater element which took a hour for warming and hence decided to postpone bathing for the next day ! But then, at Rs 400/day room charges a miser accommodation  tourist can’t expect better amenities.I quickly undressed and changed attire and went to the ground-floor dining room and   requested the hotel  lady manager for lunch.Lunch was dried beef and rice with vegetables, authentic local Bhutanese cooking.Fresh non-vegetarian food was not available in entire Bhutan due to the closure of butcher shops for a month due to religious reasons and hence usage of dry non-vegetarian food.Bhutanese are total catholic in non-vegetarian eating habits which surprised me as they are basically Buddhists.The beef was as tough as leather and it was a experience of a life-time tasting dried beef meat.After lunch at approx 1230 hrs  began my walk  to “Rinpung Zhong”, a short walking distance from “Brothers Hotel”.On the way came across a veterinary  dispensary, the “Dzongkhag Vety Hospital” where a St Bernard owned by monks was a patient.

Doars and Bhutan 274

It was a ferocious dog unlike normal St Bernards and the monk had to restrict the dog from barking at me, the weirdo lone unaccompanied  tourist.Now you know my reasons for comparing Paro to a Swiss village, lots of similarities including the exotic  pets.Bhutanese are fond of dogs and akin to Thimphu there were numerous harmless stray dogs on the road.From the veterinary hospital  walked across the cantilever wooden  bridge built over the Paro Chu river and entered the courtyard of Rinpung Dzong.Spotted strange black birds that resembled crows but had yellow feet and beaks.Next was a climb up a flight of rock stairs to the entrance of Rinpung Dzong guarded by two  policemen.They inspected my entry permit and inquired if i had a guide, the normal tourist procedure in Bhutan.After police clearance i entered the majestic Dzong and studied the large Buddhist religious paintings on the interior walls.The Dzong was made of stones and Rinpung means  “Heaps of jewels”.Most of the treasures of the Rinpong Dzong was destroyed in a fire in 1907 and the present frescoes are all modern paintings.A tourist couple were being explained the intricacies of the various paintings and i unashamedly eavesdropped on the lecture, happy to understand a few of the frescoes.From the narrow entrance one enters the main courtyard of the Dzong.There are a total of 14 shrines and chapels inside the Rinpung Zong, all banned for tourists.The Dzong also houses the Government administrative offices of Paro Dzongkhag. There were a few monks inside the main courtyard and one of them Mr Tenjo.Dorji  spoke to me , explaining the basic importance of Paro.

Inside the main courtyard of Rinpung Dzong

The view of Paro from the elevated height of the Dzong was magnificent and got a view of the distant Himalayan snow-capped mountains.Came across a pregnant tabby cat and did a selfie-photo with the cat, very tame and docile.Spotted young child monks, one of them offering me his traditional sword. They were playing marbles and after decades i saw kids playing the simple children street-side pass-time of marbles, almost extinct in my home city of Mumbai .The Internet and computer era  has robbed most 21st century children the joys of simple childhood games, the present trend being “Computer illusion games”.Thats life, change is permanent but in some places change is also accommodating tradition.In 1993 the film “LITTLE BUDDHA” was partly filmed at the Rinpung Dzong.This is what makes Bhutan unique and isolated, the land of the “Thunderdragon”.After admiring the scenic beauty of Paro landscape from the Dzong i made my way to the exit, one of the few tourists in the Dzong.

A common Bhutanese village  house on the hill to Ta Dzong.

My next tour itinerary was the “National  Museum of Bhutan “ situated in a former watchtower  called Ta Dzong on a hill above Rinpung Dzong.Hill and mountainous regions are very deceptive for judging distances by the human eye.On exiting Rinpung Dzong  the museum seemed just a short uphill trek across rugged terrain.I decided to trek to the top of the hill , a almost barren hill with just a few houses  on the way.The trek was treacherous, not as simple as i estimated and the narrow pathway  seemed un-used for ages, covered with thorns and shrubs. A slip of foot meant serious physical damage.

Paro city.Typical city buildings of Bhutan.

A small isolated house was perched midway from the hill and the owner of the house guided me towards a pathway that criss-crossed his house.I followed his directions and got myself into more trekking trouble finally deciding to quit being a penny wise and pound foolish mule.Decided to turn back and go back to the main road and walk down the road or hail a taxi. On returning i was aghast at the sight of a huge human penis painting on the wall of the  house of the man who guided me a few minutes ago . I had seen “Penis Curio’s” in Thimphu but never ever a magnified penis on a wall akin to a Pablo. Picasso or M.F  Hussein figurine  paintings. The fool hardy trek was worth just for this time-less authentic photograph of unique Bhutan where the male penis is a symbol of good luck.We normally see the female sex organs being glorified in literature and art.In fact i saw this house-holds family, a young couple with a young child, a simple Bhutanese family.Dazed and relieved for trekking back to the main road in a single body i next inquired for a taxi.Taxi’s were unavailable as the few tourists always have escorted guided tours.Hence decided to walk all the way to the top again underestimating hill distances.The walk seemed endless, the cold weather saving me from dehydration and fatigue.Luckily a engaged taxi came my way and the occupants agreed to give me a lift back to Rinpung Dzong entrance gate.After the occupants alighted the taxi i requested the driver to take me to the museum to which he agreed.Finally after a abandoned, foolhardy and adventurous trek i did reach Ta Dzong with the help of a taxi.Photography was not allowed inside the “National museum of Bhutan”.The museum is worth the visit as  a tourist gets to understand the geography and cultural  history of Bhutan. It was at this museum that i was surprised to read that the 2012 population census of Bhutan  was only 6,50,000 people ! Compare this population to just a single locality of Mumbai, Kolkotta or Delhi .Bhutan is also one of the rare Asian country’s never ever to have been colonized by a foreign power. Viewed the “Mask Section” where a brief explanation was given as to the meaning and significance of various “Animal & Bird Masks” in Bhutanese culture.There is also a Natural history section that houses stuffed animals and birds of Bhutan.After visiting the museum i made my way back  by taxi collecting the previous occupants  and hence sharing the taxi fare back to Paro at a cost of Rs 200.Alighted the taxi in the main city and loitered around, the town reminding me of Engelberg in Switzerland, absolutely desolate with a lack of human population and clean and tidy.Besides food i love tasting the local indigenous liquor of the Country or city i visit and hence decided to search for the local Bhutanese brew “ARA”. Ara is made from maize, wheat , millet or rice and fermented, in private houses or farms.Ara is also produced for religious purposes , mostly in eastern Bhutan..Inquired at a local wine shop and was directed towards a small grocery shop where a lady gave me the brew in a bottle, costing only Rs 50.Cheaper than Mumbai hooch! Made my way back to my hotel room and after depositing the bottle had a talk with a local businessman in “Brothers electronics repairing & sale shop”,a flourishing business , the ancillary unit of “Brothers Hotel”.Interesting conversation and he also told me that there was a “Archery Stadium” nearby where the sport was played daily.At approx 1700 hrs i  headed towards the archery ground, all within walking distance from “Brothers Hotel”. Paro is a small one-horse town and a person can never get lost within this small city.The “Archery Ground” was  on the same route as Rinpung Dzong.On entering the  large archery ground thinking that it was empty i walked across the end of the ground.As i was walking i suddenly heard a group of men shouting at me from the opposite end of the ground.Ignoring the shouts i casually walked to the other-side of the ground only to later realize that i had narrowly escaped becoming a arrow target by the group of men playing archery from the other end of the ground.Archery is the national pass-time and sport in Bhutan akin to Cricket in India.

“Archery Tournament” in Paro.(145 meters target)

These group of men were shooting with American imported hunting bows costing between Rs 60,000 to Rs 1,00,000 with  the target  range being 145 meters.Akin to bowling a over in cricket  they change sides after shooting a certain specified amount of arrows from one end of the 145 meters archery pitch.The target is similar to a wicket in cricket, a wooden board with a “Bulls Eye” target.Having personally witnessed this sport and having tried air-gun target shooting myself should say that shooting a arrow from 145 meters is superhuman archery.These men gambled on money through “Points system “ akin to points in rifle shooting.Spent the evening conversing and photographing  these professional archers who also played in the night under flood-lights akin to night cricket  matches.They told me that many  people had died accidentally in the sport of  145 meters archery in Bhutan , definitely a modern day gladiator sport.In America these bows are utilized for hunting animals and not for target practice .This type of archery is not in the Olympics format, a pure Bhutanese version of the sport akin to the modern invention of “T-20 Cricket”.I promised them that i would definitely visit them the next day to witness “Floodlights Archery shooting”. As dusk settled i made my way back to the hotel, luck and a divine force saving me from a brutal accidental bow and arrow death.A charmed life ! Dinner was “Bhutanese pork/rice” at “Brothers hotel”, the same dried recipe only a little softer than the leather tough beef at lunch.It was chilling cold in my spacious room and my normal night sleeping clothing since Thimphu  consisted of two sweater, a long john and track pant covered with double blankets while in bed.This is one reason that emigrating from “Garm(Warm)” Mumbai to other Country’s or city’s  never ever occurred in my mind as i can’t withstand extreme cold for long duration’s irrespective of monetary incentives or personal living conditions.

Solo trek to Taktsang Monastery(Tigers Nest) at an altitude of 3120 meters(10,240 ft). A trek of 900 meters(3000 feet) above the  Paro valley.

 

Thursday(13-3-2014) :- Woke up at approx 0330 hrs, the first time that i actually got some sleep after arriving in Bhutan.Inserted the geyser rod, a crude  repaired heater spare part by “Brothers Electronics & repair sales shop” into a bucket of water .The mechanic told me that  the normal heating time for bubbling hotness was  approx a hour, fantastic indigenous modification from electrical trash..Today i would be trekking all the way to Taktsang monastery, the greatest “SOLO TREK” in my entire trekking career post sea-sailing retirement.My inspiration  to  trek to Taktsang Monastery  was acquired by reading the adventurous blogs of London  mountaineer Mr Mark.Horrell, a avid mountain climber who has written numerous mountaineering books having also climbed Mt Everest among his numerous mountain peak conquests. His style of writing was simple and lucid without much mountaineering technical jargon  and he considered the simple trek to Taktsang Monastery as one of his best mountaineering experiences which  included  climbing the great Mt Everest and other lesser peaks ! This comment from a Mountaineer veteran carried a lot of authority, akin to a prominent  horse trainer tipping a “Derby horse winner”.Taktsang Monastery is the symbol of Bhutan, the picture postcard monastery   hanging on a mountain cliff at a altitude of 3120 meters(10,240 ft). After a hot water bath dressed into warm clothing and made my way out of the hotel.Barring a pack of stray dogs there were few humans on the street of Paro at the unearthly hour of 0700 hrs.The dogs did bark at me and must have woken up a few locals.Walked upto the local taxi stand and booked a  private taxi costing Rs 250 to drop me at the base of the Taktsang trek route.It was a long drive of approx 10 Kms through the scenic countryside of Paro where “Rice farming” is the main occupation.Most prominent are the “Tibetan prayer flags” hung on hill-sides and small bridges.The taxi driver did get a few passengers en-route which added to his route earnings since this was a total tourist off-season .He was initially reluctant to cart me at   only Rs 250 for the 10 Km trip ,definitely not profitable, just a recovery of petrol money.

“MULES” are used by pilgrims and tourists.

At approx 0730 hrs  the taxi reached the base of the Taktsang trail, myself being the first and only tourist at this unearthly morning hour.Payed the cab driver and made my way towards the pack of mules tethered at a corner of the densely pine forested area.The charges for a mule ride to almost 3/4 of the trek distance  was Rs 800. A lady was selling walking sticks and i decided to purchase one costing Rs 50  as i didn’t want to strain my legs in the beginning of my  marathon solo backpackers tour .Backpacking solo tour  management was my criteria, besides personal physical fitness.On Thursday(13-3-2014) at approx 0745 hrs  i was the first person to enter the trail to the mysterious Taktsang Monastery.The initial  trail was simple as i had to just follow the very prominent “MULE TRACKS”, the weather excellent, a cool clear bright day.I was more worried of  encountering the elusive snow leopard or some other wild animal  rather than of losing my way .There were dust-bins  allocated at various points along the route with a message from the King to preserve Bhutan’s pristine forests and natural beauty.I walked at a leisure pace, stopping at times to admire the beauty of the forested Himalayas. From being the first person to enter the “Taktsang Monastery Trail” i was now gradually being overtaken by mules and other pilgrims and tourists.

The initial wide trek path to Taktsang monastery.

A mule pack carrying heavy luggage overtook me as also a couple of tourists along with their guides.At approx 0830 hrs i reached the first prominent rest-stop, the “Horse-trail point(Mule)” where there was a drinking trough and tap water for the mules.I quenched my thirst from the tap water, least bothered that i was consuming unfiltered “Mule water” !Besides my walking stick and heavy binoculars i was not carrying a haversack as i normally did on my numerous hill-fort monsoon treks in my home state of Maharashtra.The cool climate was conducive to uphill mountain trekking, besides, trekking was a late life hobby that i adjusted very well  into my outdoors entertainment.This trek brought back memories of the “Mt Sinai Trek” in Egypt  which i had  accomplished  in 2008 on a packaged Holy Land pilgrimage tour with “Mosiac tours “ of Mumbai. On that trek camels were used to cart pilgrims while here it was mules, besides, Sinai was barren cold  desert  land while Taktsang was evergreen cold  Himalayan pine forests.After a brief rest at the“Horse Trail Point”  began my upward climb, the same getting steeper.Came across “Tibetan prayer flags” fluttering in the wind throughout the  trek. At approx 0845 hrs came across  a rest-stop where there was a huge Tibetan prayer wheel for pilgrims. A few  Taiwanese pilgrims dressed in yellow clothing arrived at this point on mules.They performed their religious rites on the prayer wheel and we made our way towards the “Taktsang Cafeteria” a short walking distance from the prayer wheel.This cafeteria is run by the Bhutan tourism corporation Ltd with prices slightly lower than 5-star hotel rates. meant purely for the guided tourists.Strange, i was the first to enter the Taktsang trail but saw numerous tourists with guides sipping tea and biscuits with a indescribable view of  the mountains and forest.Got the first glimpse of the precariously perched Taktsang monastery from this cafeteria site, just beautiful.

Tourists at the “Taktsang Cafeteria”.

This Cafeteria was at  the half-way mark of the trek to the Monastery which seemed deceptively close when viewed as the crow flies direction.Drank the costliest cup of tea along with two biscuits which cost me Rs 110 ! Observed a Yellow billed magpie stealing biscuits from the tourists, least afraid akin to crows on normal land.At high altitudes the cost of commodities increases due to portage charges as the mule wagon  is definitely not ordinary transport.After relaxing for a few minutes at this plush cafeteria began my onward journey following the mule trail and the Taiwanese pilgrims.Now i was feeling the rarefied atmosphere but was surprised to find many elder Caucasian tourists trekking at a brisk rate with heavy haversacks, most notably a lonely Australian backpacker tourist.

Taiwanese Pilgrims on Mules with their guides

 

“Taktsang Monastery” view at start of “STAIRCASE CLIMB”

I realized that compared to most Caucasian tourists, i was just about average as a mountain trekker.Many elderly women were much faster than me on the trek, my only consolation being that i was  the first tourist to enter Taktsang trail on Thursday the 13th of March 2014!Another reason for my slow climb was the fact that i didn’t want to spend all my energy on a single day as i had a long trail of mountainous sightseeing ahead on my tour agenda.I was timing my energy akin to a marathon runner.After an hours trek at approx 1000 hrs  i finally reached the last stage of the “Mule Stop”, end of the mule ride for pilgrims and tourists.It was now a common walk  for all people wanting to enter “Taktsang Monastery”.It was a torturous downward walk towards a small   Buddhist temple from where the beautiful Taktsang Monastery  seemed near , just across the mountain over a flight of stone steps cut on the mountain-side.Tibetan prayer flags was fluttering in the breeze and the bright sunshine making the view a copybook for professional photographers. Normally there is mist across the monastery and hence visibility low but Thursday the 13th seemed a lucky day for us, just classic mountain brightness. The staircase trek to the monastery  was the toughest of the entire trek, deceptively easy and close akin to a mirage in a desert.From a distance and photographs a person might be perplexed as to the means of reaching this unbelievable monastery perched on a mountain ledge which is also the reason  of its natural beauty Worldwide.

Pilgrims walking up the last flight of stairs  to Monastery.
A lone temple perched high above Taktsang Monastery

Its simple, the rock cut staircase built along the two connecting mountain walls is the stairway to Taktsang Monastery.The trekker has to first walk down a flight of stairs and later again walk up a flight of stairs to finally reach the entrance of the Monastery.At approx 1045 hrs i reached the Monastery gates where i had to deposit my camera as photography was prohibited inside the Monastery.The Taiwanese pilgrims were a large group and began chanting hymns on arrival at the Monastery gate.I was the rare tourist without a guide and hence had to eavesdrop on explanations by other guides inside this beautiful temple complex.The “Taktsang Monastery complex ” was first built in 1692.The Monastery building consists of four main temples and residential accommodation for monks.A lone temple perched on the peak  of the adjacent mountain is the highest temple in the Taktsang Monastery complex.I won’t go into the history of this monastery as that would be a subject by itself, one of the holiest Taktsang  caves in which Guru Padmasambhava  also known as Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan  meditated.There are various small religious chambers inside the temple complex.The main building of the  temple complex housing valuable relics was destroyed by a fire on April 19 1998 and later  restored in 2005.Hence most of the paintings  in the monastery are replica’s and not originals.

Paro Valley

The view of Paro valley from the side of the  monastery balconies which have glass windows is breathtaking, a once in a life-time experience.In a temple chamber a monk offered tourists and pilgrims holy water. After trekking and visiting this monastery i realize the reason for mountain veteran Mr Mark.Horrell considering this trek as one of the World’s best.Relaxed inside the temple complex admiring the Paro valley and the surrounding mountains.Met a Nepal tour operator and exchanged some conversation with him giving me tips on the best time to visit Kanyakumari , the southernmost tip of India.Tried performing a normal tourist ritual inside the temple where a tourist had to walk blind-eyed towards a rock  that supposedly had the fingerprints of Guru Rinpoche and try to be accurate in planting his or her thumb onto the depression.I tried and failed as did other tourists i viewed. Finally at approx 1145 i left the Monastery and began my descent towards Paro base.It was the staircase that was tiring due to its up and down elevations in reverse while descending.This trek could also be dangerous as some of the ledges were very narrow without rail-guards. Stopped at the “Taktsang Cafeteria” intending to have  a meal but the atrocious tourist  prices and buffet menu restricted my appetite and spending.The buffet food was pure European continental with noodles and cost a whooping Rs 485!Besides, a full stomach would be detrimental to trekking.After a brief rest at the cafeteria complex made my descent and came across latecomers trekking to the monastery.Met a group of “I.I.M (Ahmedabad)” Indian graduates on a holiday  trekking up towards Taktsang Monastery.Further down came across a Indian group from Mumbai  and had a brief conversation.They were also amazed at the fitness of some of the Caucasian tourists telling me of a a man of 75 years accomplishing the trek while i personally saw a  slim fit woman definitely above 60 years  trekking faster   than me !Met a few tourists from Switzerland descending along with me and exchanged conversation.They also commented that Paro did resemble Switzerland in topography and climate.

“Paro Base” :- Beginning and End of Taktsang Trek.

Finally at approx 1400 hrs i reached Paro base where the tourist buses and mules were parked.Local souvenirs were on display for tourists and to my horror i realized that there were no taxi’s on hire, all tourists having their own guided bus Requested a local tour conductor to accommodate me on his bus to which he obliged and this was definitely my luckiest day of the tour.At approx 1445 hrs our tourist bus  of Caucasian tourists left for Paro city.I was hungry having only eaten  the costliest biscuits and tea for breakfast at “Taktsang Cafe” and hence craving for a good Bhutanese meal.On reaching Paro city  it was difficult to find a restaurant and hence i walked into a common take-away restaurant and had noodles and a beer for a late lunch.Strolled around the empty streets and visited a grocery shop purchasing a chocolate and later  a vegetable shop for bananas.Saw a few young men playing carrom outside a shop, the popular leisure pass-time in Bhutan.Returned to my hotel and had some rest.Later in the evening observed a group of young boys playing basketball on a  court  next to “Brothers Hotel”.These young boys imitated the mannerisms and playing methods of N.B.A stars along with sports-wear . Strangely, even in Paro i didn’t come across any cricket ground nor anyone playing the game of “Gully Cricket” on streets , the strangest and most striking observation of my tour of Thimphu and Paro.A Psychologist would be able to answer the reasons for Bhutan being the total opposite of India in sporting interests although totally dependent on India for commodities ,entertainment and educational services.From the basketball court i made my way to the main city and visited a few handicraft and curio shops.Later made my way to “Fusion Karaoke bar and Resto” and was surprised to be the only customer in the night-club. A single girl was in attendance to customers  and i tried karaoke on  “Hotel California” , the charges being Rs 30 per Karaoke.From the Karaoke bar walked towards the “Archery Ground”.

Mr Sonam.P.Wangchuk on the “Archery Ground”  playing under floodlights.

The men were busy gambling under floodlights and i was amazed at their accuracy from 145 meters while they themselves were amazed at my narrow escape the previous day, their topic of gossip and discussion. A gentleman named Mr Sonam.P.Wangchuk picked up a conversation with me, fluent in English and Hindi as he had a public school background and  worked for “Druk Airlines” , Bhutans National Carrier. He had lived in Mumbai for some time during a airlines posting to the city. He explained me the basic culture of Bhutan and offered me a local whisky drink at the archery club bar.Watched them play till about 2000 hrs and later made my way back to the hotel.This being my last day in Paro and Bhutan requested Mr Wangchuk for guidance to a good restaurant in Paro. He gave me directions to a Indian owned  Hotel Sonam Touffel situated in the heart of the town.This distance was too far from the archery ground .Walked back to my hotel and had dinner at a plush hotel next to mine  consisting of pork/rice..

 

Bhutanese family run hotel.

Friday(14-3-2014) :- Had a good nights sleep waking up at approx 0400 hrs. Inserted the “Hot water heater element” into a bucket of water and spent my time browsing T.V. After a hot bathe packed my luggage and signed off from the hotel at approx 0730 hrs. Walked across the lonely road to the local taxi stand.Hailed a local taxi and told him to take me to the “Shared Taxi Stand” for Pheuntsholing.He drove me a short distance  and to my horror i realized that “Shared Taxi’s” were totally unavailable in Paro due to lack of tourist while  locals preferred  the common daily bus.The taxi driver took me to the local bus stand situated opposite ” Sonam Tophel” hotel charging me Rs 60.There were only two daily mini-bus services from Paro to Pheuntsholing and both were full for Friday(14-3-2014) , the bus scheduled to leave at 0900 hrs.Bus tickets have to be booked at least one day in advance in Paro. Luckily the bus conductor gave me a cancelled ticket  costing Rs 220 which saved me a day of unnecessary stay in Paro, a very small city with not much sightseeing barring its beautiful Swiss weather and the Taktsang Monastery trek.Had tea at “Sonam Tophel” hotel, a cosy hotel with Indian tourists.The mini-bus bus was punctual in its departure at  0900 hrs.The bus was full with locals and on the way we encountered a traffic jam due to a landslide.As the bus made its way towards Pheuntsholing the conductor gradually collected passengers on the way and hence it was packed, akin to traveling on a Mumbai local train.I was thankful for just getting a ticket and accommodation on the bus as the minimum private taxi fare would be approx Rs 3000! We passed  the scenic Paro airport, a beautiful view from an elevation as we were driving down the mountain.At 1200 hrs we stopped for lunch at a typical local family run Bhutanese hotel. The hotel owner had three beautiful white dogs that resembled the Corgi breed, playful and acrobatic.Excellent lunch with a little dosage of  the local “Ara” brew  which was in my carry-bag.Suddenly while munching my lunch realized i was biting into  something  non-chewable and to my horror realized it was a chip of my broken molar tooth.This tooth had been fixed by my dentist in Mumbai and had again broken at its fixed joint. Wrapped the “Tooth” in a napkin and put it in my bag, same to be fixed again back home in Mumbai. Lucky that i had not swallowed the same along with my food! After lunch our journey began and reached the hydro-electric  power supply town of Tala where a few passengers alighted the bus.  and at approx 1415 hrs  we  stopped at “Suntolakha Farm market” stop.

“Suntolakha Farm Market” stop.

At the farm market a few passengers purchased beetle nut (supari)  and pan, the favourite  intoxicant  of Bhutanese.It was a drive down the mountain  where i had to surrender my permit paper at the local check-post , end of a memorable tour of Thimphu and Paro in Bhutan.At approx 1500 hrs our bus finally arrived at Pheuntsholing , the local weather being warm and hot.Collected my roller bag and walked towards Jaigaon town in India.It was a  long walk from the Pheuntsholing bus-stand to Jaigaon city. On entering Jaigaon it was the experience of being in the World’s second largest populated Country, India.Boarded a shared rickshaw that took me to Jaigaon local bus stand charging only Rs 5. Was amazed at seeing a bus arrive with young school children travelling on the roof of the bus, a first  time visual experience in my life.Yes, this was my India, very soon to become the World’s most populated Country.On inquiries at the local bus-stand purchased a Rs 100 ticket to Siliguri on a local bus scheduled to depart at 100 hrs. The bus ultimately left the station at 1645 hrs and it was a rickety ride on absolutely bad roads to Siliguri. At 2115 hrs reached  “Tenzing Norgay Bus Station” in Siliguri and on alighting the bus headed towards the closest lodge.Checked into  room no 13 on the third floor  of “Delhi hotel and restaurant. The rental was Rs 300/day(Off-season rates).                                                                                  

Siliguri in West Bengal. Junction for trains and buses.

  It was hot and  in just 12 hours i had experienced temp range of +5 to 10 * c  in Paro to + 30 * c in Siliguri akin to “Jet Lag”.This is the adventure of backpacking, discovering the unknown in a mechanically controlled World.It was a spacious room with television and a fan.For the first time in my tour i used a fan  and  had a normal water bathe from the tap .Bizarre and adventurous.Dinner was the costliest Bengali fish thali with my personal “Bhutanese Ara” drink, the fish thali costing a princely Rs 250.After a sumptuous dinner did get some good sleep at normal warm temps without sweaters or blankets

Advertisements