With this we begin our Bhutan odyssey. Monasteries perched on hillocks; beautiful, pristine landscape against sharp blue skies; beautifully dressed men and women dancing in festivals, walking their children, going about their regular chores; had enticed us for long. We had Bhutan in our itinerary for too long now, and this year, we didn’t want to go further East or further West for our annual vacation. We wanted to ‘roam Bhutan thorough’…
How to go to Bhutan from Mumbai? Taking a flight is the fastest way of course. Druk Air flies from Mumbai twice a week at ridiculous prices!! When we enquired for a return fare for 3 people way back in March, the quotes were about INR 40,000 per person return journey. You invariably do a mental arithmetic, That’s INR 1,20,000 only on air-tickets. Add to it another 20,000 and we can easily go to some European country.
Bhutan doesn’t have trains. So the only other option was to drive up. We flew down to Bagdogra and had an AC Innova picks us up from there. (Read about Bagdogra Airport)
Drive From Bagdogra to Phuentsholing
Our driver, Govinda, informed that Phuentsoling, the border town of Bhutan where we would halt for the night before proceeding to Thimpu the next day, was about a 4 hour drive. About 150 kms. We asked him not to drive very fast as we didn’t want our 6-yr old to get motion sickness.
Well, she didn’t get any throughout the way. It’s an almost straight drive from Bagdogra to Phuentsoling with only the Teesta river area having a few easy turns. That’s when you cross over from one hill to another, with the Teesta running in one side. Being the peak of summers, the river looked quite docile. Know how much it roars during rains and thereafter. We crossed about 7-8 more rivers. Govinda named all of them for us. All of them were dry with cows grazing in most, and rampant sand-mining in others. They come alive with the Monsoon rains, said Govinda.
The drive from Bagdogra to Phuentsoling is very beautiful. The roads are amazingly good. Looked newly laid to us. Govinda confirmed that Mamta Banerjee had commissioned them after she came to power. We were truly surprised. The entire stretch didn’t have a single pot-hole. We simply zipped through.
Zipped through tea-gardens!! Acres and acres of them. Don’t worry if you are not carrying water or snacks. There are enough road-side shops where you can buy all these from. We found a guy selling Litchis in a heap in his cart. And got a kg for the road 🙂
A little under half way, we stopped by at Ootlabari for lunch. Not many options there. We opted for the one that was not crowded and settled for some basic rice, dal and fried fish. With another 2 hours on the road, didn’t want to take chances with Ridi. Jayant got his customary Chicken and Naan though.
The road from Ootlabari to Phuentsoling too is just the same and we reached the border town without even feeling the 4 hour journey. Ridi didn’t get motion sickness, slept the latter half while we zipped again admiring, clicking the countryside. Crossing the border was momentous. We got down to click the huge ornate gate that welcomes you to Bhutan. Govinda told us we’d see more of these gates during our trip, and took us straight to Hotel Druk, where we’d spend the night. But first, we had to go immediately for the Permit. Indians do not need Visa for Bhutan. They issue you a Permit upon your arrival. Details of this in my next blog.