Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Seven Days Bhutan Trip - A Travelogue - Part II

Day 2 – 22 Nov 15 - Phuntsholing – Thimphu

     We reached Phuntsholing yesterday after the Permit office had closed. Having not been able to do anything on that issue, today was the day to get our permits and travel into Bhutan to Thimphu, the capital city. Phuntsholing is also in Bhutan but there is no permit required to enter this city. Indian citizens have to take permit and if they are travelling in their own cars then I understand permit for car also needs to be taken.

     Our travel management firm told us that their representative would reach us by 0900 (Bhutan Time, henceforth, in my narrative all timings would mean Bhutan time 30 min ahead of India time. After all we have reached a foreign country). They also asked us to be ready and we were quick to get up, get ready, have breakfast and we were ready at dot 0900. Then it was a wait for TTT person to arrive. Well he did finally arrive at 1015 hrs. Form filling, mostly done by him, for five of us took about 10 minutes and off we were to Permit office. The office seemed very effective and we got the permits in flat 15 min.

    He then asked us to return to hotel and get ready for the move. The vehicle came by about 1050 and post proper loading we started for Thimphu by 1100 hrs. This day being day of journey, only spectacular part of the journey was the changing landscape as we climbed up from Phuntsholing (1240 ft) to Thimphu (7600 ft). From usual semitropical greenery at Phuntsholing where even mangoes grow to conifers around Thimphu was the main thing to watch.

      The road from Phuntsholing to Thimphu is maintained by Project “Dhantak” of Border Road Orginasation (BRO) of Indian Ministry of Defence. Incidentally, Dhantak is the name of the Project under which this road is maintained by BRO. Road maintenance in these areas is a tedious task and we could see BRO teams working at various places.

Road to Thimphu - I

A Bridge with Prayer Flags
      The road is about three lanes (1.5 lanes per side) for most of the distance. It is free of potholes, has good surface and also good signage throughout the journey. The exception is when it is traversing steep hill sides to gain height where the road is as narrow as in any other hilly area.


Nice Quality of BRO Maintained Road

     We took total 2 stops in a total 5 hrs travel time. First stop was at hotel Shelgoen at Wangkha, very closed to a major Hydro electric power project in  the valley below. Next stop was very close to Thimphu at a place called Whatsa (easy to remember, very close to Whatsapp). 

Hotel Shelgoen signboard

Soon we were at a decorative gate announcing our arrival at the outskirts of Thimphu, capital city of Bhutan since 1955 when the capital shifted here.

Welcome gate of Thimphu
Glimpse of Thimphu - Outskirts

     Thimphu impressed us. The roads were wide. Traffic was not heavy (we were used to traffic in Indian cities). It was disciplined and people showed patience and courtesy to other drivers.  Hardly any Horn Honking was done, in fact we heard very little of the beast called horn, which in India one feels that the switch for horn is fused and horn keeps blaring.  Both sides of the road had five to six story houses constructed in Bhutanese style or at least maintaining a Bhutanese style façade. Most buildings had Photograph of present king (and in some cases the queen also) or last king or both prominently displayed on them.


       Soon we reached the Clock Tower area (city center)  where our hotel, Shantideva was located. Whne I tried to reach the reception, I was shocked that I had to climb two flights of stairs but then realized that only one flight of stairs need to be climbed if one comes from other side (Hotel was between two main roads). Hotel does have a lift but from their reception to upper floors of the hotel. Hotel 89 which is close by has a lift from ground floor (as its reception is situated on the ground floor unlike Shantideva). Once inside, we found the hotel to be neat and clean. The rooms were comfortable and the staff good.


       After check in, we decided to move out to the market. Let me remind the readers, Bhutan is another country having its own culture and way of life. There  is no point comparing things to things back home. Inadvertently, we all do this mistake at least on day one in the heart of Bhutan at places like Thimphu or Paro. Because of this habit of going by own experiences, we were shocked to see at 1900 many shops were on the verge of closing and most of them closed at 1930 hrs. 

Traffic Island in Clock Tower Area
       We had to zerox our permit issues at Phuntsholing (for applying next day for another permit to travel to Punakha) and at 1930 we could barely find only one shop in the clock tower area. Any way resigned to the fact that we are in a place having different way of life we returned to Hotel (whose restaurant closes at 2030 hrs). We finished our dinner by 2100 hrs.


      The best was yet to come. We all thought let us have ice cream. When we asked the reception staff about ice cream shop, they indicated that it is right opposite the hotel but it may be closing now. We rushed only to find out that it had closed a long time ago around 2000 hrs. That was eye opener. We never thereafter went by our standards and adopted local standards from the next day. That finished our day II in Bhutan.

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