I believe every soul in the universe has the spirit of a traveller in him or her. (My view of supposed UFO sightings are aliens travelling across the Galaxies). Our family is no different. Once every year, be it in summer, autumn, or winter break, which happens to be in the month of May- June, October, and December- January respectively for us, we embark on our “Grand Voyage”. However, as with all of us, travelling during the present times is a distant dream. So I decided to pen down one of our last journeys which was to the happiest place in the world , the “Kingdom of Bhutan”, with a hope to quench my travelling spirit and that of many like-minded fellow wanderers as well.
Before proceeding, I would like to give full credit to my awfully meticulous and travel aficionado husband, very aptly nicknamed as "The Event Manager" of our family. Any get together of our families, be it my sister in law coming down from the US or my sister from UK, we all have the habit of looking up to him for all the planning and RRR. So, we leave all our travel plans to him.
His travel plans and calculations begin with exploring various places through Google search and going through the reviews and taking into consideration the weather, time etc. Finally, after lots of deliberation, fixing the target destination for our travel. His planning and preparations always remind me of Mr. Christopher and Mrs. Margaret Roberts of the story “The Steal” from “A Twist in the Tale” by Jeffrey Archer. Having said so, last year’s summer break, we zeroed in our target to Bhutan.
Located geopolitically in South Asia and in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is bordered by the Tibet Autonomous Region of China in the north, the Chumbi Valley of Tibet, China and the Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal in the west, and the Indian states of Assam, West Bengal and Arunachal Pradesh in the south and east. From India, Bhutan can be reached by both air and road. For people who are willing to visit Bhutan from other parts of the world, Bhutan’s Paro hosts the only international Airport of the country. Drukair is the national carrier which connects Bhutan with other countries.
Bitten by the bug of adventurism, instead of flying, we decided to explore the unexplored of a new country and opted to travel by road. The other convenient factor was the fact that we had recently moved to Kolkata, the City of Joy of India, which houses the best and all the transport facilities to reach Bhutan. Our entry point to Bhutan was from Jaigaon, a commercial town of West Bengal. We boarded an overnight train, Kanchan Kanya Express from Sealdah, West Bengal to Hasimara Railway station. From there we took a hired car to Jaigaon.
Bhutan and India had signed an Agreement called Freedom of Movement in the year 1947 which enables Indians to travel to Bhutan without a Visa. All we needed was to obtain an ‘Entry Permit’ from Immigration Office of Royal Government of Bhutan at Phuentsholing, located on the Indo-Bhutan border. An immigration process which comprises of Retina check, bare minimal identity proof which included Voter ID for me, Passport for husband and Birth Certificates for the kids enabled us to secure the entry permit for immigration. The travel agency through which we had booked our car to reach Bhutan took care of the same. During peak season, sometimes the waiting times can be longer, so it is always advisable to reach the Immigration Office at the early hours.
We got our first glimpse of the Land of mystics and mysteries from the border town of Phuentsholing, which is opposite to the Indian town of Jaigaon. Phuentsholing happens to be one of the commercial hubs of Bhutan. Cross border trade between the two countries in this market has contributed a lot for the flourishing of the local economy. Also called the Gateway of Bhutan, a major portion of trade with India and other countries happen in Phuentsholing. The much-photographed Bhutan Gate promised us about the grandeur that awaited us in Bhutan.
An early evening stroll to the marketplace and crossing over the International border introduced us to the colourful and vibrant mixed culture of the two countries. Our overnight stay in this small and congested town was filled with the hustle and bustle of traders, tourists, security personnel and Govt. officials, made us feel that sometimes boundaries between two different countries exists only in maps and globes.
We resumed our journey next day from the town of Phuentsholing. From there till the capital city of Thimphu, our journey was a picturesque
medley of clouds, trees, misty and foggy mountains, quaint valleys, rocky passes and rains, which as informed to us, was a common occurrence in Bhutan from the end of May as it indicates the onset of Monsoon in this Himalayan Kingdom.
The journey gave us a feeling that nature was cherished and revered by Bhutan where roads were constructed with minimal disturbance to Mother Earth.
End of Day 1