Bhutan Chronicles, Oct 2007: After getting our permits to enter Bhutan, the road journey from the border town of Phuntsholing to Paro took us around 9 hours. The road is not in a good shape due to frequent landslides and soil erosion.
In the small border town of Phuntosholing, we need to halt a full day to get our permits. Since we need both an entry permit for ourselves and our vehicle, we require a whole day to sort out the documents.
It is not the easiest task to find the Immigrations Office : there are hardly any signs. Thankfully, it’s a small town and we ask a few people how to get there. One thing we notice is the number of one-ways. For a small town, there are many. So missing the turn once meant we had to go all the way around again.
The other thing is that both the rider and the passenger wear helmets. It’s compulsory and people abide by it.
Finally, we find ourselves at the Immigration office. We are one of the first to arrive but aren’t too welcome : the bored looking officials are busy playing computer games! We find the right counter : 3 : and undergo the necessary photo taking ritual.
Apparently, they will pile up all applications till they get enough and then take it for all the signature and red tape thingies they do with official documents. We were told to come back after an hour, but it took a lot longer. We passed time at the office itself and it was around 2 and a half hours around 1230 pm that we were finally issued our permits (only for Thimpu and Paro) and told that further permits need to be taken at Thimpu. We were now legally allowed to stay in Bhutan for 7 days.
For lunch, we tried a place called CN Restaurant near our hotel where I settle for a harmless fried rice (I am rather suspicious of everything else in the menu at this stage!).
After that, it was another few hours spent at the RTO (not sure what it was called) organizing our vehicle permit. That done, we felt rather accomplished.
The next day we got an early start to the day at 8 am and set off for Paro.
Once we’re out of the sweltering town of Phuntosholing and start climbing almost immediately, it’s a welcome relief. The air gets cooler and the scenery gets better as we ascend. Unfortunately, though there are hardly any shops in sight for a cup of tea or coffee.
A few hours into the journey, the road deteriorates as this area witnesses a lot of landslides. All along, huge rocks and boulders lie on the road and it’s not a nice thought : one of them hurtling towards you just as you’re crossing. Apart from the bad roads, the journey is pleasant : many a times we are riding through cloud cover.
At a place called Gedu, around 1130 am, rather famished (as I usually am at this time) we come across a house with an inviting sign saying restaurant. The lady says she has Maggi and we also ask for omlettes. And I have to tell you folks this (if you didn’t know already) – Maggi, actually tastes really good when you’re really hungry!
From there, another hour later we’re at the famous Dantak canteen : not only does it have a view point it also serves masala dosa. But I’m not too keen about trying South Indian food in Bhutan so I pass and settle for a very oily channa bhatura instead. On the way is a beautiful waterfalls, emerging out of the hills in the distance – we stop for a while and take some photographs.
At around 330 pm we reached the confluence from where the road splits in 3 directions : to Paro, Thimpu and the HAA valley. Unfortunately, it starts to drizzle just then. Showing no signs of abating, we continue in the rain : I pull out an umbrella which is soon bent out of shape in the strong wind. But there is nowhere to take cover so we continue. An hour later, rather soaked, we enter Paro valley. Even through the drizzle, I am quite taken in by the beauty of this place.
A huge valley with golden yellow fields spreads out before us, bordered on all sides by hills and a river snakes through it. I can just imagine the sight – if it wasn’t so gloomy. From the vantage point, we get a glimpse of the tiny but beautifully done up Paro Airport and the runway, in the middle of the valley.
A few minutes from there, we enter the town and decide to try the same hotel we had tried in Phuntsholing – Peljorling. We are lucky : the sleepy guy at the counter agrees to Rs 500 bucks after some negotiation. We are soaked to the bone and cold and enjoy the warmth of the small but rather cosy wood panelled rooms. I order a vegetable noodles (with about a litre of oil) : I have still not warmed up to Bhutanese cuisine and then I blow out like a candle in the wind!
We are now officially in Bhutan – kingdom of the dragon.
Hotel Peljorling, Near Bhutan Main Gate, Phuntsholing
Rates: 400/500 : s/d (basic rooms)
The Passage to Bhutan album