Showing posts with label Druk Diaries. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Druk Diaries. Show all posts

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Druk Diaries: An experience of a lifetime

During January 2015 when I first mentioned that I think we should drive to Bhutan, the family's response was cautious. I think they initially though that I was joking and they let it pass. As day came nearer, I started preparing for it. Slowly everybody was on board.
The original plan was to start the trip in second week of April, but my family has to be in Delhi during first week of April. We decided that they will directly join me in Kolkata and I will drive from Bengaluru to Kolkata alone. My all the road trips have been with family and this was the first time when I was planning on driving more than 1500 kilometers alone.
You can find the total trip map above. We reached Bhutan by taking east coast of India and then came through central India. The total distance of the trip was upwards of 7700 kilometers and total fuel consumed was more than 850 liters. I did not keep track of total toll paid for this trip but it must be more than Rs. 4000/-.
Here is the detailed account of the trip.

  1. Prologue
  2. Bhutan Road Trip Process
  3. Day   1 : Bengaluru to Rajahmundry
  4. Day   2 : Rajahmundry to Kolkata
  5. Day   3 : Kolkata to Asansol
  6. Day   4 : Asansol to Siliguri with blessing from Baba Vaidyanath of Deoghar
  7. Day   5 : Arriving in Bhutan, Siliguri to Thimphu via Phuentsholling
  8. Day   6 : Permit Extension, Thimphu sightseeing
  9. Day   7 : Thimphu local attractions and Dochu La
  10. Day   8 : Thimphu to Trongsa via Punakha
  11. Day   9 : Trongsa local attractions
  12. Day 10 : Trongsa to Bumthang and Bumthang local attractions
  13. Day 11 : Bumthang to Phobjikha and chillout at Phobjikha
  14. Day 12 : Phobjikha to Thimphu, personalized stamps at Thimphu GPO
  15. Day 13 : Thimphu to Paro, Paro Dzong
  16. Day 14 : Taktsang Lhakhang or Tiger's Nest, a great trek
  17. Day 15 : Chele La, Haa and Paro Market
  18. Day 16 : Return journey, Paro to Purnea
  19. Day 17 : Return journey, Purnea to Kanpur
  20. Day 18 : Return journey, Kanpur to Bhopal
  21. Day 19-22 : Break at Bhopal, Fixes to the car
  22. Day 23 : Return Journey, Bhopal to Bengaluru
This trip was a test of endurance for us, all of us in the family, which we passed with flying colors. Many times it was tough, particularly during that dark, rainy night of drive to Trongsa, when we had no idea whether we were even on right path or the final day of drive when we decided to do Bhopal to Bengaluru without taking at break. At around 12:30 AM when I was really sleepy, my wife, who doesn't prefer to drive in night, offered to drive and that hour and half of drive by her made it easier for us to reach without taking too much risk.
Before this trip, the maximum that we had driven in a day was approximately 985 kilometers, i.e. Pune to Mount Abu. Now it stands at 1500+ kilometers.

If I were to do it again
If I were to do it again, I would probably modify the itinerary as follows.
  1. Do Dochu La as part of drive to Punakha and stay in Punakha
  2. Do Trongsa in day time and continue and stay in Bumthang
  3. Move Paro to start of the trip
  4. Couple of days extra for Mongar and Trashigang, 1 day to Mongar 1 day in Trashigang and then exit via Samdrup Jongkhar
Because of under construction roads, drive to east is specifically painful in Bhutan currently. It is very difficult to drive long distances across West-East highway. If locals were to be believed, it would probably 2-4 years before things would become better.

Lessons Learnt
  • How important are your own tools in the car. The puncture guys whom I found on highway neither had spanner nor jack that would fit my car.
  • It is very important to have a pump in your car. With a slow leaking tire, my trip would have been very difficult if I did not have pump with me to fill it up
Thanks are in order
This trip would have been much harder to plan and execute if not for the support of many friends on HVK Forum on facebook including but not limited to Rajneesh Khare for all the help around central india,  Sandipan Mallick for all the help around east specifically Kolkata and Asansol and showing a friendly face in hotel, Panduranga Kudige Shenoy for helping me finalize the Deoghar route, Kumar HV for all the guidance, direction and help and everbody who is working with HVK Central Hotel Desk
If I missed somebody, it is not intentional, I am thankful for any help extended by anybody that helped me make this trip successful.
Finally thanks are in order to my wife and daughter for agreeing and putting up with the madness of being on the road for more than 20 days.

Druk Diaries: Day 18 - Return journey,Kanpur to Bhopal

We had planned on staying in Bhopal for few days, so this day was a shorter drive.

5:40 AM We were out on the road.
7:20 AM Crossed Orai

9:25 AM Crossed Jhansi bypass.
10:25 AM Crossed Lalitpur
11:22 AM Crossed malthone

11:58 AM Reached Bina.

1:45 PM Crossed Vidisha
1:55 PM Crossed Sanchi

2:40 PM Reached Bhopal

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Druk Diaries: Day 15 - Chele La, Haa, Paro Market

Today was the last day of the sightseeing in our trip, after this it was drive back to home. We decided to keep it light. We had planned a drive to Chele La, the highest Motorable pass of Bhutan. While talking to some of the drivers in Tiger's Nest, they mentioned that there are two ways to reach Chele La  and it is better to do the circular trip. So that was the plan.

11:00 AM We got up leisurely, had breakfast and got ready and the we were ready to go. We started from our resort. We had to withdraw some money. Till now I was not able to figure out the algorithm of ATMs in Bhutan. In some places, I was able to get money using my ATM card, in some other places my credit card worked while in some other places nothing worked. Here is my final understanding.

  1. Bank of Bhutan accepts most Indian ATM/Debit cards. You can withdraw cash with Rs. 20/- surcharge
  2. Bhutan National Bank, most ATMs would reject Indian cards (both debit and credit) saying that this machine does not accept this card
  3. There is a development bank of Bhutan(don't remember exact name), I had mixed success with this. I think I was able to withdraw using my credit card with an ATM that has VISA and Mastercard markings.
12:20 PM Crossed the Chuzom and continued straight on road to Haa.
The drive was great, it was raining with drizzle alongwith heaving rain at times. As we climbed mountains, the clouds were right on the road.
We continued driving and soon reached close to Haa valley. By mistake we entered into the military township there.
From the Haa valley, the chele la is 25 kilometers as mentioned on milestones. But there seem to be something wrong with milestone markings there. We saw number decrease and then increase and then decrease again. Finally we had reached Chele La.

We dropped in at Champaca Cafe in Paro main market street. The coffee and food were great, Here is my review of the place.

Druk Diaries: Day 14 - Tiger's Nest or more accurately Taktsang Lhakhang

This was a special day, it was reserved for a trek to Taktsang Lhakhang. We were appropriately warned by everybody that it is going to be a hard trek and hard it was. Following is the GPS log of the trek.

8:15 AM We left the resort. The main road turns towards the Tiger's Nest and continues for almost 3 kilometers before you see the parking. Unfortunately for us the entry to this road was jammed because of some religious function and we mistook it for the fact that may be this is the parking and we are not allowed to drive any further. So we parked the car on main road and started walking. We even asked couple of locals about directions and nobody mentioned that we can take car further. So our trek was longer by almost 3 kilometers compared to others.
In the map above the blue star is where the parking is and green pin is where we parked. Anyway, not a big issue.
In the evening, I took a taxi to drop me to the main road and brought my car.

View of the Lhakhang from Hotel
Anyway, a blurb about the place. According to the legend related to this Taktsang which literally means "Tiger's lair", it is believed that Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress from Khenpajong. This place was consecrated to tame the Tiger demon.
An alternative legend holds that a former wife of an emperor, known as Yeshe Tsogyal, willingly became a disciple of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambahva) in Tibet. She transformed herself into a tigress and carried the Guru on her back from Tibet to the present location of the Taktsang in Bhutan. In one of the caves here, the Guru then performed meditation and emerged in eight incarnated forms (manifestations) and the place became holy. Subsequently, the place came to be known as the “Tiger's Nest”.
10:00 AM We walked up to the parking and started the trek. There are many people selling souvenirs at the start of the trek. One of them convinced us of buying some walking sticks. At the end we realized that it was a good idea, it is very hard to continue the trek if you don't have a support of a walking stick.
One should be very careful with what you carry with you on this trek. Very quickly one gets tired and the luggage starts looking like too much weight. Carry a single bottle of water. There are many taps on the way and one can refill the bottle. There is a cafeteria at approximately half the distance. Don't rush, this trek (for that matter any trek) is not a place to show bravado. Pace yourself.

View from the above

11:30 AM We reached cafeteria. It is prudent to stop at the cafeteria.It gives you much needed rest and you can have something to eat or tea. There are toilets there as well. We did not see toilets in any other place. There are some very good views of Tiger's Nest from cafeteria.
Photos taken from Cafeteria

Another shot from cafeteria
The trek gets steeper from cafeteria. But there are places to sit along the way.
12:15 PM We reached the last stretch. The last stretch consists of steep downwards stairs followed
Me and Tiger's Nest
by steep upwards stairs. This is specifically harder for people who may have knee problems.
Just before you reach the stairs, there is a signage for a hotel on adjacent peak. You can call them and book the place and while returning you can drop in for lunch. We decided to take our chances with the cafeteria. If the cafeteria was open while we reached, then we will have lunch there otherwise we will figure something out, that was the plan.
Anyway, we continue with the stairs. Actually the most magnificent views of Tiger's Nest are just where the stairs start. You are on the top of adjacent hill and you get most Tiger's Nest just in front of your eyes.
Tiger's Nest

Stairs that you need to climb

The cave
By the time we reached the place, it was closed. It closes between 1 PM and 2 PM. We had to wait for some 20 minutes before you can go in. There is nothing allowed inside. There are lockers and you have to deposit everything, camera, mobile phone, any large bags etc.
A flavor of landscape that you need to trek

My Car with Tiger's Nest in background

2:30 PM We started our trek back. By now we were tired and hungry. We were just hoping that the cafeteria would still have some of that lunch left. While coming up they told us that they would close lunch service at 3 PM. We were sure that we won't reach by 3 PM.
3:15 PM We reached cafeteria, the lunch was still available. It was probably the most simple but most fulfilling meal that we ate in a long time. Rice, Dal, Some vegetables and tea. Anyways, we had lunch lied down on the benches for few minutes and started back.
4:45 PM We reached the parking area. At this time,
we were kicking ourselves for leaving our car on the main road. The thought of walking another 3 kilometers was just very depressing. While my family was doing some souvenir shopping, I requested a taxi driver who was waiting for his guests to drop me till main road. He dropped me to the main road for Rs. 200/-. I brought my car in.
This was the most tiring and fulfilling day in this drive. We headed back to the hotel for a well deserved dinner and sleep.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Druk Diaries: Day 11 - Bumthang to Phobjikha

While our drive from Thimphu to Trongsa, we had encountered several construction zones where traffic was stopped based on a time table. We were not convinced that we can escape the road blockade. So we decided to do the return journey in two stretches. The idea was to reach as close to construction zone as possible and then next day start really early so we can escape all construction activity before it starts.

So we chose Phobjikha valley because we could find a decent hotel there.

5:20 AM We decided to depart really early. Whole staff of the hotel was still asleep. As promised, let left the key in the hotel room, opened the gate and exited the hotel.
We had planned our departure in such a way so that by the time we reach Trongsa, breakfast service in Yangkhil resort would be open and we can do breakfast there.
7:25 AM We reached Yangkhil resort.
8:10 AM We left Yangkhil Resort and in a short span of time, we crossed the Bjeezam checkpost. This is the same checkpost which we had encountered late at night couple of nights back.

As we were driving, we saw this board for Chendeyji Resort. We just thought to check it out and may be have a tea.

9:35 AM The place is really good. When we reached they only had tea ready. So we just had the tea and started our onwards journey. If you are travelling with family, both Yangkhil Resort and Chendeyji resort have clean restrooms.
Now we were all set to continue our journey till the destination.
The next milestone was Pele La. In our eastward journey earlier, we completely missed the Pele La because it was already dark by the time we reached. Also we were so anxious to reach the destination that we pretty much did not pay any attention to anything.
Pele La is another pass at an height of approximately 3400 mts. Just after Pele La, the road to Phobjikha valley forks off.
The road into phobjikha valley is just about a dirt road. The town is a sleepy little town with nothing mapped even on google map. We just drove around and finally found our destination for the night, i.e. Hotel Dewachen. We did not find any other place worth staying. The caretaker almost behaved as if he is doing us a favor by offering us a room. Here is our review of the property.
The view of the valley from the property is amazing. You can see nature in its full glory.

We tool a little walk, rested for a while, had a dinner and called it an early night since we had to start early next day with a hope that we will cross all the construction activity before its start time i.e. 8 AM.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Druk Diaries: Day 9 - Trongsa Local

After the really long drive of previous night, we realized that probably we have bitten more than what we can chew. Last night we took more than 10 hours to drive to reach from Thimphu to Trongsa.
As per our original plan we were to drive till Trashigang as part of next segment. We realized that it would not be possible to do that segment in one day. The other problem we faced that between Trongsa and Mongar we could not find any reasonable place to stay. Also we only had two more days to complete the drive before we head back to Paro. We realized it doesn't make sense to drive up to Trashigang if we were not exiting Bhutan through Samdrup Jongkhar. An editing of the original program was in order so we decided that we stay in Trongsa and then drive up to Bumthang and then we will head back to Paro.
This day was just for sightseeing in Trongsa and rest. Since there is not really much to see in Trongsa apart from nature in its full glory.
Trongsa Dzong

Trongsa Szong


Trongsa Dzong
The Dzong is 10 minutes drive away from the Yangkhil Resort where we were staying. It was raining and cold. We paid a quick visit to the Dzong.
Painting in Dzong




Prayer wheel

Decorative roof

Main gate as you enter from parking

View to parking
Once night falls, the dzong is flood lit and the resort had great view of flood lit dzong.
Flood-lit Dzong

Flood Lit Dzong
Flood-lit Dzong covered with clouds
It was nice relaxing day, as per our modified plan, we were driving to Bumthang tomorrow and then we would start our journey back to Paro. Since we had saved one extra day because of curtailing our trip to Trashigang, we decided to do another stop-over in Thimphu. It was really a wise decision as we would realize later.