Showing posts with label Thimphu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thimphu. 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.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Druk Diaries: Day 13 - Thimphu to Paro

Finally the trip was entering the last phase. We had to move to our last destination, i.e. Paro. Five star luxury coupled with the fact that we were on the road for more than 10 days now, we decided to take it easy.

11:30 AM Checked out and left the hotel and straight away we were on Thimphu-Paro highway. This is probably the best road in Bhutan and drive is both scenic  and pleasurable.
The speed limits on this highway, for that matter any highway in Bhutan, is 50Kph. You can see others driving really fast.
12:30 PM Reached Chuzom and crossed the bridge to go towards paro.
We had booked ourselves in Tiger Nest Resort near Tiger Nest Monastery. The hotel is little outside the town so we decided to visit the Dzong and then go to hotel so that we don't have to travel back the same day.
1:00 PM We stopped near Dzong. We stopped near the market. We later realized that there is another road right till the top which is near the Dzong. We had to trek-up the hill to reach the Dzong. While climbing the hill, we struck conversation with a gentleman who mentions that he travels regularly to Bangalore.
On reaching the Dzong, the security asked us for permits, we had left the permits in the car. The gentleman that was walking with us, requested them to let us go, so they noted down the license number and let us go inside. Saved us a trek back down to the parking.

Here is a photosphere of Paro Dzong.



Mermaids, I guess

Dzong entrance

Courtyard of Dzong

View of town and market


View of market and town

View of river and town from Dzong

The four harmonious friends
Story of four harmonious friends
At first, there was just the bird, and the tree was just a little sprout. The bird could scratch around on the ground and find little bits of plant to eat. The bird was unable to fly, so the bird could only eat what it could find near to the ground. As the tree grew, it became difficult for the bird to get enough food to eat.

Then, the rabbit came. The rabbit would eat what was on the ground and would lift the bird up on his back so that the bird could reach the growing tree. In this way, they both had enough to eat. However, as the tree continued to grow, it started to become too high for the bird, even on the back of the rabbit.

Then, the monkey came. The monkey could climb up into the tree and drop the fruit from the tree onto the ground for the rabbit and the bird. However, it was difficult to get to the fruit at the very top of the tree.

Then, the elephant came. With the elephant, if all the animals helped each other, they could reach the fruit at the top of the tree; and, in this way, there was plenty for all of them to eat.

The reason the four animals worked so harmoniously together and the reason they were successful is that none of them was primarily concerned with getting enough food for themselves. Each of them was concerned with trying to help the others to get what they needed. Rather than being dominated by selfish concern, they were dominated by cherishing others.

Also, the reason they were successful is that they were willing to ask for help and to receive help. In this way, the bird is considered the hero of the story. The bird was the most fragile and needed the most help.

Because the bird was willing to ask for help and because the others were happy to help the bird, everything worked out very nicely.

View of the river from Dzong

Me climbing down from Paro Dzong
After a tour through the Dzong, we left towards our resort. We stopped by in the market for customary shopping by family.
Paro market main street

Paro market main street
4:30 PM We left from market towards the hotel and reached in 15 minutes. Paro was significantly more chilly compared to Thimphu.

We had planned on staying at Tiger Nest Resort. Here is my review of the place.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Druk Diaries: Day 12 - Phobjikha to Thimphu

We were up early and ready to leave the hotel. As usual, the bills were settled in the night. Everything was still closed. We got into our car, got ourselves out of the gate and we were on our way to Thimphu.

As per our original itinerary, we were not planning on going to Thimphu again but after cancelling our trip to towns beyond Bumthang and the fact that we still had unfinished business to take care of in Thimphu required us to come back to town.
Following were the two main items that needed to be taken care of in Thimphu.

  1. We realized that our original permit extensions did not cover Haa Valley. We needed another permit extension for that.
  2. During our earlier stay, we could not get personalized postal stamps done. We had always thought that we will do.
4:30 AM We were out of the compounds of the hotel and on our way.

5:20 AM We crossed the first construction zone at Nobding. 

6:30 AM Encountered the first instance of what one could call the road rage in Bhutan. One can see in the video below, why Bhutan is happiest country. The truck driver rear-ended the car. See the conversation, how civil it is.
The only problem was, when I asked them to move their vehicles to side, I was told that we have to wait till police shows up for evidence. Somehow I squeezed my vehicle through the mess.
8:00 AM Just in time, before the construction work started, we were out of construction zone. In that sense the plan of starting early worked. We stopped at the cafe at Dochu La again for breakfast and may be some more photographs.

9:25 AM We were at Hungtsho checkpost. They will take back the stamped original permit extension. So if you want to save it for souvenir, then it is better to take a picture before this.
We drove into thimphu town and straight went to GPO. We thought we can do the personalized stamp business out of our way and then we can check in to our hotel. We has reached Thimphu earlier than the check-in time.

There are many countries that do personalized stamp, even India does it. But in India, you can choose an existing stamp and have your photo affixed to the next to it. Compared to that the Bhutan personalized stamps are just your picture. These are also valid postage.
See on the right, the postage in a letter that we posted to our own address. it was delivered by the time we reached back home and it is duly postmarked.
With that taken care of, we drove to the immigration office. I reconfirmed whether I need permit for Haa valley and I was told yes. So I again went through the process, applied for it and then I was told to come back in hour.
At this time we decided to go back and check in to hotel and freshen up. We stayed in Le Meridien. Here is my review of the hotel.
The rest of the evening was spent in collecting the permit extension, getting RSTA endorsement for new permit extension and leisurely walk across the Thimphu town. I found Thimphu to be a extremely walking friendly town and I enjoyed walking there.
Finally we came back to the hotel for dinner and called it a night.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Druk Diaries: Day 8 - Thimphu, Punakha enroute to Trongsa

This was designed to be a long day. We had planned on visiting Punakha and then reach Trongsa before night fall. We decided to start early.
Hotel Norbuling and our car ready to go

6:00 AM Checked out and left the hotel and started driving towards Dochu La. At this time we realized that we probably had our itinerary wrong. We should have merged Dochu La and Punakha. Nevertheless, no point pondering over mistakes.
Crossed Dochu La, for a moment thought about stopping there for breakfast but then continued and decided to look for a breakfast place further down the road.
7:35 AM Reached Royal Botanical Park. Looked like a good place for stopping, bio-breaks and may be some breakfast. It is really a good place. Finally we ended up spending upwards of an hour there.

Information center of the park as seen from Cafeteria

Visitor information center

Park has a large variety of Orchids

Rhododendron Garden

Landscape of Park from top

Lake in the middle of park, you can do boaring

Me, thinking, really!

Strange formations of tree

Information board at the entrance

Main gate of the park

We continued from the park after breakfast and a walk across the park. We continued our drive towards Punakha. The roads are typical Bhutan roads, a combination of single and two laned roads, decent in most places but bad in some places due to landslides etc.
10:02 AM We encountered a random police check. They were stopping vehicles and checking the documents. We were also waved for stop. The officer checked all the permits and also asked for license, checked it and then let us go.
10:30 AM We reached Punakha Dzong. It is kind of hidden in the valley. You have to be really close to it before you see it.
Punakha Dzong is really magnificent. Once we reached, we were told that at that time it is closed and we had to wait for 15 minutes before it opened.

Punakha Dzong from parking

Cantilever bridge

Large flag


Tree in courtyard


Most of the rooms along the corridors seem to have offices


View from the top

Decorative roof

Decorative walls

From parking

Another angle from further down the road

Much further down the road

Gate to parking, seems to be replica of gate from kings wedding
Finally we were done with the dzong. It is a pretty big structure and take sometime to go through. There are multiple levels and you have to climb using wooden narrow stairs.
12:00 PM We started back from the Dzong. We remembered seeing a resort while coming to Dzong. We decided to have lunch before continuing further to Trongsa. The resort is Damchen resort and could be a good option if one decides to stay night in Punakha.

1:20 PM We started our journey after lunch. As soon as we reached back on highway, we realized our misfortune. We did not know that there are road blockades with a timetable. The police officer on duty told us that we can go down the road on the other hill via Wangdue Phodrang town and byepass that blockade.
We go back towards Punakha, near the petrol station cross the bridge and continue on the narrow road towards Wangdue town. After crossing the town, we continue towards Trongsa.
2:04 PM We reach the second road blockade and there is no option for us except to wait. I asked many local drivers, they were all unanimous that there is no other option but to wait. So we wait.

4:00 PM The blockade opens and we start but before we could reach the point of next blockade, the road is closed again. We have to again wait.
We also see the timetable for blockade properly here.
Blockade timings
Now we know that we have to wait till 6PM here.
Hill cutting work

6:00 PM We start from the blockade but soon it is turning dark. Because of the road work, the roads have become much narrow and there is lots of traffic. The progress is very slow.

6:50 PM As we make very slow progress towards our destination, it turns dark and it starts raining. The rain coupled with clouds coming on the road alongwith other obstructions means we were making really slow progress.

More rain, more bad roads.
A time comes where we are so confused that we start to stop for each signage to confirm whether we are on right path or not.
Finally we reach the checkpost just before Trongsa. There is a sigh of relief that we will reach our hotel. We call our hotel and he tells us that the hotel is 6 Kms away from the checkpost.
We register ourselves at the checkpost. Unlike other checkposts, this place doesn't stamp your permit. They just note down your details and let you go.
9:30 PM We finally reach the resort. It was probably most difficult and mentally draining drive that I had done in a long time even though the distance we covered was very small.