Road Trip from Sikkim to Bhutan – Part 2

A 8 day leisurely road journey from Gangtok (Sikkim) to Bhutan and back. Unplanned, sans any research, GPS, trip advisor or lonely planet…….the best road trip ever !!

Read Road Trip from Sikkim to Bhutan – Part 1 HERE

DAY 3- PHUNTSHOLING TO THIMPU – We started on this journey on day 3 with a visit to the Army doctor first 🙁 . My son and brother in law, both had an upset stomach !! So with a prayer on our lips and some trepidation we started the drive on the snaking mountainous roads. The first thing that struck me was how different the mountains in Bhutan were from the mountains in Sikkim.

It may sound silly but I have stayed in Himalayas, Dhauladhars, Nilgiris,Aravallis, Western Ghats and can say with some authority that all mountains are different and yet unique ! The mountain ranges here were somewhat flatter, browner and much bigger extending as far as the eye could see.

The distance from Phuntsholing to Thimpu is 167 kms and takes a good 6 hours at least. The drive was beautiful owing to the salubrious surroundings and both their stomachs holding up fortunately.There was already a hint of nip in the air indicating the arrival of impending winters. As in all of NE India here too the locals were driving slowly, respectfully without honking and trying to overtake which gave us a chance to enjoy the drive and take in the surroundings. I watched the local Bhutanese women in awe as they skillfully maneuvered land rovers wearing stylish aviators and the traditional Kira which is quite similar to the Bakhu worn in Sikkim.

We reached Thimpu in the afternoon and my husband had arranged for our stay in the Indian Army base. All the Army cantonments are without an exception clean and neatly laid out but this was like heaven ! I instantly wished we would get our next posting here 😉 . After I put my son to sleep, I handed him over to my BIL who wanted to rest and I went for a walk. The market was quite nearby and the overall atmosphere of calm and peace was palpable.

I  met local women in shops sitting and chatting, all very friendly and happy looking. Their sunburnt cheeks, luxurious black hair, twinkling eyes just proved the fact that in Bhutan the Gross Happiness Index is more important than Gross National Product !

For my nation today, GNH is the bridge between the fundamental values of kindness, equality and humanity and the necessary pursuit of economic growth. – Jigme Dorji Wangchuk

I meandered through the small markets, roads and cafes for a few hours and then went back to our rooms. After unsuccessfully trying to feed my son and threatening to disown him then and there if he didn’t eat, which obviously didn’t work, I gave up temporarily and we started for the main market in the city.

To our surprise there wasn’t a single traffic light in Thimpu !! Imagine that happening in Delhi……no actually don’t even think about it !

The main market was a delight, wide roads with cafes and shops selling souvenirs, I love Bhutan T-shirts, the bustle of the tourists and locals alike, it was one of the most non-chaotic capitals I saw ! The evening was spent roaming around, shopping, chatting up with the locals to find out eating joints and more about Thimpu. After a delicious pizza sitting in a hip cafe in some obscure street sharing a bench with locals, we were back to our rooms, tired yet excited and planning the next day.

DAY 4- THIMPU – The next day dawned bright and early, with excitement writ large on our faces. A very big plus of being in the Army is everywhere you go, you find either your course mates or somebody you have served with at some place. We happened to have served with a very senior officer posted in Thimpu and the lady was rather  fond of me. They arranged for a special trip for us to the King’s Palace (only from the outside 🙂 ), the Parliament, the Embassy  and Consulate area which ordinarily we wouldn’t have been able to see on our own. The beauty of the fall leaves esp. in the Embassy area was something I struggle very hard to describe ! I wish I could borrow Keats’s or Wordsworth’s soul for sometime so I could elucidate the extreme emotion I felt at the sights and emphasize the miracle of nature. My BIL who was visiting from New York claimed he hadn’t seen such beautiful fall leaves in NYC too !!

There are lots of things to do and places to visit in Thimpu, like the recently constructed Buddha Dordenma Statue, the folklore museum ( my personal favorite ), Tashichho Dzong,  National Memorial, Museums, Monasteries. You can go for hiking and camping, take nature and wildlife tours, cultural tours all with local travel agents or just relax and soak it all in !

We spent the day visiting museums, taking long walks and absorbing the peace and happiness that was omnipresent.

GUIDE TO PLAN YOUR JOURNEY BY ROAD

  1. If you don’t have your own car, you can hire taxis for moving around in Thimpu but the chances are you may get ripped off. It’s better to hire a taxi for the entire trip if you are in a group or have small children with you.
  2. The locals understand English so communication is not an issue but you may want to learn a few phrases in Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan out of respect to the locals like Kuzoozangpo La (Hello) and  Kaadinchhey La ( Thank you ).
  3. The currency of Bhutan is Ngultrum ( pronounced as Nultrum) and fortunately is equal and interchangeable with the Indian rupee, so no need to convert the currency. They accept our INR just fine.
  4. But do remember to carry INR in denominations of 100 only. They do not accept Rs 500 or Rs 1000 notes.

Read Road Trip from Sikkim to Bhutan – Part 3 HERE

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