Friday, November 29, 2013

Darjeeling-Phuentsholing Bhutan

Dudes in formation.
 Descending through dense forest & beautiful tea gardens, we reached Kalijoda a village on Sikkim Highway.  This track was so beautiful that everybody of us were overwhelmed with the ride. In between, Harshad lost one of his mobile phone, which he was carrying in his track pants pocket.There was not point in going back to search for it. We just had a tea halt, inquired with the locals & got the plan forward. 
Beautiful road through Pines

Super Ride

Left Kalijoda reached Sevok, where a highway goes straight to Silliguri & turning left crossing Tishta River over a Coronation Bridge, we headed east towards Mal Bazar. Tishta river is massive & this very bridge seems to be only connection between two ends. Sevok is an army base & have very good roads. 
Tishta gorging under Coronation bridge
The watch ticked 5.30pm here. It has already started to darken. But road being in very good condition here, we took hardly 45 minutes to reach Malbazar which was about 50-55kms. Travelling ahead in dark was not at all a good idea. Hence we zeroed upon an idea to stay back at Malbazar. This is a small town having just few hotels to lodge. Fortunately we got one with a parking space on ground floor. It has now been a ritual where ever we stay, to unload all the luggage from bikes put it in the room & next day reload the same. It actually is a very tiring job when you have rode for whole day.

Coronation Bridge

Green Everywhere!!

Rain Suits are must.
Next day that is 3rd of October 2013, Vikram had still not recovered. Infact he was in a mood to abandon the expedition & go back. Last night, we all had discussion on this & decided that lets wait for a day or two & then if he doesn't feel OK, he will go back & we four would continue. He already was on antibiotic dose. Malbazar to Phuentsholing was about 110kms towards east. Finally it was decided that Vikram would stay back at Malbazar & take proper rest & Rohit would accompany him. Me, Harshad & Avinash loaded our bikes & headed towards Phuentsholing. From Malbazar you have to travel around 50kms & you reach at Balipara National Highway (NH 31). Here we took left & headed towards Alipurduar. We rode about 36kms where you will see a Petroleum storage depot. Here you should leave NH31 & take left towards Hashimara. From Hashimara it is just about 25kms up to Jaigaon the Indian side of border to Bhutan. Through out this route, you will find Tea gardens on both the sides of the road. These tea gardens of Assam being on low lands are different than Darjeeling Tea gardens. Climate here is highly hot & humid.

Tea Gardens of Assam.

Delicious Ragda
The funny part of this journey was that we found a road side food vendor who was selling a dish which was very much similar to our own Maharashtrian Misal. We were so delighted that we all savoured upon the dish. This dish was more similar to our own ragda of Ragda Pattice. One more instance missed to mention that you will find caution boards across the roads that Elephants cross the road hence let them pass. 

Look at him

Fortunately Avinash spotted three elephants in the fields which he showed to Harshad too. My bad luck, I was not near by. (While I write this blog, I understood that it was a prank played on me. None of them saw any live tusker)

Prado across border

We reached Jaigaon sometime by 1.00pm. Although quite a busy town, it is in really bad shape. Roads are so muddy that while you cross the town a layer of mud settles on your body. Ultimately you face a arch which welcomes you to Bhutan. Other side is Phuentsholing & this side is Jaigaon. We entered Bhutan & immediately found immigration office of Bhutan govt.

First sight of Bhutanese

Punjab National Bank of Bhutan

We were informed that it takes hours together to get the permits at the immigration. Hence as planned we three were supposed to get the formalities of immigration done. The difference in everything was so evident & significant that we were just awestruck. The quality of roads were so good. The traffic sense was at perfect ten. People were well dressed whatever it may be in traditional Bhutanese or western wear. "No smoking in public places" is so strictly followed that none of the smoker was in sight anywhere.

Law is alert.

Immigration Office

Avinash took the lead & went to the immigration office to inquire about the permit. He came back with the forms & said that every person who wants to take the permit should be personally present at the immigration office. Hence the purpose of we reaching early to take the permits of all was ruled out. Same was conveyed back to Rohit & Vikram. We three applied for the permit where in we have to mention the places in Bhutan where we wish to visit. But the permit is given only up to Paro & Thimpu that too for 7 days. It is not necessary to carry passport, the Indians get the permit on the basis of Voter's ID too. But yeah these two (passport & Voter's ID) are the only valid document on which any Indian citizen can get the permit. There are many hotels in Phuentsholing to stay & dine. We checked in to the hotel exactly opposite to the immigration office. Had nothing to do other than roam around in Phuentsholing. This town is really beautiful & particularly seems to be business point for Bhutanese. Indian currency is accepted across the establishments & most sought after. The exchange rate is almost the same as Indian currency. Hence its easy or less of trouble of carrying exchange. In the evening we had a good Bhutanese dinner which included Emma Datshi ( Green/Red Chillies in cheese curry) & a good mellow Bhutanese Whiskey. To describe about Bhutanese Whiskey, I would say its nothing less than our good ol' scotch. 
Next day i.e. 4th of October, we just waited for Rohit & Vikram to reach Phuentsholing. They reached by 11 am I suppose. Straight away we all headed to Immigration office to get their permits. We got those permits & got them rested for few hours in our hotel room. As we had read a notice at RTO office that it will be open for 3pm to 4pm, after taking a rest Rohit went ahead to RTO office by 3.30 but to our surprise the office had already closed by 3. This made the things really hard for us. As there was no option but to stay back till next day while the RTO office opens in the morning. We three already had our pie of Phuentsholing & were not so excited to stay back. From here, self opinions started flowing in. How on earth could we three read that the RTO office is open till 4 where as the notice now clearly read, its up to 3. This was unanswereable as we three were very much sure bout 3-4pm notice. Ultimately we decided upon staying back & get the road permits of these two vehicles done on 5th October. 

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