Knowing that today will be a complete rest day, I muted the snooze in my alarm permanently by switching the phone off! The bright sunlight filtered through the brown window panes of the scarcely populated Hotel Kuenga, our abode of luxury! Generally tourists prefer hotels on the other side of the border, which is just about two hundred meters from where we halted. We didn’t do that but never regretted our decision. This hotel was clean with large rooms and we didn’t find it too expensive either. We got a double bedded room with an extra bed, a tea table and a humble sofa set for only INR 550.
After a scrumptious breakfast with the Bhutanese delicacy “Thukpa” (consists of pieces of meat meshed into a noodle soup) I initiated a chat with the owner. He was too placatory with his “You are in Bhutan son, don’t bother!” expressions written all over his face. Our worries regarding the safety of our bikes had blown away in the comfort of this old man’s vocals. We walked out finally around 10:00 am IST and saw them parked neatly in the parking lot facing our hotel entrance. Parking in Bhutan is different and so are traffic rules! Every road has a clear parking demarcation separate for two wheelers and four wheelers. If your rear wheel stays an inch behind or the side stand eats up a few centimeters from the neighboring track, you drop straight into the mercy of the blue uniformed RBP (Royal Bhutan Police). I wondered how strict laws are only a few meters away from my noble country where underestimating laws and taking pride in it seems to be the norm!
I twisted the throttle and off she went embracing the alien tarmac! A few smooth curves and we reached the RSTA office in style to get our road permits till Thimphu. This building had the typical palatial look and represented the Bhutanese architecture with grandeur. This was our last legal barrier before we get set to conquer the capital. This process was also pretty smooth and the officials were extremely cooperative. The documents were verified (passport, immigration permit, bike registration insurance, PUC) without any interrogation and the daze on the face of the officials after being informed of our expedition made us excited! A pretty lady dressed in the national wear walked up to wish us luck and I sheepishly looked at her blue eyes glittering like a sapphire. This is a land of beautiful people, is what I said to myself! It is compulsory to wear the national dress in offices, but my observation asserted that it was done more out of pride for the country and less out of compulsion. We met the Regional Transport Officer and he was taken aback by this outlandish idea of crossing the kingdom on two wheels. He wanted to know the connection between softwares and biking and after our valid ideological explanation on profession and passion he dismissed the friendly questionnaire and advised us to leave for Thimphu immediately since the weather gods were showering their blessings all over the realm.
To satiate our hunger we got back to India, crossing the border gate and pounced on some spicy Indian curry for lunch. Post lunch, getting a Bhutanese mobile connection and currency exchange became the need of the hour. We headed to the Bank of Bhutan for grabbing some fresh ngultrum (pronunciated as nyultram). The concerned officer there informed that INR 500 and INR 1000 notes are banned in Bhutan and they won’t be able to exchange them. We rushed to other side of the border again to exchange our higher currency notes for notes of 100. On return we were denied entry since it was already past 4pm BST. It was only 3 minutes past 4 and we were denied to enter! We have so much to learn from this nation I thought.
Evening was relaxed and lazy, walked up to the west of the town and took the road on the eastern banks of the river Torsa. The road was promising me some views far away and I kept on walking. Slowly I left the road at my back and off roaded for around half a kilometer. The captivating views of the flood plains of Torsa on the backdrop of the setting sun in the foothills hypnotized me. I took some irregular shots and sat there in a trance. Darkness was delving into the valley and fear of getting mugged got me going. I took the same road back and have to say this was a jogger’s paradise.
The process to stay connected to my family and well wishers in India through the telecom networks took hardly 10 minutes. TashiCell was the only option since B-Mobile (the government owned mobile subscriber) requires a Bhutanese I card which we can never produce. The outgoing calls charges were at Nu 5 per minute to India. Deepak had already made a grand entry with his R15 from Siliguri in just 4 hrs! Finally all 4 of us were together for the 1st time with our rides and I could only think of the next day. Nothing could stop us now, no bike delays, and no legal implications. We were free to take on the treacherous mountains of the Royal kingdom from the first light of tomorrow.
RSTA Office adjoining the Bus Stand
The Gate leading to the High Court..mark of Bhutanese architecture
trespassed into a school!
The Ngultrum – Is at par with Indian Rupee in terms of value
Coins were rare in Bhutan ..still we grabbed a few
Road Signs by BRO ( Indian Army provides a lot of civil assistance to its close ally)
Busy Shopping Area
The Torsa Chhu
They joined me with precious smilies
The road on the west..Jogger’s Paradise
The last building in Bhutanese territory
The panorama of the flood plains of Torsa
Pillar paintings at tashi building
Statue of Lord Buddha at the nearby temple
Magnificient temple at the center of the town
Entry Gate at night