“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” – John Steinbeck
I woke up near Kishanganj in north Bengal and when I looked outside, sun had already risen though it was just 5:30. But, the bad news was that it was raining!
As the train reached New Jalpaiguri, the rain stopped and the weather was pleasant. Waiting for us at the station was our batchmate from TAPMI, Neha Jain. She took us to her home which was just around 10min from the station. After having a heavy breakfast, thanks to her family, we moved on to the Siliguri bus station to board the bus to Jaigon.
It was a local bus and I took my seat, next to a window. I have always felt special to travel by a local bus, the way the common people do rather than those air conditioned travel that I was on till now. Try this, when you are far away from your home take a local bus or travel in a passenger train, sitting shoulder to shoulder with local people carrying their goods and produce to sell in the cities. To me, that is what travelling is all about.
The terrain we moved on looked very similar to rural Kerala, yeah, except for the roads which was pretty decent here. It was all green and looked like a typical country side but was quite hot and humid. When we reached a place around 35km short of Jaigon, we had to switch to another bus due to some issue with the bus. So we put our luggage on top of the new bus and moved on. The bus got so crowded that people even climbed on roof. This particular stretch of the journey took over 2hrs to cover a distance of 35km! And because of this change in bus, it took us 6hrs to cover 155km to reach Jaigon, what otherwise should have taken just 4hrs.
Finally, we reached Jaigon at 4pm. We took an auto to the Bhutan gate, which is the entry point to Bhutan. With permission from the jawans, we clicked a few quick pictures and moved towards the gate. We were then asked by the Royal Bhutan Guards on our domicile, purpose of visit, etc and were easily let into Bhutan. And yes, thus we literally ‘walked’ out of the country into Bhutan. This was the second time that I was crossing an international land border on foot, after crossing the Indo-Nepal land border, 16yrs back. One thing I noted in particular was a pool of special violet coloured water that was on the entrance to Bhutan. One for the vehicles and one for the pedestrians. I guess it had some religious significance as we were entering a Buddhist nation. However, I was not allowed to photograph the pool by the Royal Guards.
Now, I wanted to go to Thimpu. And for that, one needs permit from the immigration office of Bhutan. Neha had given us the contact details of an agent and her uncle who was over here. But, for me, that had to be my final option as I decided not to take a short cut or have an unfair advantage in my travel adventures. Maybe that is being stubborn, but thats how I wanted to do it. So I got to the immigration office which was just a little far from the Bhutan gate. And now, we faced a problem, though I had my passport, election ID and all possible identity cards with me, Ravi just had his driver’s license. This was a problem as they were willing to accept only passport or election ID as a valid proof of Indian citizenship. But they told us that we can go to the Consulate General at the India House and get an identification from them to prove our Indian citizenship. Now we rushed out, carrying all our luggage, to the India house. After walking for around 15min, we finally reached the India House. To our surprise, we found a jawan lowering the Indian flag in front of the building and I knew what it meant! It was closing time. I rushed to him and told him the situation. He said that the office closes at 5pm. I looked into my watch. It showed 4:30pm sharp. I felt relieved since we still had half an hour to go. The jawan looked at his watch and said that it was already 5pm! Poof! It then dawned on me that as we crossed the border, we lost half an hour as the Bhutan Standard Time stands half an hour ahead of the Indian Standard Time! We ran inside and told the officer of our situation. He was very helpful and we produced our TAPMI ID cards, my passport and Ravi’s driver’s license. He then took us to the Consulate General. After giving this usual gyan of ‘you are in a foreign country without a passport’ kind of stuff, he quickly agreed to give the identification letter for Ravi. The officer at the consulate also told us that there are no buses to Thimpu at this time and unless we take a taxi, we would not be able to reach Thimpu tonight.
I weighed the options and decided against going to Thimpu today. So we checked into a small hotel where we got a double room for 300Nu. Yeah, the currency changed too! It is Ngultrum from now on. And it is traded at par with the Indian Rupee. But the Indian currency is also accepted in Bhutan.
I got into my room, tired, after all the running around we did in the day and that too, without having a lunch! But thanks to the heavy breakfast we had at Neha’s house and the snacks that she packed for us, we weren’t feeling hungry. As I put down my luggage, I found that my backpack wasn’t looking as bulky as before. Oh!, my bulky Puma winter jacket was missing! Guess one of those guys who traveled on top of the bus was now wearing a branded Puma jacket! Thank god!, atleast, he wanted only my jacket, I thought, as I checked my backpack. Ravi felt really sad at how the day went with things not going according to the plan. I just smiled and told him the quote that I have quoted above. He agreed. Maybe, I would have been in trouble, getting down at night in the sub 10°C temperature of Thimpu without my jacket on!
Travel my friend, doesn’t always work the way we plan it, but requires you to accept the changes and replan accordingly. And I, had already replanned mine.
Location: Phuentsholing, Bhutan
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