Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 4 Issue 42 | April 16, 2005 |

   Cover Story
   News Notes
   In Retrospect
   Human Rights
   Food For Thought
   Slice of Life
   Time Out
   Dhaka Diary
   New Flicks
   Book Review
   Write to Mita

   SWM Home



Road Trip to Bhutan

The Unspoiled DRUK Land

Faizul Khan Tanim

The first thing that can break someone's reverie upon reaching the Druk land is indisputably the serene and unspoiled beauty of the state. High mountains -- often green and rocky, with narrow rivers snaking their way through the rises, dazzling white clouds, an immense amount of green and pine trees all running parallel in the mind, defining the magnificence of Bhutan.

Mask dance festival in Paro

If one loves nature, it is always wise to take a joy ride in order to experience the awe-inspiring scenery. If you take a Dhaka-Shiliguri A/C bus service starting at around 9:00 pm (BST), which has recently opened from Dhaka, you can reach the border Burimari in Lalmonirhat in a ten and half hours drive.

Clearing immigration and customs, depending upon the volume of passengers, 'Lays chips' packets, Gold Flake cigarettes -- Indian brands will welcome you to the Indian side of the border Changrabandha. It is wise to change your Bangladeshi currency and US dollars from there.

Taxi cabs -- Maruti mini buses and TATA Sumo jeeps will be waiting (which is the transportation from the Indian side of the trip up to Shiliguri). This time you are bound to miss the A/C comfort and luxury bus that Dhaka had provided.

Once inside the car, it will take you straight to Shiliguri. But those who want to go to Bhutan are advised to take the taxi till Moynaguri--a place in India from where buses leave for Jaigaon--India-Bhutan border. It will be a dull three hours drive till you reach the sight of rivers and the path through tea estates--suddenly the bushy green tea plantations spring up -- a sight for sore eyes.

Once you reach Jaigaon, the quiet nice little town on one side facing the hilly green side of Bhutan. You are in Bhutan a place called Phuentsholing, which has to be crossed by the majestic Royal Bhutan Gate. Anyone in Jaigaon can walk in and out from the Bhutanese state Phuentsholing till 10:00 pm.

As one enters Bhutan, friendly people in the traditional Bhutanese attire of long robes in bright red and orange -- Gho for men and Kira for women--will catch your eyes. The hilly streets, clean surroundings, prayer flags adorning the mountain sky line, plenty of green and the fresh air create a fairy-tale like ambience.

Going straight to the immigration office will be the wisest thing for visitors if they want to visit Thimphu--the capital and Paro. A special 'pass' will be given from that office which will be asked for at check posts while entering Thimphu.

On a special note, it is advisable for the tourists to wear trousers and shoes to the immigration office as shorts and sandals are not allowed inside the compound. Anyone who goes with sandals has to leave them by the gate and walk barefoot.

Once the immigration procedures are done, you are free to wander around Phuentsholing and spoil yourself with the mouth-watering traditional delicacies.

Traditional Bhutanese food always features spicy red or green chilies. A special dish known as 'Ema Datshi' is undoubtedly tasty. Chilly, cheese and meat being the main ingredient, this dish is certainly one of the hottest. It is said that a journey to the Dragon Kingdom is incomplete without tasting this delicacy. Small steamed dumplings called 'Momos' may be filled with meat or cheese. This Tibetan-style dish is also common in Bhutan and is scrumptious, fried or steamed.

Another Tibetan dish 'Thukpa' (noodles), which may be fried or served in soup, is a local delicacy. Other than these memorable treats, their normal diet of rice and curry are very familiar to our taste buds but with a major difference in ingredient--the hot chilly paste which gives the food a totally different aroma that can only be described as 'yummy'.

Gongzu/Memorial Chorten in Thimpu

The journey, rather the car-cruise from Phuentsholing to Thimphu can be described as adventurous. Interestingly, the six hour drive is not at all boring but refreshing. Mountains as high as 8300 feet, clouds roaming in front of you as you cruise on roads between big trees--the spellbinding journey can be hazardous for heart patients as the path-way has steep sides with hardly any railing on either side.

Thimphu is the capital of modern Bhutan and the valley definitely looks more crowded than the outskirts of the town. The houses here are built differently with aesthetic designs, neat roads, sights of sudden ice peaks and sun's rays playing with the clouds--the small town looks like a pearl centred in a cup of decorated shells.

Although offices, shopping malls, hotels, restaurants and discos are nicely arranged in that small town, the main attraction constitute the temples and places of ritual -- the architecture is simply dazzling and exquisite.

The Royal Bhutan Gate (India-Bhutan border)

A two hour drive by a taxi to Paro from Thimphu will bring you to a relatively less hilly valley. Paro has the only airport of the country, because of lack of plain land in the rest of the country.

A narrow airstrip which is used for both takeoff and landing, this is rather small for an airport. A bird's eye view of the airstrip is the ultimate spot for a photographer. The view is simply awesome! The first thing one may encounter if one comes at the right time (at the end of March) is the Tshechu Festival or the mask dance festival which marks the Bhutanese annual cycle. Visitors will be captivated on a cold March morning with the mask and folk dances. This is the fourth day of the five-day long festival at the Paro Rinpung Dzong courtyard.

The festival, which can be compared with our Melas, also includes the sale of artifacts, masks, and beautifully curved silver knives.

Land of the Thunder Dragon
The most amazing fact about Bhutan is that the state's area is 38,394 square kilometers with a population of around 6,99,000 and a currency with the same value as the Indian rupee. With a stronger economy than Bangladesh, where one of their staple exports is preserved fruit products, this nation produces ample electricity and earns huge revenue from it. The popular word 'load shedding' here is not in their dictionary as they produce surplus amounts of electricity and export it to India. Speaking to a few of the officials from their electrification board, we learn that Bhutan has always been interested in selling their surplus hydroelectricity to Bangladesh.

Monarchy is still practiced in Bhutan. The land of the thunder dragon is the mystical Buddhist kingdom. It is a well-preserved land with religious and cultural traditions set in the spectacular mountain ranges of the great Himalayas. The Bhutaneses' respect for their King and the crown prince is striking. You won't find a single shop which does not have pictures of the king. The local people say the present King Jigme Singye Wangchuck is a progressive leader and has continued in the modernisation plans started by his father maintaining the policy and the preservation of Bhutanese culture and tradition.

View of Thimphu

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2005