travel-record-repeat

Sightseeing

On the way to Sari from haridwar (Day 2)

Day 2 started very early for us since the tempo traveller was scheduled to pick us up from the haridwar railway station at 6 a.m for the 200km, 6 hours journey to Sari village which was the first base camp for us trek.

We were kind of late though..you know..its because of the cold. ūüôā . Well, we managed to reach the station by 6.30 a.m and found the tempo almost immediately and..located another group of trekkers heading for the same location and part of our trekking group in fact. I had read that the window seat on the right side of the bus is good for scenic views on the way,,so I conveniently located myself towards the middle of the bus on the right. Having said that, I was simply too tired from less sleep on the previous night and just fell asleep instead. I woke up after only an hour or so after having passed rishikesh and the tempo had already started on the meandering roads of the ghat section. The twisting and turning is such that it really sucks the energy out of you even if you are just sitting inside the vehicle.Anyhow, at about 9 a.m or so , the tempo stopped at a really cool restaurant located on the road off the mighty Ganga river. Well, it was cool in every sense of the word, the location and the temperature, it was probably 8 degrees C or so which is actually not so low in the absolute sense but it was for us since we, as in people from south India, rarely experience this kind of temperature.

Hot Paneer Parathas & Aloo parathas served with curd & pickle along with some hot tea was a super awesome breakfast. We had actually planned not to eat a heavy breakfast since it is always advisable to eat light when travelling but the breakfast was simply too delicious.

The cool restaurent

The cool restaurant

We were our way again at about 10.15 a.m or so and the group, feeling very bored started played Antakshari. I am not much of a singer , so I moved to the back of the bus and dozed off..again. After about an hour or so, I was woken by hustle in the bus; we had reached the legendary Devprayag. Devprayag is the location where Alaknanda and Bhagirathi meet to form the mighty Ganga. It is in fact a holy place for the hindus since Ganga is considered the holiest of the rivers in Hindu Traditions.

Meeting of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi

Meeting of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi

5 minutes and a couple of snaps later , we are en route to Sari again. Somewhere midway, about two hours from Sari, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. I was still so full on the breakfast that I decided to skip lunch for some more snaps of the location.

The lunch spot

The lunch spot

2 hours of winding roads and we were at the beautiful village of Sari. Sari is nestled in the mountains and comprises of about 100 homes. India Hikes group leased a 3 floored house here as a base camp for trekkers going on the deoritial-chandrashila trek.

Our trek leader , Jude, greeted us as we got down from the tempo. We were allocated our rooms in 10 mins and asked to come down to get some tea. During tea time, the India Hikes staff recorded our blood pressure and oxygen saturation level. People above a certain threshold of blood pressure(BP) and oxygen saturation(OS) are not allowed to go on the trek; the lower the BP and OS, higher the chances of AMS and other associated mountain sickness.

After some tea, we were called for a 45 mins briefing from our guide, Jude. The trek itinerary, the campsites, the expected behavior during the trek and everything related was told to us. Most of the members in our group were first time high altitude trekkers which was has its positives and negatives (Eg. the group walks slowly but then again sometimes too slowly). We were a group of 21 , the youngest was like 13 and the oldest was in 40’s.Immediately after the briefing, hot food was served to us. Rice, Rajma, papad, Rotis and sabjis, all freshly prepared and tasty. It was quite cold at Sari; many of us got into multiple layers of clothing that night itself. And the water,,,yikes !! It is like nails are driven into into skin every time you touch it. So anyhow, after dinner, we had only like an hour or so. Our group decided to have some fun playing cards; I learnt a new card game in fact. (I forget the name now). By 10.30 p.m or so we were tired enough to fall asleep but still very excited for our first day of the trek.

>>Day 3


Trek to Chandrashila Peak, The Beginning (Day 1)

WALKING THE PLANK
The trek to the highest shiva temple in the world, the tungnath temple..the stuff that legends are made of. It took me some time to agree to this one, not because of timeline of the journey itself but the amount of preparation involved. Months of training to increase stamina comprising of running everyday for half hour at least, the idea is to be able to run at least 4 to 5 kms in half hour. Well, finally I made up my mind to do it given the breathtaking sceneries that can be captured during the Deoriatal-Chandrashila Trek (This is the name of trek btw). Sent a message across to all the adventurers I knew. Some of them agreed and most declined since it was new years and everyone wanted to spend time with family; my colleagues Shashank, Sandeep , Ramya and Apoorva; Shashank and Sandeep’s wife agreed to join them (much to their dismay).

The legendary Chaukhambha which drew me to the trek

The legendary Chaukhambha which drew me to the trek

We had about three months time left for the trek and the first thing to do was plan out the itinerary, especially in terms of booking the flight tickets which tend to get expensive in the new year time frame. We got it fairly cheap, about 8000 INR , to and fro Bangalore-New Delhi. Of course apart from this, there was booking the train tickets, hotel rooms at intermediate points etc. All took a decent amount of research to cut down the costs to the minimum. Cumulative it came to like 20000 INR per head or so for the basic travel + stay initially.

Since this was my first high altitude trek, there was decent amount of stuff to be purchased; necessities really. These include trekking poles, Water proof gloves, Ponchos, Thermals and woolens (this was a winter trek see), CAT 4 sunglasses, thermos flask, trekking shoes and so on. There are ample videos available on the internet which should help you out with the required items. I purchased few and borrowed many items; despite all that the final cost came to more than 10000 INIR (Yes, the initial one time cost is high if you intend go for a proper trek). I spent half a day at Decathalon purchasing all the required items.

Once done with all this, there was …The..Long wait…Almost 2.5 months.
The start of the journey. BLR to Delhi.

THE ANTICIPATED DAY FINALLY HERE !
So we had an early morning flight at 6 a.m and was really surprised to see the airport very crowded once I was there. Shashank needed to come from Jayanagar and he was running late. So I decided to exhaust some bandwidth provided freely to people waiting at the airport and streamed a full episode of big bang theory. Shashank, Shwetha, Sangamesh reached the airport by 5 a.m. Sandeep, swaroopa (sandeep’s wife),Ramya and apoorva had a flight at 8 a.m and we had decided to meet them at Delhi airport post landing. (We had booked their flight separately to reduce the costs as we got 4 tickets at a slightly lower price thereby bringing down the cumulative cost of the flight charges for the 8 of us.)

Now it so happened that the due to crowd, the baggage check took excessive amount of time , almost 30 mins and we reached the gate at 5.45 a.m and the security says,” sorry sir, we cannot allow you to board the flight. You are too late”. Just great , our trip of a lifetime was going to end before it even started.We pleaded but he was unrelenting. Finally luckily an airport bus arrived and he allowed us to board the bus after giving us an earful.Phew !!!

We reached Delhi Airport by 8.20 a.m.After having a quick breakfast at Cafe coffee day within the airport itself; we decided to head and roam Delhi for a bit since our train to Haridwar was scheduled for 3.20 p.m. It was awfully cold in Delhi and very foggy with a visibility of hardly 50 meters. The closest tourist spot to our location was Red fort which required us taking the metro to chandini Chowk from the New Delhi railway station ( which also happened to be our boarding point for the train to haridwar). We off loaded our luggage at the cloak room facility at NLDS for a minimal charge and proceeded to chandini Chowk railway station which was few stops away.

Chandini Chowk was absolute chaos, the kind I have never seen…Ever.. Vehicles were separated from each other by a distance of few cms and 80‚ĄÖ of the road was occupied by sellers all kinds of things. A 10 mins rickshaw ride from chandini Chowk and we were at the legendary red fort.A really long queue at the ticket counter greeted us and took us nearly 20 mins to get the tickets.

Red Fort shrouded in the Fog

Red Fort shrouded in the Fog

Red fort is huge, spread over many acres and there is so much to see and by extension , lots of walking. The weather was pleasant and so we did not mind clocking steps on the fitness band. The museum housing old artifacts, the pool, the living chambers, the courtyard etc are take you back hundreds of years and the foggy day added to the mystical element on that day.

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We probably walked at least 3 to 4 kms on that day within the fort itself but it was totally worth it. Post exiting the fort, we made our way through the chaos that is chandini chowk again via a richshaw and finally reached the NLDS again post taking the metro from Chandini Chowk to NLDS. We wanted to finish our lunch but we realized (thank god) there simply wasn’t enough time. As a matter of fact, we made it just in time to NLDS to catch our train to Haridwar. Ramya, Apoorva, Sandeep and Swaroopa also made in time and we all met up within the train.

The quality of food offered by Indian railways seemed to have improved and we gorged on some Biryani and tomato soup; it was a long journey of 4 hours after all. We reached Haridwar by 9 p.m or so in the night. It was quite cold at Haridwar as well(single digits Celsius easily). The booked hotel (The Sun hotel) was only a km away from the main railway station and the ever trusty google maps helped us locate the hotel , even though it was tucked away in some narrow lane off the road. Checked in, had dinner at the in-house restaurant and slept as soon as possible since the pick up bus to Sari village the next day for scheduled for 6 a.m.

>>Day 2


Cauvery Nisargadhama

Nisargadhama is a breathtakingingly beautiful island off the state highway, two km from Kushalanagar town and 28 km from Madikeri.The 64-acre island, surrounded by the Cauvery river, can be accessed by walking across a hanging bridge. Established in 1989, the picturesque picnic spot with lush foliage of thick bamboo groves, sandalwood and teak trees has lovely river-side cottages. A deluxe cottage on stilts with the Cauvery flowing around it, can accommodate five persons. Elephant rides and boating are some of the other attractions. There is a deer park, children’s park and orchidarium in the resort. Medicinal plants are also grown. Tourists are allowed to get into water at a few shallow and safe points along the river.

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Talacauvery

Talacauvery is the place that is generally considered to be the source of the river Kaveri. It is located by Brahmagiri hill.There are multiple temples here dedicated to various deities.

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I visited Talacauvery as part of the Karnataka Tourism Package tour which primarily covers Madikeri and nearby regions. We reached the location by 8.30 a.m; the weather was wonderful & cool. If hungry there a couple of stalls nearby which serve hot cups of tea/coffee and eatables.The view from the location is beautiful.

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Early morning pooja is performed at a small constructed pool and tourists throw in coins here as it is believed that it bring good luck and fortune.

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The location of talacauvery offers a beautiful view of the region; a series of steps infact lead up the bragmagiri hill and offer an even better 360 degree view but on the day of our visit, they were closed.


Trip to Pearl Valley (Muthyala Maduvu)

Pearl Valley , also known as Muthyala Maduvu (Muthyalu means Pearls and Maduvu means Pond or Pool in Kannada) is located about 50 Kms from Bangalore. It is famous for the couple of small water falls that are secluded in a forest in the valley.

I decided to visit the place on a holiday due to the Independence Day (15th August) with 2 of my friends. The plan was to leave home at 5 a.m in the morning and we did. The ride was very pleasant , especially with lower traffic in the early morning combined with the cool monsoon winds on the highway. It took about 1.5 hours to reach the point. Arrangements are present to park the vehicles and there is a restaurant as well (run by Karnataka tourism department, KSTDC).

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A stairway right next to the parking lot leads down from this point. The climb down over around 100 laid steps passes through a forest and takes only about 10 minutes.

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There is temple located the bottom of the valley, dedicated to lord shiva and the waterfall is located opposite to the temple.

To be honest we were quite disappointed with what we saw ; the waterfall was essentially a very narrow stream tricking down the rock from a height of about 100 feet.

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It was the monsoon and it had rained quite a bit in that month ; so we expected a decent amount of water in “fall”. It is possible that the flow of water was restricted intentionally from the lake above. We spent about half an hour here trying to get some good shots of the spot.

After half hour, we climbed back up and visited the lake which is only 100 metres away from the parking lot.

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Another 15 mins here and it was the journey back to bangalore. Overall a bit disappointed with the location but the pleasant ride in the beautiful weather was the saving grace.


Thimpu (Day 2)

Thimpu is the capital and the most developed city of Bhutan.
Thimpu is fairly small city, well, it not even a town in terms of size as compared to “towns” in other countries, which is kind of nice since it is has pretty much all of the amenties without all the population.

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From Phuntsoling to Thimpu
We reached Thimpu at about 6 : 30 p.m (Day 1) and landed directly at the Taxi stand. There is no dearth of hotels in thimpu but it is recommended that rooms are booked before hand in the peak tourist season. We were recommended Hotel New Grand , located in Norzim Lam 2 and with a pure Indian Veg restaurant. We paid the taxi driver 80/- INR to take us there. Note that it is only 0.5 Kms from taxi stand (we did not know that).  So you can just walk if you have less luggage. The per night room rent was 1500/- INR for a double bed room (at the time of the blog). We inspected the rooms. They were super clean and we found them to worth it given that 1500/- INR is including taxes. (Bhutan adds 20% tax). We unloaded the luggage and decided to have dinner.  The prices are reasonable at this hotel and is sure shot recommend , especially for Indians since it is pure vegetarian and quite tasty !.

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After dinner we just decided to roam the streets of thimpu to get a feel of things and get ready for next day.

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Clock tower Courtyard

In and Around Thimpu
We started off the day by having a nice breakfast to prepare for the day ahead. Do try the Cheese Toast, Masala Omlette and Tea combination at the in house restaurant at the New Grand Hotel. The day’s Itinerary was
1. Get the Entry Permit access to restricted areas that we had pre decided on (Haa Valley, Punakha, Dochula)
2. Visit all the sight seeing spots in Thimpu.

The Immigration office is located at the end of Norzin Lam 2 street.(Its about 15 mins (~1km) from the clock tower courtyard) Fill up the “Route Permit for restricted areas” and submit it with a copy of entry permit(So ensure to get a photo copy before hand). Note that if you want to stay in bhutan for more than 7 days, you need to mention that as well (and probably fill up another separate form). It will take about 30 mins to get the extended permit pass. (Depends on the rush).

Now that extended permit was received, it was time to cover Thimpu.

1. National Library
The closest according to Maps was National Library which is located about 650m from the Immigration office.

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National Library

It is (as the name suggests) a huge collection of Books , photos and historical texts depicting the history of Bhutan. The ground floor is a library with seats for reading. The upper floors contain many Buddhist texts from multiple Buddhist schools.

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2. Memorial Chorten
The memorial chorten, is located about 1.2 Kms from the national library but in the opposite direction, i,e it is located within the main city. (Again quite walkable). It is a huge stupa built in honour of the third  Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, and is popularly known as the most visible religious landmark in Bhutan. It does not enshrine any human remains.

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Memorial Chorten

There is a small park within the boundary fences of the memorial chorten and we found a lot of folks just relaxing and eating their lunch on the grass. We went around the stupa once ; others were doing the same. There is a bell within the premises which can be spun. It is said that one spin is equal to a 1000 prayers.

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Memorial Chorten

It was already lunch time but we intended to cover thimpu as much as possible. We managed to halt a taxi and convince him to take us around Thimpu for 2000/- INR for half a day. (The full day charge is 4000/- INR). The reason we had to take a taxi is because rest of the sightseeing spots were many kms away and there was no way to reach them on foot (in time). Next in the list and closest to our location was Buddha’s point.

3. Buddha’s point
To reach Buddha’s point, the taxi needs to chug its way up a hill for about 15 mins from the city center.the The ‘point’¬†is a gigantic Shakyamuni Buddha statue constructed in the mountains in honour of¬†fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The statue is one of the largest buddha statues in the world is approximately 50 meters tall. The statue is made of bronze and gilded in gold. It is truly mesmerizing.

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Buddha’s Point

In front of the statue, there is huge courtyard. Hopefully if the crowd is less, you can get a decent shot of the statue. Walk towards the edge and the whole of the thimpu valley is visible.

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Thimpu Valley from Buddha’s Point

It was quite sunny and bright on that day and the far side of the valley was shrouded in mist. Around Buddha statue, there are statues of various deities.

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Under the huge statue, there is a huge meditation hall.No cameras allowed. Inside the hall also, there are gold gilded statues of Buddha. You can pay your respects here.This was covered in approximately 45 minutes. The closest sightseeing point from here is the Takin preserve.

4. Takin’s preserve
The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan ;¬†it¬†is a goat-antelope found in the eastern Himalayas. We reached the preserve in about 20 mins from Buddha’s point.
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It isn’t exactly the prettiest animal for sure.

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The Takin

The preserve has many Takins (both male and female) although we just saw a few of them and left. The entry fee is 30 INR for Indian nationals.

5. Bhutan Broadcasting Tower (BBT)
The Bhutan Broadcasting Tower is the best place to get a full view of Thimpu(Which is why it was on the list). Well to be precise, it is somewhere on the road to BBT that you get a full view of Thimpu.

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Thimpu Valley

Along the way, you can get a view of home of the queen of Bhutan , situated amongst the hills; as shown to us by our taxi driver.

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The House of Queen of Bhutan (One of many)

6. Tashichho Dzong
Tashichho Dzong, located in main city of Thimpu is¬†the head of Bhutan’s civil government, an office which has been combined with the kingship since the creation of the monarchy in 1907, and summer capital of the country. From what we were told , tourists are not directly allowed inside. It is reserved for the government officials and high ranking authorities. So we could get only shots of the Dzong from far away.

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Thimpu Dzong

7. Dechenphu Lhakhang
Next in the list , as suggested to us by the taxi driver was Dechenpu Lahakhang, a  temple located on the northern side of Thimpu and about 20 mins drive from the center of the city. There are no direct buses to this place and the route passes through a small forest. The drive itself is quite scenic.

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Dechenpu Lhakhang

Situated on a hillock, a 5 mins climb up from the taxi parking spot will get you to the place. There was sweet lady the the entrance of the climb seilling hot momos at 50/- INR There were a lot of dogs within the temple who were on the verge of attacking us, thankfully a kind monk saved us. ūüôā . We were not allowed inside the temple itself though.

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Dechenphu Lhakhang

Spend about 20 mins here.

So this was the end of our Day 3 and sightseeing the Thimpu. We took the cab to the bus stop, paid the taxi driver and then booked our 9 a.m bus to Paro for the next day at the bus stop. Only 55 Nu/INR from Thimpu to Paro. Withdrew some cash at the ATM as well. The ATM accepts Indian debit cards but pays the cash out in Bhutanese currency “Nu” which is equivalent to the Indian Currency.

It was late evening and time to get some snacks. Reading some review on the internet, zoned in on “karma’s coffee” located 15 mins walk from Norzim Lam. Caramel Milk Shake, Latte, Cheese S.W and Veg S.W. While the caramel milk shake was the best I had ever tasted, the sandwiches were surely the not worth the price charged. So really , visit the place only and only for the Caramel milk shake or the coffee.

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The ambiance of the restaurant is decent though, as a youthful feel to it. English savories and pastries are also available. So overall rating of the restaurant would be 2.5/5 (primarily due to the pricing).

In order to get over the disappointment of the poor evening snacks, we decided to liven up our late evening by purchasing handicrafts ; something that Bhutan is famous for.While the original intention was not to purchase too much , we did up buying a reasonable number of things. The highlight of our purchases was surely this T Shirt with awesome print of the Tiger’s Nest.

We searched almost 10 outlets to get the right size for us @ 40.

After all the shopping, rats were running marathons in the stomach again. So it was time to try the next restaurant in the list. This time we decided to try the “Zombala Restaurant” ; it was rated quite highly for its authentic Bhutanese cuisine. It is tucked away in a small gully off Norzim Lam 2. So hot Veg momos it was.

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Veg Momos at Zumbala

It was worth it; only 60/- INR and the momos tasted very amazing; spicy stuffing with even spicier sauce. Worth a try for sure.

The end of the night must always be sweet; the famous “Swiss bakery” caught out sight as we were returning. We weren’t sure whether we would be entertained since shops in Thimpu close by 9:30 p.m. But lady luck was on our side and the bakery was open.

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The cream rolls, the Swiss roll, the chocolate cake, Eclairs and the butter biscuits. All of them tasted fantastic ; this place another one which worth a visit for sure. A fitting end to a great day !

Places to stay in Thimpu
The only hotel we stayed in Thimpu ¬†(Overall 3 nights) was the “The New Grand” and in my opinion is¬†very¬†suitable in terms of

1. Pricing : 1500/- INR for a squeaky clean double room at the time of the blog
2. Food : Pure & tasty vegetarian food which is affordable (FYI they serve alcohol as well)
3. Location : On Norzim Lam 2, and close to many sightseeing spots (~1 to 2 kms)

>>>On to Paro (Day 3)


Bhutan…The Land of the thunder dragon

Bhutan, the Land of the thunder dragon (In Bhutanese “Druk” stands for thunder dragon).
The thought of travelling to Bhutan arose primarily because it got really hot in India (Bangalore) and we(me and my friends) intended to visit some place relatively cooler. The initial plan was to visit the north east side of India but then post some online research we realized that we might as well travel to Bhutan.In terms of distance and time needed to travel it will almost be equivalent for both the cases (read on further to find out why) and Bhutanese currency (“Nu”) is equivalent to Indian rupee (INR). But there is an opportunity to experience a foreign culture. So Bhutan it was!! (North east can wait for now)

Reaching Bhutan (the most common route from India)
T
here are two primary ways to reach Bhutan
1. By Air : You can catch a flight from Delhi or Kolkata and the flight lands at a small town called “Paro” (Which also happens to be one the major sightseeing locations in Bhutan). However this option proved to be expensive for us that time, (The flight charges were 100% more If I recall correctly). Therefore we decided to take the Land route. We knew it would be more strenuous but also more fun.
2. By Land : The “Land ¬†Route” still involves taking multiple modes of transportation (Train, Bus, Auto etc) to some how reach Jaigon on West Bengal border. Jaigon is situated on the opposite side of Bhutanese border town of Pheutsoling. If you are taking the land route, you have to get all your entry permits made in¬† Pheutsoling.

The Route we Took
Being based in Bangalore, we needed to catch a train or a flight to West Bengal in order to head to Jaigon (and by extension¬† pheutsoling). So we decided to catch a flight to the nearest airport to Jaigon i,e Bagdogra Airport in Siliguri.¬†The flight took off at 10.35 a.m from bangalore Airport and landed at bagdogra airport by approx 3 p.m (with a stop at Kolkata Airport). This is where the “land transportation” ¬†begins.

-> After exiting Bagdogra Airport, catch a bus to Siliguri Junction Railway station (About 10Kms, should cost about 15 INR per head and take about 30 mins)
-> Catch the train from Siliguri Junction to Hashimara. We caught the 4.45 p.m train and it takes about 3.5 hrs to reach Hashimara. (About 120 kms ;The cost is 60 INR per head)
-> From Hashimara, take a shared auto to Jaigon. (18 Kms and it should cost you about 40 INR per head in shared auto and take about 30 mins. (However it is quite possible that during the late evening phase ,due to less number of passengers , the per head charge could be higher)

The train from Siliguri junction to Hashimara passes through beautiful tree plantations and a very dense forest where it slows down to some 30 kmph due to potential elephants crossing.

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You can actually spot elephants and peacocks in the forest on the sides of the track (if you are lucky). We finally reached Jaigon by 9 p.m or so in a shared auto. We rented a lodge opposite to the main Bhutanese gate separating the two countries.

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The “Gate”

The lodge (Aram Lodge) cost us 700 INR per night and not too clean but still ok for 1 night ; but you will find a lot of ¬†“alchohol consumption” around. So if you are not comfortable, search for another one. There are many restaurants at this location, catering to various taste buds but you will have to walk around for a bit if you are looking for a particular kind of cuisine. The simplest cuisine offered at most restaurants is Rice, Dal and sabzi .

Some Important Takeways
1. This was the cheapest method to reach Jaigon from Bagdogra. You can also hire taxis directly or maybe on a sharing basis but it will obviously cost you more.
2. Many restaurants at Siliguri, Jaigon etc will not have a physical menu card but the waiter will just state everything that is available. Extremely important to simply query the prices of the items available before ordering. Otherwise they simply charge exorbitant amounts later on when you receive the bill. (Yes, it is very common!!) and there is little you can do about it later on.

>>>>On to Phuntsoling


Punakha and Dochula (Day 6)

We had the permit only to Punakha but not to dochula (The locations needs to be specifically mentioned in the permit). So decided to pay another visit to the Immigration office to get the permit to ensure that we don’t land up in Bhutanese jail :). However it was told to us that since Dochula is located on the way to Punakha, the permit need not exclusively have Dochula mentioned. As we exited the Immigration office, we managed to locate a taxi driver who agreed to take us to Punakha via dochula (and back) for 3.5K INR. Given that it was full day journey , we felt the amount was reasonable.

About Dochula Pass
The Dochula Pass is a mountain pass on the road from Thimpu to Punakha where 108 memorial chortens or stupas known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens” have been built.¬†Apart from the chortens there is a monastery called the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple), built in honour of the fourth head of state of Bhutan.

Reaching Dochula
Dochula Pass is located about an hour’s drive from Thimpu. It can be reached via taxi (or bus maybe since we found a few buses plying that route. We did not inquire about the bus route though)

The road from Thimpu to Dochula (and to Punakha) was under construction. So it was many kilometers of mountainous bumpy-dirt road ; the journey was very uncomfortable primarily because of the dust. There was no escaping it even with the windows closed. The taxi driver informed us that the road was under construction till Trashigang which is almost 500 Kms from Thimpu and would take 5 years (atleast). The road to dochula is uphill and windy (as it is everywhere in Bhutan). We reached dochula pass within a hour. The weather was pleasant.

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Druk Wangyal Lhakhang

We initially visited the beautiful Monastery next to Dochula Pass.

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Entrance to Druk Wangyal Lhakhang

Inside the monastery, there are three huge statues of gurus central to Buddhism. Go around the temple to get a 360 degree view of the valleys. It was quite foggy at the time of our visit but on clear days, Mount Everest is visible from the pass.

After visiting the temple, we visited the 108 stupas at dochula pass. The chortens are situated at three levels and overall the collective structure is quite beautiful.

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Dochula Pass

The temples contains pictures of deities and gurus central to Buddhism.

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From here we pushed off to Punakha. The journey again was quite uncomfortable since majority of the road was under construction.We reached Punakha in about two hours and immediately headed for Punakha Monastery which was definitely the highlight of the day.

About Punakha Monastery
It is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of its most majestic structures and also serves the administrative center of the Punakha district.The Dzong itself is located at the confluence of the Pho Chhu (father) and Mo Chhu (mother) rivers in the Punakha‚ÄďWangdue valley. It¬†measures 180 metres (590¬†ft) in length with a width of 72 metres (236¬†ft) and has three courtyards. A lot of Buddhist festivals are celebrated in a grand manner at this monastery. (We were lucky to witness one).

Reaching Punakha Monastery
The monastery is about 3 hours drive from Thimpu and 2 hours from dochula

En route to the monastery, there is a great view point which gives you the best shot of the monastery, with the two rivers in view and the Punakha-wangdue valley in the background.

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The Punakha dzong

We reached the monastery at around 1:30 p.m and that was mistake !. The dzong is closed from 1 p.m and 3 p.m. In order the pass time, the taxi driver suggested another view point close to the monastery, a steel bridge across the river located only 5 minutes drive from the Dzong. And it was totally worth it !

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Steel Bridge near Punakha Monastery

It will look steep from a distance (as in the pic) but is easy & safe to walk across. It was constructed at a time when there was no solid road bridge across the river ; so folks used this to cross the river. The bridge is around 100 meters or so. Midway you get a few more shots of the entire valley.

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We spent about 45 mins here.

We went back to the monastery by 2.30 and just spent rest of 30 minutes chit-chatting about our journey so far. At about 3 p.m we were allowed inside the monastery. There is this location just outside the monastery with a beautiful lake (below) ; unfortunately tourists are not allowed here. I just managed to get a shot leaning off  a wall.

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Note that photography is “partially allowed” inside the monastery. What I mean is photographs can be taken within the courtyards and of the structures when within the monastery but not when inside the rooms. We were also very lucky to spot the prime minister of Bhutan along with the lead Lama of Bhutan who happened to visit the punakha monastery on that specific day. In addition, the monks performed a spiritual dance session on this specific day !

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Monks performing a traditional buddhist dance

There are multiple courtyards within the monastery. The final courtyard leads to a huge temple which has 25 feet statue of buddha along with huge and hundreds of years old tapestries. It is really calm inside and worth your time to spend a few minutes just taking it all in.

This concluded our journey of Bhutan. We intended to visit a few more places in Bhutan (Like Bumthang) but unfortunately these are located quite far away towards the interior of Bhutan. Since the transportation network is still under development, reaching the interiors of Bhutan is significantly more difficult but is probably worth it given its natural scenic beauty. That is something we reserved for our next journey.

Overall the trip was amazing and worth it for sure !!

Now for the tiresome 2 day journey back to bangalore. ūüė¶


Alad Mara (Big Banyan Tree)

The Big Banyan tree is a 400 year old tree and considered 4th biggest Banyan tree after world’s biggest tree of Andhra Pradesh, Kolkata and Adiyar tree at chennai. The tree now lives without trunk. As typical to this species, the main tree has over the years spread out widely with several aerial roots. With thousands of such roots spread out, the tree covers an area of 3 acres. The present crown of tree has a circumference of about 120 mts and the highest branch rises to about 95 feets.

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Logistics
The Big Banyan tree is about 2 hours drive away from bangalore. There are a lot of buses which you can catch via majestic bus stop as well.