01-Jun-2006

Bhutan - Day 1 - Paro


Bhutan can be entered by air or road. The most common entry point by road is Phuentsholing, a town separated from India by an innocuous looking arch. Phuentsholing is a roughly three-hour drive from New Jalpaiguri where the railway station is located or Bagdodara where the airport is located. S and W had taken the train from Cal to NJP. From there Rajesh, the driver, picked them up in his Sumo and had taken them to Thimpu via Phuentsholing.

P and self were flying down to Paro, Bhutan’s only town with an airport, from Cal by Druk Air. Druk Air is the national carrier and no other airlines are allowed to operate. LP had promised us that the flight would be good, and it certainly was. The Himalayas loomed upon us as we began to land and the pilot assured everyone that if it looked like we were going to crash into the mountains, we were not to worry. Not a traditional announcement but reassuring in the circumstances.

The plan was for S and W to drive down from Thimpu to the Paro airport and pick us up. They had been under the assumption that we would land around 11 and our phone call informing them that we would be reach by 9 had hastened matters but not sufficiently. P and self got our first taste of Bhutanese friendliness right there in the airport where practically everybody asked us if they could help. One of the more helpful chaps was an airport security officer called Jimmy. When the guys finally arrived and we were to leave he informed us that there was a DJ from Delhi playing that night in Paro’s only disc and we should try and make it. P and self felt like minor celebrities.

The first stop was to be the Druk Air office to cancel tickets Pallab had overbooked by mistake . S and W had had sufficient time to get used to the pretty buildings but P and self were overwhelmed by the architecture that comprised ornate windows set in neat looking windows. There were also chortens all over the place. Out came the cameras and the first of a long series of snaps was clicked. The Druk Air office was bang opposite the Paro Dzong. Dzongs actually mean fortresses and were used such in ancient times. But with a rather obvious lack of need to defend various villages now, the buildings were converted into administrative offices. The Paro Dzong was especially beautiful since the Paro river flowed practically by its front door. Infact the main road in Paro is built along the river and your trips are accompanied by the sound of water over pebbles.

Our first meal in Bhutan. We landed at a place called ‘Sonam Trohpel’ on Paro’s main street. P had made up her mind that she would live on momos for the entire length of the trip. We ordered other local specialities – Kewa Datshi <> and Hindsey Datshi . Every dish seemed to be made with butter. Clearly not a diet recommended for anyone aspiring being a super model. And this did not even include the inexpensive beer.

Post lunch visit was to our first and last obviously tourist place in Bhutan - Paro museum. Bhutan has a fairly long history with relics from as long ago as 4500 years ago. However most of the information tends to be on Buddhism and unfortunately after a while you tend to get a bit lost in the various important figures in Buddhism. The most entertaining collection seemed to be that of stamps. For some reason, Bhutanese people have been completely fascinated by events outside of their world, especially the U.S. and U.K. So there were stamps commemorating the landing on the moon and Walt Disney characters. The final floors housed a collection of Bhutanese vessels in a low-ceilinged, narrow passage where Agatha Christie murders could have been set. The curator had also cleverly tucked away vast urns in every nook he could find. A post prandial walk is never the best setting to admire the beauty of a 100 similar looking urns and we finally got out of the maze and left.

With a little bit of light walking done, we were ready to tackle Paro’s best attraction – the Taktsang Monastery. Tradition has it that Guru Rinpoche had flown down to this rock on the back of a tiger. A casual observer can readily vouch that holding onto a flaming tiger is probably a less stressful way of reaching the place than the trek up. It was 3.45 p.m. by the time we set out. By the time we had walked 10 minutes I was definitely breathless. It was much later that I realised that your pace has to be changed for walks on altitudes at this level. P turned back around after half an hour and spent the rest of the time sleeping in the jeep and drinking tea. W, the fittest of the group bounded ahead. S soon disappeared into the upper slopes. I trudged on with the group’s supply of water and food and feeling too guilty to abandon the trip in case the guys came back for water. In the event it turned out to be a brilliant trek once I started to pace myself better. At around 5 when I figured that I would not make it to the top before sunset, I decided to quit. The walk back was even more brilliant. The skies were graying, a light drizzle began and the full beauty of the Himalayas hit me. After a brief while, S caught up with me and we reached down. All three of us ordered another round of hot chai and waited for W to arrive and announce his conquest. Sure enough, by 6.30 he was in the jeep bursting with stories about the view from the top. Sadly the monastery had shut at 5 and he could not get in.

By this time, the toll of waking up at 4 a.m. was beginning to tell on me and I was glad it was time to check into our hotel. That night’s stay was to be in Olathong. Fairly expensive by Bhutanese standards – 2000 rs a night whereas most other places are between 1250- 1500 rs a night for two people. The hotel was nice and comfortable though. The food at the buffet was terrible though. But all of us were on a high after the first day of the vacation and did not mind too much.


5 comments:

Razib Ahmed said...

"The food at the buffet was terrible though."
Please write a bit more about Bhutanese food. Is it spicy in general? DO people love green chili like India, Nepal and Bangladesh?
SouthAsiaBiz

anita said...

the food is mildly spicy. the main dishes have a decent bit of green chillies which you can always ask them to reduce a bit.

Archana said...

What are chortens? Do people stay in them or they places of worship? Also, how do people pray with prayer wheels?

Archana said...

Hey I heard that the national dish of Bhutan is chilli cheese curry? Is that true?

anita said...

chortens are these small brick huts in which you have prayer wheels. yes the bhutanese national dish is chilly and cheese - called ema datshi