03-Jun-2006

Bhutan - Day 8 - Paro to Phuentsholing


For once P and I were ready well before the guys. We had to make it to an 8.15 p.m. train and did not want to miss it. After some last minute snaps, we loaded the luggage and were on our way. It was quite depressing being on the last leg of the journey. The place we stopped for breakfast looked more like India than Bhutan. Till then everyone had been wearing the Bhutanese national dress – men in gho and women in kira. Now more and more people were wearing jeans and T Shirts.

It began to rain after a while. The road wound up and down mountains and we found ourselves driving through clouds every once in a while. P, sitting next to the window overlooking the valley began to shriek every time Rajesh drove too close to the edge. After a while she switched sides with S but the valley was on her side again after a couple of turns. She just began to look ahead and not worry too much about falling to a painful death. It was something all of us were beginning to worry about. The rain had started to pour by then and visibility was about ten feet. With careful scanning you could make out where the road turned. For fifteen minutes I sat trying to look nonchalant but with my fists clenched. The silence showed that everyone in the jeep was doing the same. Eventually the sky began to clear and the road became prettier.

The roads were built by Dantak, India’s border road organization. Dantak had put up various signs for the benefit of rash drivers, including ‘Drive, don’t fly’, ‘this is a highway, not a runway’ and the very chauvinistic ‘don’t gossip. You will distract him’. Given that P and I were the ones who actually drove regularly and W and S did not, this seemed a bit ironic.

In spite of the delay on account the rain, we managed to reach Phuentsholing, the border town, by lunchtime. It was time for the moment of reckoning. P and I had got our passports stamped when we entered Bhutan since we had come by air. W and S, on the other hand, just had to fill out a form. Indians are not required to carry a passport and can make do with any government issued photo i.d. Both of them were very clear that it was completely pointless going to an international destination if one did not manage to get one’s passport stamped. All of us lined up at the exit point and showed our papers. The official affixed a small ‘departed’ stamp on P’s and my passports. But he just took W’s form. W looked at him hopefully and asked if he could stamp their passports too. The official, using impeccable logic explained that if the passport had not been stamped on arrival, how could they expect a stamp upon exit.

Nothing could cheer up the two of them and in a dejected mood, we had lunch and did some more shopping – yeah yeah. When we got back in the jeep Rajesh asked if the passports had been stamped. W and S sulked that theirs had not been. Intrepid Rajesh then decided to take up the issue with the officials while the guys waited like school children about to receive gifts. The task was too much even for Rajesh though and we left with no official proof of W and S having made the trip.

We were now officially in India. Which sadly did not seem to be such a great thing since the dividing line between Bhutan and India was just an innocuous arch – see the photo - but both seemed to belong to different worlds. On the Indian side, the road was crowded and filth was piled everywhere. Luckily the view turned out to be temporary and after a while the road went through tea gardens.

We made it back to the train on time and were finally at the end of our excellent road trip.

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