A land where prosperity is measured on a yardstick of happiness and every sight is vivid, Bhutan is the ultimate destination for all those who wish to leave behind their daily quandaries and gain a fresh lease of life.
Pele La, a high mountain pass is a sort of unofficial crossover point from west to central Bhutan and our convoy of seven cars is headed from Punakha to Bumthang, respectively. Coming to a halt at this pass, we witness Bhutan in all her scenic glory.The views from Pele La demand static adulation and our entire group of 21 jump out of our respective cars and charge towards these spectacular view that could very well be the perfect backdrop for a holiday postcard.
Then out come the cameras-enough to make a film crew feel under-equipped-and a plethora of poses and combinations follow. There are group shots, family shots, ‘gang of girls’ shots, cute kid shots, couple shots and various other such standard categorical combinations. And, all through this, traffic continues to pile up behind our cars. But the locals in the cars behind are tolerant; they just smile indulgently at our antics and wait. The Bhutanese appreciate the stunning landscape of their country and love the adulation showered on it. Bhutan works hard to keep its landscape unblemished because it is one of the key factors that contribute to the country’s Gross National Happiness-a concept taken very seriously in the land of the Thunder Dragon.
THE POT OF GOLD IN BHUTAN
We’ve arrived into Bhutan a few days back on a west-to-east drive. Effervescent with enthusiasm thanks to the scenic surrounds and mountain air in Paro, our first base, all of us trek up to Taktsang Dzong popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest. The trek is a three-hour strenuous climb going over uneven ground and vertigo-inducing narrow cliff ledges. We face the next morning with aching thighs and cramped calves.
The visual feast is served to us once we drive out from Paro and cross the capital, Thimpu, and head eastwards on the Trashigang-Semtokha highway. Since Bhutan is a Himalayan kingdom, its creased and crumpled topography forms magnificent mountains of varying heights and assorted vegetation. Often the mist drifts in and wraps itself around the pretty mountains and then suddenly disappears as the sun breaks through the clouds. The hillsides are painted with flowers in full bloom and decorated with quaint houses all done up in typical Bhutanese architecture and pretty chortens and prayer flags that pepper the land with a touch of piety.
ON CASCADING WATERS IN BHUTAN
Our next overnight is at Punakha whose Dzong(monastery)located at the confluence of the stunning Po Chhu and the Mou Chhu-Father River and Mother River respectively-has attractive handcrafted and articulate windows that are framed with delicate purple flowers. Built in 1637, Punakha Dzong was once the seat of the government. The Punakha valley has soil fertile enough to yield two rice crops every year and is also good for growing fruit. In addition to that, there is and abundance of oranges and bananas. Cultivation is also aided by the favourable climate of the region.
That evening we have a barbeque by the banks of the river. Since the revelry goes on late into the night, there are heavy heads and droopy eyelids when we are buckling up for our river-rafting jaunt on the Mou Chhu the next morning. Tashin, the rafting guide assiduously explains rafting techniques and rescue methods should we fall out of the raft. A cheery ‘let’s go’ from him kicks off our three blue rafts on the adventure.
By the time we near the first rapid, Tashin’s merry calls are promptly deteriorating to heartfelt pleas. With mounting anxiety he realises that his crew comprising pooped party animals are lethargically rowing, with a serious concern about getting the pose right for photos rather than paddling using the proper technique. The upcoming rapid isn’t a high grade one, but yet some paddle power is needed to get across. So Tashin promptly pushes a lazy rower off the raft into the water to shock us out of our inaction. It works and soon all of us are rowing like slaves in a Roman galley in attack mode. In the other raft, the kids of our group are gleefully jumping into the river which is green, clean and cool.
TAKING HOME THE WARMTH
The eight-hour drive from Punakha to the Bumthang region past Wangdue Phodrang, Pele La and Trongsa is reminiscent of our Pele La drive because of the spectacular scenery. I come to realise that here the journeys are also destinations by themselves; there are no boring transport sections. Prayer flags flutter in the wind, rosy-cheeked children smile and shout greetings with gusto; the Himalayan landscape itself is a picture of harmony thanks to the houses built in traditional architectural style.
Even though summer has firmly established itself in the rest of Bhutan, the Bumthang region is still rather cold and nippy enough to warrant heating stoves in our rooms. The proprietor of the hotel tells us that a festival is on at the little village of Ura, 55 km away and we head there on our second day. The decision was a good one because the festival is a riot of culture, colour, masked clowns, energetic dancers and noble lamas. The masked clowns are cheek chaps who insist on posing with women for every photo. The children traveling with us are enthralled by the festival thanks to the grandly dressed head priests, the skirted dancers who spin and flare their skirts to the rhythm of the long trumpets and the big kettle drums.
Our road trip across Bhutan is sadly coming to an end and the last night is spent at a campsite surrounded by hills that are bordered by a river. The farewell bash by the bonfire continues well into the night before we finally crawl in to our cosy tents, complete with warm quilts. The night at that campsite becomes my favourite highlight of the trip. To sleep in a little tent by a gurgling river and wake up to the sight of mist all around you is a holiday experience that exemplifies getting away from it all, a break from the ordinary and throwing off the shackles of routine.
Come morning, I sip my tea slowly almost hoping that time too will slow down and I can savour these moments a little longer before getting into the car and heading towards the final leg of my journey that will take me across the border at Gelephu, into India and Assam.
Jet airways has daily flights to Bagdogra from Delhi and Kolkata and it is a 158-km drive from here to Phuentsholing, the Indo-Bhutan border.
Indian citizens just need an identity proof to visit Bhutan. They can also drive their own cars in Bhutan, however, permits are required for various regions. For tailor-made driving holidays in Bhutan you could consider Roadtripper.
The Jakar Village Lodge in Bumthang offers a peaceful, centrally located stay option for travellers. In Punakha, the Meri Puensum Resort opens up its windows to a great view of the district (meripuensum.bt)
If you are planning to travel and looking to stay in good hotels, we have done some research and given you list of hotels in different cities. Key in the city name , relevent details, and click on the search button.
Have a great time Visiting on Holiday in Bhutan.