Everybody makes some new year resolution and look forward to certain opportunities to practice the same. Though, i have not been too keen on making resolution and sticking to it, i also made a resolution first time in my life on the occassion of 28th new year, i have witnessed so far. The idea was to be more outdoor, more extrovert and more social. Grabbing any opportunity to visit new places, meeting new people and getting acquainted with more and more known and unknown places and persons were the parts of the plan.
May be it was also the idea of the almighty to help me out in carrying out my new year resolution, my office colleagues came with the idea of visiting Bhutan during new year’s holidays, courtesy “Negotiable Instrument Act”. It was indeed a grand step towards fulfilling my resolution in the very beginning of the year. Definitely, i jumped to the idea and hence a group of 13 persons proceeded for Bhutan on 1st of the January 2014. The year 2014 started with a bang and i could not have asked for more. Though some people in the group were apprehensive that Bhutan will have nothing new in store for us, as we have seen everything in Sikkim and it may turn out after the visit that Sikkim was more beautiful and scenic. Some were enthusiastic that they will be able to witness a new variant of Tibetan culture and practices from close quarters.
With those conflicting thoughts, we proceeded to Bhutan from Gangtok, via Jalpaiguri (West Bengal). In the afternoon of 1st January, we reached Phuentsholling, a border town of Bhutan and biggest commercial hub of the country. For me, the travel to Phuentsholling was sheer pleasure, as we travelled through many tea estates and road to phuentsholling was just superb and in complete contrast to the image of indian roads.
After reaching Phuentsholling, we started our struggle for obtaining permits for individuals and vehicles, so that we can visit Paro & Thimphu, two most famous tourist destinations of Bhutan. Some members faced difficultites in obtaining permits,as they were not carrying proper identification papers recognized by Bhutanese authorities.They had to resort to Indian Embassy’s help to get travel permits. Indian citizens need to carry Voter Identity Card or Aadhar Card for identification purposes and one or two passport-sized photographs.
Our initial impression of Bhutan was of not so tourist-friendly nation, however it changed as we progressed further to Paro & Thimphu. We stayed at Phuentsholling first night and next morning, proceeded for Paro via Gedu, Chukha and Chhapcha Valley, around 175 Km away from Phuentsholling. It was a smooth ride of six hours, courtesy Project Dantak of Border Road Organisation of Indian Army. One topographical difference,which i observed between Sikkim and Bhutan is that Sikkim mountains are lush green and replete with numerous streams, flora and fauna, while Bhutan Mountains are rugged and naked.
As we proceeded to Paro, the weather got colder with increasing altitude. Finally, we reached Paro and the first impression of the small city was quite good. Like other hill stations, it also reflected neatness and calmness. We could hear gushing sound of Paro river flowing in the vicinity, just after entering the city. Paro also boasts of a miniature Airport, which has flights connecting it to Indian cities including Bodhgaya, a major Buddhisth pilgrimage centre.
It was freezing cold in Paro in the evening and we literally ran for the shelter and got accomodated in hotel rooms. All types of Hotels are available there in Paro. Searching for vegetarian food in any part of Bhutan may be a difficult task especially in Paro, as local people take mainly non-veg food. We also came to know an interesting thing that Television and Radio were banned in Bhutan until late 90’s in a bid to preserve their culture from onslaught of any undesired influence.
After getting refreshed and equipping ourselves with all the winter-wears we had, we took a stroll in the empty lanes of the city and interacted with some locals, mostly young bhutanese girls. They were genuinally very warm and hospitable towards us. We got all the information regarding places to visit in Paro and their historical importance from them.
Next morning, we started our local sightseeing and the first on the list was Taktshang Monastry (Tiger’s Nest). People playing Archery were the common sight along the way in Paro.
Perched on a cliff-top, Bhutan’s Taktshang monastery, also known as the Tiger’s Nest, is one of the most breathtaking temples in the world. The Buddhist place of worship is built on a rock around 3,000m (10,000ft) above sea level and stands above a beautiful forest of blue pine and rhododendrons. The main temple complex was built in 1692 and is considered to be one of the holiest for the Bhutanese people. There are no proper roads and visitors have to trek for hours to reach the temple. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew to this site on a tigress’ back to subdue a local demon. Thereafter, he meditated here for three months. It is blessed and sanctified as one of Bhutan’s most sacred religious sites.
Apart from monastry, we visited old fort of Paro and museum and then started for next destination, i.e. Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan Royal Kingdom and power centre of the country (around 50 K.m. away from Paro) taking with us wonderful memories of beautiful Paro. Again following the same pattern, we reached Thimphu in the evening and stayed in hotel to get ourselves recharged for next day’s tryst with the capital city.
Thimphu, as a capital city was like any other commercial place and full of shopping centers and many of us went on shopping spree, despite knowing very well that almost all the goods are mainly imported from India and hence costlier.
Next Morning, we started our local sightseeing with Buddha Dordenma statue, one of the largest statue of Lord Buddha in the world. This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue. Each of these thousands of Buddhas have also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.
Standing from the statue, one can see entire view of Thimphu Valley. Like Rashtrapati Bhawan in India, Royal Palace of Bhutanese Kingdom is also an attraction of Thimphu, so we decided to pay a visit to the royal family. The palace, located just outside the main city, looks imposing and imperious.
Having seen the treasure of happiness of Bhutanese people from the close quarters, it was time to say bid adieu to the land of thunder dragon and we started for another exhilarating journey way back to our motherland taking vivid and colourful memories of the hill nation with us.
May be some happiness was rubbed on us too!