Sometimes we go through life being stuck between a rock and a hard place, unsure of which way or side to choose. But to get out of the feeling of being landlocked, one may find a way through the fields of life quite resiliently… Today, we are talking about a country which is doing just that. A country stuck between two giants, India and China – a country called Bhutan… also known as the land of the Thunder Dragon. The reason why we are talking about Bhutan out of the blue, is the Honda Drive To Discover, now in its 8th edition! And this time, the destination chosen was this lovely royal kingdom.
Honda’s Drive to Discover has grown leaps and bounds over the years, and we have been lucky enough to be a part of these lovely drives since its inception. This was a very first time that an international destination was chosen, getting us all the more excited. We have visited foreign countries a number of times, but never have driven to foreign countries, crossing borders in cars… So this was going to be our first!
Everything started off with a quick email sent by our friends at Honda, inviting us for this drive, a month or so back, which we readily accepted keeping aside everything else. If you plan to travel to Bhutan, there is no Visa needed for Indians and the process is extremely easy and friendly. You can apply online for an E-Permit using your passport, alternatively you can get an Entry Permit on arrival. Other nationals except Indians do need to apply for Visa for entry into the country of Bhutan.
This time Honda was showcasing on the Drive to Discover 8 mainly the 3 Lakh Diesel Engines that Honda had built. So the entire fleet of their Diesel engine powered models were to be featured in the drive. The i-DTEC Diesel engine powered City, BR-V, WR-V, Jazz and to add ,some more flavor they also got the Accord Hybrid and the CR-V on the fleet for us to drive to Bhutan.
Mumbai – Delhi – Bagdogra (Flight)
Bagdogra – Phuentsoling (165kms)
With an early start to the day, we caught a very morning flight to Delhi from Mumbai, and then a connecting flight from Delhi to Bagdogra. After hopping flights, we were in Bagdogra, where we had lunch at the Citi Dhaba which is on the highway, just about 7 minutes from the airport. We were given a route briefing and told that we had to reach across the Bhutan border by the end of the day. We started off in the Accord Hybrid and headed towards the Indo-Bhutan border. Bagdogra is a small city, and we soon were out of the place, crossing into tiny villages and towns on the outskirts. We passed many Army base camps enroute, feeling extremely proud of them in our hearts, as we saw the magnificent Army trucks and other vehicles on the way. You also see many lovely tea estates on both sides of the roads across the Siliguri highway on NH27, NH10, NH17 and finally onto the NH37A. There comes a point where you cross a railway crossing at Hasimara Junction, which is the last railway station on this end of India. Roads are pretty good on most of the stretches, except for some bad patches crossing a few small villages and towns. The Honda Accord was doing an excellent job in keeping us very comfortable all the while.
You enter small lanes and suddenly… you see a huge gate which is the entry point to Bhutan. I had a lump in my throat and a smile on my face, when I realized I am literally crossing over to Bhutan. It was nearly 8pm when we reached our destination for the day, Hotel Druk at Phuentsoling, Bhutan. This is a very nice and cozy hotel just 2 minutes from the entry point in Bhutan. Infact, if you step out of the hotel compound, you can see the lovely Bhutan Gate. As soon as you enter Bhutan, you notice the clean roads, a lot less traffic on the roads and very few people on the streets. We had a quick dinner consisting mainly of Bhutanese cuisine before going off to sleep. Ah and yes, we also got a local mobile sim card for use here, Tashicell being the most preferred mobile network in Bhutan. B-Mobile and Airtel Bhutan are the other two mobile service providers in Bhutan.
Phuentsoling – Paro (153kms)
Our second day started at 7am. After some breakfast, we had to visit the Bhutan Immigration office just near the hotel to get our passports stamped, which was the process after entry. Post that we left for Paro city. Bhutan has mainly 3 major cities (Phuentsoling, Paro and Thimpu), Thimpu being the capital and Paro known for having the only airport in Bhutan, and also for its scenic beauty. In the briefing, we were told that even though the distance between Phuentsoling and Paro is just 153kms, it would take a longer time to cover the distance, as we needed to cross many mountains to reach there. Our drive for the day was the Honda BR-V. This was the first day we were driving in Bhutan and for that we needed to get a Driving Permit. The Phuentsoling Thimpu highway is the only route that takes you to Paro.
This road consists mainly of hilly roads. The road condition is mostly excellent, with lots of slopes and climbs that take you from one mountain to another, towards your destination Paro. Once you leave the Phuentsoling town, the road climbs up instantly into a teak jungle for more than 5 kms, leading to a place called Richending. You pass by many quaint monasteries on the way there. The view is simply breathtaking… and you can see the foothills and plains of Bengal. There is a lot of single lane driving to be done here, so overtaking needs to be gotten used to. The local truck and car drivers are a very helpful lot. If you happen to be driving behind them, they help you by flashing the right indicator, stating please overtake and the road ahead is clear for you, and if it’s the left indicator, it means the road ahead is not clear. After crossing Richending, you pass by Sorchen and then through the jungles to Kamji to Jumja and Gedu at 2200m.
We had lunch here at Lhamu restaurant at Gedu and words cannot describe how tasty the food was here. Chicken Curry with rice, Momos, Chicken Chilly and some Suja Sweet Tea (Tibetian Tea), that is made in Yak butter and gets salt instead of sugar in it. Noteworthy here, is that food served in Bhutan consists of large servings made of finest ingredients available. Mostly all the food contains a local dry cheese called Datshi. So, you have Ema Datshi (green chilies with cheese curry) and Kewa Datshi (potatoes with cheese curry), to name two dishes.
You realize the amazing scenery and natural surroundings are so very different from the ones we see at hill stations in our country. Numerous waterfalls and ridges greet you, and after crossing Takti-chu the road drops downhill and crosses a bridge at Wangchu. Again, the climb begins, passing beautiful villages, right up to Chapcha, which stands at 2900m. At many places we were driving literally on clouds, neck in neck with the cloud level… and the feeling is indescribable.
We experienced light rain with some fog, reducing our driving speeds, making us enjoy the conditions even more. The sun sets early in this part of the world and it gets dark at 5 – 5:30 pm. But driving in pitch dark had other advantages…We had switched off the aircon in our BR-V long back and opened our windows to get in the fresh Bhutan air into our systems.
The clear and clean night sky was a sight to behold. Far from civilization, we drove on for some more time till we reached a river that guides you into the Paro city, to reach our hotel. Le Meridien Paro, Riverfront is built bang on the lovely Paro river. Here, we were welcomed in the traditional Bhutanese way! Dinner was with the Honda Cars India CEO, Mr. Yoichiro Ueno, who had specially flown in from Delhi to be with us at Paro. Day 2 came to an end with us exploring Bhutan, driving from lovely Phuentsoling to Paro.
Exploring Paro and Thimpu
Paro is the 2nd most important city after the capital Thimpu, because it has the sole airport of Bhutan. This sleepy city gets its name after the beautiful Paro river that runs around it. We entered Paro at night, so did not see its real magnificence and beauty till the next morning. Just behind the hotel runs the amazing Paro river, and standing there gives you a breathtaking 360 degrees view of the entire valley along with a crystal clear skyline dotted with mesmerizing clouds. It feels like God used his favorite paintbrushes on the scenery here, to make it look as beautiful as this. We set out to explore Thimpu city in our drive for today – the Amaze.
The distance from Paro to Thimpu is around 50 kms. And the drive there takes around 1 hour 25 mins. The roads are amazing and very well maintained by Border Road Organization India with Dantuk, which is the local support from Bhutan. Speed limit to be followed is strictly max 50kmph, both on highways and in the city. There are no traffic signals in Bhutan, and we were surprised by how well and systematically the locals were driving around. Pedestrians are only allowed to cross roads on the zebra crossings and the cars going through have to stop to let the pedestrians cross first. As we enter Thimpu, a large gate welcomed us into the city.
Thimpu is the capital of Bhutan and here you see a lot of civilization, as compared to other parts of Bhutan. Many shops and showrooms are seen here and the market place is larger than other parts. This modern city of Bhutan has a lot of cafeterias that serve local and continental food. The market place is full of local artifacts and other local stuff on sale. Local Bhutanese textile sells very well here, along with Bhutanese jewelry and other local made stuff. We visited the National Memorial, Chorten, which is an extraordinary example of Bhutanese architecture. The Buddha Dordenma statue is not to be missed.
This is a massive statue of Lord Buddha, measuring 51.5 meters in height, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world! This magnificent statue is made of Bronze and glided in gold. We are told that there are 1,25,000 small statues of Lord Buddha placed within this statue. This statue overlooks the Thimpu city as it is placed atop the Kuenselphodrang Nature Park. A visit here should not be missed at any cost.
We had our lunch at Uncle Toby’s Kitchen, consisting of an XXL-sized Chicken Burger and a Mango milkshake with some French fries. We picked some stuff from the market and headed back to the hotel for some rest, thus ending Day 3.
Paro – Phuentsoling (153kms)
Reaching Phuentsoling from Paro was going to be our first leg of our return journey towards India. We started off at around 8:30 am after some good breakfast at the hotel. Our drive for the day was the Accord Hybrid once again, not that we were complaining! We had done the last half of the onward journey towards Paro at night. This time around as it was daytime, we could enjoy the entire lovely and picturesque stretch.
It felt as if the valleys and the ridges had innumerable, mysterious stories to tell us, as we passed them one by one, towards Phuentsoling. You see a lot of Prayer Flags put up on the roads, these are meant to be a remembrance to the departed souls and also kind of blessings to the passerbys.
We had lunch again at Lhamu restaurant at Gedu, and yet again, the food was amazingly tasty. The drive back was even more fun, as it was day time, plus we were refreshed after our overnight stay at Paro. We reached Phuentsoling in around 5 hours. Our stay was the Tashi Namgay Grand Hotel for the last night in Phuentsoling. We headed out into the Phuentsoling city exploring it a bit, buying some memorabilia and stuff to carry home. The fun part here is that you can walk down across the border and enter Jaigaon, which is on the India side of the border. We did that, having some yummy Puchkas (Paani-Puris) along with some chaat, before returning back to Bhutan for the night, thus ending Day 4.
Phuentsoling – Bagdogra (165kms)
Bagdogra – Delhi – Mumbai (flight)
We had to cross into India from Phuentsoling, and drive back towards Bagdogra airport, from where we had a return flight to Mumbai via Delhi. As soon as we entered back into the Indian side, we instantly noticed the stark difference in the people and surroundings, as compared to Bhutan, which was just 50 mts away! Our drive back took us across the same route that passed by Army stations, tea gardens and small towns and cities. After having lunch again at the Citi Dhaba at around 2 pm, we headed towards the airport for the flight back home.
Not forgetting the amazing Honda cars that took us and got us back in amazing comfort and style. The i-DTEC Diesel engine powered Honda cars were complete bliss to drive on these hilly and tricky roads, and not once did they give us a chance to complain. These cars played a very important role in making our drive a memorable and comfortable one maintaining good fuel efficiency.
Exploring Bhutan in the Hondas was an unforgettable experience… a mystical country, a friendly neighbor… A country that has preserved itself over the years and kept itself natural and pure to the core. A country with happy people who always have a smile on their faces. A country where Indian currency is accepted everywhere. Bhutan Stories would be on the top of our memory for a long time to come. Beautiful memories to cherish for a life time.
Can’t wait for the 9th edition of Honda Drive to Discover!
Size of Bhutan – 38,394 sq kms.
Population of Bhutan – 797,765.
Density of population – 19.2people per kms.
Known As – Land of the Thunder Dragon because they experience many thunder storms.
National Symbol – Druk (seen on the countries flag).
3rd Highest Capital – Bhutan’s capital Thimpu is the world’s 3rd highest capital (8612feet).
Monarchy + Democracy – Bhutan has both a constitutional democracy with monarchy.
Bhutan’s forests absorb even more CO2 than the country produces.
60% of Bhutan has to stay as forests, as per the constitution.
Hydroelectricity is produced more than the country needs, hence some of it is sent to India.
Television was allowed in Bhutan from 1974, it was banned before that.
Bhutan is a country where smoking and tobacco is banned.
Bhutan stands 2nd in South Asia in terms of per capita income.
Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (37) is the King of Bhutan.
Jetsun Pema (27) is the Queen of Bhutan.
The royal family lives in Thimpu.