Sunday, June 26, 2016

Prologue.Trekking Trip to Bhutan

The Plan
The plan to visit Bhutan germinated in my mind for two reasons.One and the main was that I never went to any foreign country before.The second was the chance to trek in a different region.Over time other reasons added up and by 3 months before the target date it was firmly decided to visit Bhutan with all research looking for any alternatives was dropped.Now it was time to call up my friends and see who were interested.After a lot of calls and discussions,3 of my friends were in.One of my friend's cousin was also interested so finally our group consisted of 5 members including me.The dates were then decided.April 8th to April 16th suited everyone and were fixed. Then I called up GIO adventures and began negotiations for the trek itinerary.It was decided to spend the first day in Paro and visit the Taktsang Monastery.The trek would begin from the second day and would end at Thimphu on the sixth day. We would depart from Thimphu on the seventh day. The plan was simple and straight forward.
My trek stuff
The Preparation
Planning and preparation are two of the most thrilling aspects of any trip and I take great pleasure in doing both. After all the planing with respect to people,dates and itinerary was done it was time to now prepare for the trek.This was my first visit to a country outside India and I was determined to find out more this country.I started off with the usual stuff.Read Lonely Planet guide for Bhutan,then the surprisingly good wikitravel entries. I looked up other blog entries for the trek and the country.I gleaned a lot of information out of these posts.And then once I was once talking to an acquaintance who,I knew had a Tibetan background.I casually asked him about Bhutan and luckily for me he said he had a friend in Thimphu,the Capital of Bhutan.This friend of his was a scholar and had authored a book on the history of Bhutan.My friend,Mr Sam Wangyal gave me his friends address and phone number in case I get a chance to meet him in Thimphu. I bought the book that his friend wrote and finished it just days before we took off for our trip. The book was hugely informative and by the time I finished it I had a very good idea about Bhutan's past and how its whole journey from an extremely isolated country to the present status of it being the last Shangri La had came about.
The next part was the equipment.I already had all the required stuff and had no problem whatsoever ins getting my trek bag ready. A very exciting addition to this trek was the Suunto Vector Altimeter watch my brother gifted me.
The book written by my friend's friend.

The Team
Our team for this trekking trip to Bhutan consisted of 6 persons. Three of them, Abhishek,Raviteja and Satya were my childhood friends. Abhishek and Satya were also there with me on our spectacular Roopkund Trek in the state of Uttarakhand,India.For ravi this was his first trek.Then there was abhishek's cousin Ishita Didi. She is a regular trekker and had done 3 Himalayan treks and a number of treks in the Western Ghats.For Yours truly this trek was the third after Nag Tibba and Roopkund.
We were to meet our sixth member in New Jalpaiguri. This person had booked the trip independently.

The Assembly
Satya and myself started from Raigarh in Chhattisgarh and reached Kolkata on May 11.Our train to New Jalpaiguri was in the night at 2100Hrs. Abhishek started from Hyderabad and reached Kolkata in the afternoon. Ravi started from Ahmedabad and reached with an hour of Ishita didi's arrival from Bangalore. So at around 2030 hrs our team was assembled.

The next morning we reached New Jalapiguri station a full 2 hours late where we were met by Durgaji our guide for the trek. Three of us did the roopkund trek with Durgaji last year and we were glad to have him for this trek as well. The weather at Jalpaiguri was horrible.It was very hot and the humidity was high. As we dragged our rucksacks over to the parking lot where our vehicle was waiting we were soaked in sweat. Rivulets of sweat kept forming on my face as I kept sweeping them aside. This humid weather was in complete contrast to what I had expected of Jalpaiguri. And I said the same to Abhishek who belonged to these areas. He was just as surprised as myself by it.

We had an Innova waiting for us and after settling down inside we started our journey to Bhutan.Since we were late and the border closed down at 1700Hrs we had to leave quickly.(The border closes down early on weekends.Always call beforehand and get the latest updates about the border Rules.They seem to change quite frequently)As Sherlock Holmes would say 'We haven't a moment to lose'.So we did not stop anywhere to freshen up and started off immediately. We picked up our 6th member of the team Amit from his hotel in New Jalpaiguri. He looked well built and it was evident that he was a regular gymmer. Introductions soon followed and we learnt that he was from Mumbai and this was his first trek.

The Journey
By 12 noon,With all the members assembled we were well and truly on, on our journey to the land of the thunder dragon. Our car sped off through the dusty and hot countryside towards the border town of Jaigaon some 150 km away. We passed by a number of tea plantations as we went. We reached Jaigaon at around 4pm. We crossed over to Bhutan and entered the Bhutanese town Phuentsholing. Here we had to complete the permit formalities. This town was our first view of Bhutan and we were left much impressed. The stark difference in the surroundings is visible as soon as the border is crossed.The roads were clean,the traffic was disciplined.The buildings were ordered.There were no random stalls or haphazard constructions. Add to it the traditional architecture and the traditional dresses of the populace,the whole town was refreshingly different from the same part of the town in India.On top of that when we stood on the edge of a road to cross it ,waiting for the vehicles to clear we were mighty surprised to see people stop their car and motion us to crossover.This was not a one off incident.It kept happening for the rest of the trip.

Having completed our permit formalities and after this wonderful first impression of Bhutan we moved on to our destination,Paro. It was dusk soon and as we started our climb over the mountains. Phuentsholing is at around 1000 MSL and Paro is at 2200 MSL. So we had 1100ms to gain. As the light faded we couldn't make out anything outside so one by one we fell asleep. We woke up near a town called Chukha. Here we stopped at a small convenience store and bought a few eatables.The dried mango slices which we bought here were talked about till the end of the tour.They were delicious.The shop was lovely and charming.It even had a prayer wheel at the front.

We finally reached Paro at around 2200Hrs. As we entered Paro everything was quiet and I couldn't spot anyone on the streets.We passed by a number of exquisite buildings.I don't know if its only me but I found all the buildings in Bhutan to be very beautiful including Our hotel. Our hotel was called Samden Norzin. It had a splendid front. But we were very tired so we just had the delicious dinner prepared for us and directly went to our rooms. The rooms were quaint and homely. Ravi and I took one room.Now a big problem presented itself. Who goes first for the bath? Friends being friends we fought for nearly 15 minutes and finally I gave in. Ravi went it triumphantly waving his towel mockingly at me.Later after a rejuvenating bath I had only one thing to do.Slip inside the cozy and welcoming blankets. As I slowly drifted into sleep I smiled to myself thinking about my first finally happening foreign visit.
Out hotel. Ravi on the left and satya on the right.

My room