Saturday, September 10, 2011


The bus to Thimphu is a mini-bus. Apparently the roads are too narrow at places to allow for bigger buses! LP describes these buses as 'vomit comets'. I go expecting the worst. The actual experience was much better than expected :)

The bus winds its way through scenic valleys and hills. Mist and clouds outside. My neighbor informs me that we are at a place called Chhukha. The weather here is like this almost throughout the year. Some snaps when the bus stopped for a pee break

7-8 hours later I am in Thimphu. All the budget hotels are full. There is a trade fair going on. I finally check into Hotel Tandin. Slightly out of budget but well worth every buck paid.

The original permit issued is only for Thimphu and Paro. Its only for 7 days. So next morning I am back to the Immigration Office to get the permit extended. After submitting the application I am asked to come back at noon.

A few clicks roaming around the city

When I come back at noon I am told the Immigration Officer wants to meet me. Again the same questioning and the same pitch. This one though is happy to extend my permit after the talk! I am asked to collect it at 4pm.

Till then I decide to hike up to the Takin Reserve to catch a glimpse of Bhutan's national animal. There is an interesting folktale about how the takin came to life

The takins are too lazy to pose. The deer give me a curious look

Back to the city, I finally get the permit.

Next day I plan to explore the city for half the day and then get back to my room to watch cricket world cup final. First stop is the Trashi Chhoe Dzong. The Dzong houses the secretariat, administrative offices and monastic quarters. An amazing fortress like structure. According to LP, the dzong as it now stands was built in 1962 in a traditional fashion - without nails or written plans!

The inner courtyard

Next I headed to the Swiss Bakery for a nice breakfast. Very near to it is the only traffic square in Thimphu to have traffic control, that too no signals, only a policeman to guide the traffic!

After breakfast I visited the National Memorial Chorten. Then the weekend market. It is very unlike its exotic description in LP. Now I was done with all the places of interest in Thimphu. With 2 hours to kill till the match, I headed to Ambient Cafe. A nice and cozy place with warm hosts. He gave me a free apple pie to celebrate his daughter's birthday :)
Picked up the Rubik's Cube from the counter to pass time. Had been years since I managed to crack it.

What next? Picked up a book. Folktales of Bhutan. Curiously all folktales begin with the words 'Dangbo dingbo'!  A few tales later I switch to Chicken Soup for the Travelers Soul. Too senti for my liking. Luckily its almost time for the match. As I leave I notice the 'Haiku of the Week' on the wall. Good one!

Back to the room. Glued to the TV. We won! Yay! No processions on the road though! Ah, How I miss being in India!

My impressions about Bhutan:

From whatever I had read before the trip, Bhutan seemed to be an unique destination. A country which strongly tries to preserve its traditions and culture. Gross National Happiness gets precedence over GDP. Ardent followers of Buddhism. External influences are not welcome... and neither are backpackers! Non-Indian foreigners have to spend a minimum of USD 200 per day, making Bhutan out of bounds for most backpackers.

My impressions of Bhutan and its people, were quite in line with this pre-conceived notion. Bhutan seems to be a laid back country. No hustle bustle of city life even in Thimphu. Vehicles move at a leisurely pace. No snarls. Everyone seems to know everyone. Almost everyone is deeply religious. Most people, especially those outside the cities don't seem to be very well off financially, or maybe its just that the lack of consumerism disguises their wealth. One more thing - everyone dresses traditionally. Right from all government officers to bus drivers, all men wear the gho and women the kira. The dress does look very elegant! All in all, a simple and content people!.... and before I forget to mention - they love their king! 

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