Lunch Box left me with an impression beyond its marvelous cast - that of a Blissful Land and its unique Economic Barometer, the Gross National Happiness. When the Film ended with the lead cast seemingly making their way to this intriguing Land in search of Bliss, there was born this inexplicable urge within to see and experience the same.The opportunity to make a road trip to Blissful Bhutan duly arrived. It was with a heart filled with the conviction of possibilities that our Family Trip got underway one drizzling Sunday morning in July.
By 6 pm, we had crossed Jaigaon, the border town on the Indian side and entered Phuentsholing, Bhutan. To say we had wheeled into peace from pandemonium would be an understatement as the town was a picture of cleanliness and order. I am all for patriotism but once in a while, take the liberty of calling a spade a spade.
We found a decent place to shelter us for the night for we planned to leave for Thimphu, the next morning. It was amidst heavy rain that we made our way to the Embassy for our Permits the next morning. Later as we manoeuvred the streets of Phuentsholing, I realised the cars NEVER honked and actually STOPPED at Zebra Crossings. Speed limits were adhered to and they always gave each other the right of way. This, in fact, was the story throughout our journey.
It has been almost without exception that I’ve loved the journey more than the destination. This one did not prove an aberration. As we scaled our way to Thimphu, I gazed mesmerized at those imposing mountains travelling with me, housing all hues of green conceivable and standing tall against a brilliantly blue sky. The occasional streams and the gushing waters further amplified the feeling of awe.
After we reached Thimphu, locating our hotel at Nording Lam, the main street after entering the city, wasn’t too difficult. Soon the ladies, ‘womanning’ the reception desk, helped us with our baggage and settled us in one of the rooms.
Next day turned out to be a bright, sunny day. We arranged a cab for local sightseeing.
Tshering, our cab driver impressed us with his hold over both English and Hindi, the latter he ascribed to Hindi Movies during his growing years. Talking to him was a real eye opener as it dented the notion of assumed Bliss I had carried to Bhutan. Bliss did exist but only in measured doses.
The first place we visited was the pristinely white, Memorial Chorten, believed to possess divine powers of granting every sincere prayer.
This was followed by a trip to Kuensel Phodrang (Buddha Point), a 51.5 mt bronze statue located towards the outskirts of the city with some beautiful sculpture adding to its glory.
We next went to the Changangkha Lhakhang, the 12th century Temple, much revered by the local populace. Under Tshering’s guidance, we made a clockwise circumambulation of the Dzong. The prayer wheels have always held a spiritual fascination for me and my younger one joined efforts in the attempt to turn all as we combined our respective Pray and Play.
We then made our way to the Motithang Takin Preserve, a wildlife reserve for the Takin, a goat- antelope and the national animal of Bhutan.
On the way to the next site, Tshering lovingly responded to the cry of ‘A for Apple’ by my younger one, awed on seeing apples actually hanging from branches in a roadside Grove. He promptly plucked a few and handed those treasures to her. The not-so ripe apple did not deter my 2 year old. She munched on it happily.
Post lunch, tired kids tucked in bed, I decided to snatch some ‘we’ time, along with Hubby dear, in that glorious evening.
We finally came to the clock tower arena to find laughter and music galore. A group of young people enthralled with some brilliant dance moves. I simply wanted to sit in there and soak in the exuberance of youth all around. They were indeed a blissful confluence of self assurance cloaked in humility and of modernity steeped in the traditional.
Well….in wafted an attractive aroma of fresh coffee. The Husband promptly made an optical survey and spotting the source, sprang towards it with a reluctant wife in tow.
Dinner was cool that night at a nearby restaurant which served lip-smacking Bhutanese dishes. Being partial to cheese, I simply savoured Ema Datshi and Kewa Datshi whenever I got an opportunity.
Next morning, we made our way out of Thimphu, crossed the Dochula Pass before reaching Punakha.
The majestic Punakha Dzong is located at the confluence of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in the Punakha–Wangdue valley. Like most other Dzongs we visited, it has three Docheys (courtyards) housing the administrative section, monastic quarters and temples respectively.
Later, on our way to the Hotel at Wangdue, lunch turned out to be a greedy affair at a small roadside eatery as we stuffed ourselves with rice and chicken. Next we made it a point to stuff the car rear with Peach Wine.
Post dinner that night, some Game time for the kiddos and heavenly Peach wine on the balcony with an amazing view of the glittering Valley, made the night.
That night we were rested in the actual sense for it was cool and quiet after the great hullabaloo of Phuentsholing and Thimphu.The next day we left for Paro which is around 120kms from Wangdue. The wide, clean and pothole-free roads along with the smiling friendly faces made our road journey to Bhutan an absolute pleasure all throughout.
We reached Paro by around 6 or so and located our Hotel easily. It was quaint and basic but clean enough.
Namgey, a young decent chap, was our guide for the next day. We first drove to Chelela Pass (3988 mt) which was quite cold that cloudy day. We decided against going to Haa which is around 25 more kilometres or so though we could see the valley bathed in glorious sunlight from our viewpoint.
We next visited the 15th century Rinpung Dzong and were awed by its peaceful surrounds. As I explored the Dzong with a huge Deja Vu sensation, I tend to assume in such historical surrounds, I was promptly woken up from the reverie by a wildly running younger one and was forced to sprint after her, lest she enter barred interiors somewhere in the vicinity
There is a souvenir shop nearby and therein The Sleeping Buddha particularly caught my attention and eventually made a careful journey back home with me.
The next morning we started early for the 2.6 mile Hike to Tiger’s Nest. We got the tickets, declined the offer of horses, hired a couple of trekking sticks and were on our way up.
We interacted with other pilgrims as a light drizzle added to the charm. An amazing elderly couple from Kolkata, a vibrant young group from South Korea, the cheerful monks, all seemed family in that picturesque pilgrimage.
We reached the Nest at 3120 mts after finally manoeuvring unending steps. The Nest is the place where Guru Padmasambhava had landed on the back of a Tigress and had meditated for more than 3 years. The Blessed feeling after the rounds was a perfect way to end the visit.
The next day was Sunday and time for us to return home. The journey back was equally thrilling, and as I stuck my head out of the car on those winding mountain roads to taste the sweet air one last time, I thought, ‘Every journey completed is one Great Book read and the one I had read the past week was an exotic one, a saga of Elusive Bliss.’
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Written bySangeeta Bhattacharjee
Sangeeta Bhattacharjee is an Educator, Media Professional, Sports & Adventure Enthusiast. Travelling is her Passion along with Writing. She is also associated with her Husband’s adventure tourism-based company Natventure, Guwahati as the Finance and Administration-in-charge. She believes life is a continuous learning and evolving process. How well we do it decides our Happiness Quotient.