Day 4: Paro – Mystical, Magical and Mellow (15th Feb )
It was a little past 17:00hrs when we reached Paro. Chetin helped us find a clean and spacious room for 250 rupees. For hundred rupees more we would have had the luxury of a geyser and room heater – but we were backpacking on low budget. The landlady agreed to give us a bucket of hot water in the morning. It would take us one night’s stay in Paro to realize the importance of one bucket of hot water!
Paro is an extremely quiet and beautiful city. The calmness of the place cannot be overstated. The river runs parallel to the city, and the view from our window was breathtaking. Nestled in a valley, Paro is quite small compared to Thimpu (and I thought Thimpu was small!). The buildings here have more of a traditional flavour, and the Paro Dzong stands majestically at a higher ground overlooking the city.
While in Paro, we ate all our meals at hotel Perjoling. Words would fail me if I were to describe how delicious the food in that little hotel is. The cool air and general feeling of Paro works as a fantastic appetizer.
The evening of Wednesday was spent exploring the city and generally soaking in the tranquility. We hit the sacks early that day and the next morning found me feasting on a breakfast of parathas and bread toast at Perjoling. My friend decided to fast, and so while I was devouring the food, he went out to make some enquires about places to visit in Paro. He came back armed with information about two Dzongs – one 15 minutes away and another 3 hours away. Of course, he hadn’t checked if those distances where by foot or by drive (we had intended to hike to wherever). So we set out for the closer of the two—Drukyel Dzong, which actually turned out to be 15 km (and therefore we realized those distances were by vehicle and not foot). It took us three hours to reach, and only after getting there did we realize that the place was the ruins of a once famous fortress. Apparently it was built in the 17th century in commemoration of the victory over the Tibetans. Along the way to Drukyel Dzong we got to see some classic scenes of traditional Bhutanese life. The weather was friendly but once we got to the Dzong, the sky became overcast. We caught a taxi back to Paro, and by the time we reached, it started raining. Of course, we hadn’t eaten anywhere along the way, so we impatiently walked into Perjoling and ordered what now I recall as the best meal ever. Imagine, after a 14 km trek and weather turning cold because of the rains, you have a delicious meal at a place like Perjoling. Could life have got any better?
While eating, it began to rain harder. It was 17:00hrs when this happened, but being tired, we were just waiting to get back to our cozy beds. And did I mention that the temperature dropped well below our tolerance level? I had to purchase some woolen gloves to keep myself warm, and we spent the rest of the evening in our room (and later had another meal at Perjoling).
Day 6: Getting back to motherland (17th Feb )
Friday marked the end of our Bhutan experience. But we had a situation: Our tickets to Kolkata were booked for the evening from Siliguri, and we were yet in Paro with only P’sholing bus tickets in hand. The bus to P’sholing was to leave at 08:30hrs and the journey takes around 8-9 hours by it. P’sholing to Siliguri is another 4 hours by bus. So that meant we were cutting it too close.
I was ready early on Friday, and braved the morning chill to shoot panoramas (I had forgotten to do that all along, and it luckily occurred as an afterthought to my friend the evening before). Outside, it was too cold for comfort and first my hands refused to co-operate and then my brains. So I decided to go back indoors, and while heading back to the room to get ready I heard some taxi drivers shouting out for P’sholing. I made some enquiries and found a taxi willing to take us to P’sholing for 300 rupees per head. It was a good deal, considering that a taxi ride would take lesser time. So we were in P’sholing by 13:00hrs and it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride coming down from the mountains to the plains. In P’sholing we again got lucky and found a taxi willing to take us to Siliguri for 350 rupees per head (as against 65 rupees by bus, but at 1.5x the duration). The taxi was a Scorpio and the journey quite comfortable. We were in Siliguri well ahead of our schedule – by 17:30hrs. We killed time exploring the city and soon I was on my way back to Kolkata in a West Bengal State Corporation bus called the ‘Rocket’. The bus did speed like a rocket, but the roads were so bad that it felt like we were traveling on the moon. I was to spend the next two days in Kolkata and consequently finish my vacation.
Below are some things I learnt on this trip:
- A trip can be fun even if it is not well planned. But you cannot stretch your luck too far. Example, in spite of reaching Siliguri well in advance, my friend missed his train.
- Be prepared and spend time thinking of what you want to click. Imagine yourself on vacation, even before you get there, and note down the things you want to shoot. That way, you won’t miss out on things the way I missed out on Panoramas.
- Carry small gifts. You’ll never know when you’ll meet someone like Chetin.
- Carry a bottle of Dettol. Can be put to a zillion good uses!
- Always carry photocopies of important documents like Passport, ID card etc. Also carry extra mug shots. Paperwork can have illogical formalities.
- Don’t play around with bus/train timings. They are not variables.
- Carry a cheque book/cheque leaves. Practical when you run out of money. Will add value to the sorry face you may have to cut if you are stranded with no money.
- Never go to a cold place thinking you can buy warm clothes once you get there.
- Carry calling cards. That way you don’t have to spend money on phone calls.
- If you are vegetarian and fussy about food, carry packets of ‘Maggie’ noodles with you when you travel to remote places .
All in all, I had a good trip and really look forward to visiting Bhutan again. If you have made it till this page, I am honoured! Thanks to the friends who made this trip happen, and the ones who helped me create this write-up.
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