I was hesitant because I didn’t plan to go to Bhutan. Typically for us from the bigger cities with our busy lives, a holiday means planning everything in advance: number of days, stay, hotels, food that we could relish, sightseeing etc. Being on a solo trip, invited by my friend with no plans, I gave it a second thought and eventually decided to accept the invitation. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I had childhood memories of Bhutan where we once lived.
I didn’t want to burn a hole in my pocket to get there yet I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. My friends jumped in to help me and use their local connect. One of them called and told me that he had managed to book a seat in a local jeep (widely used as the public transport in the hills) going to Jaigaon. (Border Indian town)
I braved the situation and got into the jeep and for that moment I was transposed to “Swades” like travel (blame it on my love for Bollywood). It was my eagerness to visit Bhutan which made me take this journey. Finally I set off a slightly bumpy and more squishy journey.The lady seated on my right was leaning on me to feed her child. With a backpack and a handbag on my lap, I could hardly breathe or move. My lungs were crying out. On the other side was a girl who was jostling for space and in the process, I was being pushed. I smiled but no response. I turned to my right and smiled and got a bigger smile in return and voila, the conversation started. Probably the experience of happiness had already begun.
Full of life, she was content with what she had despite making some hard choices. Her husband was a primary school teacher and she was “happily a housewife”. It is rare to meet someone who takes pride in her decision rather than regretting it. She took pride in becoming and being a mother. She chose not to work after her second child, not because she considered it as a duty or sacrifice towards her children, but because she wanted to enjoy her time being a mother. Once they grow, they will have their own lives and she can always resume work. She was excited about visiting her parents’ home for Dashain. For once, I didn’t want to speak but just hear her speak. We shared so much in the next few hours. About our lives and our apprehensions.
We had crossed Hasimara (An Air Force station located in Alipurduar district in West Bengal) and in another 30 minutes I would be in Jaigaon. She and her family got down at Hasimara. We exchanged numbers and parted ways. Yet another journey and another number I thought. But to my surprise she remembered the date when I was returning home and called me to wish me a happy journey. A four -hour friend became a friend for lifetime.
I was starting to realise the magic wand that people in the hills had. Conversation was the key. Contentment follows next with firm belief in the decisions they take just like the mountains. I was starting to realise that they “live” and “value” life more than us. They are not mechanical. I was getting close to knowing how to be happy without reason.
I finally reached Jaigaon and through the Phuentsholing gate, I was in Bhutan. This was the same gate which I may have crossed numerous times as a teenager. My friend Sonam received me with a warm hug. I was meeting him after 25 years. “Welcome to Bhutan”, he said.
I never imagined back then that three decades would pass by so quickly. The moment I stepped into the Phuentsholing gate my eyes brimmed with tears. It seemed like yesterday.