How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan

Tripoto
27th May 2017
Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

Its always a big moment when you steps out of your country for the first time. Visiting an alien nation is always something that everyone of us adore a lot. The main factor that stops us from doing so is the lack of money and the hurdles to get a Visa. But what if I say you could do so just under ₹300. Here's how I accomplished the feat.

Day 1

I was at Guwahati for the purpose of an internship and it just struck me one day that the Bhutan Border is just nearby. So I planned a short visit to the border just for the sake of "stepping out of my country" ( or at least I can boast!!!). The distance was nearly 85 kms and I knew that return buses are difficult to get post afternoon. So I set off early in the morning.

I reached my nearby bus stop (which was at the northern bank of Guwahati) by around 5:30 am and soon I got in a bus to Rangia. It took nearly an hour to reach there. Rangia is a small town from where one could catch the bus to the border. A bus was departing at 7 am and I grabbed a seat in it. I had read in various articles that the road to the border was one among one of the worst roads in India. I was a bit worried about that. But the worries all vanished as the bus journey began. The road was in excellent condition (probably tarred very lately) till the very end. On the way I saw many shops where petrol was for sale in plastic bottles. The rate of petrol is less in the Bhutan side and hence these people buys petrol from there and sells it with an increased rate here (obviously less than the rate of petrol on Indian side). Quite clever business tactic. As the bus was nearing the border, huge hills started to appear in front of me. Those are the parts of Bhutan. The area till the foot of those hills are part of India and as soon as the ascent starts, it is Bhutan. The bus took me till Darangamela, just 1 km away from the border. The entire bus journey cost me only ₹90.

One can cross the border in auto rickshaws from the bus stand but as I had plenty of time, I decided to walk. The border town of Bhutan is called Samdrup Jongkhar and the signboards were telling me that I am a few steps away from reaching there. Samdrup Jongkhar is one among the two entry points to Bhutan from India (the other being Phuntsholing). The eastern part of Bhutan is accessed from here.

Signboard showing distance to Samdrup Jongkhar

Photo of Darangamela, Assam, India by Eldho Elias

Upon walking a bit I got the first glimpse of the border gate. There were many small roadside shops all over the Indian side of the border which was creating a crowded feel. Even a few shops selling pan parag was there and hence dirty red stains were well seen on the road. Since cycles are not permitted to go past the border gate, there was a long chain of cycles parked on the Indian side.

The Indian side of the border

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

The Indo-Bhutan gate as seen from Indian side

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

The border gate are guarded by army men of both India and Bhutan. Crossing the border is quite easy. You don't need to show any documents to the army personnel for that purpose. I was asked to pass through the metal detector and once it was done, they allowed me to enter Bhutan. My first step out of my home nation. It was an unique feel. The guard told me that there is nothing to see in Samdrup Jongkhar and to come back within 2 hours. Since I had an entire day ahead of me, I told him that I will come back by afternoon and he agreed quickly.

The Indo-Bhutan gate as seen from Bhutan side

Photo of Samdrup Jongkhar, Bhutan by Eldho Elias
Photo of Samdrup Jongkhar, Bhutan by Eldho Elias
Photo of Samdrup Jongkhar, Bhutan by Eldho Elias
Photo of Samdrup Jongkhar, Bhutan by Eldho Elias

As soon as I crossed the border, I felt the change. There was no rush on the road. There were no roadside shops anymore and the red stains on road were seen vanished. Even the road was very neat and clean. There was a sense of calmness all over. I felt like I was somewhere else very suddenly.

Bhutan is divided into 20 districts called Dzongkhags. Samdrup Jongkhar is one among them and this border town is the headquarters of the Dzongkhag. This part of the border is guarded by the Dantak task force of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and its building is what I saw as soon as I crossed the border. I started walking in and saw a building which looked almost like a museum. It was one of the administrative building in the town. Every offices here are built in such a fashion. It was indeed a contrast to the Indian administrative buildings which never makes an aesthetic sense.

An administrative building in Samdrup Jongkhar

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

I walked past a small bridge onto which small flags were tied into and saw a prayer wheel just by the roadside. I was seeing such a big prayer wheel for the first time and hence decided to rotate it. It has a small handle at its bottom which is used to rotate the wheel. At the top of the wheel is a rod projected radially outward which will strike a bell upon the completion of one complete rotation. There are mantras written over the wheel and it is believed that rotating this prayer wheel has many spiritual benefits. I completed a few rotations of the wheel and started walking further.

The bridge with Buddhist flags tied onto it

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

The Prayer Wheel

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

Bhutan also has its own unique dressing code. Even though most of the people I found on the road were wearing the normal dresses that the Indians also wear, there were couple of people in the traditional Bhutanese attire. Men wears a knee length robe called Gho and the women wears an ankle length dress called Kira. It was a unique sight to watch.

I walked further and reached a Buddhist temple known as Zangtho Pelri. It is a small temple and there were a few people sitting around and praying. It had a big golden coloured prayer wheel on one side, in front of which a few deities were sitting and worshiping. On the other side was a series of prayer wheels which was not as colourful as the main one. Even the temple building had small wheels on its walls. I gave everyone of them a roll. Since the temple was closed, I was not able to enter inside

Zangtho Pelri

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

Upon walking a few steps, I saw a small restaurant. I didn't had any food till now and hence I went in to have my breakfast. Even though Dzongkha is the official language of Bhutan, everyone here speaks Hindi and it made my work easy. I had a bowl of Chow mein from there (₹30). Indian Rupee is accepted everywhere in Bhutan except the ₹2000 note. I paid the cash in Indian Rupee and the shopkeeper returned the balance amount in the Bhutanese currency, known as Ngultrum (1 Ngultrum = 1 INR).

Front side of 10 Ngultrum note

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

Back side of 10 Ngultrum note

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

Front side of 5 Ngultrum note

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

Back side of 5 Ngultrum note

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

I had only walked one km from the border and the hairpins already began to appear. That's how small the town is. You can walk through all the roads in the town within 2 hours. As I had plenty of time in my kitty I began to walk uphill.

The eastern part of Bhutan is full of mountains and hills and hence transportation facilities are scarce. The administrative and industrial centers of Bhutan including Thimpu and Paro are on the western side and since reaching there is difficult from the eastern side, most people prefer to enter Bhutan via the eastern side through Phuntsholing. Hence these roads are traffic-less most of the times. I walked nearly 4 kms uphill just to find nothing. But the views from the roadside was amazing with the green mountains all over. At one point there is a check post and travelling beyond needs an immigration pass to be issued from the immigration office downhill. So I stopped my ascent and started to go back.

Travelling past this check post needs an immigration pass

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

Another peculiar thing I noticed was the common pattern of the Bhutan registered vehicle number plates. Every one of them are with white numbers written over red coloured plate. Scripts in Dzongkha language can also be seen on every number plate. It is not just number plates of vehicles, every boards that I saw in the town (except the traffic boards) were in the same fashion.

This is the common pattern of number plates in Bhutan

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

I then moved to the market area of the town. It is also the main residential area of the town. There are many shops on the roadside but all of them are well built and maintained. It was not like the market area on the Indian side where even a sheet along the roadside made a shop. One peculiar thing that I noticed here was that alcoholic beverages were for sale in every single shop. It isn't just confined to the usual beverage shops and even there are a few bars in the town too. There is also a vegetable market nearby.

At the end of the market you can see the border wall. On one side it is Bhutan and and on the other side its India. I was wondering how important this piece of concrete is for the strategic ties between both the nations.

The market area

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

The border wall. I am standing on the Bhutan side

Photo of How I stepped out of India under ₹300 & had a flavor of Bhutan by Eldho Elias

The clock was ticking 2 in the afternoon and I already knew that it is difficult to get a return bus to Guwahati after evening time. Since there was nothing left to see in this tiny town, I decided to go back to my home nation. I crossed the border gate once again but this time none of the army personnel asked me for any security check. While we consider stepping out of our country a big deal, these people, who does it a hundred times a day, do they ever have such a feeling!!! God knows.

I walked and reached Darangamela bus stand and for my better luck there was a direct bus departing to Guwahati within 15 minutes (Journey cost = ₹70). I got in and within 3 hours, I was in my room. Was stepping out of our own country this much easy???

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