I must confess that like most people I did not know much about Bhutan except that it has a monarchy, GNH(Gross National Happiness)as the index of its progress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose it as his first foreign destination and one of my favourite actors Tony Leung had got married there. Also, the Tiger Nest which is the first image that comes to mind when I think of this land. I don’t like to read up a lot before going to a place as it minimises the joy of exploring and this time I did pay for my casual attitude.
My UK friend who was to come with me had to cancel her ticket at the last minute because we did not realise that a person having OCI (overseas citizen of India) card would have to pay 250$ per day. Confusing? Bhutan strictly regulates its tourism. People having Indian, Maldivian or Bangladeshi passports do not require a visa to enter the country and the rest would have to get a visa and book through a registered tour operator. We had booked through a Bhutanese travel agency. Then came another shocker. The immigration office at the border town would not be open on Saturdays and Sundays and I was reaching on a Friday evening. They also restrict the entry for solo travellers(no gender bias here ) There was no way to change the dates or get someone to go with me. Being an easy- going unstructured traveller I thought I should just take a chance.
The flight from New Delhi took 2 hours and I reached Bagdogra at 12 30 and rushed into the waiting taxi. The distance from Bagdogra to the border town Phuentsholing is 284 km and it would take 4-5 hours; immigration office is open from 9 to 4 pm and I had to keep in my mind that Bhutan time is 30 minutes ahead of India Standard Time. So it was a race against time. My driver took up the challenge and zipped through the well- maintained roads. It was a beautiful drive and I let the sights of green paddy fields, tea estates, army units, Teesta river and many more nameless rivers to steady my nerves.
It was 4 30pm when we crossed the imposing Bhutan gate and I could not imagine that border crossing would be like this. Jaigaon is the border town on the Indian side and Phuentshoing its Bhutan counterpart. I have made it this far and now the time has come for the final formalities. If the office is closed I would have to wait till Monday and I just did not want to lose two precious days at the border.
The immigration office is just about 50 metres from the gate and Singey-the travel agent was waiting there. I rushed into the building with my passport,2 photographs and the duly filled permit form and met a gracious lady official. Documents were examined, fingerprints taken, and I was granted the entry permit. I could not thank her enough. The permit is valid for 7 days and only up to Thimpu the capital city.
At last I was officially in the Druk Yul and thus began my dragon tales.