Crossing Borders-From India to the Land of Flying Tigresses and Thunder Dragons

I must confess that like most people I did not know much about Bhutan  except that it has 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.The  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. Rishikesh  ,the 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.

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Tea estate

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Teesta River

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 counter part.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.

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Bhutan Gate-Jaigaon side(India)

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Bhutan Gate-Phuentsholing(Bhutan)

 

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,photographs  and finger prints were taken and I was granted the entry permit .This is valid for 7 days and only  upto Thimpu the capital city.I could not thank her enough .

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Immigration Office

At last  I was officially in the Druk Yul  and thus began my dragon tales.

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Tbilisi-pastoral days

I was getting saturated with churches , UNESCO heritage sites   after 6 days in Tbilisi and wanted  something different.That was when Teolina suggested  a visit to her  village and we did not have to think twice.So we set out on a 5 hour long trip through  winding roads  with snow clad hills  and valleys to Norio village in Abasaha district ..This village is sparsely populated and  farming is their main occupation.Maize is  the main crop.

We reached  by evening and were warmly welcomed by he parents and grandmother.They have a  2 storey house  and a fairly large plot .Teolina’s mother is Erma and I was surprised to see her watching a Hindi serial dubbed in their language.It seems Hindi serials are quite popular out there.Tina is her 94 yr old grandmother and  she is a  charming  sprightly lady.I did not see her sitting down even for a  moment.It was obvious that Teolina dotes on her parents and granny.She visits them once or twice a month.Erma  is fond of old hindi movies and she sang two lines of that all time popular song ”Mera jhootha hei japani”.It was getting very cold  and Teo’s father  took me to stay near the quaint old bukhari.It was very cosy  and I did not want to leave that spot.

 

 

 

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MAMA ERMA & GRANNY TINA

 

 

 

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WITH KHACHAPURI

Georgians are known for their hospitality and warmth   and we felt  a part of this wonderful family in no time.

We were treated to a sumptuous dinner  which was  like a  mini Supra ((traditional georgian feast) for me.It had  georgian specialities like Gomi-maize porridge which is to be eaten with cheese,Khachapuri-cheese filled bread and corn fritters.All were home made and delicious.

 

 

 

 

 

I got up by 6 and  saw that Granny Tina was already up and having her tea. .I went down with her and she showed me around.It was like  a scene from my village.There is a sprawling plot  with a cowshed ,chicken  coop and corn fields .She let the hens out ,took hay for the cows, went over to her neighbour to get a bottle of honey for us and  made sure that we had breakfast.She  has stayed in the same village for most of her life and is  content and happy.Teo told me that though she looks frail she has a robust constitution.It must be the genes,active  village life and a healthy diet.She is also deeply religious.

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I saw a persimmon tree for the first time and seeing my excitement granny    made me taste some   fresh persimmon  and  they were delicious.She also packed   some to take back home.She also wanted me to carry some pumpkins but that I had to decline.

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PERSIMMON

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This idyllic village  stay  was a fitting finale   and soon it was time to say goodbye.

Thank you Granny Tina,Mama Erma,Dad, Teolina,George  and Eraqali for  giving us such unforgettable moments.Tbilisi  was a revelation and I can’t wait to  get back for the summer surprises.

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MADLOBA FRIENDS