Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Land of the Thunder Dragon
This title should really be: Tarak goes to Bhutan. For the last 2 years, that is ALL I heard about…you know Sharvari, “Bhutan isn’t a country, it’s a kingdom”…”they only opened it to tourists in 1974 to minimize Western influence”…”it’s like Nepal 65 years ago”..and so we finally went with a local explorers group from India to the amazing Himalayan country. It is quite remarkable in that it still is considered a kingdom, and it tries to limit western influence, by limiting the number of foreign tourists annually. Some small facts: Population: 1 million, Language: Dzongka, Nepali & Religion: Buddhist 75%; Hindu 25%. In fact, as a foreigner, to visit Bhutan, you must spend at least $250 a day…we of course, went as Indians…how you ask? Let’s just say, we looked as “fob-like” as possible and Tarak was not allowed to speak…
Anyway, we first flew from Mumbai to Calcutta and then took an overnight train to Jalpaiguri (West Bengal) and from there a bus to the border town of Phoolsuling. Before we talk about Bhutan...let us tell you a typical India story.. After missing our overnight train (which of course are the only things that occasionally run on time in India) due to a delayed flight, we stayed a night in Calcutta and then made it to Siliguri. While in Siliguri, we went to a national park in hopes of seeing a wild Indian Rhino but missed the elephant safari by 30 minutes..Driving on these roads can be presumed to be similar to those of Iraq shortly after being heavily bombed. Well, as we headed back to Siliguri we were stopped by a road block.. The locals were striking due to the lack of no running water for 3 days..They wouldn't let anyone through..After Sharvari yelled at few people and almost threw down with an Indian Auntie, we used our doctor card to get through. We made it back to join the group after THREE hours..If you didn't know this fact West Bengal is a communist state so they strike for any and every reason possible. Now back to Bhutan..It was crazy, just to walk across the gate from Jaigon (India side) to Phoolsuling, we already experienced a drastic different culture. There were way fewer people, the streets much cleaner and a very simple way of life with Buddhist monks in robes freely roaming the streets. We went on to the town of Paro, which is known for the Tatkshang Goempa (monastery). It was amazing to see how well preserved and beautiful these monasteries were with prayer flags tied to trees all over the country. In all of these monasteries, there were rows and rows of what are called prayer wheels. It basically is a wheel, inside which scriptures are written, and by turning the wheel, it is like chanting the mantras. Pretty cool, huh? It was amazing in the monasteries, to see these schools of young boys in their monk robes living a completely simple, unmaterialistic life. We visited the markets and tried some of the local food, momo’s (basically like dumplings). Next, we went to the capital of Thimphu, where we went on a short hike to a monastery that was perched on the cliffs and then visited the national museum. We should mention (as Tarak loves adding random facts) that Thimphu is the only capital in the world to not have any traffic lights...it was crazy, no traffic lights, just police officers in funny uniforms, dancing, waving their arms to guide the flow of the cars.
We definitely could have spent a month in Bhutan, but we had limited time as we had come with a group. The group we went with, is another entirely different story. We went with 44 nineteen year old girls from Patna Women’s College (can we say raging hormones)…let’s just say there was a lot of dancing to Bollywood music in the aisles of the bus and a WHOLE lot of giggling at the two of us. Well, we left the "kingdom" and are now back into the realm of Western influence!!
We hope you like the pictures..we also put some more pics under links in the right column in the section my trip photos.