Phuntsholing is a border town in Bhutan adjacent to the Indian town of Jaigaon. The entry, up to 6kms, into the town doesn’t need any permission. The Bhutanese Immigration Office is situated close to the entry gate here. Foreigners can either apply for the visa online or directly come in person and apply it here. It’s a small town which is a major economic hub as most of the goods and other trades between Bhutan and India happen here.
One can stay in Phuntsholing as long as they want. There are many hotels for all categories of travellers. Although there are very few places of interest here, one can proudly say that they have visited and stayed in Bhutan. I was hungry and it was noon. My priority was to obtain the visa. So I went straight to the Immigration office.
All my enthusiasm died out and I was standing outside the office with my application rejected
They don’t charge Indians for Visa, if they have an advance Hotel booking voucher. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any. All my enthusiasm died out and I was standing outside the office with my application rejected because I didn’t have any hotel booked in Bhutan. Luckily I saw a Keralite in the queue for Visa. I went to him and explained my situation. He was part of a large group of 35 members coming from Kerala for a 5-day tour in Bhutan. All others had applied online for the Visa, but he couldn’t apply on time. So he came here directly to obtain the Visa in person. I asked a Bhutanese official outside the office about the procedures and decided to gamble. He was ready to help me with the application. So, I wrote a letter stating that we both were part of this group and unfortunately we couldn’t apply for online Visa, and we have a hotel booked in Thimpu and submitted the Voucher along with a travel Itinerary. The office who rejected my application earlier was kind enough to forward my application and after the biometrics scan we both got our Visa.
Overwhelmed with joy, it was a moment to celebrate and we had a beer each. Relaxing in the parlour, I came to know about him. His name is Lince Leo, an architect from Kerala, doing his Master’s in Planning at Govt. College Thrissur. And he told me that his friends would arrive the next day. I told him about my cashless journey and how I reached till the border. Fascinated, he was ready to help me reach Thimpu with the group the next day.
I wasn’t sure about how to survive the cold climate here, since I didn’t have a thermal wear with me
The train was delayed and the group arrived late. I met them and they were happy to take me along. Thus, I became the 36th member of the group. After the immigration process, we left for Thimpu in the evening and it was the last day of the year. For the last 4 years I used to celebrate New year in Goa. This year, I thought of doing something different and ended up on a bus without any celebrations. But I was happy travelling in Bhutan and meeting this group. We reached Thimpu around 2:00 am and greeted New Year wishes to each other before going to bed. Everyone was tired after the 6 hour long bus journey.
It was 6°C in the morning and I was still wearing the same clothes which I wore when I left my home, 5 days ago. I wasn’t sure about how to survive the cold climate here, since I didn’t have a thermal wear with me. The jacket I had was made of cotton material and not meant for this cold weather. Anyway I had a good woollen cap and a scarf. I wore my second pant on top of the first one, and my jacket above both the shirts. My bag was empty and all set for some outdoor adventures.
What else can a penniless nomad do? I realised how vulnerable I was
I didn’t visit many places in Thimpu. The group was late all the time and since I travelled with them, I also missed the places. I could have visited more places if I was travelling solo, but then I enjoyed being with this group and experiencing it. All these years I did solo travels and in some cases, I used to travel with some of my best friends but I had never been with a group larger than 5 members. And it was my first experience travelling with an arranged tour, as part of a tour package, with the luxury of a tour guide, better accommodations, food and a private vehicle.
Site seeing in Thimpu was limited to city, the market and the Memorial Chorten. I was disappointed. I travelled all the way from Kerala and literally saw nothing. But the group was more than happy to be in Bhutan and cared less about exploring the places. I made friends and was enjoying it and saw how badly they missed each moment. I was unable to do anything. Without this group, I wouldn’t have survived the trip. So I chose to stay with them and explore the places their way. What else can a penniless nomad do? I realised how vulnerable I was.
The same day we left for Paro and we reached there late in the evening. The weather was colder in Paro and I saw frozen rivers and some waterfalls on the way. The hotel we were staying overlooked the Paro Taktsang, also known as Tiger’s Nest, a cliffside monastery and temple complex, which is a major attraction of Paro.
After dinner we went straight to bed as we will be doing the Tiger’s nest trekking the next morning.