We bring in the New Year with a road trip through Bhutan


Great driv­ing roads and an un­sus­pected

off-road­ing ad­ven­ture through Bhutan

II FI­NALLY GET WHY the West­ern­ers use toi­let pa­per. No, it is not be­cause it is ecofriendl­y or be­cause it gives a bet­ter wipe. It is solely to keep your butt from so­lid­i­fy­ing in sub-zero tem­per­a­tures as I found out harshly upon ar­riv­ing at Thim­phu. Trust me, the story isn’t as shitty as you might think. It is ac­tu­ally about kick-start­ing 2018 in the most un­ex­pected man­ner, as part of a team, off to dis­cover ‘Au­then­tic Bhutan’, cour­tesy Mahin­dra Ad­ven­ture. The journey be­gins… but not as I ex­pected. While we did fly down to Bag­do­gra, af­ter a suf­fo­cat­ing lay­over in Delhi, and were chauf­feur driven to Chalsa, our real ex­pe­di­tion be­gan on De­cem­ber 27. I guessed that I would be be­hind the wheel of a Scorpio or an XUV500. How­ever, this be­ing a rel­a­tively re­laxed ex­pe­di­tion, I was handed the keys to a spank­ing new KUV100 NXT. Not as rugged in its de­meanour as the larger and more butch Scorpio or XUV, still the KUV would turn out to be ca­pa­ble enough. Roll call to Thim­phu

We set off at 8am on De­cem­ber 27. The drive from Chalsa to Phuentshol­ing was un­event­ful and ev­ery­body was get­ting to grips with driv­ing in a con­voy. At Phuentshol­ing we stopped to get SIM cards and with our so­cial net­work feeds up­dated and check-ins done, we set forth for the cap­i­tal city of Thim­phu. The dis­tance isn’t much but the road is chal­leng­ing. The tar­mac was bro­ken for the ini­tial half of the leg and ex­tremely nar­row for the lat­ter. The late start from Phe­untshol­ing did not help our cause

ei­ther as our first tryst with night driv­ing came on the very first day it­self. Thim­phu ar­rived at around 10 in the night.

In search of some pork and buff chilli

The fol­low­ing day be­ing a rest day, I stayed snug in the com­fort of my bed with the heater work­ing bril­liantly to com­bat the chill­ing 2-de­gree am­bi­ent tem­per­a­ture. But a man has needs and soon enough we headed out for some break­fast. We knew ex­actly what we wanted – buff mo­mos. We walked a few kilo­me­tres, which wasn’t a bad thing in that chilly weather, to a shady look­ing diner that served sur­pris­ingly good food in the form of pork and buff chilli. The buff mo­mos un­for­tu­nately, weren’t on of­fer.

Switch­back par­adise

Our next des­ti­na­tion would be the quaint town of Pu­nakha. I guess all towns in Bhutan are quaint, but Pu­nakha even more so. To get to Pu­nakha, we first had to scale Dochula pass and the road to the sum­mit was any­thing but stu­pen­dous. I was glad that I was in the driver’s seat when we made that as­cent for the KUV felt ex­tremely happy on its feet. For all its short­com­ings, the KUV has a solid, pli­ant ride and was per­fect for the job at hand. At the sum­mit, we were greeted with 108 chort­ens (mini stu­pas) and a de­li­cious meal of chicken curry and rice.

Dzong to Dzong

Bhutan has these famed re­li­gious cen­tres built atop hills and each of them pro­vided the Bhutanese em­peror with a van­tage point from which they could cast a watch­ful eye over en­e­mies. Thus you will find Dzongs in most of the ma­jor towns, the most prom­i­nent be­ing the one in Pu­nakha. We be­gan mov­ing to our fi­nal journey to the last des­ti­na­tion in Bhutan – Paro. Fun­nily enough, the drive be­gan at the Pu­nakha Dzong and ended at the Paro Dzong. The fol­low­ing day, De­cem­ber 31, we had the op­tion of ei­ther hik­ing up 1700 feet to Tiger’s Nest, ex­plor­ing the mar­ket or laz­ing around in the ho­tel. No prizes for guess­ing what I chose to do.

Great Es­cape – Chalsa

Five days later I did not want to leave this mes­meris­ing coun­try. At one time I man­aged to wrest the keys to a new gen Scorpio from former col­league and now buddy-at-Mahin­dra, Ryan Lee. Af­ter the KUV, the larger Scorpio felt more pow­er­ful and it was eas­ier to catch up with the con­voy af­ter stop­ping for a photo ses­sion. While the lay­over in Phuentshol­ing ac­com­pa­nied by Bhutanese rice wine and the in­dige­nous K5 whisky was un­event­ful, get­ting back through Chalsa was any­thing but. A hor­rific ac­ci­dent on the high­way had cre­ated may­hem and a miles long traf­fic jam. As I was in the Scorpio and with the lead­ing pack of or­gan­iser’s ve­hi­cles, we set about try­ing to find al­ter­na­tive routes. I had to act as spot­ter as well as a helper for the crew. Af­ter suc­cess­fully nav­i­gat­ing the tough ter­rain, we fi­nally got news that the high­way had been opened and the con­voy made it through safe and sound. And in the end I did get the ad­ven­ture I had so craved for at the start of the trip. ⌧

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