ADVENTURE IN PARADISE
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.
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. ⌧