Summer 2017 Roadtrip -Land of The Thunder Dragon

Hi Everyone,
My very first post here. We just concluded a 10 day road trip to Bhutan two days ago. I would like to share the experience in as much detail as possible.

Information on Bhutan is sketchy and dated on forums more so from a road trip perspective,on that note I would like to thank Neeraj Banga for doing a great job penning down his travels to Bhutan and that helped me quite a bit in planning my journey

The following items are a must have in the vehicle for a trip of this duration. I have put links to the products that I took with me after researching the ones that suited my needs

1. Tyre Inflator

2. High Speed Car Charger - One for every charging port in the vehicle given the amount of devices a family carries

3. Insulated Soft Ice Box

paired with

4. Ice Pack for Insulated box ( I bought 3 of these)
In the peak of summer on the road these helped us keep water, tetrapack juices, cold coffee, milkshakes, whole fruit and lassi etc. chilled for over 12 hours every day! Complete life savers.

5. Pepper Spray - You pray one never needs it, but better safe than sorry

6. Re Chargable LED Torch

7. Collins Glass Cleaner & Old Newspapers - bug splatter galore on the windshield

8. First Aid Kit - Do include mosquito repellent and motion sickness tablets

TIP - I would recommend that you inflate your tyres with nitrogen as there are prolonged stretches of high speed driving and in my case high ambient temperature

1. Bottle Opener
2. Wet Wipes
3. Toilet Paper
4. Plastic Garbage Bags
5. Hand Sanitizer
6. Microfiber cloth

Entry into Bhutan beyond Phuntsholing Including Thimpu & Paro only
1. Entry Permit Form (Attached)
2.Passport Size Photograph
3. Original & Photocopy of Passport or Voter Id Card
4. Copies of hotel booking confirmations in Thimpu / Paro

Permit for Self Driven Vehicles
1. Original & Photocopy of Drivers License, Insurance, Registration and Pollution Certificate
2. Application form - Details available in Post Titled Day 4

With the basics covered I am delighted to share with you our awesome trip

Land of The Thunder Dragon


Day 1
2nd June 2017
Gurugram - Lucknow
Distance Travelled - 566 Kms
Travel Time Including Stoppages - 7 Hrs

DAY 1.jpg

Started from home at 6 am sharp with the intent of beating traffic as it was a weekday. We made it to the Yamuna Expressway in about an hour.

Traffic was sparse and we made it to Agra bypass in excellent time
Cruise control was engaged for the most part




A huge surprise awaited us at the end of this expressway thanks to google maps


The yet to be opened Agra - Lucknow Expressway. The longest access controlled 6 lane expressway in the country - 302 Kms of sheer driving bliss. The toll gates are not ready so we had a free drive all the way from Agra to Lucknow \\:D/\\:D/

On the flip side there are no petrol pumps, restaurants or restrooms ready as yet as well so please ensure you don't venture here unprepared.

Some views of this most amazing road



This part of the expressway way is where they had landed the fighter planes as an exercise earlier this year. Note the surface is cemented and there is no high divider in the center as well as the edges of the road have no restraining beams running alongside. They had runway markings on both sides at the beginning of the stretch. Perfect makeshift airstrip in an emergency. You get a feeling of pride to see such infrastructure in the country

Endless empty stretches of well laid tarmac.....for now!!

We reached our Hotel at 1 PM exactly 7 hours after we left home. We rested in the afternoon as it was too hot to step out and early evening ventured out towards Aminabad with the sole purpose of eating some authentic local delicacies

The Food Trail Begins


The melt in the mouth Galauti Kebabs perfectly paired with the mildly sweet, saffron flavored Sheermal. Subtle and distinct flavours. We devoured these real quick

More out of gluttony than hunger the lamb biryani came next and did not disappoint

Filled to the brim we moved out of Tunday only to walk a few steps to another local legend


The best texture of kulfi I have ever add, and not too sweet and yet really creamy. It was divine. This is 2 kulfi's into 4!

Satiated with food that touched our soul we made our way back to the hotel


Only to find this waiting in the room


Sadly we could not even attempt to eat it ! Thank you team Renaissance Lucknow for your gracious hospitality.
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Day 2
3rd June 2017
Lucknow - Darbhanga
Distance Travelled - 590 Kms
Travel Time Including Stoppages - 10 1/2 Hrs
Day 2.jpg

After an early breakfast we left departed from Lucknow towards Darbhanga - Bihar.

Early morning views of Lucknow City

A very clean Gomti river with waking tracks, parks on its embankments. A rare site our country

Soon the city gave way to the four lane NH 27 which was in excellent condition.




This stretch was really great to drive. The only flip side was that there are no decent restaurants along the way. Most of the places are trucker joints which one is not comfortable taking the family to. One needs to plan this route carefully in term of bio breaks and food stoppages. We ate a heavy breakfast at Lucknow so were ok for the most part. The cool box was filled with fruit as well as tetrapack juices, lassi to keep hunger pangs away.

Crossing into Bihar

Post this crossing the road was 2 lane / broken or being expanded for about 10 Kms rest was perfect all the way till Dharbanga

Often pleasant surprises come your way in places that you are least expecting. A short while after crossing the Bihar border in the middle of nowhere we saw

We stopped to use the restrooms and stretch our legs as had been driving non stop from Lucknow and could not find a decent place to stop. My wife inquired if they could provide us basic lunch. They were hosting a small local wedding lunch that day and offered us the same food as the wedding!

The served us green salad, a simple delicious arhar dal, kadhai paneer and hot phulkas. Simple food cooked and served from the heart

The star of the meal was assortment of okra, bitter gourd and green eggplant filled with a fried onion, kalonji and amchur mix. Brilliant

We ate to our hearts content. As we ready to leave the brides father insisted that we eat the wedding mithai as well
which we gladly did :)

Despite having her establishment full of wedding guests she gave us her complete attention and served us personally.
Our gracious hostess

It is my firm belief that Athithi Devo Bhava is alive and well in rural India

Onward to Darbhanga


How I wish we had kept on driving, this is not what we had expected in the least

darbhanga street.jpg

We cautiously made our way to the hotel we had booked 3 weeks in advance hoping it would be in better surroundings, but fate had something else in store for us

Please read about the short and bitter Grand SM Regency experience here

The next hotel we moved onto functional enough to spend the night in nothing more. Had secure parking which was the main issue at the previous hotel

Had our dinner in the hotel restaurant, average food then called it a day as we were eager to get out of Darbhanga as soon as possible
Day 3
4th June 2017
Darbhanga - Phuntsholing
Distance Travelled - 495 Kms
Travel Time Including Stoppages - 10 Hrs

Day 3.jpg

Despite our best efforts to get early breakfast at Darbhanga we could only leave closer to 8 AM after the hotel served us breakfast at their own pace. We hit the highway in about ten minutes and left the last days events behind us

For some reason Google maps showed the road as NH 27 however the signboards and the car navigation showed it as NH 57. Regardless of the name the condition was superb and the ride quality was very good

Whilst driving we decided that on the return leg stopping at Darbhanga was no longer an option and we had to look at a better alternative. Since we were driving past Forbesganj we decided to stop a while a check out Hotel Jyoti which had prominent signage almost 30 Kms before the town limits.

We drove to Jyoti Hotel and inspected the property and checked on availability of rooms on our return dates. They had rooms so we booked them and relieved that would not have to stay in Dharbhanga resumed our journey.

The following was the route taken as suggested by google maps whilst the car navigation told us to stick to another route.

Pawa Khali
Sona Chandi
Fulbari Ghoshpukur Bypass
Gajol Doba Road
Canal Road
Mal Bazaar
Bir Para
Hashi Mara

Finally we realized that google maps though shorter had taken us off the main highway and meant we spent more time on the road as it was just a two lane road with sometimes unruly traffic.
We were not in a rush so we enjoyed the drive through the West Bengal countryside



Getting off a highway is not necessarily a bad thing



A quick lunch break at the only restaurant on this road

Post lunch we were greeted by the serenity of the lush tea gardens



Driving past various tea eatates


Almost There

Finally after 10 long hours

A gate can change a lot


Druk Hotel Phuntsholing

Celebrating with a cold local brew

The first of many delicious Bhutanese meals on the trip from left Chilly Pork, Ema Datshi, Lom Datshi

Bhathuk Thukpa

View attachment 715274

Delighted that we had made it this far, we called it a day as tomorrow was immigration clearance and what a day it was going to turn out to be.....

Door to Door trip stats

Looking at your country from another

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Congratulations Ashish after a long time, glued to an interesting travelogue --- please keep rolling ----- which car were you driving-- that's the biggest suspense??!!

Sent from my Moto G (4) using Tapatalk
Day 4 - Part 1
5th June 2017
Time Taken - 7 1/2 Hrs
DAy 4 1.jpg

Things won't go well today!
Sometimes the best laid plans go wary. No matter how much you detail, read, make notes, prepare in advance, keep all the paper work ready, reach on time..things happen at their own pace, things also happen that are not in your favor, things happen that can put your entire schedule out of gear. All of that happened today......

More of that later, for now all that needs to be kept at the back your mind are these statements:-
1. Today is a Monday
2. The Immigration office and RSTA (Road Safety & Transport Authority) is shut on Saturday and Sunday
3. Due to the recently concluded national census the immigration office and RSTA was also shut on Thursday and Friday
4. Pheuntsholing is teeming with holiday makers who need clearances to move onward

The day began with a light drizzle which was welcome after the searing heat of the North - East plains which we had encountered past 3 days. The immigration office was to open at 9 sharp so we had planned to finish breakfast by 8.40 and walk across the road to the newly renovated Immigration office.

Previous night I had seen this place and asked him what time they opens for breakfast. 7.30 AM, so that worked perfectly
Ashoka Hotel.jpeg

We reached there at 8 sharp and saw the place full of locals eating breakfast. You could eat anything you wanted as long as it's aloo poori. Given no other option we ordered it. It was the worst aloo poori I had in my life and the family concurred. We're really easy about food and do not fuss unless the food is the pits and this was! Bland watery gravy with under cooked chickpeas and a few bits of potato. The poori was made of maida not atta so could be called a luchi except it had a bit of baking powder in it as well so it was a luchi / bhatura hybrid, cold and oily to add insult to injury. What upset me was not that the food was bad, it was that he is 200 meters from the Indian border and serving utter garbage to Bhutanese nationals under the guise of Indian food. I would have been happier having momos at a local place if it was open at that time. Shame on you Mr. Ashoka!

We finished our uninspiring breakfast earlier than planned and walked across to main event of the day

Immigration Office - The lull before the storm

Immigration Permits

We had filled all forms and attached all supporting documents before we commenced our journey so all we had to do was wait for the office to open. There were 30 people in line before us.

A token system was in place and a security gurad was keeping tabs of the token. One member from each group had to write their names. We were 27th on the list. We assumed every group would have 2-5 members. We hadn’t realized tour agents had been standing in the queue long before us. Each agent had a minimum of 50 application forms with him. We kept thinking that our chance would come by token. However travel agents kept breaking the queue and piling their papers on top of the our applications

At 9 AM, the officials arrived. The crowd had started to swell. Initially where there was one queue, now there were numerous as travel agents were coming in from all sides and directly approaching the official who was verifying the papers. We later realized the token list wasn’t made by some official. It was started by an agent to deceive people into believing they had a chance at getting permits.

Soon chaos ensued and the officials kept saying please come in queue or we won’t issue permits. However they were not paying heed to the fact that t he travel agents are the ones breaking the queue.

I had a heated exchange with an official when I asked him why travel agents were piling their forms over the individual travelers. He threatened to tear my papers and send me back to my country.

One thing the officials need to quickly assimilate is organizational skills and standard operating procedures.
The immigration office has a repetitive function. Everyday people queue up for various types of permits that allow them access into mainland Bhutan.
Yet there were no queue managers, no token system, no signage’s, no separation between people trying to take work permits or travelers or a dedicated section for travel agents with bulk applications.
The bottlenecks are created by inefficiencies in the process and not by the number of permit seekers.

Finally 2 hours later at 11.15AM we got our permits.

If they had their act together it was a one hour job.

SIM Card
A tourist can procure a local SIM post getting the travel permit. So I went across the road to the stationary shop that was making a killing doing photocopies and got myself a BT SIM, Rs. 100 for Rs. 100 talk time.

Since the immigration office is right next to where we stayed I asked my family to go back to the hotel whilst I went to RSTA for the vehicle permit. I instructed them to check out of the room by noon and wait in the lobby and I would be back around that time, as I had read it typically takes 30 minutes. I took the car and proceeded to the RSTA and was there in a little over 10 minutes as there was slow traffic along that road.

The RSTA office, the traffic police and the town bus station all share space in the same building. There was adequate parking in front. I parked and made my way to the building and as I was entering saw a notice that said

“ The RSTA office will remain shut from 10 AM till 2PM due to HR training. Inconvenience is regretted.” I was gob smacked,
In peak travel season, after a four day shut down they schedule a half day training session on the day they open back!

I kept staring at the notice for a while not sure of what I should do. It was 11.40 AM, I decided to drive back to the hotel and return closer to opening time. I then saw the slow traffic which I encountered earlier had escalated into a huge jam with both to and fro lanes at a complete stand still.

If I go back to the hotel and get stuck in the jam will I reach back in time? That though was enough to dissuade me from going anywhere. I went an found a seat at the bus stand and sat down. I had told my family 30 minutes, and could not inform them as their cell phones were unavailable and even sms’s were not going through.

I had a packet of instant noodles for lunch at 1 PM and then went and filled the form for the travel permit. It is available at shop number 6 on the first floor of the building for a fee of Rs 15. Attached the copies of all the requisite documents listed in my first post.

Went and got my papers verified and went to the second floor to pay the fee. The fee is Rs. 100 per day for the vehicle being in Bhutan. In the queue for the fee same story as immigration – Travel agents getting permits for multiple vehicles not adhering to the queue. Paid the fees and then went back to the first floor to get the permit. As I entered the room chaos once again! At least a hundred forms had appeared out of nowhere.
And ONE official entering the details into the computer with one finger. After an hour of frustration another official sauntered in and divided the papers into individual travelers and travel agents. I then finally got my permit at 4.15 PM. Needless to say after seeing functioning of two offices that ought to deal with volumes everyday as part of routine, both seemed completely inadequate.

I immediately rushed back to the hotel and found the family sitting in the lobby with all our bags. We decided though it was late we will drive to Paro or we stand to lose our booking at the hotel.
I was physically and mentally exhausted after the way the day had panned out. Reluctantly hauled the bags into the boot and at 4.45PM started the 160Km mountainous drive towards Paro

Told you things won't go well today.

To be continued...........
Ashish so my 1st guess was right that you are intentionally keeping make of the car in suspense (not revealing ). 2ndly appreciate your patience / ordeal to get all permits and also in turn warning / suggesting travellers to keep at least a day or 2 as a buffer. So Bhutan also is inevitability corrupted / necessity is the mother of invention ( be prepared )

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Day 4 - Part 2
5th June 2017
Phuentsholing - Paro
Distance Travelled - 165 Kms
Time Taken - 6 Hrs

Day 4.jpg

Post the bureaucratic debacles, and a really long day waiting, the family was relieved to hit the road again. A light drizzle followed us out of Phuentsholing as we crossed the town limits at 4.40PM.
We started to gain altitude almost immediately after leaving town

Happy to leave Phuentsholing below


Immigration Check Post No.1

After about 10 Kms we arrived at the first immigration checkpost. It is on the left side of the road. One needs to park the car take the both the car and the travel permits to the respective windows where they make an entry and return the passes. Post that we continued onward

You know you're in Bhutan when you see prayer flags in random locations

Mosaic depicting the conversion of water to hydel power. Bhutan's biggest export

Post this we ran into random patches of thick fog and the visibility dropped to zero. On an unknown mountainous road I drove at a snails pace trying to judge the terrain ahead. There were no reflectors on the road and not even a median line that I could try to keep the car centered on. The average speed dropped to 20 Kms an hour and the altimeter showed 1980 metres and rising every couple of minutes.

We called the hotel to inform them that we might be late so to wait up for us. They said they will wait however if we needed dinner we had to pre order latest by 6.30PM, we declined to have dinner at the hotel since we had no idea how long it would take for us to reach Paro under these conditions

After about 2 hours of cautious driving and strained eyes, we stopped for early dinner at the DANTAK Canteen. Delicious Masala Dosa and Dal Vada's. Service is prompt and the quality is good.

Post leaving here until Paro the drive was in pitch darkness. Thankfully there was no fog, however there was a lot of oncoming commercial traffic. full credit to them as each one gave way to uphill traffic and immediately dipped their lights once they came opposite me. Kudos to their road manners.

We also got stopped by a police check post set and they very politely asked me go get out and open the boot lid for them. They were very amused to see the number of bags in the car for four occupants till I told them that we've driven from Delhi and that we would be on the road for 10 days.

Another hour later we passed the second immigration check post and repeated the same drill. The last 30 Kms of the road was much wider and nicely marked and I could maintain a good pace.

Then at 10.15 Pm we saw this in the distance
Paro Dzong

Our day was coming to a close. We managed to find our hotel with great difficulty as it was on the outskirts of town with not lit signage and all the roads were pitch dark.
Luckily the staff was waiting for us and they sent a vehicle to transfer our bags from the car to the hotel. ( More on this later)

Check in was quick and we were shown to out our rooms. After a hot bath we crashed out.

Rooms with no TV! Super Like.....


Horse saddles and wicker back packs

The Corridoor

The endless day finally ended
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