It was on the morning of 14th April, "Goru Bihu", when we started out on our journey from Jorhat to Bongaigaon enroute Bhutan. Our first stop was at Jakhalabandha, where our friend and co-traveler, Lalu had arranged for a ‘Bihu breakfast at his NRL energy station. After gorging on luchi-bhaji and til pithas, we left for Jakhalabandha at around 9 am for our next stop, which was at the Guwahati bypass, where Lalu’s daughter Ananya was scheduled to join us. The three of our families, led by our torch bearer, Amitabh Hazarika and Gautam Barooah started on our journey from there.
The drive beyond Guwahati upto the Naranarayan Setu at Jogighopa was very smooth. The image of the setting sun over the mighty Brahmaputra at Naranarayan Setu was breathtaking. We trooped into Hotel Kanishka at Bongaigaon around 6-30 pm for a well deserved night’s sleep after being on the wheels for 12 hours.
Day 2: After a good night’s sleep and a heavy breakfast, everyone was raring to go.
Today our destination is Phuntsoling, the gateway to Bhutan, which is about 155 kms from Bongaigaon. This is the place where we had to get our entry permits to enter Bhutan. As soon as we left Bongaigaon, vehicles coming from Bhutan zipped pass us. Our young auto enthusiasts, Neeraj and Udeet were very excited on seeing the Isuzus and the Prados. “Dantak welcomes you to Bhutan” proclaimed a hoarding put up by the Border Roads Organization near Hashimara. It is about 17 kms from Hashimara to the twin cities of Jaigaon and Phuntsoling on either side. The first thing that hits you as you cross Jaigaon and enter Phuntsoling is the drastic reduction in the decibel level. No rash driving, no unnecessary honking, it was as if we were transported to an alien world. We checked in at the Druk Hotel and immediately went to the immigration office to arrange our travel permits. It was only by 4 pm that we got our permits.
The evening was spent in window shopping and in stocking up on provisions for the days ahead.
Day 3: The comfortable beds of Druk Hotel made us forget about our the journey ahead. We were able to leave Phuntsoling only by 10.30 am. Immediately after Phuntsoling, the steep ascent begins but since the roads were good, the driving was a pleasure. We reached Tsimasham, which is around 106 kms from Phuntsoling at around 1-30 pm. We were told that there was a road block ahead and decided to have our lunch there. Hot thukpas and cheese momos disappeared so fast that the lady serving us had great difficulty in keeping pace with us. We reached a place called Chuzom at around 3-30 pm, from where one road bifurcates to Paro and the other to Thimphu. The roads from this point are much wider and the terrain is also much friendlier. We were in Paro in no time and finally checked in at the Sonam Trophel Hotel after the ladies inspected it and gave us the go ahead. Paro is basically a one street town and somehow you feel you are a part of an old cowboy movie. In Bhutan, most of the people wear their traditional dress. The men wear ‘Bakhoo’ while the dress of the women called ‘Keera’. So our hotel owner was an exception to be seen in jeans. We were ushered into our rooms by a pretty ‘Bhutanese’ girl, who hauled in our heavy luggage. After a perfunctory tea and snacks, we took a walk around the town which, however, did not take much time and headed straight to Lalu’s room for the mandatory sundowners.
Day 4: We woke up feeling fresh and raring to go. Today is April 17 and happens to be the birthday of Meenakshi- our friend and Lalu’s wife. Lalu managed to procure a cake and the kids put up balloons and streamers in the dining room. After a sumptuous breakfast, we left for a trek to Taktsang monastery. This monastery stands on top of a cliff and it is a 7 km trek from the base point. Since it was past 11am by the time we started the trek, and the weather was warm, we made slow progress. After an arduous trek of more than 3 hours, we finally reached ‘Tiger’s Nest’, which is the other name for Taktsang monastery. The moment we entered its hallowed precincts, we realized that it was worth every bit the pain and sweat. It started drizzling on our descent and we took shelter under a huge rock and it was upto our Masterchef Lalu to conjure up delicious ham sandwiches, which disappeared sooner than the drizzle. The downhill trek was much easier and we made it in 2 hours. The most heartening part was the enthusiasm of the kids even after trekking 14 kms. On our way back to Paro, we made a detour to visit the Drugyel Dzong, which looked majestic against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks and a benign moon adding to the beauty. Hot thukpas and momos awaited us at the hotel and all of us devoured them like hungry ravens.
We decided to explore the night life of Paro and went to a night club located close to our hotel. We were in for a surprise as these were not the archetypal night clubs one would expect. Here, the local girls in their traditional dresses were swaying to the tunes of Bhutanese songs as requested by the audience and whatever the music be, their movements were pretty much the same.
Day 5: Today is our fifth day on the tour and the first point on our itinerary is Chelela Pass, which, at 3988 meters is the highest motorable point in Bhutan. On the way to Chelela, one could have a panoramic view of the Paro airport, the only airport in Bhutan.
The drive to Chelela is a visual delight with all kinds of flowers in full bloom and herds of Yak grazing amidst fig trees. The first thing that hits you in Chelela are the ice cold winds. We had to scramble to our vehicles to put on our jackets and caps. Lalu, along with the ladies quickly organized breakfast for us. On our way back to Paro, the kids had great fun playing in a frozen stream. After lunch, it was time to leave for Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. The distance from Paro to Thimphu is 57 kms and we covered the distance in an hour. We checked into the Dragon Roots Hotel and then went on to explore the marketplace in and around the hotel. The high point of the evening was the trip to the bowling alley, where all of us had a good time.
Day 6: Today was meant to be a day for rest and leisure. While the menfolk went to organize the immigration clearance and road permit for our onward journey through Central Bhutan, the ladies and the kids indulged in some shopping. After lunch, we took a drive to the King’s palace while Gautam and Lalu preferred to have a massage at the Hotel parlor. As there was a long journey ahead on the morrow, we retired early.
Day 7: We left Thimphu just before 7 in the morning. Our plan was to reach Trongsa before dark. Our first stop was at Dochula Pass, which is about 20 kms from Thimphu. Dochula Pass is at an altitude of 3,116 metres and one can have a semi-circular view of the Jomolhari range on a clear day. As luck would have it, there was a cover of cloud that day and we were denied the pleasure of experiencing this visual delight. We stopped for breakfast at a place called Thinleygang. The ladies quickly organized ham sandwiches and boiled eggs and we did full justice to the food. We reached Lobey around 11 am, from where we had to turn north for Punakha, which is about 15 kms from there. Well paved roads ensured that we reached Punakha in no time. Here, two rivers Mochu and Phochu converge and the scene is a feast for the eyes. The Punakha Dzong, which also houses the civil administration offices, stands on the banks of the twin rivers.
The huge Buddha statue inside the Dzong is well worth the flight of stairs one has to climb. We prayed to Lord Buddha for our well-being and after a customary photo session, it was time to bid adieu to Punakha. We crossed Wangdue, a small town, from where we could see construction work going on for a power project. We reached Nubding around 2.30 pm, where we stopped for lunch. While lunch was being readied, the ladies managed to procure a beautiful hand woven carpet. Immediately after leaving Nubding, we crossed Pelela Pass, which stands at an altitude of 3,390 meters. In Bhutan, we noticed that in every Pass, every bridge we crossed is adorned with white flags. People stop their vehicles to pray and light candles. The imposing sight of the Trongsa Dzong can be seen from a distance of 12-13 kms after the road takes a sharp U turn.
We reached Trongsa just as darkness was setting in and had no difficulty in locating a hotel. The hotel, which was absolutely new and its staff extremely courteous, made sure that we had a pleasant stay.
Day 8: Day 8 dawned and we clambered out of our beds. The view from the balcony was simply mind boggling. Snow-capped peaks on the south and the Trongsa dzong on the north, made our day even before it had begun. After a round of puri-sabji, we left Trongsa at around 7-45 am. Today, we had to cover about 270 kms which is equivalent to 500 kms in the plains. We stopped briefly at Yotongla Pass (3,425 metres), about 28 kms from Trongsa and our aim was to reach Jakar by 11 am.
Jakar is in the midst of Bumthang valley, which is also known as the ‘Switzerland’ of Bhutan. Lovely green meadows against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains in the distance made our hearts skip a beat. We felt we could gaze endlessly at this heavenly sight. We refueled our vehicles and after a tea break, it was time to say goodbye to Jakar. We planned to stop for lunch at Sengor, which was 104 kms ahead. On our drive to Sengor, we crossed Sheytangla Pass (3,596 metres) and Trumshingla Pass (3,780 metres). The road winds its way through the Trumshingla National Park but we were not lucky enough to sight any wildlife, except for catching a few fleeting glances at some yaks. The kids had a great time as we stopped near a frozen stream and we had great difficulty in cajoling them back to our cars. We reached Sengor at 3 pm and had our lunch of rice and maggi. As we were about to leave, one person came up and warned us that the road ahead was dangerous and urged us to leave quickly.
We really did not understand what he meant by that, but after about 10 kms, we encountered the thickest fog we had ever seen in our lives. Visibility was down to zero and we were moving at a snail’s pace. One wrong turn and we could end up thousands of feet below. As our cell phones were not working at that point, we had no contact with the other vehicles and all of us had a harrowing time for the next 4-5 kms. Luckily for us, there was no vehicle from the opposite direction during that entire stretch. We heaved a sigh of relief as we came out of the fog and sped downhill towards Mongar. The vegetation began to change and so did the temperature.
We had to stop about 25 kms short of Mongar as there was a roadblock. In Bhutan, wherever there is road construction, you would have to face 1-2 hours roadblocks. Fortunately, the block lifted after about half an hour and we were able to resume our journey. The lights of Mongar beckoned from a distance of 4-5 kms and we stepped on our gas pedals. We checked in at the Wangchuk Hotel in Mongar, which was pretty good and at rates reasonable by any standards. The fact that they served Indian food was music to our ears. We wanted to ensure that our last night in Bhutan was memorable. After an extended round of sundowners, we retired to our comfortable beds.
Day 9: Our last day in Bhutan. Today, we are planning to drive to Guwahati which is about 370 kms from Mongar. After a hearty breakfast, we left Mongar around 8.45 am, which was late by our normal standards. Our first stop was at Korila Pass (2,298 metres), which is 17 kms from Mongar. We prayed and lit candles to thank God for looking after us till now. We crossed the towns of Yadi, Sherichu enroute Trashigang, which is about 90 kms from Mongar. The drive was mostly downhill and we were making good progress as the roads were good. The Manas river, which is known as Gamrichu in Bhutan flows along the highway and the natural beauty is a feast for the eyes. We crossed Trashigang around 11 am and drove straight to Kanglung, another 22 kms down south. It was while having tea at Kanglung, that we came to know that there was a 2 hour roadblock at a place about 25 kms from Kanglung. There was no way we could cross that point before the roadblock started. We finally left Kanglung around 2 pm, little realizing that this 2 hour delay would cost us dearly. We crossed Khaling and Trashiyanphu before taking a tea break at Wamrong. It was already past 4 pm and we were anxious to reach Samdrup Jongkhar, the last point in Bhutan, as early as possible. However, after we crossed Narphung, the condition of the roads suddenly took a turn for the worse. The Border Roads Organization, which has been entrusted with the task of widening the highway from Samdrup Jongkhar to Trashigang seems to have made a mess of it. After about 2 hours of back breaking roads, we finally made to Samdrup Jongkhar around 8 pm. This town, unlike Phuntsoling is like any other Indian town and we spent as little time
as possible there and sped to Guwahati, which was another 2 hours away. The drive upto Rangiya was pretty good except for a few patches. It was after Rangiya that our progress slowed down. Rows of trucks with their blinding headlights came hurtling down and many a times, missed hitting us by a whisker. The ear-piercing blows of the horn and rash driving by all and sundry served as a grim reminder that our holiday was coming to a close. We finally made it to Guwahati around 11.30 pm and checked in at Hotel Pragati Manor, dead tired even though the enthusiasm of the kids even at this hour was amazing. We retired to our comfortable beds with fond memories of Bhutan and thanked the Almighty for helping us complete this “mother of all journeys” without any hitch.
My mother predeceased my father in the year 1979. My father left for heavenly abode in the year 1993. In those 14 years, despite the loss of our mother, all of our two brothers and two sisters tried our utmost to keep our father away from harbouring any lonely feelings. He also started taking a positive attitude to life, despite the loss of his wife— our mother.
Our father used to tell his friends, “Even though I’m single now, I‘m never lonely as I have a great relationship with my siblings and their children. I grew-up in a family of three brothers and two sisters, in an environment full of love and laughter. The bonds we shared then have paid rich dividends now.”
In the same tune as my father and in the absence of my parents, even I used to tell my friends, “I also grew up in a family of two brothers and two sisters, in an environment full of love and laughter. The bonds we shared then have paid rich dividends now.”
Before our marriage, my siblings and me had one thing in common— we did many activities together and had great fun. To cite a few examples, I and my two sisters used to sing (we learnt classical vocal from our music teacher Late Ashim Nath of Tezpur) while my younger brother used to play the “Tabla” After the death of our mother, as and when our father would be away on business purpos, we would gulp down a full bottle whisky, followed by mutton-curry and “chapattis”. During our music session, even our pet-dog “tony” used to sit by us and listen to our high soprano in full concentration. Even now, even though we are married, we would occasionally have musical session, followed by a rich meal.
In this context, the Bangalore based child specialist and a life skills coach, Dr Ali Khwaja had reiterated the need for a family bond in this manner— “In the 21st century, loneliness is going to be the biggest epidemic to hit mankind. The only immunization against it is a strong family. People gave become more mobile and have less time for each other, leading to a sense of isolation. Family bonds can no longer be taken for granted; they need to be fostered and nurtured”.
To foster family bonding, a family can fix a day in a week where all the members meet formally. Complaints may be heard from each member in the family meeting. Everyone may then discuss and decide what course of action is to be taken. For this to work, it’s important that each member is given equal importance, irrespective of their age and status in the family. Parents should not dominate the meeting or force their views. These types of fun meetings generally send messages to the children that their views also matters. The leader for the day can plan activities which may range from painting pictures, impromptu singing sessions etc, where the whole family is involved.
Secondly, one great way to remember important family occasions is to make a personalized family calender. This may take about an hour, and could be done with the help of children at the beginning of each month, or even in three months. By using the personalized family calendar, one may send an e-mail or SMS to the concerned relative on his/her special occasions like birthday, marriage day etc. This helps the family members to feel the closeness despite being far away.
Next, the entire family may meet annually during various festivals. These meetings may be organized during festivals like “Rangali Bihu”, “Durga Puja” and on days when children get holidays.
Fourthly, all the family members may take out sometime during Sundays and go for a drive or a movie and then eat a late lunch or a dinner in a restaurant for a change.
A famous family counselor, Father Dudley Mendonca once said, “the single most important cause in making or breaking a family is communication. Ninety per cent of the families who come to me for counselling have a common trait—-there are no open channels for communication. Feelings of frustration, neglect and unworthiness are thereby suppressed and internalized”.
Parents need to understand that the needs of their children are completely different from those of their elders and peers, as they grew-up in a different time span and the problems they face are not the same as those their parents once faced. By spending quality time, encouraging them to share their feelings, and giving them strong doses of love and emotional security, they can nurture family bonds into permanent and healthy ones.
As I sailed across the Luit counting the
A neverland was becoming reality,
I stood amidst the smoking gamblers
Staring at anonymous birds,
I finally discovered a land free from
the rusting air and vanity;
Of hospitality, I see it overbrimmed with cups of tea,
pigs and pigeons, saints and scholars
The stowing passenger, the man with
anchors and the women sifting the ash wine,
They all live in harmony.
Natives wither like leaves being separated from water,
Tuni cuts the island into two,
Dust blow in the air,
Vaishnavite culture cradles in the arms
Mishings toil, sing and dance and build ostrich kitchen
Tread on Sonari flowers, weave and pamper
caterpillars in swarms.
There is no island for coward men,
a place where nature and not time reign;
Far away from the madding crowd
Where heritage secretly meets and religion congeal
It is where I find peace;
An idea but a living land.
Home is the fisherman, home from his bed,
Home is the woodcutter, home from his hill.