21st November 2014 – Phuentsholing, Bhutan
I had enough of google maps, and went with the local swell. They guided me through roads like baby’s bottom. Steep, but a safe bet. But I am my biggest nemesis, as the delay today had taught me. I was in the land of the thunder dragon. But wait, not completely yet.
I don’t know what’s with me and border crossings! Everytime I have to cross one, I somehow end up crossing it late at night. It happened before in Nepal, and it happened again today.
So, I should have left early in the morning today, and I bid goodbye to Shiela and other friends from the hostel, who left for a trek. And then, I went to sleep! Woke up around 10 AM, and rushed out of the guesthouse. Too late, the damage was done already.
For the first time in this whole biking trip, I disobeyed Google maps. While G-Maps told me that I had to take the same way down to Siliguri, I followed the advice of the locals, who suggested taking an alternative route which was actually longer. But damn, the road was as clear as a midday morning, with absolutely no potholes. True, that the descents were some of the steepest that I have ever come across, but that is because of the terrain.
After a few hours, I was on normal altitudes and finally stopped shivering. But the ride was long. From Siligiri to Jaigaon, which is where the India-Bhutan border is, took about 4 hours, and I reached the Bhutanese border town of Phuentsholing in the late evening. And once again, the entry was smooth with no one stopping me. But I knew I had to find immigration, at least for my bike if not for me.
The immigration/visa counter, is actually after the border gate, and the immigration officer was very accommodating. He told me that there is no need of Visa for Indians, as long as they are staying only in Phuentsholing. But to visit any other district, I needed a permit. At the immigration counter in Phuentsholing, I can obtain the permits for Paro and Thimphu, but for all other districts, I have to wait till I get to Thimphu. All I needed was my photograph, a filled up permit form, and a letter of undertaking. The letter of undertaking is only because I was making an independent travel plan, and the letter states that I am solely responsible for my actions. Ok, that was scary!
There was another catch. Since I was on a motorbike, I also needed to get a route permit. But the RSTA (Road safety and transport Authority) was already closed for the day. And since the next day is a Saturday, they will open only at 11 AM.
So, I am in Bhutan, but I am still stuck in the border town for the day, unable to proceed any further until I get a piece of paper tomorrow that allows me to.