22nd November 2014 – Tsimasham, Bhutan
I first had a date today, with bureaucracy. It was all smiles though. And then I had a date, with some of the highest altitudes I have seen. This must be true love, because I am not even close to finishing I don’t even know where i am, but I am stopping while the view is still green.
So, I had to wait till 11 AM today, doing nothing. If anything, I kept going back to the Indian side of the border, so that I can have another last cigarette.
Oh, didn’t I tell you? Bhutan is the only country in the world where smoking is banned and the sales of cigarettes are completely banned. Yes, you can carry cigarettes with you, but you have to pay a heavy excise fee. So, Bhutan is my litmus test. If I can quit smoking for a few days here, I can quit smoking any other time too.
Finally, at 11 AM, I met the RLO (I am guessing it means Road Liaisons Officer, but his desk only said RLO!) at the RSTA. (which definitely stands for Road Safety and Transport Authority!). So, I needed a copy of my registration permit, a copy of my visit permit, and a copy of my driving license. And finally, a hand-written application to the RLO, asking his permission to ride through the areas for which I have a visit permit.
I was an instant super-star here. The RLO saw my registration number, and recognised KL as Kerala.
“You rode from Kerala to Bhutan?!“, he asked in astonishment.
“No“, I couldn’t miss this opportunity to flabbergast him, “I rode from Kerala to Nepal. And then from Nepal to Bhutan“
There was no other questions for me. I had won him over completely. He only asked for the fee of 70 Ngultrum for a week, a really cheap deal if you consider that I had to pay RS226 per day when I was in Nepal. Note that the Bhutanese Ngultrum and Indian Rupee are inter-operable currencies, just like Singapore Dollar and Brunei Dollar, both having equal value. However, the INR1000 notes are not accepted in Bhutan due to a counterfeiting history associated with it in the past.
With the visit permit and the route permit allowing me 7 days to ride around, I was finally on my way. The only problem was that it was past lunch already, and I wanted to reach Paro, which was 159 KM away. I would have easily done it in 3-4 hours, if the road was straight. But Bhutan is probably the highest altitude at which I have ever rode a motorbike, and at places, my heart was literally in my mouth as the crazy truck drivers whizzed past me, almost knocking me over curved cliffs which were 8000 feet in height!
By evening, the mist had made the weather intolerable too. I finally gave up, and stopped a good 50 KM before Paro. I stopped at a dingy guesthouse in Tsimashim, and paid 300 Ngultrum for a room with no hot shower.
I now know how I would smell when I reach Paro tomorrow.