<< Days 1 and 2: Traveling to Delhi, India | Day 4: Bike Lessons and Beauty... >>
Traveling to the India-Bhutan Border
Ben and I both slept soundly. Here is our extremely comfortable bed:
From our window, we could see what appeared to be the entrance to a small market across the street (note: the milky whiteness is not a film on our window or camera lens—it is just the smoggy air):
Our plan today was to catch a mid-morning flight to northeastern India. There we would meet the small group of motorcyclists with whom we would be riding across Bhutan. Our guide would be Rob Callandar, the founder of Himalayan Roadrunners (www.ridehigh.com) and the leader of the first motorcycle expedition to ever cross Bhutan, in March 1997.
After our cold-water showers (brrrrrrrrr), we had a nice breakfast at the hotel—coffee, cereal, fruit, and an Indian bread with curry sauce. When we went to pay the hotel bill, I discovered that the airport pick-up charge was on it. I explained that we had paid the driver the fee last night. We had not understood that we were to pay the hotel directly, and the driver had not hesitated when we had handed him the prearranged fee (plus a tip). After we waited a bit while the hotel clerk made a couple of phone calls to verify our payment, the fee was removed.
We took a regular taxi back to the airport (at a cost of about 1/5 of the amount that we had paid for the airport pick-up). In the daylight, we could see so much more than last night, and our heads swiveled from side to side trying to soak it all in. Unfortunately, we only have one photo of this drive:
Ben took lots of pictures, but his camera was stolen in the middle of the trip (more about that later). Fortunately, we each had brought a camera, and I was taking some photos here and there during the first half of our journey . . . although some precious sights and experiences will have to be etched only in our memories).
Here are some of our observations during the drive to the airport:
--Most drivers were very smooth and courteous, even if they seemed a bit “crazy” to us.
--No one stopped at red lights or stop signs.
--Poverty seemed to be extreme in some areas, and we passed shanty houses built of sticks and cardboard.
--Many of the streets in the outer-lying areas were scattered with lots and lots of garbage.
--A single scooter often carried three or more adults; three men packed onto a scooter waved at me when they rode by.
--The smog was thick and smelled, but then we got used to it and didn’t notice.
--The women’s saris always looked beautiful, clean and neat.
--We passed an outside “barbershop,” with a chair next to a tree and a mirror hanging down from an overhead branch.
At the airport, the men and women were divided into two separate lines so that the women could be scanned in private behind a curtained enclosure.
On the shuttle from the terminal to the airplane, I sat next to a nice Bhutanese man, who was also my seat-mate on the plane. (For privacy, I won’t reveal his real name, but will instead call him “Dargay”.) I had a wonderful conversation with Dargay about his country; he was warm and invited my questions, although he often answered as if he were choosing his words very carefully and diplomatically.
Dargay had been raised in southeastern Bhutan, in a Hindu family. He had moved to the United States as a young adult and lived in New York for 18 years, raising a family there. He said that Bhutan has recently made significant improvements with respect to social issues and rights for the people; however, he also indicated that there was still room for many more improvements. I gathered that the Buddhist government does not look favorably on those who practice a different religion, such as Hinduism. And from Dargay’s repeated statements that Bhutan needs more lawyers so that the people have a greater voice and can stand up for their rights, I concluded that there might not be a lot of freedom to take a position contrary to that of the government. (Of course, our own country still goes through periods of time where that seems to be the case.)
The 3 ½ hour plane flight passed quickly. We landed in a small airport in Guwahati, which is the capital of the state of Assam. There we met Rob, along with the rest of our fellow riders. From the United States were Dave and Anne (husband and wife, riding two-up), and Larry and his son Dale (Dale currently lives in Mexico with his wife and kids). From Great Britain were Fred, his friend Paul, and a husband and wife team, Glynn and Marian (riding two-up).
We all piled into two 4-wheel drive vehicles and set off for the Bhutanese border. We would be staying overnight in a border town, Sangdrup Jongkhar, and starting our ride on the bikes tomorrow morning.
Ben and I were now quite accustomed to the weaving traffic.
As usual during my travels, I was fascinated by the different types of structures that people call “home.”
We crossed a fairly modern bridge over the Brahmaputra River, which is one of the major rivers in Asia. It starts in southwestern Tibet, flows through the Himalayas in great gorges, then runs through the Assam Valley before it finally merges with the mighty Ganges river in Bangladesh.
There were a few multi-storied buildings; bright colors were common:
The countryside was lush and green:
There were a lot of buildings in various stages of construction. New floors were often held in place by hundreds of long sticks:
We shared the roads with many cows, sauntering along:
We saw the Hindu goddess Kali by the side of the road:
Following buses was always entertaining because people would jump on and off of them from both sides.
In the midst of the dirt and dust, I admired this woman in her white flowered sari:
These smokestacks looked beautiful against the blue sky:
Rob spotted a road-side tea shop and spontaneously treated us all to the first of what would be many delicious cups of "milk tea" during this journey. The tea is made with milk and sugar, mixed together, and then poured into cups. I do not usually drink tea at home, and wouldn’t put sugar in it even if I did; however, on this trip I absolutely loved the milk tea and rarely refused a cup when offered.
Next to the tea shop was a home with some women and children watching us closely. In the "packing list" from Rob during the trip preparation stage, he had listed “pencils” as an optional item that we could bring to give to children during our trip. I had brought along some colorful pencils with safari animals printed on them, along with little pads of paper with different animal faces on the cover, and some brightly colored pencil sharpeners. When I saw the children here, I ran to get my “stash.”
Here is a little boy and his family (his mother was so beautiful and gracious!)--note that he has a pencil and monkey pad in his left hand, and red pencil sharpener in his right:
We always asked permission before taking a photo. A lot of people came out of the house to pose for this photo. (The boys have their hands up because Ann was taking photos next to me, and her bright flash had just gone off in their eyes.)
As night fell, we arrived at the gates of the Bhutanese border:
Bhutan had just celebrated the inauguration of a new king, and the banner on top of the border gate welcomed this event:
Rob had taken care of all the arrangements for our visas into Bhutan (Ben and I had applied for, and received, our India visas on our own). The process of entering Bhutan moved slowly but smoothly. We all filed into a small office and sat, while a uniformed guard took out a thick book and carefully wrote down each of our names, our passport information, and our occupations.
Crossing through the gate was very exciting! We stayed in a very basic Indian-style guesthouse in Sangdrup Jongkhar, just inside the border. Throughout our first night, I was kept awake, and later reawakened repeatedly, by the sound of barking dogs. This noise became the subject of many jokes and comments every morning throughout our trip. We learned that regardless of whether we were in a city or out in the countryside, the dogs in Bhutan seemed to sleep all day and frolic loudly at night. I also learned to wear ear plugs to bed!
<< Days 1 and 2: Traveling to Delhi, India | Day 4: Bike Lessons and Beauty... >>
Back to Bhutan Index Page
Back to Home Page