I am travelling to Bagdogra airport to catch my return flight to Mumbai. Since we started for Bagdogra early in the morning, I was tired and needed some sleep. However, I decided to go through some of the pictures that I had clicked during this drive. Scrolling through all of them, I realised that these five days were one of the best I have ever had. Firstly, I was away from my office, disconnected from the networks that usually surround me. And secondly, I was in a new country, Bhutan, a landlocked country in South Asia, that also happened to be one of the places I wanted to visit for really long.
Honda Cars India has an annual roadtrip event where journalists from different publications across the country are invited to experience their fleet of cars. For this season, we had the diesel models of Honda City, Amaze, BR-V, Jazz and the WR-V. Additionally, there was also the Honda Accord Hybrid and the CR-V. Every season of the Honda Drive to Discover has an occasion to celebrate, which in this case was the crossing the sales milestone of 3 lakh i-DTEC diesel engine models in India. And that is also the reason, why Honda got diesel variants of its popular models for this drive.
As soon as we landed in Bagdogra, we proceeded towards a local cafe that was our flag off point for this trip. The distance from Bagdogra to Phuentosholing is close to 170km. There are two ways to reach Phuentsholing, one route travels via Nagrakata while the other is via Jalpaiguri. We took the former route as we were told that this one is more scenic than the other. Our ride for this day was the Honda WR-V. It is a single lane route with moderate traffic but has greenery on both the sides since it passes through Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary. We did get multiple occasions to shoot but my favourite was the Coronation Bridge in Sevoke town that is on the border of Sikkim. It stands tall on the Teesta river giving one of the best views.
The scenic view from the Coronation Bridge in Sevoke town
The Honda WR-V striking a pose in the Ellenbury Tea Garden.
As we continued to drive on the well paved tarmac, we were crossing Ellenbury Tea Garden. I have been to tea plantations earlier and love the fragrance spread everywhere. We decided to take a quick stop and take out WR-V in the midst of the plantation to get a nice click. It was around evening and we had been driving for quite some time, that is when the convoy decided to take a break at a local eatery located near Grassmore tea garden. Honestly, I wasn't too convinced about the eatery for it looked too dingy but it did serve generous portions of hot chicken noodles. If it was genuinely tasty or where we too hungry to appreciate anything, is something that is debatable. As the sun began its descent, we reached Hashimara, which happens to be the last town before you cross into Bhutan in Phuentsholing, our stopover for the day
Entering Bhutan border
It is truly amazing to see the stark difference between the two countries get highlighted as soon as you cross the border. The cleanliness and the respect for discipline all over the place is really impressive. More than the scare of the law, people follow rules willingly for added convenience, something we believe should be incorporated here as well. Post completing our visa formalities, we set on the journey heading to Paro. The distance between Phuentsholing to Paro is close to 160km and the car for this trip was the Honda City.
Initially, I was skeptical about doing this trip in the City for the route might have rough patches that could have ended up damaging the sedan. However, I was proved wrong. The torque-y nature of the diesel motor came in handy while climbing the ghat sections. The road was decent for most of the sections. The uneven patches were taken care of by the City's suspension not letting any of that disturbance spoil our roadtrip mood.
Local delicacy Ema datshi
We continued to enjoy the scenic beauty around us. The ambient temperature had come down as it was a hilly section that we were driving on. For lunch, we stopped at a dhaba in Gedu where we tried a local delicacy called Ema datshi where "ema" means "chili" and "datshi" means "cheese" in the Dzongkha language of Bhutan. We continued to drive towards Paro and that is when it started to drizzle. The greenery around, scenic locales and the beautiful waterfalls almost everywhere gave us plenty of occasions to take images. It was late in the evening when we reached our stop over point for the day in Paro
The main attraction if one is in Paro is the Taktsang Palphug monastery also called the Tiger's Nest. There are different legends about the history of this place. What makes it challenging for the visitors is its location that is 3,120 metres above the Paro valley. The monastery is located on a rock and has a steep slope beside it. We were told that it will be a tough trek to reach the monastery. Instead of trekking to Takstang, I decided to drive towards Thimphu. It was the Honda CR-V that took us to the capital city of Bhutan.
As soon as we reached Thimphu, we decided to try local Bhutanese cuisine at this cafe called the Zone. Unfortunately, I cannot tell what all I tried at this place but yes, it was extremely delicious and a thorough recommend to the ones planning to visit Thimphu. It is here that I decided to explore more as the event is called Drive to Discover. Someone I knew advised me to visit Dochula pass, that is located at close to 23km from Thimphu. Dochula pass.
Located at an elevation of 3,100 metres, Dochula Pass has over 108 stupas built in three layers. This area also has the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang, a traditional temple that has detailing of the past merged with the future. The temple was built in honor of Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
The Honda CR-V with the traditional monastery at Dochula pass
The road connecting the temple to the location where the stupas are positioned gives an amazing view of the Punakha valley. We waited here to see the sun get lost in the clouds and bring the evening out for it was time to head back to our stop over at Paro.
Since the previous day I continued driving towards Dochula Pass, I decided to spend more time at Thimphu on this day. The agenda was to visit the famous Buddha Dordenma, that is one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. It measures 169 feet and has a purely majestic construction. The surrounding has a special trance here as a large number of monks were praying in unison.
The throne of Buddha Dordenma houses multiple small statues of bronze Buddhas. We also saw disciples working on the restoration of ancient verses that were carved on the walls. We quickly wrapped up from this place and proceeded towards Phuentsholing as we had to reach before evening to complete the country exit formalities. While the drive was truly amazing as it has twisties, hilly sections, fog covered areas, waterfalls and never ending greenery, we decided to make one last stop at the Karbandi Monastery.
Founded in 1967, the Karbandi Monastery is located at a height of 400 metres. There is a beautiful garden around the monastery that gives a picturesque view of Bengal Plain and the Phuentsholing town. We sat here for sometime looking over the town and grasping as much possible. Seeing the sun settle among the mountains, was a calming experience. The next day, we started our return journey towards Bagdogra
Being an automobile journalist, we travel to different parts of the world to drive upcoming cars and motorcycles. There is a set agenda and fixed deliverables with deadlines, that we have to follow during these drives and rides. However, rarely it happens that we are taken to a place and are allowed to explore the true beauty of that place. Glad, I could do that in this season of Honda Drive to Discover as well.