Kencho the owner of Snow White Tours
Well after dinner with Kencho, I ended up staying up way to late, drinking the remains of my Coronation Whiskey since Kemcho (our guide) had graciously bought us a going away gift of a bottle of Special Courier Whiskey. I had earlier burned a couple of CD’s for Tashi, our driver whose musical tastes somewhat follow my admittedly juvenile own, and wanted to burn a CD for Kemcho whose musical tastes lean a bit more towards the mellow. Of course, Windows was conspiring against me and, by the time I was done, it was well after midnight. Luckily I managed to finish the whiskey, thus negating the necessity of carrying two bottles all the way back to India!
We got up at 5:00am for a 6:00am extremely bumpy and windy drive of about 180 km down to southern Bhutan and the border town of Phuntsholing.
Now if you are a relatively smart American, you can probably do the math and say that 180km is roughly just over 100 miles and you should be able to drive that in a couple of hours but you are sorely mistaken - it took about 6 hours. As soon as I have broadband and can go on Google Earth, I will measure the crow’s distance from Thimphu to Phuntsholing (but I bet it is not more than 70km) but rest assured that you would be hard pressed to find a more circuitous, windy route anywhere including Cinqueterre or Positano, Italy, the road from Chiang Mai to Pai, Thailand or anywhere else windy you can think of. Add on to that of course, the fact that most of the road wavers between semi-paved, rocky and completely unpaved and that just adds to the excitement. Cindy was not feeling particularly well and the road conditions didn’t help but Kemcho is a very cautious and conscientious driver and we met it to breakfast a few hours away without incident where I wolfed down a plate of momo’s (Tibetan dumplings) and scrambled eggs and Cindy had black tea.
Kemcho our guide throughout Bhutan
Tashi our driver throughout Bhutan (who happens to love Audioslave!)
Kemcho was very talkative along the way, asking questions about America, advice about meeting your ex-girlfriend when with your wife, and telling stories such as the one about an Ox and a Yak. Apparently the Ox and Yak decided they needed salt and so the Yak said that, if the Ox would loan the Yak his wool hide, then he would walk to Tibet to get the salt. The Yak never came back which is why the Ox makes the mournful, mooing sounds and often remains buried in the muddy waters of rice paddies (to hide his nudity).
We eventually descended in winding fashion down to the Bhutanese border town of Phuntsholing and walked to a very informal immigration window.
There was nothing but an archway separating Bhutan from India but the difference was immediately apparent, somewhat akin to Dorothy going from black and white to color in the Wizard of Oz. Phuntsholing, a bit hot and noisy but still completely Bhutanese in architecture, relatively clean and calm is juxtaposed with the Indian city of Jaigoan, noisy with bleating horns, hot, dirty and chaotic. We hope that Sikkim in the mountains is more like Bhutan!
Typical Bhutanese Truck
Kemcho took us to Indian immigration where a lackluster and indifferent civil servant looked at us with contempt and asked us to fill out some paperwork. Eventually, he stamped our passports and we were back into India, wondering if Thupten, our guide from Yuksom Tours would be there. Kemcho spoke in Nepali (pretty much the local language) to some guy hanging out at the immigration office who told him that Thupten was already here and would be back in a bit. We hung around the dusty streets watching a cobbler mend shoes and getting harassed by beggars but my cell wouldn’t re-register on AirTel, the Indian cell company who text-pages me three times a day but wouldn’t let me call anyone. Kemcho was getting bored and ready to move on since he was picking up some western friends the next morning in Silguri several hours away and finally tried calling Thupten. He managed to reach him and thirty minutes later, Thupten showed up. The instantly started conversing in Nepali and we sat there confused, wondering what was going on. Eventually a car and young driver, also coincidentally named Tashi, showed up and we transferred our bags from Kemcho’s car.
We said our goodbyes to Kemcho who seemed genuinely sad to see us go and gave him the CD we burned and a tip. He repeatedly shook our hand and wished us well on our next venture and then we were off for the second half of a very long driving day. Thus ends our Bhutanese adventure!