Saturday, September 25, 2010

Bhutan at last! Phuentsholing.

Standing on the Bhutan side of the gate.  India is on the other side!
We finally arrived into Bhutan today!


Phuentsholing is a border town in southern Bhutan that is just a stone's throw away from Jaigaon.  After we *exited* India, we drove thte short distance to the Bhutan checkpost.  There, Sanjeev had to get our entry permits stamped in our passports so we could cross under the border gate!


After months of planning and days of travel, I'm finally in Bhutan! 

As soon as you cross the border gate, you notice the stark contrast between the two countries and their respective culture.  Whereas Jaigaon is bustling, loud and full of little rundown buildings.....typically Indian, Phuentsholing is orderly, quiet and well kept buildings.....typically Bhutanese. 

I couldn't wait to walk about the town but first we had to get to our hotel and get settled in.

It was only about a five minute drive from the checkpost to our hotel which was tucked inside a very quiet side street.  After days of hearing car horns honking incessantly, it was nice to have some peace and quiet.

We pulled up into the parking lot and entered the hotel lobby.  Waiting there for us was our Bhutanese tour leader....Tenzing.  We all introduced ourselves to him.

My first impression of Tenzing was that he was very shy and reserved....probably also a very Bhutanese trait.   It also didn't look like Sanjeev and Tenzing had ever met so there was a bit awkward interaction between the two of them as Sanjeev explained to Tenzing how the rooms needed to be assigned - who could share, who needed single rooms, etc. 

As his final task as our tour leader, Sanjeev told us to adjust the time on our clocks and watches by 1/2 hour to reflect the time difference between India and Bhutan. 

Each of us then said our good bye's to Sanjeev.  It was bittersweet to see him go off with Raju.  He had been such an attentive leader that I knew I would miss him (Tenzing has a lot to live up to) but I also knew he was looking forward to going back to his village near Darjeeling and spending time with his mother. 

With Sanjeev gone, we were now in Tenzing's trusty hands.  His first task as our tour leader was to tell us that we had the rest of the afternoon free to ourselves, that dinner would be served in the hotel restaurant and that tomorrow morning, we would be on the road to Thimphu.

Before I headed to my room, I went to the hotel cashier and got some of my Indian rupees exchanged for Bhutanese ngultrums.  It's a one for one exchange rate so that made it easy.  I was just hoping that prices of things would be as cheap in Bhutan as they were in India so my spending money will go a long way.  If not, I will need to break into my stash of USD and find a bank to do the exchange.....maybe in Thimphu.  I'll have to see how it goes.

We had all gotten so used to travelling as a group that even when we had our free time, we often stuck together.  Such was the case today.  We agreed to spend a few minutes getting settle into our rooms nd then meet back in the lobby to go and explore the town.

We walked out of the hotel and headed in the direction that we thought would take us to the center of town which we figured was close to the border gate.   As we neared the border gate, I noticed a city square of sorts - like a small park.  We decided we would head there after we all did our photo op thing at the gate.

Off to the park!  And surprise!  There's a small temple there.  I found out afterwards that the temple is called Zangtho Pelri Lakhang.  What a mouthful of a name for this little temple that sits smack dab in the center of town.  As with many temples in Bhutan, it's dedicated to Guru Rinpoche.































The front door, to the temple, was locked so we couldn't enter.  The prayer wheels were calling so we circumambulated the temple, spinning the wheels as we went along.

Liz standing in front of the intricately decorated wheels.








By now, you would think that we had had enough of spinning prayer wheels but oh no, we still had it in us :-)






Marc, Megan, and Ross do the spin!

















Off in one corner of the temple complex was a large prayer wheel.  They called out to Merle who is barely 5 feet tall and probably weighs somewhere south of 100 lbs.  But, she's got muscle! 


Pull Merle!!
You go, girl!!





















From the temple, we discovered a small supermarket.  I went in with no intention of buying anything and I walked out with a box of tea. 

We wandered around a few blocks and quickly realized that this really is a sleepy border town.  So, it was back to the hotel to relax a bit before dinner.   Can't wait for tomorrow to come around!!