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Hyderabad- Bhutan in a Duster AWD


ARAY
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The last Himalayan trip ended in January of 2018.
Arunachal was a great trip and the addiction was too strong. We decided to head to the Himalaya again. 

Many among our friends and relatives argue that with the same kind of effort or probably less, you guys can easily make a trip to other countries/ places. Why drive to the Himalayas all the time, that too from Hyderabad? Probably we are so brutally attracted to the Himalayas. Some who are well versed with the mighty walls up north ask, blinded by the gorgeousness of mighty Himalaya? 
The answer reverberates hell yeah!

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The Humble Duster AWD, aka Travolta from John Travolta of the faceoff because of Amazon green shifts between brown or sap green under the sun. Near and dear ones chose to stick with Bong Duster instead. 


To Bhutan aka. Druk Yul - Land of Thunder Dragon. 

Before I start with the details here are a few numbers
Total days of the trip - 12
Total kilometers - 6200 
Total Diesel ~ 520 liters 
Total hours behind the wheel - 120 +
States crossed one way - TS-AP-OD-WB
Countries crossed - IN-BU
Total Momos ~ 90+ ( lost count after that )
Almost 42% of the vacation was me behind the wheels enjoying the banks of Himalaya. 
For Arunachal trip, it was at 40%, a 2% rise in drive time was definitely welcome. 

image.png.a10a5fd6daffd4157e2f74fe4c89428c.png

 

Bhutan is a vast country and demands time to explore. The 7 days permit limit is however a burden. I personally prefer to plot the important tourist spots on the map to where I am traveling and then plan accordingly, be it the routes or the time frame. 

Map of Bhutan from a local shop that might help in planning better.

image.png.605ca43fce64d584e461f41155aee294.png

Route Planning for the trip
Hyderabad - Asansol was my usual route, use it at least two times a year. Post Siliguri we usually plan meticulously. The route chosen was 

Day 1- Hyderabad – Asansol (non-stop, 26 hours)
Day 2- Asansol – Suri- Rampurhat- Malda- Botolbari – Islampur – Siliguri – Sevoke Road - Jaigaon – Phuentsholing (non-stop, 22 hours)
Day 3- Phuentsholing - Thimphu 
Day 5- Thimpu – Phobjikha Valley 
Day 6- Phobjikha -Bumthang 
Day 9- Bumthang– Mongar 
Day 10- Mongar- Punakha - Paro
Day Last- Paro- Asansol. 
Next Day – Asansol - Hyderabad
**Here days depict the travel days only. 

image.png.c50ef2b1548c9d5de9accebcbe65741f.png

 

Folks planning a trip from Southern Part of India like me, there are several great places to halt on the way. While AP is beautiful with its sea beaches of Vizag, OD has the beautiful Chilka lake. One can easily plan a stay. I have been doing non stop drives with the Duster AWD for last few years now. During non-Himalayan vacations, we sometimes halt at these locations to explore some more. 

Since we were going to WB anyways we decided to drive a week earlier and then continue with the journey from Asansol. My Plan was to visit a Historical tourist spot but that didn’t pan out well, we were working from home and hardly got an option to excuse ourselves. 
**All the days were kept flexible since we were driving on the hills and there was uncertainty awaiting every corner. 
 

Bhutan Leg

image.png.b7751aa9bf5582c462df2e0197889239.png

Note the route - It kind of looks like a Dragon with Tang valley and Bumthang forming its two wings, Mongar the head!

Planning Phase 
An individual planning a trip to Bhutan can easily execute if one plans to go till Thimpu and Paro. Going further East demands more planning. Let me explain why!

->If you are driving you would ideally enter Via Phuentsholing side. Apply for Human + Vehicle permits there, on Nth Day and it’s valid for 7 days. 
Say, next day or a day later reach Thimpu and apply for human + vehicle permit extension. They would ideally give permit approval for (N+2)+7 Days. So the 2 days you spend at Phuentsholing or even 1 day is wasted unnecessarily. 

->We had applied for a permit at Phuentsholing on 20th May and it was valid till 27th May. We reached Thimphu on 21st May and extended for Eastern Bhutan permits on 22nd May. The date’s extension was given until 31st May. However we had to exit out of Punakha by 27th. . 27th-22nd = just 5 days for eastern Bhutan! 
We were informed at Thimpu since this the original entry was analog it cannot be made for (N+7) + 7 days. I was utterly confused and reconfirmed our travel Guide + at the check-post of Thimpu and everyone echoed the same. 
In a Nutshell, you just get 5 days to explore eastern Bhutan Frustration.gif

Immigration Office at Phuntsholing
If you have a passport you would need to enter and stand in a queue at the backyard of the building.

image.png.90c282852e5034f9c2fa28349acc32ef.png

 

RSTA Office at Phuentsholing 

image.png.e6ae01dc1adfe8cad9d5bd54fadde782.png

 

 

 

image.png

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Hyderabad - Asansol 
Although its showing 31 hours now, when I took the screenshot, on the D-day it showed the bland 1 day 2 hours. What ideally takes me 22-23 hours of driving took 26 hours this time around. Why! the details are below.
** Time the journey in such a way that you cross Vijayawada, Vizag very early in the morning, say before 6 am. Even the Vizag bypass gets crowded with heavy trucks reluctantly following rules on a single lane. NH65 didn't fail to impress this time too and I was able to keep a steady pace till Vijayawada.

We make sure to time the journey in such a way that we cross Vijaywada, Vizag at least before 6 am or after 11 pm. I prefer the route via Vijayawada because of the scenic and smooth NH65. NH65 didn't fail to impress this time too and I was able to keep a steady pace till Vijayawada. 

Edited by ARAY
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Human and Vehicle Permit

Permit Process (Phuentsholing) 
The permit process could have gotten very elaborate for us if it was not for the Passports. On the day we arrived we encountered a thick crowd of workers who were immigrating from India into Bhutan. That lead to longer than usual queues and few tourists also mentioned it was the second day for them just waiting. Having a passport for all the family members really helped as passports had a dedicated queue at the spot for that day and very few were waiting there. We got our permits done in 1 hour and another 20 mins for the vehicle permit. 

Documents Needed for Human permit
  1. Fill an Entry Permit application form available at the counter (free of cost)
  2. Two passport size photographs per traveler
  3. Valid ID proof ( Passport / Voter card – Birth certificate for kids)
  4. An undertaking for Solo travelers
  5. Route plan, the itinerary of the trip.
  6. Hotel booking confirmation letter or Bhutan tourism documents stating the same.

Documents needed for Vehicle permits:
  1. Valid Driving License
  2. Registration certificate (RC) of your vehicle
  3. Insurance ( I had my geographical area extension till Bhutan and Nepal - it's not a mandate but it's like a safety net for the worst-case scenario )
  4. Pollution certificate
Per day fee for a vehicle is Rs 100. I case you miss that the fine is Rs 1800/day 
Consider 2 + days as a buffer. 

Important: Reach Phuentsholing by 9 AM with all the documents and their photocopies. If you have a passport the human permit process is relatively fast. After the human permit is done head for RSTA Office. RSTA closes at 3 PM so you need to get everything done before that else be ready to stay a day at the border for that night. 1-2PM BT is their lunchtime. 

Permit process ( Thimphu)
The permit process at Thimpu is time-consuming too, we submitted the documents in the morning and kept the passports with us, got the permit extension in the afternoon. With that permit went to the RSTA office and received the vehicle permit the next day. 
  1. Please make prior calculations on the number of days extension one would need for humans + vehicle and proceed accordingly. From Thimpu for Eastern Bhutan needs a separate permit.
  2. Please bring a passport size photo (2 copy) and 2 copy of your Passport (All the travelers) to process your permit at Phuentsholing Immigration office.
  3. Valid driving license (Renewed timely + 2 Copy of it) and an emission test certificate and its copy to process your driving permit at Phuentsholing Road Safety and Transport Authority.
  4. Do Note, the Permits have to be applied at Phuentsholing and Thimphu

Jaigaon - Phuentsholing 
The road is straight forward. However, the massive gate that you see is actually the exit gate. The entry into the country is via a different route. 1 km before this gate a diversion is available and one would need to take left. 
Location of the diversion - 26.851876, 89.382749

Google map would like to take the wrong route, it's not very far off to take the U-turn but its largely crowded and the whole process might take some time. 

Mark the difference in route. 
The route is simple and straight forward, however, if one is driving across he/ she should be aware of the check-posts. There are two of them where one would need to show the Human + vehicle permits. Earlier they stamped on the document acquired at Phuentsholing immigration. Now they just make an entry in the DB. However, make sure to ask for a stamp unless new rules are brought about.

Near Phuntsoling 
Immigration Check Post 1- 26.849858, 89.399422
Near Gedu
Immigration Check Post 2- 26.986311, 89.580926
Towards Bumthang
Immigration Check Post 3- 27.520299, 90.460389

For reaching Thimpu these were the check-posts we encountered.
GPX data to 3D render playback - https://ayvri.com/scene/7dj2o14g5e/c...013b5v8niinsxv

Thimphu - Phobjikha 
Thimphu to Phobjikha is a straight forward route via Wandue.
Phobjikha- Bumthang Valley
Post Trongsa viewpoint the road gets really bad. There are chances of landslides but the advantage is there is major construction work going on in that area and thus heavy earth movers are quickly accessible.
Bumthang - Mongar
Well, the Bumthang to Mongar stretch was narrow but extremely scenic. We were able to reach till Sengor and had to return due to the mega-landslide. More on that later. 
 
Edited by ARAY
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