Looked for ‘Yathra’,  But owned a ‘Ngultrum’ instead!

Sunday, Apr 21, 2024 22:45 [IST]

Last Update: Saturday, Apr 20, 2024 17:06 [IST]

Looked for ‘Yathra’, But owned a ‘Ngultrum’ instead!


You just can’t believe, a foreign visit is possible without a passport, visa, forex card / foreign currency, travel insurance or air ticket. And we got into our car and drove off at dawn. After a hundred kilometer drive from Guwahati, we entered into a sleepy border town, where happiness index of a state has a prime priority over GDP. We were delighted to traverse through its stunning gateway with all the flavours of a foreign destination. Go on, take a guess. It’s Samdrup Jongkhar, the eastern valley of Bhutan.


I expected the entry point rather to be like a town out of a western movie set of bygone years, while stopping by gun-toting commandos. Alas! No questions were asked by the guards stationed at the gate. We proceeded further in queue with caution. However an identification slip for entry permit for Indians at Bhutan was issued almost instantly at the border Immigration office after verification of our Voter ID cards. Visiting Bhutan is a visa-free experience for citizens of India.



After a brief stopover at the religious learning center for the younger monks at Rabadey Dratshang monastery, we took a stroll at Mani Dunkhor temple. Bhutanese construction is spellbound by the presence of divinity in their monastery. We were awestruck by the design of the structures from the Tibetan tradition of Buddhist architecture captivating rich artistic embellishments and colours. Monks rarely bother with visitors’ presence and lives their life in prayer and contemplation in a monastery.


But what makes us surprising the quietness on the land of the thunder Dragon at Samdrup Jongkhar, one of the twenty Dzongkhag (District) of Bhutan. The streets are neat and clean and traffic moves one way. People are going about their activities with happiness and wellbeing. Cars were so quiet making no noise and never saw a vehicle sped by honking its horn. Our little nephew was very excited to go with the environs and shared his experience at school, when a caravan of honking vehicles often pierced his eardrums. The perils of “horn ok please” sparked by shrill horns from speeding and rash driving are the order of the day.


So we had another day in tranquil and serene surroundings at a peaceful place. There were many more foot-travelers on the road than motor vehicles and we just saw two traffic police personnel in the market area helping pedestrians. Lamas lead a disciplined and contemplative life dedicated to the pursuit of spiritual realization. We were fascinated with the Bhutanese local cuisine with “ema” (chilies), which is the integral part of every Bhutanese dish. They embraced the ambitious goal of becoming the world’s first 100% organic nation.


We had a lick of ice cream in the evening and watched Bhutanese stroll in the aisles by quietly. Interestingly, serving alcohol is a sign of respect, honour and hospitality in their culture but never saw a paan shop there. The shops were very relaxed and rarely heard any aggressive marketing. No public address systems or jarring music played anywhere. Ah, what a lovely place! The Bhutanese way of life is refreshing for all its contrasts. Like our place, we didn’t notice Bhutanese swiping fingers on screen for social media. It says, Bhutan respects its cultural values, and while there are no specific restrictions, it's advisable to be mindful of online activities that may be considered inappropriate. However QR code scanning is used by Bhutanese at border entry.


One can’t simply ignore the display of King and Queen of Bhutan in their traditional attire “Gho” and “Kira” in almost every shop. A souvenir is attributed to a travel diary and I was looking for the local luxury and authentic souvenir “Yathra” – a thick handwoven woolen textile with intricate designs, but our little one wanted a Bhutanese coins instead. A “Ngultrum” coin is designed from its national emblem “Coat of Arms” containing a flag of Bhutan and Buddhist symbolism. Incidentally, Bhutan accepts INR, and we could bring their currency back with us.


While returning, we wanted to browse around the vegetable market at neighbouring border town at Tamulpur. The local greengrocer gave back us a change of Bhutanese notes. I stood there in awed moment. With complete sincerity and commitment, I accepted the “Ngultrum”. We all were overjoyed then for receiving another “Ngultrum” currency. Hope to exchange it anytime. “Bhutan is calling” offered a great opportunity to visit it for just a day.







Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi