Premise: Unable to get permits on Friday, two travelers find themselves stuck between two border towns with two days to while away.
Phuentsholing is in Bhutan and Jaigon in India. Bridging gap between the two countries are these minuscule obscure-on-the-map border towns. The Indian town boasts of a cheaper market, varied roadside food joints and a plethora of hotels to take your pick from. The Bhutanese town boasts of army green painted shop doors, identical architecture
(including people), potholes and traffic free cemented roads, no smokers, several shops for die hard drinkers. And silence. A whole lot of it.
Prior to entering Bhutan, Indian citizens are required to get a permit issued. The Permit allows one to visit Paro, Thimphu and Damthang for 7 days. Duration and area can be extended via another office in Thimpu. The Permit is issued against your Indian Voter ID card and a passport size photo along with a one page application form which xerox shops are glad to sell you for 5 Rupess/5 Ngultrum. My friend had neither. The internet is amid with information hinting that any ID proof will be accepted. Adhaar Card, Driving license are not recognized. Only your Voter ID card will be accepted.
We reached on Friday afternoon knowing permit office takes the entire weekend off. So if you did not take your permit on Friday then bid adieu to that Bhutanese hotel booking you got for cheap online through that coupon-code-you-found on Google and better find one for Jaigaon till Monday because that is when the permit offices opens up again. 2 days of unplanned stay in a city which has lot to offer – if you are in it for less than 4 hours.
Luck wasn’t on our side and we witnessed atleast 200 people in line before us trying to submit application forms. Pure chaos. In two hours we managed to snail through half the queue and it was 5 already – time for the staff to go home. An angry mob was about to formed but Bhutanese officials cut the lights forcing everyone to move out disperse. Disperse back in to the city for two days.
Beyond the 4 hours the city is fairly repetitive. Same old Rs 100 ‘jeans pant’ thela every 40 metres and a golgappa thela adjacent to a momo guy. Keep walking into the depths of the wholesale market. It’s a pit with no bottom. Keeps getting filthier with every foot and offers items from earbuds to knives.
The closest tourist point is crocodile farm which Indians can visit for Rs 20 and other Non-SAARC citizens pay Rs 50. It’s a crocodile breeding farm receiving maintenance by WWF. And boy does it have crocodiles. Restricted in a twice-their-size pond are two bouncer-crocodiles. Another pond is home to two baby crocs. Even the babies are large enough to bring your honeymoon to a sudden end. The almighty internet claimed there were 22. I saw 5. But it is still a great number in comparison to what I had seen at any other zoo – Delhi, Mount Abu, or even South Africa. The crocodiles weren’t active making tourists to groan
Bhai hil nahin raha. Abe palak jhapki is wale ne. Sacchi jhoot ni bol raha. Aankh maari mote wale ne
They are lazy partly because they had just been fed but mostly because they consider the ponds as their home and were being pandas in their home which is what now, a crime? Or is a crocodile not allowed to be a panda anymore?
The breeding farm is towards Bhutan side which can be traversed through a small gate open 24*7 to Bhutan. One can go till Kharbandi in Bhutan without permit. There is the second tourist and last tourist spot. Some 7 km towards Kharbandi and 5km before the first checkpoint is a buddhist temple with astonishing views of the Indian Town Jaigaon. If our taxi driver’s words are to be believed then the view from Kharbandi Monastery is an appetizer for the seven course meal that is Paro and Thimpu. Keeping fingers crossed. Keeping everything crossed.
Food options are rather limited. Mia Amore (previously known as Monginis) – a famous bakery I’ve stumbled upon throughout Bengal is tucked away on a road you’d otherwise never take. Hashimara is a Rs 30 auto ride away and has more food options; expect dhabas. Momos are readily available everywhere in Jaigaon and breakfast is usually 2 Aloo Paranthas with chole – all for Rs 20.