Assam and Bhutan : between Guwahati and Samdrup Jongkhar
I arrived in Guwahati in the afternoon. I reassembled the bike successfully in the airport (in contrast to my previous experience in Srinagar) and the following day, I left Guwahati at noon and reached Rangia in the late afternoon. The next day, I left Rangia at 6:15 am and arrived in N.K. Darranga at 9:00 am. I entered the gate to Bhutan and spoke with an official there who told me to consult the Immigration Officer on Monday morning for permission or not to enter Bhutan. I was also told that I could travel 4 km upto the checkpost which I did and after returning, I visited the town of Samdrup Jongkhar which is historically the oldest town in Bhutan. I then crossed back to N.K. Darranga on the Indian side of the border.
Bus ride from Samdrup Jongkhar to Phuentsholing
The previous day, I had met the Immigration Officer in Bhutan who told me that I would not be able to enter Bhutan from the eastern exit point and that, if at all, I would have to enter from Phuentsholing, the western exit point. I left N.K. Darranga at 6:45 am by bus and reached Phuentsholing at 3:00 pm. When I went to the Immigration Office, they requested that I check with the Transport Office if I could get a permit for the cycle. The latter said no and that I would have to transport the bike in a vehicle to Thimpu and that I could cycle around there only and not much further. When I went back to the Immigration Office, I said that I did not wish to cycle till Thimpu. They said that they would issue a 7-day permit but also said that I would have to make a hotel reservation for at least a day or two which was in the range of a minimum of 2000 rupees a night or so and that I would have to wear trousers and not shorts when doing the biometrics. When I said that I did not have trousers with me, they said that I would have to purchase a pair.
I then left to mull it over, and as I exited the Bhutan gate to enter the town of Jaigaon in West Bengal, I noticed a stall for making taxi reservations for Gangtok and other destinations. A taxi driver told me that he would not charge me for the cycle if I booked a seat in his taxi. That clinched my decision to drop the Bhutan plan altogether which seemed too amateurish for cycling and to start cycling from Gangtok to Nepal.
I gathered that in Bhutan, permission for cycling is not given because it seems safety is the primary concern of the authorities as one might find oneself in remote areas and so on and because there may be some very steep climbs. If one wants to cycle in Bhutan, one needs to go on organized tours or if on oneGangtok’s own, through a travel agent who arranges for the services of a guide with a backup vehicle and the like which turns out to be a very expensive proposition and certainly not in the spirit of what I was doing. It also seems the way to go about if one wishes to cycle in Tibet even though additionally, a Chinese visa is required to visit Tibet. But Bhutan is not China and so I was really disappointed that as an Indian citizen, I was not able to cycle from East to West the normal way as I was able to do subsequently in Nepal and all the more so since both countries are similar in that they are both landlocked countries located in the foothills of the Himalayas and have the same immigration procedures vis-à-vis India.
Furthermore, when I was cycling on the road in the town of Phuentsholing, a policeman told me to get off my bike as it seems that one could not cycle even there (or perhaps one required a special permit just to cycle in Phuentsholing!) . This last incident really made me wonder about Bhutan’s spouted reasons and justifications for not allowing one to cycle. Perhaps, it is just a way of boosting its revenues by extracting money from visitors by forcing them to use its tourism infrastructures and services. It is all the more revolting since citizens from India are treated the same way as citizens from all other countries when Bhutan is so overwhelmingly dependent on India and is, virtually, just another Indian state in the North East.
Sikkim : in Gangtok
I left Jaigaon early in the morning by taxi and reached Gangtok in the afternoon. I went to the MG Marg which seems to be the centre of town and seemed to me to be the only flat surface there since, apparently, all roads were either going uphill or downhill. My overwhelming impression was that Gangtok was very similar to Darjeeling except perhaps much more crowded with many more houses and cars. Just like in Darjeeling, Nepali was also its lingua franca.
Sikkim and West Bengal : between Gangtok and Siliguri
I left Gangtok at 7:15 am and reached Siliguri at 6:00 pm. The ride went downhill at first then up and down after that and was for the most part along the Teesta River.. The road in West Bengal was broken in many places. Otherwise, on the whole, there was a lot of greenery.
West Bengal and Nepal : between Siliguri and Damak
I reached the border with Nepal in Kakarbhitta at 11:00 am. The border area was rather crowded but it was truly an anticlimax to enter into Nepal from the eastern exit point after the rather debilitating experience with Bhutan. After some distance, I went to an ATM machine to withdraw some money and found out that the exhange rate was 1.6 Nepalese rupees for 1 Indian rupee.