In my previous blogs I have already told you about the two-day tours Jhalong -> Bindu -> Murti and Samsing -> Suntalekhola that you can visit on your vacation to Dooars and today I am going to tell you about another day tour that you should never miss during your Dooars tour of West Bengal.
I am sure every traveller would love to visit a new country and due to its strategic position West Bengal has international boundaries with three countries (Nepal, Bangladesh & Bhutan). Indians do not require a passport to travel to Bhutan and with a distance of just around 115 KM, it makes the best day trip that you can take from Dooars and that too to an international destination.
Legally you would require a permit to visit Bhutan but there are some relaxations in this rule if you are planning to visit Phuntsholing or Phuentsholing. You are allowed to cross the border into Bhutan and visit the border town of Phuntsholing. You can visit the Karbandi Monastery, Gharial Conservation Programme Centre and downtown Phuntsholing. Until this point there are no check posts thus you are allowed to go around freely.
I visited Phuntsholing along with my office colleagues when we decided to go for a quick weekend trip to this wonderful kingdom. We were there in the month of August and even though it was the peak of monsoon season we did not get the heavy rain that would have spoilt our tour. With some occasional showers, the sky was a perfect blue with white clouds playing hide and seek all the time.
We hired a 12 seat bus and cruised the beautiful landscapes of Dooars crossing several rivers like Murti, Jaldhaka & Torsha and some of the finest tea gardens. You will also pass by Hasimara Air Force Base and if you are real lucky you will be able to see a quick MIG 27 sortie by the 222 Squadron.
Before reaching Phuntsholing you will reach Jaigaon on the Indian side. This is a small town but has flourished due to is strategic location and enjoys a thriving inter-country trade between India and Bhutan. For Indian citizens, you do not need to show any ID cards but it’s always advisable to have some sort of ID card in the event they are required. For foreigners, they need to pass through the immigration process and the office is right next to the main gate.
After crossing the gate you are officially in the Kingdom of Bhutan, you need to be careful about your cell phone, if roaming is activated then it will connect the Bhutanese telecom operators thus will become international roaming and will be heavily charged on usage.
Another remarkable change you will notice will be the dress the Bhutanese citizens wear, officially the men have to wear traditional Gho and the women need to wear Kira.
While travelling around Phuntsholing you will notice a lot of imported cars which are not available in India but are used in abundance in Bhutan. The thing that made me wonder is the fact that the price of fuel is much cheaper than that of India even though 100% of the fuels sold in Bhutan are imported from India. You can surely see a long queue of Indian vehicle outside the fuel pumps who come into Bhutan to fill up their tanks.
The architectural style of houses and buildings are quite different to that of India and quite similar to the ones seen in Sikkim. Almost all the house will have beautifully painted border patterns around their doors and windows. The roof is also mostly covered even though it does not snow in this part of Bhutan.
The first stop in your Bhutan or I should say Phuntsholing tour would be Karbandi Monastery. Founded in the year 1967 by Ashi Phuntsho Choedron (first wife of Jigme Wangchuck)
By now you have gained quite a lot of altitude and this monastery has a breath-taking view of the Indian villages in the foothills. Being monsoon season I witnessed something for the first time that would be of approaching rain clouds. Spectacularly the landscape got virtually divided into a raining zone and a dry zone.
Next stop on our day trip would be to the Gharial Conservation Programme Centre, this is like a miniature zoo where you will be able to see Alligators, Crocodiles and Tortoise.
By now it was late afternoon so we headed towards the main City Centre where there are numerous shops and having some good food of the hills is highly recommended. The streets and by lane of Phuntsholing are amazingly neat and clean, there are small parks all around and sitting in one of them to spend some quality time is also recommended.
Make sure that by early evening you start your return back to your hotel as you would need to drive back through heavy forests of Dooars. Before leaving do buy some souvenirs from the numerous shops at the city centre.
Hope you have enjoyed my blogs on Dooars and the various day tours you can do from here. Keep watching this place as it’s not yet over, my next blog will be on Dooars and its forest which is the highlight of any tours to this part of the country.