Honda Drive to Discover VIII: Bhutan diaries

Discovering Bhutan

I sat erect on the ice-cold stone floor in padmasana (lotus position) while the monks chanted their holy mantras in a steady hum. In the tranquil silence of the Paro Taktsang monastery or Tiger’s nest, their chanting seemed to reverberate through the walls. Balanced precariously on the edge of a 3000 metre tall cliff, the Taktsang monastery is one of the most isolated monasteries in the world, accessible only by foot. Still, despite my exhaustion caused by the arduous trek that one must take in order to reach this monastery, the chanting soothed me. It hadn’t even been a few seconds since I entered and yet it felt like I had been there for ever. No thought came to my ever wandering mind as I sat there meditating inside the dimly lit hall. Needless to say, these few minutes in the Taktsang monastery charged me up like never before.

If you haven’t guessed the place I am referring to by now, its Bhutan. I undertook a mind-blowing road trip in this landlocked Himalayan kingdom, courtesy of Honda’s Drive to Discover. Now in its eighth edition, Bhutan was the first international sojourn for the Drive to Discover team and I was lucky to be a part of it. We were also celebrating Honda’s feat of selling over three lakh diesel engine cars in the subcontinent with its entire diesel line-up of cars at our disposal.

We started off from Bagdogra in West Bengal driving the smallest car of the lot – the Honda Jazz. Zipping through the not-so-wide city roads to get out of Bagdogra was effortless. Soon, our little cavalcade was out in the country, passing through a little reserve forest on our way to Phuentsholing in Bhutan. We passed through the river-side town of Siliguri on our way to Nagrakata.

This is the beginning of the Darjeeling district, the land of tea. I had hardly made it to the outskirts of Siliguri and the tea plantations started flanking us along the narrow dual-carriageway, engulfing us in a sea of green. The tarmac was nice and clean as the road winded up the mountain and snaked down on the other side to climb again. After a quick cup of chai at a roadside dhaba, we hit the road again.

By the time we entered Bhutan from the Phuentsholing border post, the sun had already set a long time ago. While the time zone is only half an hour ahead, it gets pitch dark by six in the evening here, while here in Mumbai we have twilight till seven. I only had to drive in a few metres and my first ever Bhutan experience had begun. Within a few metres all the filth, dirt and stink disappeared and we were in one of the cleanest countries in the world.

Next morning, the convoy left from Phuentsholing in the warm morning sun as we headed towards Paro. Today, I was driving the all-new Honda Accord Hybrid. Swanky and stylish as it is, it turned quite a few heads everywhere we went. You climb up from Phuentsholing towards Paro, gaining altitude every minute. The roads continued to be nice and I was happy to be driving an automatic up the innumerable series of corners and hairpins. Because then, I could afford not to worry about the gear shifts and instead enjoy the scenery Bhutan had to offer.

And Bhutan had a lot to offer. There’s a waterfall cascading down the green hill-side wherever you look. The white clouds seemed to travel with us up through the mountains, often enveloping us completely and only allowing visibility of a few feet. It did cut our pace down but I wasn’t particularly complaining because it meant that I could soak up this incredible beauty for a few more moments.