Review: Samdrup Jongkhar
Samdrup Jongkhar, Bhutan
Leaving Bhutan by road into India
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Most people fly both ways in and out of Bhutan. Government regulations say foreign visitors must fly at lest one way as this is a way of controlling tourist numbers. It is possible to drive into Bhutan from Phuntsholing, a border town in the south western part of the country and a 7+ hour drive to Paro or Thimphu along poor roads.
It is also possible to enter or leave through Samdrup Jongkhar in the South East of Bhutan into Assam. From here it is a short drive to Guwahati where you can either fly or get the train back to Delhi.
We wanted to visit East Bhutan and decided to leave by this route rather than drive back to Paro for a flight out.
There was road work along the stretch of road just beyond Tashigang. We had been caught up in this the previous evening when the road had been closed using two red cones with bamboo attached to make a barrier. These were moved to the side when the road was reopened. Workmen were busy rolling large boulders off the road down the hillside. We had an early start as we wanted to avoid the timetabled road closure outside Tashigang.
From Tashigang, the road climbed up a side valley through wooded hillsides with a roller coaster ride over ridges. There were good view back to the snow covered Himalayas. There was little settlement along the road as all settlement was either in the bottom of the valley or on the far hillsides.
This is seriously good scenery. The road ran along a ledge cut into the hillside above a steep drop. We would have liked the chance to stop and take photographs but were aware that his would be a long day's drive. There was a lot of landslide damage. There were also large numbers of lorries hurtling along the road taking stone from a quarry in the hills to the cement works near Sandrup Jonkar.
The road to Samdrup Jongkhar is gradually being widened and improved. As this is the only road, it is closed for timetabled periods of an hour to allow work to be done. We had hoped to get through before the road was closed but didn’t make it. We sat in a queue of traffic for 45minutes. Men and women did all the work by hand.
The road beyond had been widened but not resurfaced. It was rough and slow, dropping steeply down to the Assam Plain. We were later arriving in Samdrup Jonkar than intended, a large sprawling, uninspiring town.
We were met by our Indian guide and driver who were to drive us to Guwahati to catch a train back to Delhi.
We drove across the Bhutan border. The guide took the paper work to be stamped and guards came to look at us in the car. We didn’t show passports. We then drove through tea gardens to the Indian border post in small wooden shack. We waited in two ancient arm chairs in front of a huge wooden desk while the immigration officer finished his lunch.
He eventually appeared in shorts and bare feet and took out a large ledger from the desk and proceeded to copy details from passports into it. He then stopped as there was no exit stamp from Bhutan. The Indian guide insisted the Bhutanese guide had told him all the paper work was in order and waved the form with all our stamps from across Bhutan. The immigration officer was adamant we were to be refused entry into India without an exit stamp. Our requests to go back to the border to get a stamp were ignored. There was much waving of arms by the guide and officer who eventually agreed we should go back to the Bhutanese Border and get our passports stamped (keeping fingers crossed Bhutan immigration wouldn’t cause a problem).
There were smiles all round when we arrived back with the stamp. The officer finished filling in ledger and we signed, making sure the officer stamped our passport.
The moral of his story – make sure your passport is stamped before leaving Bhutan.
By now we were well behind schedule. Assam is very flat. The road surface was better and wider than in Bhutan but there were lots of bends and much more traffic.
It was dark by the time we reached Guwahati. This was the scariest drive of our lives. There were no road lights. Pedestrians were wandering everywhere. There were hand carts, push bikes, motor rickshaws with no lights, motor cycles, cars (usually on full beam coming towards us), trucks, lorries (always in middle road), buses with people hanging on where ever they could – plus cows, dogs, goats, chickens… There was a steady stream of traffic in both directions with bikes weaving in and out in all directions. Near misses were common and there was constant use of horns. We eventually arrived in the hotel in Guwahati after a 12 hour drive shattered… after a wonderful three weeks.
Pictures of the scenery on the way to Samdrup Jongkhar begin here.
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