Sales Targets – Rising, Fuel Prices – Rising, Air Pollution Level – Rising, Uncertainty in Economy – Rising, Your Satisfaction level with life – Well, not rising so much. You look forward to a much-needed, well deserved break. But this time, where to?
You have been to the US, have had 2 vacations in Europe, once during the honeymoon and later with the kids. Australia too is out of cards as you were just there last summer to meet your sister and the regular business travel has helped you cover middle east and south east Asia extensively, especially the numerous business trips to Thailand.
There is a craving in you for something different, a place which possibly rejuvenates you for at least the next 1 year, or preferably more. An experience which you would like to share with your grandchildren. A place which has some scenic views to delight your eyes, clean air to refresh your lungs and happy people that touch your soul. You look for such a place and a couple of Google search results help you figure out that Bhutan, the country whose Government uses the Gross National Happiness as its guiding light might actually fit the bill perfectly.
Sorted, Bhutan it is. The country looks picture perfect, mountains, clean air, heart-warming Buddhist culture. Next up, how to go there? There is just one airport with irregular flights. Nah, Not that interesting. A train journey might be too tiring and take away the fun and then while you resort back to Google searches, you come across this expedition from Mahindra. It reads Authentic Bhutan. Convoy Driving, SUVs, Hills, Luxurious Stays … Is this the perfect option? We bet, it is!
We were recently invited by Mahindra to be a part of their 2018 Authentic Bhutan Expedition and we must say, it was one of our best road trips ever! Here is a short travelogue where we will try and talk through a combination of pictures and words.
We flew into Bagdogra around noon and were welcomed at the Airport by a butch looking White Scorpio covered with some orange Mahindra Adventure stickers.
For the night-halt we were supposed to reach Chalsa which is a small town located just on the foot of Himalayas in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal.
The 75-80 km drive to Chalsa was majorly in plains and took us approximately 2 hours. 30 minutes due to the detour we took to explore the beautiful tea gardens which were on either sides of the highway or else we would have reached in under 1.5 hours.
We checked into Sinclairs Resort, which was supposed to be our abode for the night.
Registration formalities took almost no time and we rushed into our respective rooms for a quick nap. Other guests continued to join in and we all met for the briefing session later in the evening.
The meeting was headed by Mr. Manish Sarser from Mahindra Adventure. We were briefed about the rules for driving in a convoy and about the overall itinerary of the trip.
The meeting wrapped up fast so that we could hit the sack early as the reporting time for the next day was 07:00.
We were up by 5 AM, partially due to the excitement and partially due to the fact that the Sun rises early in the East. Cars were handed over to all members, and we were given an all new shark inspired Mahindra Marazzo for the drive. After a short prayer, we left for Phuntsholing, the border town of Bhutan.
The convoy was supposed to drive in a particular order. The lead and advance cars as the names suggest were at the front and other vehicles followed them. The cars were fitted with Walkie-Talkies and the communication with the cliched ‘Roger that’, ‘Copy’ and other typical military inspired banter made the drive even more interesting than it was.
Drive till Phuntsholing was short, 2 hours at the max. However, it did take around 4 hours to get the immigration and documentation sorted. The folks at Mahindra had managed it well as we judiciously used the time for lunch and some sight-seeing around the town.
Once the documentation part was done, the convoy started the climb towards Thimphu which is located at a height of 2334m.
The 170 km drive across the Himalayan range was peaceful and it took us around 5 hours to reach Thimphu’s city gate. And, we guess that no one uses horns in Bhutan. If you do, other road users react as if you just abused them or their driving.
Throughout the ~800 km we drove in Bhutan, we used the horn not more than 5 times. Our daily 4 km commute in NCR makes us use the horn more than that.
Anyway, back to Bhutan!
We reached the Thimphu City Gate around 9 PM and our Hotel was just another 15 minute drive away.
The first little attraction for us was a Nissan Leaf which we spotted on the road. It was nice to see an EV in a country with such pure and clean air. Wish we had more of these in NCR.
We checked into Taj Tashi which was about to be our place of stay for the next 2 nights!
Day 3 was more of a free day and we were given time to explore the city.
We started the day with a quick morning run around the town. We were greeted by some clean roads, beautifully manicured greenery and more happy faces.
Post breakfast, we left for a visit to the Buddha Dordenma statue which oversees the Thimphu city.
The Buddha statue is one of the largest Buddha statues across the globe.
The construction work for the statue started in 2006 and got completed in 2015.
After exploring the statue and the temple it houses, we left back for the town.
Lunch was specially planned, a traditional Bhutanese meal.
Post lunch, we continued to gallivant around town.
While we explored some traditional handicraft markets, we were intrigued by the prominent display and usage of phallus in the handicrafts. We were told that there is a story behind it, which we were to eventually unravel in a day or two. More on that later!
We left the comfortable rooms of Taj Tashi and started our journey towards Punakha, the erstwhile capital of Bhutan.
The drive was an interesting one as we passed through some breathtaking views of the Himalayas.
The halt for lunch was the famous Dochula Pass which also houses 108 stupas or as they are known in local language, 108 Druk Wangyal Chortens.
Post a quick lunch, we resumed our journey to Punakha.
Similar to the temples found on by-lanes of Indian highways, there were some (not many) Bhutanese ones on the way to Punakha.
The drive from Thimphu to Punakha is approximately 90 km long and took us almost 3.5 hours, excluding the lunch break.
We spent a laid-back evening at the resort; drinks, dinner and some Punjabi tracks followed soon.
There are 2 famous monuments in Punakha. One is the Punakha Dzong and the other is the Fertility Temple or the Phallus Temple about which we mentioned earlier.
The legend states that in 15th century an evil spirit was not allowing villagers to cross the Dochula Pass and then yogi Drupka Kunley took it upon himself to tame the spirit.
Obviously, the monk was successful in his endeavor and got renowned across Bhutan as the ‘Divine Madman’.
In case if you are still curious with the connection between the temple and the phallus, it is said that the ‘Divine Madman’ used a phallus to overpower the demonic spirit.
The next stop was the majestic Punakha Dzong, which is the second oldest and second largest dzong of Bhutan.
Post lunch, the convoy started towards Paro, which was the last destination in our tri-city Bhutan tour.
We reached Paro by late evening and decided to call it a day as we were supposed to wake up early for the trek the next day.
The day started early for us. We had to leave the Hotel by 6:30 AM. However, before we could make a move, we were greeted by thin ice sheets on the windscreen. Huge shout-out to Mahindra machines which started smoothly in sub-zero temperatures.
The day was dedicated to the Tiger Nest monastery. If you step in the country of Bhutan, in our opinion a trek to the Tiger Nest monastery is a must. Approximately 900 meters above the ground, the Paro Takstang is one of the most recognized destination in Bhutan. The hike takes approximately 2.5 hours for the climb and 1.5-2 hours on the way down.
There is a cafeteria around mid-way which works as a good spot for hikers who want to take some rest or grab a quick bite. In case you are not comfortable with hiking, you can hire a pony but they go only up till the cafeteria. However, if you can climb, you must take up the challenge and complete the trek all by yourself. The monastery is great, views from the top are phenomenal but the feeling of accomplishment after completing the trek when you get close to the parking spot, well that, that is priceless!
In case if you feel that your back and limbs need some love and care after the trek, there are many spas in town and some of them offer a dedicated ‘Hiker’s Massage’ customized especially for not so regular hikers like you.
After taking a shower and a nap, we went for a quick shopping spree in the downtown and got some souvenirs for friends and family.
The trip organizers had arranged for an interesting cultural evening to mark the closure of our Bhutanese trip.
We had a lazy start to the day as the only goal of the day was to reach back India, for which, no one was excited.
The drive constituted of 160 km in peaceful roads of Bhutan and another 95-100 km back home amidst the usual cacophony.
This was officially the last day of the trip. We had an afternoon flight back to Delhi. We checked out of our resort around 9, took a Scorpio and drove back to Bagdogra Airport, from where it all had started.
To sum it up, this has been one of those trips which will stay close to our hearts for years to come, majorly due to 2 factors. First, because it was Bhutan, the country which is one of the cleanest and happiest nations across the globe. Second, because of the way we explored Bhutan, possibly in the best way possible, on four-wheels.
Should you sign up for the next edition? We guess the question becomes redundant after the above travelogue, doesn’t it?
Ah, but wait, there is one more thing we would like to talk about, The Mahindra Marazzo which was practically our home for the 8 day journey. Here is what we felt about the MPV after driving it for around 500 km and getting driven around for another 500 km.
Marazzo’s cabin is a good place to be in and the light color-tones helps to provide it a roomy feeling. Though there are hard plastics in certain places, the overall quality is acceptable considering the aggressive pricing. Just like all its vehicles, Mahindra has loaded the Marazzo with a ton of features which will help you feel updated, should you decide to buy the Marazzo.
The steering provides a decent feedback and the vehicle feels easy to maneuver across all traffic conditions. The clutch is on the lighter side, so the long city-crawls won’t tire out your left leg. However, what might trouble is the way the car behaves in the first gear. We feel that the car’s clutch-gearbox tuning can be improved as it notoriously stalls especially in the first gear. There is some turbo lag so for the quick overtakes, you will either need to work the gears or wait for the turbo to kick-in.
One department where the Marazzo surprised us was the NVH level. Not just by Mahindra standards, but even when compared to the competition, Marazzo’s cabin is a quiet place. Additionally, the ride quality is good, and you don’t get tossed while sitting in either the second or the third row. Thumbs up to Mahindra for being considerate to the third-row passengers and providing enough leg room to survive a 2-hour journey comfortably. On the safety front, it has recently achieved a 4-star safety rating from GNCAP, proving that it is the safest MPV on Indian roads.
To sum it up, the Marazzo scores high on the value-for-money quotient though the drivability of the car could have been a little better. It works as an interesting option to consider, as it is smartly positioned between the Ertiga and the costlier Crysta.