A week before the scheduled travel instructions started from the tour managers what to carry and from the mentors about the gear. We purchased what we do not have and got ready for the travel on 20th from Hyderabad to Calcutta and from there to Bagdogra Airport by 12 noon on 21st. From here it will be the responsibility of the tour managers to take us for the trip and drop back at the Airport on 28th April before noon.
Unfortunately there was a sudden change in the plan. We were told to reach Delhi airport and from there Bagdogra by 9am on 21st morning. The tour operators had booked our flight tickets and asked us to cancel our original bookings. We were three from Hyderabad and another couple of members from Bengaluru and some other place. Night nine-o-clock Spice jet flight was booked and by the time we started to airport we were informed that that flight is cancelled and we had to take next flight. After giving confirmed tickets they have kept us on hooks all the time. I was 120km from airport and was called repeatedly by Spice jet that if I would like to cancel my trip as the flight is cancelled or take a morning flight. As we are informed to be in Delhi by 5am and catch 7am flight to Bagdogra I told them the same fact and I have to take the immediate next flight that is at 11pm. Even after that I received repeated calls asking whether I would travel by morning 5am flight to Delhi. Even while giving the boarding passes they again asked us all to change our plan and take morning flight and it will convenient to travel in the morning. In spite of telling that we have another flight they wanted to force us to change our plans. This is something ridiculous. As we insisted we had to be in Delhi by 5am in the morning they gave us our passes.
The sudden change of travel schedule, cancel of flight and repeated calls to change my travel plan has put me under pressure. I even felt like dropping off from the tour completely. May be, my tour was against Nature’s will.
By the time we reached Bagdogra it was 9am. We had vehicles waiting for us. There were five Innova vehicles. Mentors were also there in the group. As per given schedule we were to go to Phuntosholing and on the way at scenic places the mentors will stop, allowing us some photography and share some tips of landscape photography. But we were informed that we should reach Phuntosholing as early as possible and take entry permits from Bhutan immigration office. If we delay permit cannot be taken for the next two days as Saturday and Sunday are holidays. So stopping on the way was cancelled.
The journey from Bagdogra airport in Kolkata to Phuntosholing in Bhutan is scenic. It was about 180km. Most of the journey is alongside a river. I asked the driver about the name of the river he was very vague, when I said could it be Teesta, he said ‘yes’. The river was flowing in full; there were many bridges across the river.
We crossed few villages. There were tea gardens on the way. I heard that tea gardens will be in hill areas. Though it looked like plain we were high above sea level as our journey is towards Bhutan a country in Himalayan Mountains.
Jaigoan, the last village of west Bengal state borders Phuntosholing. The entrance to Bhutan at Dantak is the demarcating point. Indians don’t need visa but a permit is must to enter the country. As we were in hurry to reach Dantak by afternoon, we did not stop even for tea. Before we started our journey in the cars, the tour managers gave us a biscuit packet and pack of fruit drink and asked us to manage with it until we reach our hotel in Bhutan. We boarded the car around 10am. After 1pm driver asked whether we could stop somewhere for refreshments. We told him if any of the vehicles in the group stops he can stop. Otherwise he simply has to move. He grumbled that since morning he didn’t have any meal. We told that for the last sixteen hours we too didn’t have anything. In our car we were just two of us, me and my husband. During most of the journey my husband was fast asleep and I was watching the out through the window. We ate the biscuits and had the drink given to us.
It was almost 3 in the afternoon. We all were rushed to the immigration office to take permit as it will be closed in another couple of hours. Each one was given a form, asked to fill it up, and submit it with a passport size photo, Xerox of Indian voter ID or Passport. All the forms were submitted together. The concerned officer called us by name, verified our details, noted as we are entering from Kolkata, took our iris-face photo and gave the permit. It was a group permit and the agent took all together.
For all this procedure we had to wait for an hour. I was becoming dehydrated, fortunately somebody had bottle full with water in our group and I felt rejuvenated after drinking some water from that. God bless the girl who carried that water bottle. We can go without a meal for long hours but not without water and sleep.
We were in the hotel by half past four and had meals. After that everybody retired to their rooms for rest till supper time.
Meanwhile I went for a look around the nearby place and returned before it was dark. Before supper there was some briefing about the places we are going to tour and the points to be remembered while shooting pictures. A prize was also announced for one person who takes best photos; will be offered free photography tour to Ladakh by WeChitra. In the group there were professional photographers, some amateur but were passionate photographers for more than a decade and there were a handful of members, including our couple who do photography when on photography tour only. But every one of us was eager to capture some amazing photographs.