Exiting Bhutan, when you run out of money

Bhutan travelogue: Chapter 29 | Read other chapters โ€“ See photo gallery

I mismanaged my money situation… again…

I planned my money recklessly in Bhutan, I don’t know why,.. (perhaps I was overconfident?). I carried some cash with me and thought that I would use a ATM or credit card to withdraw additional money in Bhutan. That’s the stupidest mistake a traveler can make – to rely on unverified / unreliable sources of funds. Bhutan’s ATMs cater to local customers only and using a credit card is not an option except in high-end hotels. As a result I was constantly worrying about running out of money. In the worst case, I’d have to go back to India, get money, make new permit and re-enter Bhutan. That would waste 2 days.

“Five Chortens” at Paro, waiting for my first ride.

On the last day, I was left only with Rs. 500 (~$11) and all the buses from Paro to Phuentsholing (border town) were fully booked 2 days in advance. The only option left was to take a taxi, which would cost Rs. 450-500. My buddy was in a slightly better position, so he played it safe by taking the taxi, and I could have done the same but I thought of doing something fun.
…I decided to hitchhike, again (I had done it thrice in Bhutan already).

Road from Paro to Bondey along the Paro river, waiting for my second ride.

Hitching a ride is fun

A young woman in her Maruti Zen answered my first ‘hitchhike’ gesture. She was going to Haa, so she agreed to drop me 3-4km away, at a point on the road to India. All I can say is that her driving reminded me of the universal stereotype about women drivers. ermmm….. ๐Ÿ˜€

My second ride was a guy who worked in the Government of Bhutan. He was chewing a paan (betel nut) like all Bhutanese do all the time and his Maruti Omni van stank smelled like it. He was generous enough to give me a ride for next 18 km (20 min), from Bondey to Chuzom. The vegetation changed and the air got cooler as the road spiraled out of the Paro valley.

Tamchhog Lhakhang, a temple dedicated to the Iron Bridge Lama who built 108 bridges in Bhutan and Tibet.

Chuzom is a T-junction on the confluence of 2 rivers. The roads go to Thimphu, Paro and Phuentsholing (border with India) respectively. In Bhutanese tradition, joining of rivers is considered inauspicious. Hence at the point of confluence, there are 3 chortens to ward away the evil spells. These chortens are built in Bhutanese, Tibetian and Nepali style each.

3 Stupas, built in Bhutanese, Tibetan and Nepali style each, at Chuzom junction and the confluence of 2 rivers.

There is also a police checkpost at this point and they will stamp your permit with an exit marker.
“Where are you coming from?”
“Paro”
“Where are you going?”
“India”
“Where is your vehicle?”
“Over there” I said, pointing to some unknown bus.
“Alright”
It was easier to lie than to explain the whole hitchhiking thing to them… plus I wasn’t doing anything illegal! I also thought that if they’d heard my money crisis, they’d have gone out of their way to help me!

Chuzom bridge. Most roads in Bhutan are built by India’s Border Roads Organization.

After the checkpost, I started walking on the road to India. Several vehicles passed, but nobody stopped for me. I stood there for 30 minutes, occasionally walking ahead. Then I saw some girls walking in the opposite direction, so I greeted them…
“Kuzuzangbo la”, I said.
“Kuzuzangbo la!!”, they sounded surprised and excited.
They told me they were confused to see a foreigner walking on the highway. I told them that I was looking for a ride and chatted with them for a bit, showing off my glorious knowledge of Dzongkha language – hello, yes, no, thankyou, etc.. In no time they stopped a small truck and asked the driver to help me, in what I thought was a flirtatious tone, but maybe it was the language.

That’s how I found they found me my third ride, a meat (chicken) truck.

เค•เคพเคฎ เคšเคพเคฒเฅ‚, เคฐเคธเฅเคคเคพ เคฌเค‚เคฆ! Stranded on the road to India.

The driver was also a 27 yr old guy and in the next 6.5 hours, we became best friends. He told me that he stopped only because he saw the girls. ๐Ÿ˜› Oh whatever! The ride was fun. We shared oranges, cookies, chips, candies etc. stopped on the way, met his regular truck buddies and other female friends from the villages that he introduced me to (he called them ‘girlfriends‘). I thought he was enjoying ‘showing off his catch’ or something like that. He took a picture with me everywhere possible. ๐Ÿ˜›

There was a landslide on the way. Apparently the road was closed since 10 AM, which meant that my buddy in his taxi was stuck somewhere in the huge lineup too. I had told him exactly what to do and which hotel to meet at once we reached India.

So after 3 rides and 9.5 hours on the road, I reached the border town. I loved this exit adventure in Bhutan. ๐Ÿ™‚ I bought the truck driver a very generous dinner, got drunk on ‘Druk 11000’ (Bhutan’s beer) and quietly crossed the border (minutes before it closed at 23:00) to the familiar smells, sounds and chaos of India, my motherland.

With less than Rs. 50 ($1) left in my pocket, I crossed into India and breathed a huge sigh of relief when I saw an ATM.

Thus, finally my mystical journey to Bhutan, The Land of the Thunder Dragon, was over. Hopefully you liked reading all the chapters, please leave me a note below. Thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚