Spending sufficient time at Chimi Lhakhang and the archery ground, we returned to the Sopsokha village on the main road connecting Thimphu and Punakha. The village is nothing but a collection of few shops and houses along the road. Since we were hungry, we went to a ‘tourist restaurant’ (it was labeled as such).
Never go to a tourist restaurant. We were welcomed, offered food which tasted great but left a very bitter aftertaste. The lunch cost us Rs 350 (~$8) each, before tax. 350?? We’d usually get 3 lavish lunches for that amount of money! It turned out that this ‘tourist restaurant’ was actually made to cater to foreign tourists only. Indians are not included in ‘foreign’ per se since Indian visitors do not have to pay the $200-$250 fee that the foreign tourists pay per day (Info here). For foreign travelers, food is included in their daily tariff, so the restaurant can charge exorbitant amounts and the tourists seldom know. We did, and I should have asked the price before entering this ‘tourist’ restaurant.
On the big plate, going clock-wise: Bhutanese Red rice, boiled spinach, potato-cheese dumplings (called momo), fried eggplant, cheese-chili (national dish of Bhutan, Ema Datshi)
Side bowl: Ema Datshi, less spicy and includes potato. I don’t know if there is a different name for this variation.
Small plate: This plate with triangular bread is a spicy Potato pancake (called Aaloo paratha अालू पराठा and is very popular in north India) – We got this with us, it wasn’t a part of the lunch.
As if this didn’t upset me enough, we still had to find some kind of transport to Punakha, 8 km away. So much for the blessings from Divine Madman! He he he! We were determined to walk for 2-ish hours to Punakha if we didn’t find some transport. I started flagging down every vehicle (since I often do that!) hoping to hitch a ride. Finally a guy stopped, made enquiries, gave us a lift, and off we went on our way to Punakha.
Atleast we saved spending Rs. 40 for the taxi.
PS: Someone asked me why I was bitching about the price so much.
I’m sorry if you don’t get it, its not about the money.
– Had the restaurant put a sign saying ‘please donate for…’, I would have thought. But charging Rs. 350 for a meal that should cost Rs. 60 – just because foreign tourists won’t find it expensive – is unfair in my opinion.
– We were not informed in advance, but I agree that we should have asked ourselves.
– Secondly, even the foreign tourists don’t pay for lunch here. The $200 they pay to the government daily includes meals, transport, accommodation and guide.
– Finally, one should look at the place where the service is offered. INR:USD exchange rate might be 50:1 but in terms of PPP (purchasing power parity) the ratio is 8 or 10:1. So if you REALLY want to know, this lunch cost us between $35-$40, in Bhutan.