While at home this time,I arranged the photo albums and came across a very old black and white picture,frayed at the edges. Behind it my father had scribbled in officialese “Bhutanese crossing the Manas River on the way to the local market”. Its a picture I have come across before and every time I looked at it I would wonder about this land,which is so near to my home,yet seems so magically different.After all Bhutan shares its borders with Assam,and is an hour’s drive from my father’s native village.
That picture and a very old book on Tibet that we had, made me dream of faraway places that I would love to visit some day.Its funny how some dreams just come true, just when we least expect it.
When the BF had flown down to Guwahati,I decided to take him to Manas Wildlife Sanctuary.Partly because its closer than Kaziranga and partly because I have not been there myself.Once used as a hideout for the Bodo militants, Manas was shut to tourists for years and even now, a part of it is still not accessible.Once we reached Borpeta,we had to check into the Project Tiger office to confirm our accommodation ,get permitsand arrange for a Sumo.Travelling in North east can be very expensive if you are travelling alone. Since public transport is scare and unreliable the norm is to rent a Sumo ,the preferred mode because of the hilly terrain and bad roads.Thanks to theField Director of Project Tiger Manas,we got accommodation in the Inspection Bungalow, which is located on a cliff overlooking the Manas River.
A room with a view.
Other than the IB ,the only other places to stay are the Tourist Lodge outside the sanctuary and the horrendously expensive privately run Bansbari Lodge which is way away from the Sanctuary.Still my suggestion is to try for the Inspection Bungalow mainly because of its location.
We went for early morning safaris,evening safaris and even late night safaris and of course nary a tiger to be spotted.Elephants galore,including a mad one named Laden by the park rangers and an entire herd..err.. blowing their own trumpet.Hogs and barking deer and Sambars and Golden Langoors we saw it all barring the majestic feline that eluded us.The closest we came to was a fresh pug mark and tiger shit.Thank you very much.I anyway suspect its just a ploy to get us tourists all excited.The only place you will ever get to see any exotic animal is in the boardings just before you enter any Sanctuary.I believe the animals,if there are any to begin with, make a foray only for the likes of Nat Geo and Bill Clinton.
Me, I was happy enough with the scenery.
The BF asks the guard “So when exactly is the tiger coming out”? .Umm, sharp at 5.30 pm ,right by this corner,he will be waiting for tourists to come and take his picture.You can also pet him if you want.Jeez ,these city slickers, I tell you.
I had an idea that the Bhutan border is pretty close to where we were staying and in the course of the conversation the guard told me that there is a hanging bridge some 13 kms from Bungalow.Would I want to go there and spend some time in a village in Bhutan.Would I ? To hell with the tigers.
The actual border was just a 5 minute walk.The check post was unmanned.Our guard walks by and opens the gates and we let ourselves in.Try doing that in the Wagah border.
After an hour’s ride through the hills and by the Manas river, we finally reached the Pangbang village in Bhutan.Finally we see a couple of Bhutanese guards.Our driver walks up and they start discussing something.Oh oh.Trouble.Forget permits , we were not even carrying our passports.Some bozo starts spraying our car with some chemical.Its only when the driver comes back with all smiles,I heaved a sigh of relief.Apparently,the Bhutanese are more concerned about not letting in bird flu from Assam (there was a recent outbreak of it in some villages in Assam, so our car was sprayed and we had to dip our feet in some red chemical).Tsk,Tsk,these Romans.
The guard told me not to take pictures as it was not legal.Couldn’t be more illegal than our entry right? And I went trigger happy.
kuzo zangpo la….
The traditional Bhutanese dress- Kiro for women and Gho for men
A typical Bhutanese house with ornate wooden frames
Finally we reach this.The hanging bridge.
And the Manas River flowing under it.
And as I reached the middle of the bridge, a group of Bhutanese with their wares on donkeys came from the other side . Just as the picture back home..