A walk in the clouds


Getting There:
Fly to Bagdogra and drive to Kurseong, roughly 90 minutes away. You can take a train to New Jalpaiguri Station or even the famous Darjeeling Hill Railway.
Where to stay:
Cochrane Place, Phone: 0354 - 2330703; Website: www.imperialchai.com; Tariff: Rs 2,250 per night upwards.
—Preeti Varma Lal

If you happen to land in Bhutan's capital during the monsoons, chances are you will go days without a sight of blue. An airy drizzle greets you at every step, the moisture floating in restless currents as you walk past colonnades. Unlike the ferocity of the downpour along India's coast, Thimphu rains have an unobtrusive charm . You can flick off the drops of moisture from your jacket (yes, you need one even in June) and browse the impressive shop fronts stocking everything from Tibetan curios to imported sneakers. Suppose you have a leisurely day at hand. Why not try my game? For the entire stretch of the main avenue, Norzin Lam, which contains the plush hotels and the government offices, scamper from building to building taking the shelter of the projecting tin roofs.
Or else drop into one of the abundant roadside bars (now you know the reason for Gross National Happiness). Peer into the street over your peg of the local aniseed liquor, sonfy, along with some cheese momos. Alcohol is ridiculously cheap with a peg of whisky sometimes as expensive as an egg. If it is one of those longish bouts of rain, go for a full traditional Bhutanese meal of some brown mountain rice, shakam pa (strips of dried beef cooked with local vegetables such as mooli and beans), jaju (seaweed broth) along with a mug of hot water. By the time you finish, the asphalt of the streets would have been licked in a coat of wetness and Bhutanese dames resumed strutting the sidewalks. Monsoons in these highlands are not always subtle though. Rainbows aside, once in a while, the clouds standing at the summits on the western side of the valley part to let in a sheet of sunlight.
The twin monasteries of Tango (pronounced tun...go) and Cheri are around 20 km from the capital. Both equally sacred and revered, they offer solace from the taxing cycles of karma. Both are accessible during the monsoons, though be careful to get a sturdy pair of walking shoes for the hike.
Getting there:
The Paro International Airport is 54 km from Thimphu. From Paro to Thimphu, hire a cab for around Nu 400 (the Bhutanese currency is on a par with the rupee). The popular land route is via the border town of Phuentsholing. Bhutan Transport Corporation runs a regular bus service from Siliguri (which along with nearby New Jalpaiguri station are the nearest railheads). It takes around four hours to reach Phuentsholing. From there, buses ply to Thimphu every day or you can book a cab.
Where to Stay:
For luxury, check in at Taj Tashi. Hotel Druk Sherig near the clock tower offers Bhutanese-style clean rooms. Pristine Hotel opposite Jumolhari is the best budget option.
—Arjun Razdan

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