There is something about the monsoons. As you sleep, the rains pour and there’s a cool breeze wafting about when you walk. It makes you move. That season and this season i did what i always try to do when it's the monsoons. I try and get around the country.
A monsoon back, I drove around the western and central parts of the kingdom. I thought it would be a cool way to get myself reacquainted with the country. Nothing quite beats the road when you wanna get around. Not even the yearly monsoon rainfalls that cause umpteen roadblocks and landslides. Miles Davis blew his horn as I began that journey a year ago, dubbed the return of the prodigal son by a witty friend. It was beautiful- the mountains, the forests, the clouds, the mist, waterfalls, little brooks, stupas; farm houses and fields along the way and the birds in the trees. At most stretches, driving in Bhutan is a lonely affair, especially when you're making the trip minus any company. But it is that loneliness that is beautiful. The loneliness transforms and becomes a spiritual affair- you are alone in the middle of now where. Then that feeling of being alone also transforms. You realize you are in 'natural' company.
Then everything becomes a welcoming unexpected friend. A lone farmer wrinkled with hardy work smiles at you and that sight is priceless! Another bend and you see kids that live in isolated villages waving at you; their cheerful faces a sharp contrast to their battered attires.
Then i felt something was out of tune. It was the horn of Mr Miles. So I turned him off and listened to the surrounding sounds- if you listen long enough, nature's an infinite musical that stories on and on. And just like that, suddenly there was a feeling of intimacy in the air. The roar of the engine softens and subsides as the environmental notes pick up a tempo that is at once connective and calming.
And the longer i drove, the more distant and cut-off Thimphu seemed, a mirage from whence i began that journey. I got the feeling that Thimphu was an exception, not the norm, to how the majority of our country-men live and the beautiful landscapes they live in. I felt rejuvenated by the natural sights and sounds. Horses grazing by the roadsides, cows and bulls idling by in small meadows. These traditional beasts of burden that ferried goods and ploughed the fields are now replaced by power-tillers and tractors. It felt a bit sad that their role and status in the pastoral setting had come to an end but on the brighter side, they were now free to roam and to graze wherever they wanted. Times change and if this is the product of progress, we move on.
During the trip i kept a keen-eye out for change. There were more roads, shops, schools, hospitals, electricity grids and poles, houses et al. Almost everything had tripled. I stopped over in Khuruthang in Punakha. The proprietor of the hotel I was staying in was glued to the TV along with a handful of clients. The show of the day was the BBS coverage of the NA deliberations. It was good to see our brethren tuning into the matters of the day. They all had opinions about the NA in general and individuals in particular. It varied as the weather on my journey did.
Right now i'm sitting in a cyber-cafe in Phuentsholing and rewriting this piece. It seems ironic that everything was as smooth as silk last year as far as the media-broadcasts and reportage was concerned. As i look and walk around town the channels on TV are mostly Indian entertainers. The huge viewership BBS enjoyed last monsoon is gone- awashed and flooded away by zealot-MPs and their leaders.
Last year i asked people watching the BBS coverage of the two houses what interested them? The return of their MPs back to the folds that voted them onto the national channel, they told me. And what were they going to ask them? I prodded on. Issues like schools, roads and hospitals generally topped the list. I hope they are not disappointed by the turn of events.
I drove on to Wangduephodrang and thought, “This is a Bhutanese version of what Jaigaon used to look like!” Queer and peculiar! I drove on... savoring the sights and sounds. To Phobjikha, where the land rises and flatten out...a drizzle and a moist mist blanketed buck-wheat and potato fields... to Trongsa, where the Dzong always reminds me of a gigantic-UFO hovering in a cloud of fog...to Zhemgang, where there really wasn’t anything man-made besides country hamlets with colorful monikers such as 'Dangdung' and 'Reefer' and a hotel-cum-bar called 'Bajay' and eventually to beautiful Bumthang- where time becomes irrelevant and valleys embrace your senses and the mind just rests.
The drive back to the capital was exhaustively satisfying! Suddenly the monsoon didn't seem so inviting! What did seem romantic was the fact that we still live in a country that is far more real than anything you can ever find or see in the world. You don’t need to venture far, just get out of Thimphu and go to Dochula.
Five days back i drove down to Phuentsholing. The road is in better shape this year apart from a couple of stretches at Takthi and Gedu. Its still one of the best rides in the kingdom. My personal favorite is exactly the stretches that get blocked by landslides, shooting stones and falling boulders. Here the road is narrow and shallow. If you look out the window, the fall would probably be long enough to make you see your life unfold a couple of times over. The Gedu stretch is another splendor. This time i literally had my head out the window so that i could tell we were still on the road! The fog is so thick and dense you feel like you're driving on top of the clouds! How delicious and exhilarating is that!
My own rendition whenever i get to this stretch is this: "This is where Lord Shiva has moved. He now resides here. And the refreshingly surreal fog that lingers on is the smoke he puffs out after after sucking in his large 'Chillum.'
Thats the reason why i feel so high whenever i'm riding this road!