-Jaigon, India/Phuensholing, Bhutan-

After recuperating in Kathmandu for about 36 hours, I boarded a bus to the eastern border with India. You know it is an ominous sign when the man who sells you the ticket cannot even give you a ballpark answer as to how long it will take. 15 hours? 20 hours? He just shrugged and said he didn't know. Upon boarding the bus we left promptly on time at 4:00pm. We pulled out of the bus stand and drove for a solid 15 seconds down the road before pulling off into the ditch. We sat here for 45 minutes loading passengers and putting luggage on the roof. Then all of a sudden the driver jumps on the crowded bus and we are off! But much to my disappointment we drive directly to the other side of the street and park in the ditch again, loading more passengers and more luggage for another 30 minutes. When we finally leave we are caught in gridlock for hours trying to leave Kathmandu. We drive through the night at a good, yet safe speed, and I am thinking that I will wake once we reach the border, maybe slightly sore from sleeping upright. Wrong. At around 4:00 in the morning we stop behind a bunch of other buses lined along the side of the road, in a nowhere spot on the Nepali plains. Near daybreak I was informed that a strike had been called and that we had to wait until midnight to continue onward. Although I was slightly exasperated, I had silently prepared for such an occurrence before even entering Nepal from Tibet days ago. I spent the day on the side of the road reading, playing cards, talking with Nepalese travelers and Bhutanese refugees. I finally reached the border and once I did, the 15-20 hour trip took 43 hours.

After 3 bus rides, a rickshaw, another bus ride, and 50 hours later, I found myself at the India/Bhutan border. Bhutan normally charges $260 per day to foreign tourists to enter, except at the border town of Phuensholing where one can enter for a day free of charge. Last night I was stopped before entering Bhutan and told by a smiling young Bhutanese that since I didn't have a visa I could not go in. I tried to explain to him that I was quite sure I could enter for dinner and go back to India visa-free. He smiled back and calmly explained the need for a tourist visa to enter. After a few minutes, a Bhutanese man stopped, interjected on my behalf and waved me through. Kasang, who is a guide in Bhutan, promptly directed me to a restaurant for dinner while trying to coax me into staying in Bhutan through his connection at the Visa Office. It was tempting, but still expensive, and I had to pass. Today he showed me around Phuensholing a little, which is the second biggest city in Bhutan. It is much cleaner, with orderly roads, birds singing above, and a much calmer vibe. It is a very intriguing place, and quite a departure from the noisy crap in India.

The last few days have been a whirlwind of boringness and constant stay-on-your-toes activity; I have visited 4 different countries in the past week by jeep, bus, and rickshaw. If all goes well I will be in Kolkata in two or three days, and soon after I will be boarding a plane for Thailand! That is, if all goes well...