TRAVEL GONE WRONG: WHY 4 MONTHS OF NON STOP TRAVEL MADE ME HATE TRAVEL!

TO TRAVEL NON STOP FOR 4 MONTHS NON STOP! That was my travel fantasy when I was still working in Navi Mumbai in a 9 to 5 corporate job (Fine, make that 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. job). Sitting at my desk all day, I would dream of packing my bags to never return. My day dreaming would be assaulted with more official excel sheets (some of which I used surreptitiously for making my travel plans for next few months). Circa 2016! As I mentioned in an earlier blog, 2016 was a magical year for me travel wise.

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Me at Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

Thanks to my new freelance lifestyle, I had the freedom to realize my dream of traveling non-stop. I had accepted a bit too many professional invites for Press Trips and planned many of my personal travels as well. So from August 2016 to November 2016, it was non-stop travel for me for 4 months. Between this period, I showed up at my brother’s house (I was staying with him till then) only for few hours. I would be back home only to wash and change clothes, rest or deliver already delayed projects before starting my next travel. I remember before my Amazing Trip To Ladakh, I took a post midnight cab to home, picked fresh clothes, unpacked and packed my luggage again and leave before 5 a.m. to catch flight to Leh. Within those few hours, I crazily packed my bag, answered mails and even submitted assignments. As I was unpacking and packing I realized much of my room resembled a war zone. I wasted a lot of time to find my things. Because I had had no time to organize my life!

COMPLETE GUIDE TO PARO TAKTSANG AKA TIGER’S NEST MONASTERY IN BHUTAN

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Offbeat Bhutan : Cycling in Unseen Thimphu

Since November end to present day (February 2017), I have been declining Media Trips because I want to concentrate on my writing, earning and other pursuits in life.  I will start traveling again hopefully towards the end of February 2017. Till then, I just want to be at peace. I used my sabbatical from travel well to write more articles for print travel magazines and newspapers, to burn lot of food every day in my kitchen (I am a hopeless cook), play with my friend’s dog, catch up on movies and dining with my friends, organize my desk. I caught up with food festivals, film festivals, book fair and restaurant hopping in New Delhi too. I had spent quality time at 2 of my friend’s quiet homes and offices to write pending blogs. The month of December was most productive as I wrote around 20 blogs in December alone, most of it on Jordan and Bhutan etc. I also managed my finances and raised pending bills and earned more. I further augmented more wealth for me by landing up for assignments for me. On one of the days, I wrote 4 articles in a day! And oh, I caught up on a lot of sleep too. It was a creatively satisfying phase and I hope to repeat it again.

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Click to read about the mystery behind Penis paintings on walls of Bhutan near Chimi Lhakhang

I have realized that I can’t be location independent. I realized that my fantasy was just a fantasy! When I actually tried to live my fantasy of traveling non-stop, I ended up cancelling my own trips. After being on road and in air for so long, I had realized that I do like a base to come back to. (Coz बाबा को base पसंद है). I also realized that no matter how much I love travel, it is not the only thing I want to do. I was itching to read lots of books, even newspapers (I am known for reading 2 months old newspaper even when not traveling), catch up on Bollywood and world cinema (I saw 15 Iranian films in between), meet old friends, spend time with parents and nephews and nieces. On most of my travels in this period I carried books to read. Not even once did I get time to read those thanks to my packed schedules during travel. I talk to my parents in Lucknow daily on phone since 2008, when I left home. I had to request them to hang up because I was too tired (mentally) to even talk)

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I went to a remote village Sehore in Madhya Pradesh to see how Delhi girl Sanjana Kaushik is changing lives in rural India.

Even places like Ladakh, where I had planned 16 days trip started to make me restless. Even though it was my first time in Ladakh, I was constantly craving to get back home. This, when I don’t even like Delhi or Ghaziabad, my adopted home since 1 year! I realized I started to enjoy travel less and on every travel, after a few days, there were moments when I just wanted it to end right there. Perhaps if I was a newbie traveler, I would have still enjoyed it but after having traveled to more than 150 destinations in India since 2008, most of it solo travel in shoestring budgets, I was near saturation. I didn’t want to kill travel for me and since December 2016 I took a strict sabbatical from Travel. Not very long ago (Till just a few month ago), I used to crave for such a trip. From being Fired for travelling too much in 2015 to Tired of travelling too much in 2016, I had seen a paradigm shift in my travel aspirations within a year, a bit too fast. Henceforth, my focus this year onwards is to choose my official trips carefully.

  • I don’t want to travel for more than 10 days in a month.
  • I also want to travel more and more with parents, friends.
  • That said, I realized how much I crave to go back to my original Solo Travel Style. I did manage some amazing Solo Travel experiences last year. I hope to plan some epic solo travels for myself this year.
  • I want to choose my Press Trips more carefully. I should be charged up about the destination before committing.
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Taj Balloon Festival near Taj Mahal Agra was the highlight of my trips.

This break from travel was also important because I finally shifted to my own rented apartment in January 2017. When I shifted from Navi Mumbai to Ghaziabad to stay with my brother in November 2015, I knew I would move out within a year. But I was unable to even find time to go apartment hunting because I was hardly seen at home. Much of January was spent in organizing my life and cutting the clutter. From August 2017 to January 2017 (staying at 2 of my friend’s homes) I was literally living out of suitcases and backpacks wearing the same set of clothes over and again. It was fun and challenging but also cumbersome.

Before Ladakh in September, a Media Trip to Bhutan for 10 days happened to me in August. After enjoying Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Haa Valley at leisure, I spent quality time with parents at Mussoorie and Landour.   September was marked with 16 days in Ladakh. After Ladakh, I made a solo trip to Mumbai, Bangalore and Agumbe, Ikkeri, Kaledi, Shimoga, Jog falls in Karnataka. It was a mix of flights, rickety buses and sleeper class trains. My train to Mumbai from Delhi was not even sleeper class. It was an overnight Chair Car journey in Gareeb Rath.  September was indeed my busiest month.

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Did you know about the Corn Village Bhutoli in Mussoorie? Mosaic Hotels helped me find!

By the time it was October, I had started cancelling my own travels. Never before had I stood at a railway platform with my backpack and cancelled my own tickets. As I sat in metro to Nizamuddin railway station, I was boggled by the amount of work pending. The horrific visions of messy desk and room nagged me further. Upon reaching, I just cancelled the sleeper class train ticket to Surat on my cellphone and returned back to home. I promised myself to travel to Surat next winter to sample the seasonal dishes Ponk and Oundhiyo. Never before in my life had I done something like this. I even cancelled my much awaited trip to Kolkata on Durga Pooja in October. I had wanted to do it since eons. When I was so close to realizing that dream, I cancelled the ticket myself because 1) I was tired and 2) I had so much of freelance work pending). Before this, I explored Madhya Pradesh (Satpura, Bhopal, Pachmarhi, Sanchi, Sehore and Bhimbhetka.) for 7 days. I also stayed at parents’ home in Lucknow for sometime during Diwali. I had plans to visit nearby Ayodhya, Faizabad and Varanasi but I was too tired and just wanted to chill at home and eat some comfort food made by mom. November was all about hot air balloon ride near Taj Mahal and a quick trip to Boat Festival in Goa. I almost said no to these 2 invites. But it was so tempting I had to go. This was the time when I started to slow down. In reality, my 4 month long non-stop travel thus had brief moments of rest at home, thanks to the cancellations.

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Alongwith Naropa Festival, I also attended the Ladakh Festival in Leh.

I don’t know if I will travel like this again (Though I still have some crazy travel plans) but for now I want to take it slow. Kudos to those travelers who spend months on road! Before this trip, the most I had travelled at a stretch was one month in Nepal in 2015 (Everest Base camp Trek and Kathmandu). I remember I was itching for a base even then.

It taught me that we should all understand what personality types we are and make travel plans which suit our personalities. I would love your views on this. Does the same thing happen to you as well or do you love living out of suitcases and backpacks? Do let me know in the comment section below.

This song from the Bollywood film Lootera sums up my current state of mind well.

ना उड़ने की इस दफा ठानी परिंदो ने भी वफा जानी. शिकायते मिटाने चली; सुबह बेदाग है!”

(“Having decided not to fly, even the birds learned to stay this time! I answered all the complaints; the morning is spotless now!”)

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I took some time off from Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart and went to see Sanchi Stupa. Mesmerised, I spent all day here.

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Spotting Gaur aka Bison and other wildlife at Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh

WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

RAFTING IN PUNAKHA: WHAT HAPPENED WHEN I JUMPED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE RIVER!

MY CO TRAVELER Dipanjan just did it. It was tempting and I was itching to do it too. We were in the middle of the swelling river when Dipanjan jumped all of a sudden, holding on to the rope and his dear life.

“Guys, I wanna do it too!” I protested

“No you are not doing it”, they said in a chorus.

This was repeated 3 to 4 times.

“Please, please , please!”

“OK, fine go ahead, just hold the rope very tightly!”

“Can someone click my pictures while I am doing it?”

“No, if you want to do it for the pictures we are not!”

“Fine, chuck it, I will do it anyways!”

 

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The starting point of our rafting session!

I bought few seconds of pause, making sure IF I REALLY WANT TO DO IT? Not reaching any conclusion, I finally jumped in, safety vest intact! Someone screamed crocodile seconds before I jumped! As soon as I jumped, the water pushed and pulled me violently, nothing was in my control except a tight grip on the rope. Though I knew there were no crocodiles in the river, somehow my primal fear made me imagine a croc will pull me in and swallow me whole in next few minutes. Fear is the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind; most of it imagined! I stopped running my imagination wild!  Within moments, I started to enjoy the dip in the deep river. I don’t know swimming and yet I did not want to come out. One person from the boat held my rope tight as I tried to find some balance in the rough river. My co-travelers cheered me on, much of which was lost on me, thanks to the chaos of the choppy waters.

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Our group! (Pic: Dipanshu Goyal)

After few minutes of gasping for breath, I signaled my group leader to pull me in the boat. It was the first time I tried white water rafting and what an experience it was. After a long time I felt alive. Of all the genres of travel, adventure is my true love.

Our rafting began on a calm note. We were taken to a location where the water was not rough. After a round of instructions (which I uselessly perfected only in the last 5 minutes), we readied ourselves for an adventurous morning! It was fun for me because I had never attempted rafting before. Our raft moved up and down as we passed through flags fluttering in scenic hills, kids playing in a distance and our tent by the river.

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Me at our camp side. We spent the night here chatting and laughing! (Pic: Swati Jain)

Somewhere in midway, I started humming a slow song while the raft navigated the calmer water. Gradually, the haha and hihi of my friends started to fade even though I was sitting next to them. Over the years I have mastered the art of stealing my ‘Me Moment’ and cocooning myself from human interactions even if it’s temporarily. As I lose myself to the scenery around, a dragonfly hovered at my face as if dancing to the song I was singing. The dragonfly vanished after strutting his/her stuff. The white prayer flags at the distance were the next victim of my imagination. They fluttered violently as if dancing to my tunes. That was the moment I felt a strong connection with Bhutan. My personal and intimate interactions with clouds, river, mountains, flora, fauna always leave me with spiritual growth. These are the moments when I realize there is much love, rhythm and harmony on this planet.

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Our raft as seen from a bridge. At the start of the raft!

What makes rafting in the Po Chu and Mo Chu rivers of Punakha memorable is the fact that its route includes the Punakha Dzong, famous for its unparalleled beauty. As we passed the wooden bridge which connects the Dzong to the mainland, tourists waved at us from the bridge. Rafting in Punakha offers unique views of the Dzong not possible from land.

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Our breakfast table by the camp side.

As we safely reached the landing point near a hotel, I decided to stay longer in the river. I lied down alone, the body below my face submerged in crystal clear water. Few kids and street dogs gave me company. It is moments like these why I am addicted to travel and adventure.

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We stayed here! Next to the river!

In the evening, we huddled near our tents. Some of us wanted to have beer and one of us volunteered to chill the beers in the ‘Natural Refrigirator’. The ice cold water of the river was where the ‘fridge’ was created. A nest with stones was created on the side of the river. The flowing water of the river turned it cold within hours. We dangled our legs in the river and chatted the night away. It was a secluded place which meant we could laugh over pakoda (fritters) and beer till way past midnight. I even joked, “I hope one of us falls in the river while laughing.”

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Ever chilled your beer like this?

MORE BLOGS ON BHUTAN:

SECRET BEHIND PENIS ART ON THE WALLS OF BHUTAN

THE HAA VALLEY: BEST KEPT SECRET OF BHUTAN

ALL YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT PARO

MUST DO THINGS IN THIMPHU: 30 EXCLUSIVE PICTURES

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The place silences you (Pic: Swati Jain)

My trip was sponsored and all the logistics were taken care of by Bhutan Bookings. Click here to plan your vacation in Bhutan with them.

I was accompanied by travel bloggers – Dipanshu, Manjulika, Parnashree and Swati in the fun company of Sonam Karma and Dipanjan from Bhutan Bookings. Click on their names to read their stories from Bhutan.

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Rafters (Pic: Dipanshu Goyal)

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WHY IS EVERYONE SO CHILLED OUT AT PENIS ART ON BHUTAN WALLS: CHIMI LHAKHANG

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I HEARD FEMALE GIGGLES as I was concentrating on taking pictures and videos of huge phallic signs on the walls of Bhutanese homes. “There are so many of them, in a variety of colors and designs. It’s weird.” The white woman quipped. Many people from (supposedly liberal) western countries were as aghast on seeing phallic symbols as the (supposedly conservative) Asians. Chimi Lhakhang is the place associated with such symbols. Though you can see phallic symbols across Bhutan, you find more of such symbols near Chimi Lhakhang.

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The penis images painted on walls are outrageous. Some have ribbon tied around them; some are shown engulfed by a dragon. Some are even shown ejaculating.  I was amused to see penises with eyes, wings and hands as well. Each one of them is erect and comes with hairy testicles (Some ‘shaved’ too). You can’t afford to miss them thanks to their explicit nature and size (From tiny ones to as large as an adult human).

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As I walked on the lush green hilly terrains to reach Chimi Lhakhang, I was amused by graphic pictures of phallus on the walls of homes and shops. Some of it was aimed at tourists, some authentic. Kids played nonchalantly in the shadow of the wall art while men and women went about their work, not embarrassed of passing such symbols every now and then. In conservative Asian cultures, this is an aberration, even a mild shock!

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Prayer flags fluttered wildly in the unending rice fields as cows grazed nonchalantly in the undulating fields. A dog followed us throughout as we negotiated narrow dirt tracks and open drains to reach the Chimi Lhakhang. Women roasting ‘bhooja’ (Dry Snacks also popular in India) in an incongruous hut filled the air with a comforting fragrance and warmth.

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The cool breeze slapped our cheeks and we would take pauses to soak in the tranquility of the place and admire its raw beauty. Tens of red robed kids were chanting under a tree in their al fresco school.

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As I entered the temple, a child monk approached me and blessed me by softly banging a 10 inches wooden penis on my head. It got me curious and I asked my guide Sonam the reason behind the mystery.

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Sonam transports me to 15th century. Lama Drukpa Kunley (1455- 1529) popularly known as the divine madman of Dragon lineage established the monastery in 1499. Folklore has it that he subdued a cannibal demon goddess with his ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom’. Following this event, the monastery was established on a hillock in Punakha by his cousin.

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A famous poet, monk and Buddhist scholar, he introduced an alternative school of Buddhism in Bhutan. A connoisseur of wine, women and finer things in life, he broke the tradition and introduced a school of thought which was unashamed of sexuality and encouraged his followers (mostly women) to shun greed and embrace a honest and spiritual life. His sexual adventures are the stuff legends are made up of. It is said that he even employed intercourse as a blessing to his female followers. Through his unorthodox teachings, he enlightened those who listened to him. His influence is still palpable in Bhutan. The lama Kunley saw the hillock (where the monastery is situated) as the ‘breast of a woman’.img_1008

Even today, childless couples head to Chimi Lhakhang to seek cure for their infertility. Also known as the ‘infertility temple’, locals come here to seek blessings. The wooden penis, which the divine madman brought from Tibet is used to bless the women who seek to cure the couple’s infertility. Couples also come here for the naming ceremony of their children.img_1105

The penis figures are also known to ward off the evil spirits and gossips which explain its presence on the walls of the households. However, I was told that in urban areas of Bhutan, the numbers of such figures on walls are dwindling thanks to the growing prudishness and self censorship. Also known as the ‘mad saint’, his unprecedented teaching style was laced with humor, songs and socially unacceptable behavior. He popularized the depiction of erect penis figures outside houses along with a flying wooden penis on the top of the main entrance of the house, much like the ‘toran’ popular in India.

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MORE BLOGS ON BHUTAN:

THE HAA VALLEY: BEST KEPT SECRET OF BHUTAN

ALL YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT PARO

MUST DO THINGS IN THIMPHU: 30 EXCLUSIVE PICTURES

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Tips:

  • Carry Water Bottles. There is a uphill path at the end of the walk which leaves you thirsty.
  • Wear shoes and not slippers. Beware of puddles and open drains.
  • Talk to the locals. They might end up offering you some ‘bhooja’ from their kitchen.
  • Wear hat and goggles since Punakha is warmer than elsewhere in the Paro-Punakha-Haa valley- Thimphu circuit.

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How to reach:

  • Our car left Thimphu at 9:00 am and reached Dochu La at 9:45 a.m.
  • After a break of 45 minutes, we left Dochu La at 10:30 a.m. and reached the road leading to Chimi Lhakhang at 12:15 p.m.
  • At 1:30 p.m. we reached Chimi Lhakhang. Though people take 30 minutes to reach Chimi Lhakhang from the approach road, we stopped many times en route because it was gorgeous.

The walk from approach road to the Chimi Lhakhang top is through an easy trail near the village Sopsokha. It is barely 10 kilometres away from Punakha. We left Chimi Lhakhang at 2:45 p.m.  and reached Punakha Dzong at 3:15 p.m.

My trip was sponsored and all the logistics were taken care of by Bhutan Bookings. Click here to plan your vacation in Bhutan with them.

I was accompanied by travel bloggers – Dipanshu, Manjulika, Parnashree and Swati in the fun company of Sonam Karma and Dipanjan from Bhutan Bookings. Click on their names to read their stories from Bhutan.

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Where to Eat: I would advice to eat at the many restaurants as you you start walking on the dirt tracks. This will give you the energy to keep going! I ate a sumptuous buffet (Noodles, Ema Datshi, rice) at Chimi Lhakhang café. Sit at one of the window seats which overlook the green valley. Beware of the large wooden phallus decorated dubiously at a corner in the washroom though.

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When to go: I was twice. April was slightly hotter than August. I preferred the breezy August weather. It was not cold in either of the months. All you need is light cotton clothes. Morning visit advised.

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Buy: You can take a phallic souvenir from the many shops. Key Chains, Show pieces, even a penis wearing a gho(local dress) are some of the interesting picks.

Pics above: (L to R): Kids playing oblivious to the graphic phallic symbols, the variety of penis ‘for sale’, the wooden penis above the door of a shop.

Spread the love, share this blog

Got any question/comments, ask in the comment section below so that it can benefit other readers.

Email me for collaboration : abhinav21@yahoo.com

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Offbeat Drayang Trail : The open Secret of Bhutan!

When in a new city, I try to explore the same place at different time zones. So, when I have some spare time, I try to visit the same place at early morning, afternoon, evening, night and even late night. Every time zone reveals different characters of a place and has different charms, surprises and secrets which start spilling once you dig deeper.

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Thimphu at midnight!

In a quest to discover the split personality of Thimphu, I ventured out from the comfort of my cozy hotel room 10 p.m. to discover the nightlife of the Bhutanese capital city. Though not as lively as the night scene of Mumbai or Delhi, the Bhutanese youth sure know how to enjoy in own unique style.

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Strolling past Norzin Lam, the main shopping street in Thimphu; lonely and at age 31, I miserably tried to fit in with the Bhutanese youngsters who for a change had shed their traditional Bhutanese dress for the trendy western outfits. They talked, shared jokes, romanced, laughed, ‘openly’ smoked (Contrary to the clandestine puffs! Smoking is banned in public places!) and hogged on the Thukpa ( A Tibetan soup) from one of the many Thukpa sellers.

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Thukpa magnets!

It was a cold April night and thukpa was just the right thing for my soul. It was a strange version of Thukpa prepared with pureed rice and cheese. As I continued walking, my hands warmed by holding a hot cup of Thukpa, all kind of songs escaped the night clubs and found their way on the main street.

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Mid night Thimphu

Some were Bhutanese songs , some English but what amused me and intrigued me was an Akshay Kumar-Sonakshi Sinha Bollywood song “Chinta ta ta” playing at full volume. I swallowed the sticky soup in a jiffy and chased the sound and ended up at the stairs leading to a basement night club. I gingerly approached the 3 men in their 30s cocooned in Bhutanese dress Gho and smoking outside the club.
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Me : “Is this a Drayang?”
He : “Yes”
Me : “Hi, I am from India. Can I go inside? (I don’t even remotely look like a Bhutanese!”)
He : ” Yes, why not? Just make sure you don’t take pictures upfront. Just melt in the crowd and shoot. Enjoy” (Thumps me up and gives a naughty smile and a wink, I have no idea why!)

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Mid night Thimphu

My pre travel research on Bhutan taught me about the concept of Drayangs in Bhutan. I stumbled upon the blog of travel blogger Richa Gupta who has explored drayangs. And ever since I badly wanted to ‘discover’ one. Earlier on the same day, I tried to locate one but failed. Guess, it’s easier to find one in the night. These are similar to the infamous dance bars of Mumbai.(Yes I have been to some. Fine, judge me!) There is booze , there are pretty dancing girls. But the similarity ends there.

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What makes Drayangs different from Mumbai Dance Bars is that :

1) In Mumbai dance bars, all kind of pervert gentry throng the bars. Police, politicians, your neighborhood lech, professionals are the regular patrons. While in Drayangs, both men and women, mostly middle class, educated , young , urban Bhutanese frequent. I was the only Indian there apart from an odd nervous looking European tourist brought here by some local guide , perhaps, to reveal to him the little secrets of Bhutan.
2) Unlike the Mumbai dance Bars, the dancing girls do not wear outrageous and revealing clothes nor do they resort to titillating, vulgar moves. They are modestly dressed in their tame traditional dress Kira. But that doesn’t mean they are boring. Once on stage, they are naughty, precocious, cheerful and energetic, some even interacting with the live audience.
3) The songs played may not necessarily be all dancing songs. Though that’s the norm, but at times you can catch one dancing on a slow Bhutanese romantic song.
4) There is no secret room behind the doors where you can take the party to ‘next level.’
5) Though Drayangs are often accused of being a hub for sexual networking, I failed to find any obvious signs. There will be no pimps to approach you, neither will there be any doorman to hold your hand and snatch any leftover money from you as tip.

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However, one thing which is eerily reminiscent of Mumbai’s dance bars is that the dolled up girls will approach you all by themselves (No tout handling them) and sit next to you. The similarity ends here. She will come with a diary and try to make small talk with you amidst all the high decibel music. While the bar dancers in Mumbai will apply the same modus operandi to make you sleep with them and basically rob you of all your money, all Bhutanese dancers want from you is to request a song and pay a paltry Rs.100 for it.

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But they are as pushy as their Mumbai counterparts to convince you for the same. Again very unlike Mumbai’s dance bar girls, Drayang’s dancers are not sullen faced or sad nor do they wear the depressing “I , the exploited, want to run away from here!” look. They are rather genuinely cheerful, upbeat, friendly, unapologetic and rather enjoy their work. Most are Bhutanese or Nepalese born and brought up in Bhutan (Mostly South Bhutan is known for Nepalese). And they stand/sit very close to you while making conversation without being sexually suggestive. They sure know how to take your breath away. So, a spare oxygen cylinder is a must!

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I hesitantly entered the cool looking disco and perched on one of the wooden benches.
‘Hi, you from India” (20 % oxygen deficiency!)
“Yes” (Me, smiling but eyeing her diary knowing pretty well that it’s not me which has charmed her to me but the money I can bring to her bank account!. At this age, I can’t afford delusions.)
“Do you speak Nepali?’ (50 % oxygen deficiency!)
“No!” (though I actually wanted to say, “Babes, you are absolutely gorgeous!”)
“What? Why? Don’t tell me you can’t speak Nepali. Thoda sa to aata hoga? (You must know at least a little Nepali.)
“No sorry! Really sorry.Sirf Mohani lagla hai aata hai” (Me apologizing profusely as if I am born a Sherpa and still can not speak Nepali! Mohani Lagla hai is Nepali My Heart Will Go On! Yes, I have picked some Nepali.)
” You have come here alone? (90 % oxygen deficiency! Help!)
“Yayy, And I am missing my friends badly.” ( I actually did, the booze, music, dance made me wish I had come here with close friends.”)
“That’s sad. Aaawww. Aaawww. AaawwwAaawwwAaawww. (Girls everywhere have the same language. OK, crucify me for sexism.” )
“Yayy”.
“You want me to dance to a song? You choose the song and I will dance on it. (Eyes sparkling with excitement.But yet businesslike) You want Hindi song?”
“Yes, why not. You choose any Hindi song. How much to pay for 1 request?
“Rs.100 only”
Diary entry done. Business rendezvous over. Time to honor the deal.
She jumped on stage vivaciously. And waved to the in house DJ, sitting right behind me, next to live Bar. “HINDI, HINDI!’
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Being a minority, I sat at the last bench to avoid any attention! But the screams of Hindi Hindi drew all curious eyes at me. (Woo Hoo, I am feeling like a foreigner!)
I looked odd, old, foreign, incongruous, lonely. Basically I stood out. Embarrassed, I pretended to behave and look like a Bhutanese. Just as my act was culminating into an epic fail (My face simply refused to mutate into Danny Denzogappa’s face!), the hit Bollywood ‘item number’ ‘Munni Badnaam hui” blared from the speakers and the attention shifted. I gave a constipated smile to no one. And I breathed.

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The local Bhutanese, still gulping down their Red Panda beers and Druk 1000 beers, seemed to enjoy the Hindi songs more than the slow love songs in Dzongkha (Bhutanese). The stage had a huge mirror as its background with gaudy decorations (like cheap plastic flowers).The dancers looked like diva in their own right, their fair skin changing color in the reflected glow of flickering multi-hued lights and disco balls. I sat back and enjoyed the strange atmosphere I landed up in while politely declining other dancers who approached. Of course with a false promise of returning back the next day. Ah, the pain of ‘pardesi babus’ and their false promises.! They created a genre in 90s’ Bollywood.

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As I complimented ‘my’ dancer for her spirited performance, I sensed a commotion as the clock inched towards 11:00 p.m. , the closing time. On weekends the drayangs are open from 6:00 p.m. to 12:00 p.m. It was the time for the last song which was a slow paced Bhutanese song (almost a lullaby!). Two semi-drunk (but still very well behaved) local Bhutanese boys joined the ladies on stage and merrily danced away till it was time to call it a day! Bhutanese sure know how to share bonhomie and good times!
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It was one of my weirdest night. And I loved every moment of it. It was odd to see Bhutanese damsels dressed in a traditional ‘Kira’ and dancing gracefully on some crass Bollywood item numbers. The contrast was striking and amusing. As soon as the song ends, I stood up, avoiding eye contact, looking and feeling awkward. My disappearing act could beat that of a superhero. I emerged from the basement bar to face light drizzle and cool breeze. I gave a constipated smile to no one. And I breathed. Once again.

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Locals dancing with girls

How to locate a Drayang :

Asking around might or might not help you. Most Bhutanese will be either unaware of it or will want to not discuss it. Avoid asking women about the location of a Drayang. They may get uncomfortable or may make you uncomfortable with their ‘You pervert’ look. But despite the fact that the drayangs are not sleazy or vulgar places, you will get stares and winks if you ask for one. These dance bars are rather innocent community clubs where young people just hang out and have a great time. (Though, there is always some reservation against it as being the hub of clandestine sexual networking, but I could not find any obvious signs) Best option is to ask college going young boys strolling on the Norzin Lam, the main shopping street in Thimphu. Don’t beat around the bush. Be honest, say, you are a tourist and simply want to see a Drayang.

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The quirky Traffic booth in Thimphu at midnight!

Best time to visit a Drayang :

Most Drayangs are open from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. on weekends. If you are not a local, it’s best to visit at around 9 p.m. or 11 p.m. on a weekend since there is more crowd at that time and its easier to get lost and avoid awkwardness of being the centre of attention.

Some Drayangs I managed to locate:

1-  Gaa Teen Trophel Khang Drayang : Face your back towards Chula restaurant on Norzin Lam, opposite Taj Tashi. Now move inside the first narrow lane at your right. You will see some bored, grumpy youth playing snooker. Ignore them and take a left. The Sign board is very visible and you may even hear faint music. Take some 10-15 steps at the 1st floor in the building number 40.

2-  Wangyal Drayang : Located at Norzim lane, bang opposite the RICB office (Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Ltd) near Taj Tashi. It’s easy to miss it since the sign board is not really flashy and it’s in a basement, though on the main road only. It’s lively and a popular choice for most. Easier to locate since its on the main road and the music often escapes the closed door.

3- Tashi Tagay Drayang : Located opposite the Taj Tashi on the Norzim lane.

VIDEOS

Check out the short videos on Drayang I shared on my You Tube Travel Channel. Click link below to view:

  1. Bhutanese Women dancing to Munni Badnam hui

      2. Bhutanese woman dancing on slow Bhutanese song

You can read Richa Gupta’s version of Drayang here

I explored Bhutan with Bhuatn Bookings. Check them out for a hassle free vacation.

THE VIEW FROM M Y #SOULWINDOW IS BIZZARE

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Me returning to my hotel alone in midnight!

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