7 September 2015 – Samdrup Jhongkhar to Itanagar - Day 18
‘While tourism may be important as a revenue earner, Bhutan sees no gain in succumbing to over commercialism. It recognizes that a small country emerging from isolation must do so in its own time and at its own pace. The Tourism council of Bhutan is clear that its policy of high value, low volume is the right policy because Bhutan is just too small for mass tourism. And as the world begins to discover the Land of the Thunder Dragon, many go away with a sense of having been in a special place, far from the insanity of modern living. Here is a land where life may not be materially luxurious but it provides much that is good for a society that is not yet caught up with the global rat race'
What I experienced in Bhutan is just what the Tourism council prescribed. Crass commercialism leading to degradation of the environment and corruption of local cultures normally accompany unfettered tourism. Many countries see tourism as a low hanging fruit to bring in extra revenues. By the time the mixed blessing that tourism is is discovered it would be too late to reverse the damages done.
I left the lodge early hoping to cover as much of the distance before the traffic picked up. Also, I had to traverse many so-called ‘sensitive areas’ to get to Itanagar later in the day. I reached the Indo-Bhutan border and had to wait for the gate to open at 5.30 am, Bhutan time. The friendly guards mentioned that they would talk to their Indian counterparts to see if the gate could be opened earlier. Their hands were forced by a few high ranking officials who reached the gate fifteen minutes before official gate opening time. A flurry of activity followed and the gates were opened without much fanfare. I drove into west Bengal, India and immediately experienced the Indianness. Garbage, stinks, pollution, undisciplined road use, et al! However, my mind was set on reaching Tezu the next day.
I was diverted by paramilitary force to route via Rangia instead of Udalguri. Yet another deviation from the route set by Limca Book of Records. Even then it was not over. Three districts of Assam were affected by bandh. Local police accompanied traffic in a convoy to avoid miscreant activity and the route was changed via Tezpur, Gohpur and Hollangi to Itanagar. The road condition between Hollangi and Itanagar made the Bhutan roads look mild in comparison. Two young friends on a motorbike intercepted me en route to Rangia to get details of the trip.
My accommodation was pre-arranged in the Itanagar State Guest House in Naharlagun that used to be the residence of the Governor of the State many years ago. To reach the guest house I traversed the entire town that had become chaotic due to poorly managed infrastructure works and vehicle population. I stopped at a small intercession to enquire about the location of the guest house. As luck would have it, the person hailed from Kerala and he was on his way to his residence not far from the guest house! Amidst conversation about life in Arunachal Pradesh he conducted me to the historic
building, next door to which is the High Court. In the past, the High Court used to be the Chief Minister's residence. The drive on the eighteenth day of the expedition had concluded in Itanagar after 380 km in 10 hours.