Thursday, December 22, 2016

When you are stranded in Samdrupjongkhar

The tall notice (order) came. And the gate of Samdrupjongkhar was closed, sturdily. Not a single Bhutanese vehicle was allowed to go outside the gate. Not a single Bhutanese soul was allowed to walk out. 

The notice stated the highway of Assam would be affected, as there would be a strike in the neighboring Indian State. So, the Bhutanese commuters were restricted to travel through the State.

Thus, I returned to my hotel room. It was frustrating to stay in a place one more day, or more, where I didn’t know a soul and of the place I was not familiar.

It’s a thing of Samdrupjongkhar, a small town of about 10,000 inhabitants at the southeastern part of Bhutan that borders the Indian State of Assam. It is often used as an entry and exit point by the merchants and commuters travelling to eastern Bhutan. In fact, it is a one-night halt town. But due to unending insurgency issues and protests in Assam that affect the highway, travellers are often stranded in this town, sometimes up to three days. 

So instead of staying of staying in my room grumbling about the situation, I decided to walk around and explore the town more. To kill my time. And to escape from boredom. Surprisingly, I found the town fascinating and it has so much to offer, in its own little ways though. Some of my findings and recommendations that you can do in case you are stranded in this town in the future are: 

Mani dungkar
Right in the middle of town is a small park with a beautiful dungkar of Bhutanese architectural design and intricate paintings. It has some open space, where green trees and flowers provide you shade. You can either sit on the concrete benches and relax or just lie down on green meadows and enjoy children playing around or just watch the dungkar glitters at night, as the lights fall on it.   

The Gate
One thing I loved doing in Samdrupjonkhar to pass my time is going to the border gate, and just sit, watch. So many Indians, over a thousand, mostly day laborers enter the gate in the morning. They come riding bicycles. But before entering, they keep their cycles locked outside the gate in a long line. They religiously go for security check, register their names at the immigration counter and march towards their respective works.
In the evening, 5 pm onward, the laborers return. Though muddied with dust and sweats, their face glimmer with smile and joy. Some bursting into laughter and others engage in a loud happy talk; for they could earn their day’s wages and are happy to feed their families. They pick up their cycles and ride off home. This particularly sight brings me such a beautiful feeling - of simplicity and naivety, of hard work and rewards, and of reverence and beauty of life. 

The Town
Strolling around the town helps you spend your time. But do it slowly, because the town is very small. A bustling and clean town, Samdrupjongkhar is the main economic centre of the eastern Bhutan. It holds the distinct honour of being the oldest town in Bhutan, and is believed to be developed as a result of construction of the Samdrupjongkhar-Trashigang national highway in the 1960s.

As you walk around it, you get to see a diverse mixture of small shops, hotels, bars and restaurants. Not only the locals, but also people from as far as Trashigang, Lhuentse and Yangtse are seen in the town trading. It’s intriguing to see them carrying loads of goods on their back staggering and bargaining and buying more.
However, what I liked most about the town is to read funny names of the shops. Some are very hilarious.
Pholang Katang Hotel & Bar
Accommodation and foods
Today, there are a handful of well-maintained hotels with good logistics. They even serve you a good mix of Bhutanese, continental and Indian cuisines. Hotel Menjong, Hotel Friends and Hotel Park are a few to name.
Hotel Friends
But the Hotel Friends is very popular among the locals and even tourists from India for its foods, whiskeys and beers. Kuenzung Pizza and Restaurant, a newest hangout place in the town, is also popular among the locals that serves pizzas, cakes and noodles.

I was told that Samdrupjongkhar used to house the oldest cinema theatre in the country, which was popular even among the Assamese. However, today, it seems defunct.
But other forms of entertainment have emerged in the town, such as drayang and karaoke. They are located in the Lower Market and always gather huge crowds at night.

Suspension bridge

Right next to the Lower Market, there’s a tall and long suspension bridge over a river that connects a housing colony to the town. When I visited it, I spotted many young people and Indian tourists taking pictures and enjoying the beautiful sight and pleasant breeze.

Youth Centre
Two minutes walk towards north of the town, in front of the Bus Station, you can spot a Youth Center. It’s a cozy place that provides services like Internet, carom and small library. 
If you have kids with you, then it is the right place to visit and avail the services, as you would kill the time.


  1. A nice read as always, Rikku. I could clearly visualize the entire scene of Samdrup Jongkhar town from this post of yours. I too had similar experiences at Samdrup Jongkhar during my school days. I know how frustrating it can be to get stranded for days like that. Thanks for sharing the story.

    1. Thank you Sir for your comment. A wonderful year ahead!