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On the West-East highway

Never imagined a bus ride from Thimphu to Trashigang could be so tiring. If your seatmate is not much of a talker, the journey could be excruciatingly draining.

Wednesday, 6:35am. I have a ticket for the last seat of Khorlo Transport. A familiar looking guy sits next to me. He doesn’t talk.

After crossing Dochula, most of the passengers are slumbering. My seatmate throws startling grunts in between stifled fugues that make me feel sick and uncomfortable. I plug in my earphones and close my eyes.

Although disturbingly quiet, the ride till Wangdue is smooth.

After crossing Pelela pass, we stopped for lunch at the only refectory there. The bus conductor goes: “Time to refill your belly.” Except for the girl in front of me, everyone gets out. She looks sick and is sleeping, hair all ruffled.

Hungry, I get out to grab something to eat. On a long journey like this, you’ve got to be clever. You tag along with the driver and you get free food and accommodation.

For a plate of cold rice and a shaving of meat that must have nutritional value of a cardboard piece, I pay Nu 180. By the time I am nearly done devouring this sad meal, passengers are all in the bus.

Energised, there is a lot of talking going on. There is music too, traditional dzongkha songs blaring through ceiling. Weather outside is no good. There is a strong stench of alcohol and nauseating, nostril-warping stink of doma. The combination is lethal.

I look out the window but I can’t see anything. It is a thick fog and the road is bumpy. I have started to get pain in my rump. A few minor blocks from the on-going road widening held us. As night fell, phones started ringing one after another. The unanimous response was that they were held by blocks and haven’t reached Bumthang yet. At 9:30pm, we are in Bumthang.

Passengers wait for their journey to begin

This leg of the journey – from Bumthang to Trashigang – is no better. We are the last to leave the station. Along the way, we go on picking up occasional hitchhikers. The narrow aisle in the middle is packed. There is no space to walk. The Road Safety and Transport Authority may have something to say about this. Or may be not.

This particular song – Kezangla – is getting into my nerves. I think it is driver’s favourite because he plays it on the loop. I am not repelled by his choice of song, but it is raining. What’s there between Ura and Namling, I cannot see.

Now the weather is kind. It’s getting brighter too. It’s dusty Limithang we have reached. I roll up my window and tolerate the noxious odour that has built up inside. Soon we are climbing up the winding road to Mongar town.

Yadi. For the first time on this entire journey I heard our driver speak. Tickets must be checked and fares collected.

The 24-hour-ride came to an end finally. My body’s aching and hair is total mess, grey with dust.

Younten Tshedup 

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