We pick up from where we left off in the last issue with the Brezza tri-nation drive. We’ve arrived in Kathmandu and have a bit of exploring to do
Story: Harket Suchde Photography: Saurabh Botre
Kathmandu is, as I’m sure you know, the capital of Nepal and, like a lot of national capitals, it is crowded, bustling, and has that thrum of excitement typical of a metro running through its streets. This is, of course, the second capital I’ve visited on this tri-nation journey. However, since the first one was our own home capital of Delhi, which I’ve been to so many times, I was a tad more excited to go exploring this time around. And go exploring I did, starting at the Swayambhunath Stupa.
Perched atop a hill and surrounded by trees, this Buddhist place of worship is one of the most significant religious sites for people who follow that faith. And the way the temple is built reflects its prominence. It is elegant without being extravagant; a charming, clean, and tranquil site that is teeming with monkeys. The Stupa dates back over a thousand years and offers a spectacular view of the rest of the city.
My next stop in Kathmandu was another historic site. This time, Darbar Square. This area has been used as a residence by the monarchy of the region from as far back as the third century. Even today, important events such as coronations, for example, take place right here. There’s also a bustling market in the region that would ordinarily make the going quite uncomfortable. Vendors sitting on the road with their wares and narrow lanes typically make for tight quarters. The Brezza has proximity sensors and a reverse camera, so navigating through the area was made much easier.
After taking in all the interesting palaces and temples of the square, it was time to make our way out of Kathmandu and, indeed, Nepal. This meant a drive just short of 500 km to the border at Kakarvitta and beyond to Siliguri. If you’ve driven on mountain roads, you’ll know that covering that sort of distance in a day is a bit of a tall order. Not when you’re at the wheel of the Brezza, though. More than half the drive was in said mountains, where the Brezza’s sweet handling came to the fore. The latter bit was through open plains, though, where its DDiS 200 engine with its 200 Nm of torque was allowed to reign supreme. Thanks to the SUV’s powerful engine we made the 10.00 pm deadline for the border closing with just over 45 minutes to spare.
The next day, we left Siliguri and headed straight for yet another border town. We were making our way to Phuentsholing so that we could cross over to Bhutan. The distance between Siliguri and Phuentsholing is about 150 km and the views en route are simply enchanting. From flourishing tea plantations to massive bridges and gurgling streams to keep you company, all seen from a perfectly paved road. Well, you can’t really ask for much more.
The Brezza’s commanding seating position and wide windscreen meant I didn’t miss a thing, including an off-road section leading right to one of those streams. Time to get muddy and the Brezza’s ample ground clearance meant I didn’t need to worry about the rocks strewn across the path either. After wading into the stream and taking it all in, we were off again.
On arriving at Phuentsholing we noticed that there was a massive crowd already waiting outside the immigration permit office. Apparently, the festival season attracts quite a large number of people. So, we had to spend a night in the border town itself while we got all the paperwork sorted out (see box for details). Once we did get moving again, we drove straight into mountainous terrain, winding higher and higher towards Thimphu. Again, the distance isn’t much, about 150 km, but because of all the twists, turns, and hairpins along the way, it can take anywhere between five and 10 hours. For the most part, the road was fantastic. Fogs rolled in, obscuring everything around us, but with the Brezza’s fog-lamps turned on, we just kept on moving. The lush greenery and sheer size of the mountains were amazing to behold. We were held up for a bit as debris from a landslide had blocked up the road, but the local authorities worked quickly and we were soon on our way.
We arrived in Thimphu by night and settled down early so we could check the local sights out the next day. Our first stop was at the Memorial Chorten. The Memorial Chorten is a stupa like no other. It has an eclectic shape that’s more square than circle (which is the usual shape for stupas) and looks delightful; its white walls glinting and golden arches and tip shining bright in the early morning sun as you walk across its green lawns. It was built in 1974 and was just about two kilometres away from our hotel right in the middle of town.
From there we made our way towards a hill on the outskirts to visit the mighty Buddha Dordenma. This is a 177-foot tall statue of Buddha made of bronze and gilded in gold. A fairly recent construction, only dating back to 2015, the entire project to build the Buddha and all the smaller ones within reportedly cost over $100 million (or Rs 717 crore).
It is an astounding sight, though, and can be spotted from much further down the hill because of its strapping size and radiating golden shade.
After taking in the brilliance of the statue, it was off again, back towards Siliguri and home soil. The drive back was a lot quicker since we were driving down the mountains and, thankfully, there was no landslide-related hold-up either.
The Brezza was flawless as ever on this last leg of the journey too. The SUV’s spacious interior, clever features, comfortable seats, and sorted driving dynamics meant it conquered this tri-nation drive with ease and the powerful diesel engine and smooth five-speed gearbox were perfect for both the highways and the steep climbs. Safety features such as dual airbags, ABS, and EBD meant that I never had to worry about losing control. And convenient features such as the Android Auto-compatible touchscreen, cooled glovebox, mood lighting, and steering-mounted controls elevated the drive experience. So, if you’re planning to go on a border-crossing, continent-straddling, multi-nation road trip, the smart money is to do it in a Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza.
Kathmandu is crowded, bustling, and has that thrum of excitement typical of a metro running through its streets
Once we did get moving again, we drove straight into mountainous terrain, winding higher and higher towards Thimphu
The Brezza’s spacious interior, clever features, comfortable seats, and sorted driving dynamics meant it conquered this tri-nation drive with ease
Border Crossing Process: India to Bhutan
Completing the formalities to get into Bhutan by road is time-consuming.
You need to acquire a form at a photocopy/stationery shop opposite the Immigration Office in Phuentsholing and fill it in. You need to attach hotel booking proof for all the days you plan to spend in Bhutan, along with a couple of photographs and your passport along with a photocopy of it, of course. The queue to get these documents verified is a long one and could take as much as the whole day, depending on how many people are standing in it.
After verification, you will be called inside the office to register your biometrics and get your visa stamped. The office opens at 10.00 am and closes at 5.00 pm, so the window isn’t a big one.
Once this process is done and you have your permits, head to the RSTA (Road Safety and Transport Authority) office. Here you can get your car permit. To do so, fill in another form and produce copies of your passport and the issued permit within it, along with your vehicle documents and driver’s licence. The permit office at the RSTA opens at 9.00 am and closes at 3.00 pm, so do make sure you have everything in place and make your way there within this time-frame. You may be required to hire a local guide to accompany you for the entirety of the trip as well, so make sure you budget for that.