Phuentsholing in Bhutan is around 25 km from Jaldapara in West Bengal via Hasimara. During our short stay in Jaldapara, we planned to visit Phuentsholing . I had visited this place long ago in 1988. As planned, we started. In the afternoon, we started driving through the National Highway (NH-31) with tea gardens on both the sides. Hasimara lies between two rivers running from north to south, draining from the lower Himalayas in Bhutan. Torsa on the west and Basra on the east.
There is no entry formality for visiting the border town of Bhutan. Being the border town, Phuentsholing serves as the convenient entry/exit point for Bhutan and also the important link to visit the Indian states of West Bengal, Sikkim and Assam. There is an iconic Bhutan Gate to welcome you at Phuentsholing with a unique Tibetan Bhutanese architecture.
Unlike other cities in Bhutan that offer unexplored terrain and natural scenic beauty, Phuentsholing is the perfect mix of traditions, beautiful landscapes, modern life and culture. There is a lot more to Phuentsholing than meets the eye. The city is a hub for different ethnic groups living in perfect harmony, be it Bhutanese, Nepalese or Indians.
Once in Phuentsholing, it’s best that you hire a cab from the local taxi stand to see the Karbandi Gompa, Crocodile breeding farm etc and come back by the same cab.
We left our cab at Tashi Commercial Center. As we came out of our car, a window from the first floor of the building came down crashing just next to me. Thank God, I was unharmed. That’s a window-shattering welcome! I thought Bhutan is as excited as me! We walked to the taxi stand and hired a cab to take us around the city.
Karbandi Monastery (Gumba)
Karbandi Monastery, or as locals call it, Karbandi Gumba, is located at a height of 400 metres. Founded in 1967, it’s the winter residence of the Royal Grandmother, Ashi Phuntsho Choedron.
The temple compound houses impressive, large statues of Shabdrung Ngawang, Guru Rinpoche and Shakyamuni Buddha. Eight different Tibetan Buddhist Stupas can be seen enhancing the aesthetic appeal of the garden. These are said to be for eight reincarnations of Guru Rinpoche.
According to legend, an Indian pilgrim couple visited this place and prayed for a child. The wish was granted, and since then, couples have been visiting this place in hopes of a better future.
There is a beautiful garden located outside the monastery that gives a panoramic view of the plains of Bengal and the towns of Phuentsholing and Joynagar, the border town on the Indian side.
Norgay Crocodile Breeding Centre
Norgay Crocodile Breeding Centre is also known as The Amo Chhu Crocodile Breeding Centre. It is undisputedly one of the most popular places to visit in Phuentsholing. The name Amu Choo is used as the farm is on the banks of the Amu Choo (or, Torso) river. First established in 1976 in a small scale without much development, in a small pond. This was further improved during the year 2003 in collaboration with Nature Conservation Division and WWF Bhutan.
Incidentally most crocodile farms in the world breed reptiles for their priceless skin which is then fashioned into belts, bags and shoes. However, this farm is an exception. It breeds these reptiles for releasing them into their natural habitat. Right now, the Mugger crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris) and Gharials (Gavialis gangeticus) are bred in the farm. The Muggers and Gharials are native to Indian subcontinent.
Mugger Crocodile is a medium-sized crocodile, only found throughout the Indian subcontinent. The mugger are ambush hunters that mostly inhabits freshwater lakes,rivers, marsh and swamps forest of India. The Muggers are the India’s most commonly seen river predators. The name “mugger” is a borrowing of Hindi magar. This is in turn derived from Sanskrit makara “crocodile; mythical water monster; sign of the zodiac”.
Male gharials sport a large growth on their snout called a ghara, the Hindi word for “pot.” Males use their gharas to vocalize and blow bubbles during mating displays. They got the name Gharial from “ghara”.
Once found from Pakistan to Myanmar (Burma), the Gharial’s range has shrunk to two countries: India, along the Chambal, Girwa, and Son Rivers; and Nepal, along the Narayani River. Since the mid-1900s, the gharial’s numbers have declined as much as 98 percent due to hunting for traditional medicine and drastic changes to their freshwater habitats. The International Union for Conservation of Nature classifies the species as critically endangered.
Torsa River Side
Torsa River (aka Machu and Amo Chhu) rises from the Chumbi Valley in Tibet, China, where it is known as Machu. It flows into Bhutan, where it is known as the Amo Chhu. It flows past the important border towns of Phuentsholing (in Bhutan) and Jaigaon (on the Indian side of the border) and past the Jaldapara sanctuary.
If you fancy a light walk, then there is no place like the Torsa river side. The best thing about this place is that there is a walking path made alongside the river and vehicles are prohibited from running in that track. So, you can easily walk along the river side in peace listening to the chirping of the birds.
Palden Tashi Chholing Shedra
Shedra is a Tibetan word meaning “place of teaching” but specifically refers to the educational program in Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. It is usually attended by monks and nuns between their early teen years and early twenties. Shedra is variously described as a university, monastic college, or philosophy school.
Consecrated in 2014, this Shedra in the west of town offers education to around 70 students aged 6 to 25 and has some fine murals in its new central tsuglhakhang (Tibetan Buddhist temple). The shedra is situated on a nice setting with a wonderful backdrop.
Zangto Pelri Lhakhang
Zangtho Pelri Lhakhang is a small temple right at the heart of Phuentsholing just a few meters away from the border representing the heaven of Guru Rinpoche. There are statues of eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche — Guru Tsokye Dorje, Guru Shakya Senge, Guru Padmasambhava, Guru Nyima Ozer, Guru Dorje Drolo, Guru Loden Chokse, Guru Senge Dandrok and Guru Pema Gyalpo and paintings on Buddha’s life on the ground floor. The next floor contains eight Bodhisattavas and statues of Avalokiteshvara and Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The top floor has the statue of Amitabha.
The park contains a huge ball fountain, a smallish pond, prayer wheels and a lovely ambience of serenity that will soothe your soul. This is like the social hub of Phuentsholing, lovers go for an impromptu date here, tourists are seen people watching and monks wander around.
Now we need some coffee! Slowly, the darkness was covering the town and we were also very tired and were looking for a nice restaurant to have hot coffee.
We walked into the Kizom Café. The Kizom Café is one of the best café in Phuentsholing and it is rated to be one of the best bakeries in the whole of Bhutan.
In the heart of Phuentsholing, Kizom Café declares its presence with a solid, curved wooden sign and sleek facade. Kizom means peace in the Bhutanese language.
The Café has two floors with comfortable seating arrangement. The decor features rich reds and browns, with seating on the ground levels well as a more extensive space upstairs for guests to relax with coffee. The Café was opened in November 2013. There is free Wi-Fi so you may want to hang around a little longer.
We went up the first floor and ordered for hot coffee and snacks. Pleasant, smiling waitstaff fetched coffee as good as any you might get at a big chain coffee shop. We refreshed us with lovely, hot coffee and snacks and then returned to our resort in Jaldapara.