It was on January 15. I set out on my journey to Samdrupjongkhar from Thimphu via Phuentsholing, driving a small car.
I reached Phuentsholing around 8:30am and looked for other cars bound to Samdrupjongkhar through Indian highway, NH 31, as I was not familiar with the route.
While waiting, I saw a passenger bus plying directly from Thimphu to Samdrupjongkhar had got in to the line of cars entering India.
I could not use Google map since I did not have an Indian SIM. That the Google Map works offline, I did not know then.
I came across many toll-fee counters on the highway. The cautionary signage by the road read as “Toll Plaza”. I was asked to pay Indian currency (IC) 95. I did.
I followed the bus till the lunch point, stopped and went for a lunch along with the passengers in the bus.
It was a very good lunch, indeed, but the bus has disappeared. I panicked.
I crossed two other toll-fee counters came on my way, had to pay heavily.
One asked me to pay IC 600. I was reluctant, as I had already paid so much before.
I asked if I could get away paying the normal toll-fee amount at the counter. No, I could not. I got a card with a bar code. What do I do with it as it was the last toll fee counter?
The receipt did not even show the amount I paid. It showed Rs 170.
“The fee I paid at the counters earlier just disappeared,” one officer said, very nonchalantly.
I continued with my journey. To make the matter worse I had taken the wrong way and was nearing Nganglam. I turned from there and followed the Indian road again, back to NH 31.
It was already dark by then.
Some kilometres past the junction to Nganglam at Patshala, I stopped to ask the police on duty for help. I wanted to ask if I was driving on the right way to Samdrupjongkhar but he was rude and started accusing. He said my son, was not wearing seatbelt.
I was asked to pay Rs 1,000 and threatened to take me to Thaney (police station) if I do not pay the fine.
“Pay 500 and go, pay the fine fast,” rubbing his hairy hand through my nose. I was not even given a money receipt. It was around 7pm then.
An Indian I talked to before reaching Samdrupjongkhar said that it would be a bad idea to stop the car even if the police along the road stop you at night.
Thank heavens, I got to Samdrupjongkhar after all these hassles!
The next day, I met a Bhutanese Bolero driver who shared a similar story. He said he was also asked to pay Rs 600 for a card, which was claimed to help him pay toll fee by scanning the bar code on it. But the card could not be scanned the very next day while returning to Samdrupjongkhar.
It is logical that people using the road should be charged a reasonable amount of toll fee but such corruption should not happen.
There was a helpline number on the receipt but that was only for those carrying Indian SIM cards.
It is a tough journey along the Phuentsholing-Samdrupjongkhar highway.