COVER STORY: It is 6PM and Phuentsholing town is getting busier. The crowd has increased by thousands. Everywhere you look in this town, you see people rushing past. And the incessant traffic whistles! There is hardly any parking space.
Vishal and Rajiv from across the border have come for a night out in the town but have not found a parking space. They have been driving around for the last 45 minutes.
It is Tuesday, a dry day. But, here, in this town, one can walk into any bar and just whisper over the counter. Alcohol-free day exists just in name.
Vishal and Rajiv settle in a cozy restaurant. They gesture towards a waiter. Minutes later, the waiter returns. Their coffee cups are filled with beer.
“We cannot have alcohol openly in Jaigaon,” says Rajiv. There is just one liquor shop in whole of Jaigaon and people can’t drink in the shop. “And restaurants and hotels don’t sell alcohol.”
This time round, Phuentsholing is an ideal place for both locals and people across the border. The weather is mild.
Phuentsholing is fast becoming a favourite hangout for the people across the border. Jaigaon sure is a bustling town where Bhutanese go for shopping. In this town is everything that Bhutanese need from a nail to Bhutanese chilli to cottage cheese to ready-made ghos and kiras…everything.
Yet, the town on the other side, Phuentsholing, has almost everything that the people from across the border need – drinks, karaoke and entertainment bars, beautiful views, and clean air to name but a few.
Tshering Phunsum Hotel in Phuentsholing is the favourite of all. Young and old, locals and people from abroad love this place. By evening, the restaurant is filled with people from Jaigaon. They come here for drinks.
“Families come to dine,” said Pema, restaurant’s owner. “People from as far as Assam come to my restaurant.”
If Jaigaon has things myriad that Bhutanese need, Phuentsholing has bars and liquor shops galore to pull the Indians in.
Liquor shops in Phuentsholing get about 100 Indian customers in a day.
And there are Indian tourists who are heading to places like Thimphu, Paro, Wangdue and Punakha. They spend good many days in Phuentsholing because of warm weather and closeness to their home. In Phuentsholing, Indian tourists visit the famous Rinchending Goempa. Many come from across the border to buy goods imported from Thailand and Bangladesh.
On Saturdays, especially, more Indians come to Phuentsholing. There is the drayangs they like to spend their time in and some fun afterwards. There are about nine drayangs in Phuentsholing.
These are some good reasons why this town is becoming increasingly famous this time of the year. There are, however, other reasons for which many Bhutanese are not proud of.
Prostitution exists in this town in many forms and colours. There are now the massage parlours that give customers a different kind of service. These parlours have become the favourite haunts for local travellers and men from across the border.
Recently, as media started reporting on such issues, licence of one of the massage parlours was cancelled. Beauty parlours that operated as massage centres are trying to obtain fulltime spa licence.
Deki Line, the famous corner in Phuentsholing, is known as a place where prostitution is rampant. There have been many raids over the years, but the business continues in various forms. Here, there is a restaurant in particular that is actually into other business entirely, of attracting male customers.
“I went there with a friend sometime ago,” a Phuentsholing resident said. He was shocked and embarrassed to find that they were surrounded by a group of women who asked them how much they were willing to pay for their services. “They drank our wine and started flirting.”
After about an hour in the restaurant, Rajiv and Vishal decided to visit one of the karaoke bars in the town. They aren’t going back to Jaigaon tonight. Booking has been made in one of the hotels.
By Rajesh Rai, Phuentsholing