Have you experienced the thrill of shuttling back and forth between India and a foreign land on your own free will? And that too, without a passport or a visa and without being checked by Policemen or the Army?
Yes , it is possible and the answer lies at the strip of land that separates the village of Jaigaon in India from the town of Phuentsholing in Bhutan. I crossed this border on-foot in April 2016 and was amazed by the similarities and disparities that I got to witness in two towns, separated by a few metres. This arch is the main gate for the entry of tourist into Bhutan..and it looks quite a contrast to Wagah Border which many would have seen/visited.
While Phuentsholing is a quiet, sparkling clean and sparsely populated town, its next door neighboring Indian town of Jaigaon (in the state of West Bengal) is, sadly, not-so-clean, noisy and crowded.
There are also a few advantages Indians have, because of the free-non-visa access they have within 5kms of Phuentsholing. First and foremost being that since Petrol/fuel is cheaper in Bhutan, most Indian vehicles (especially commercial Taxis) cross the Border gate to get a tank refill, and that too by paying in Indian currency i.e. Rupees.
For Bhutanese people and other travelers staying overnight at Bhutan, Jaigaon offers an advantage too – one being that, since shops in Bhutan, including Restaurants and Grocery stores shut shop by 9pm, the hungry souls from that side can easily walk over to India for filling in their tummies.
For, a filled up stomach and the resulting good night’s sleep, is so crucial for the traveler planning to go further into Bhutan; because the following morning, most of them have to bravely deal with the chaos and queues to get one’s travel permits at the Phuentsholing permit counter.