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A Travel Tale from Bhutan

  1. Pitstop at a highway bar in Bhutan for a cup of coffee. We are travelling to central Bhutan and the area is called Trongsa.

The bar is a tiny, one room place inside the home of a family. A few tables and benches. A shelf with goodies — packets of chips, Maggi noodles, toothpaste and even combs — that I assume nearby villagers will buy.

We enter and see a gran’ma helping out with a little kid playing in the room. We order our black coffee and sit on one of the benches. I see that the gran’ma also helps the man, the owner, stack things onto the shelf.

My eyes follow her because she’s very frail, her wrinkled face belying the strength she has, as she lifts cartons of goodies, to line them on the shelf. We are also the only people inside the bar, apart from the owner, his daughter and this lady.

After a bit, she is served an EXTRA LARGE peg of a local alcoholic drink called Sonfy. It’s made of aniseed (saunf) and smells divine though it tastes just like any distilled alcohol — a little sweet and very strong.

She gulps it down.


Then she pours a little water in the glass to polish off the last remains of the green drink.

Wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. And settles down in a corner of the room, to snooze.

In a few minutes, I can hear her snoring, as we pay the owner for the coffee. My companion asks him who she is and he says, “An aunt.”

In Bhutan, it is quite common for relatives to stay with each other and help out with household chores, or in this case, with the bar, for nothing in return but a roof and food.

And in her case, a large peg of Sonfy, to keep her warm, in the middle of this cold November day.

(Sometimes, an aunt like her, is a widow whose children have disowned her and sometimes, she’s just passing through the town, staying here temporarily, until she finds transport to go to her scheduled destination. So many human stories scattered along the highway. This is why I love roadtrips.)

Photo — A grandmother in her 90s I met on a Bhutan trip, who visited the nearby monastery every day, because it was better than being home, as she was too old to work.

Ritu Goyal Feb 12, 2022