If Bhutan has been unchecked on your travel bucket list, then we've got good news for you. And if you love train journeys, that is even better, as the Indian government has allocated INR 120 billion to facilitate the expansion of railway infrastructure that connects Kokrajhar in Assam to Gelephu in Sarpang, Bhutan.
The 57.5 km railway line is only the beginning and paves the way for establishing links with Bhutan's southern and eastern regions as well, such as towns like Samtse, Nganglam, and Samdrupjongkhar.
While tourism will benefit greatly from this development, which is projected to be complete by 2026, it will also facilitate the export of goods as the two countries share a 605 km long border, with Bhutan being India's largest trading partner.
In addition, in a press meet last month, S Jaishankar, India's External Affairs Minister, informed that Bhutan is open to more avenues for strengthening tourism, which will also positively impact Assam.
While the project will take a couple of years to be completed, it has been in the making since 2005, when India and Bhutan signed a Memorandum of Understanding, emphasising their aspiration to enable an extensive railway network between the two countries. It was further solidified when the Bhutanese Prime Minister visited India for the first time in 2018. However, the initial plan was devised to forge a link between Phuentsholing in Bhutan and Hashimara in West Bengal.
In addition to this, Jaishankar also highlighted other border projects in the pipeline that seek to boost the link between India and Bangladesh. However, unlike the railway link to Bhutan, the project with Bangladesh includes the introduction of buses and the operationalisation of the Chattogram and Mongla ports in Bangladesh. Last month, Bhutan also decided to reduce the daily tourist fee from USD 200 (INR 16,509) to USD 100 (INR 8,254) to boost tourism and attract more international tourists.
While Paro, Punakha and Thimphu are the most popular destinations in Bhutan, the kingdom is blessed with many other interesting towns, including Sarpang. The lesser-known town is located near three protected national parks—Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Royal Manas National Park, known for housing the rare Assam roofed turtle, and other animals such as hispid hare, pygmy hog, wild water buffalo.