Travel to Guwahati almost came to a standstill in the late 90s and early 2000 because of the tense security situation. Even today the direct bus service to Guwahati from Samdrup Jongkhar has not been revived and people do not take their own cars to the city.
Bhutanese are once again increasingly visiting the city that lies on the
banks of Bhramaputra river and is the gateway to India's northeastern states
where a number of Bhutanese students pursue college education.
After almost three hours drive through heavy traffic and a bumpy road the jeep crosses the picturesque Bhramaputra bridge to enter the bustling city of Guwahati.
Choden and her partner step out into a crowded street and enter a departmental
store where they are greeted by a face behind the counter.
As a strategy to improve business Norbu Wangdi said that proposals were being drafted to make the town a tax free zone to lift it out of difficult times.
In another corner of the departmental store, Pem, a corporate employee and her two children are busy gulping chilled lassi (sweetened curd). They are on a holiday and have come all the way from Trashigang.
frequent the shopping areas like Pan bazaar and Fancy bazaar and Down Town
Kumar Nursery, and GNR hospitals for check up and treatment. Those on a
holiday also visit the aquarium, the zoo, and temples like Kingaphodrang.
According to Kezang Norbu, the proprietor of a wood based industry and furniture house in Samdrup Jongkhar, Guwahati had grown ten folds ever since his first visit in early eighties. "We used to take our family for shopping and medical check up. But things have changed over the years and we do not feel very safe to take the family there now," said Kezang.
Parshoram, a gup from Dalim in Samdrupcholing, said that many villagers also preferred to buy farm machinery spares from Guwahati. "It is cheaper than the ones sold by the government and there are no lengthy procedures involved," he said.
Jambay, 25, another shopkeeper in Samdrup Jongkhar, said that prices of goods were slightly higher in Guwahati than other places like Siliguri and Kolkata. "But we prefer to go there because it is nearer," she said.
She added that during the height of the security problem when travel to Guwahati was risky they made deals over the phone and received goods from suppliers on time.
While most of the shoppers were from northeast India, shopkeepers in Guwahati Kuensel spoke to say that Bhutanese customers contributed a lot to their business. "We have both the wholesale and retail buyers coming from Bhutan," said Sunil of Oswal store, which supplied handbags. "And they are very friendly customers."
However, Bhutanese frequenting the city say that things would be more convenient if they were allowed to use their personal cars. "Otherwise it calls for extra expenditure," said Sonam, a mother of three.
Done with their shopping Sonam Choden and her niece head back to Samdrup Jongkhar, their cheeks flushed red because of the heat. "If only we could get rid of the dust and the bad traffic it would be so much more fun," she said.