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The Shangrila in Lhuentse

If you do not have any relatives or friends in Lhuentse you might have to stay in Shangrila, the only hotel in Lhuentse town with lodging.

Laya Gasa
The hotel's signboard announces its quiet and basic hospitality on the roadside although the inn itself lies on the ground floor of a double-story mud-and-stone structure. Down a fleet of stone steps and through a closed door is Shangrila. An elderly woman stands behind the counter. At one corner a group of Indian workers watch a Bollywood movie on TV. Shangrila, is a one-stop hotel. It has a bar, a telephone booth, a bakery, and a snooker room.

The elderly woman behind the counter, Karma Choden, 40, prefers to answer strangers in monosyllables, and wherever convenient just nod.

The toilet is outdoors and stands on the edge of a sheer cliff. Three walls are of matted bamboo with gaping holes.

On the door hangs a wooden plaque. "WAIT" is written on one side and "OPEN" on the other.

Second helpings are restricted to rice only.

Karma Choden hands you the room keys at 10:30 pm without a word. The key ring is marked three but the lock does not open; the key and the lock are of different brands. It opens room number four.

A single bare bulb lights the room of cardboard walls with a permanent window cut out on side. The breathing and shuffling of the next room neighbour filters in through the window.

"My five rooms always have guests," says Karma Choden the next morning. Her husband works in the bakery, she minds the hotel, bar, and telephone booth, and children take care of the snooker room after school.

"There is no one to look after the general shop we have upstairs," Karma Choden says. "And days are always busy for us."

What is most striking about Hotel Shangrila is the range of drinks available at the bar; 10 different brands of beer, three brands of whiskey, Indian wine (including some with such bizarre names as Marquise de Pompadour), Spy wine, four brands of Bacardi Breezer, and variety of wine Wild Sinn coolers from chateau Indage.

"The best seller is the 10,000 beer," says Karma Choden, adding that all varieties had their faithful customers.

Contributed by Gopilal Acharya, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper 2006

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