Location in Bhutan
|Gewogs||Phuentsholing, Sampheling Gewogs|
|Elevation||961 ft (293 m)|
|Time zone||BTT (UTC+6)|
Phuentsholing is a border town in southern Bhutan, and is the administrative seat (dzongkhag thromde) of Chukha District. The town occupies parts of both Phuentsholing Gewog and Sampheling Gewog. Phuentsholing lies opposite the Indian town of Jaigaon, and cross-border trade has resulted in a thriving local economy. For example, the town serves as headquarters for the Bank of Bhutan.
In 2005, Phuentsholing had a population of 20,537.
Approachable only by road, the city is connected to major Indian Railways node, NJP (New Jalpaiguri) being the biggest and major junction. Apart from that, there are also stations at HSA (Hasimara) and NOQ (New Alipurduar)Jn, the former being the most nearest railway station (only 18km from Phuntsholing). From the northern towns of West Bengal, one has to take a bus from any of the local bus terminals to Phuentsholing. Buses are run both by travel Indian and Bhutanese government operators. Once at Phuntsholing, the Lateral Road gives travelers access to the rest of Bhutan.
There is a stark contrast in the culture across the border, which is separated by a long wall with a single Bhutanese gate. Locals can sometimes even cross without being asked for papers, but visitors without an Indian passport will need a visa presented by a hired registered tour guide; even one's Indian Voter ID card will suffice within the town of Phuntsholing, but beyond that one needs the above mentioned documents. The gate is manned by Bhutanese Army guards. The terrain inclines soon after the gate.
The border clearly separates two very different peoples and cultures. Jaigaon is bustling and loud, similar to many other West Bengal centers of commerce, albeit with many conspicuous Bhutanese shoppers. Phuntsholing is uniquely more urban than other Bhutanese towns, having absorbed the neighboring culture, but distinctly far more quiet and orderly than its neighbor. Simply looking at a satellite photo, Jaigaon is packed with small buildings whereas Phuntsholing is dominated by larger edifices placed in rows. Phuntsholing also hosts Bhutan's housing projects for Bhutanese refugees.
As the majority of goods traded go into Bhutan, and as it hosts the most accessible Indian marketplace to Bhutan, Jaigaon is much larger and receives far more visitors.
Road to Thimphu
From almost anywhere in the city, one can see the road to Thimphu snaking up the hillside, and in the evening it is easy to see the headlights of distant vehicles heading towards the capital. Opposite the big ground PSA is the road that connects rest of cities of Bhutan.
On April 5, 1964, reformist Prime Minister Jigme Dorji was assassinated in Phuntsholing by monarchist cadres as the king lay ill in Switzerland. The Dorji family was subsequently put under close watch.
- 'Himalayas' Sentry', Travelogue in The Indian Express, 21-09-08, by Arjun Razdan