Who wouldn’t be charmed by an idea of a small Buddhist Kingdom sitting high in the Himalayas whose core philosophy is Gross National Happiness! In 2016, I planned my trip to the “Last Shangri-la”. And here’s how I went about it…
HOW DID I PLAN THE ENTIRE TRAVEL?
I planned the entire trip, myself with a lot of help from other travel blogs. So, my attempt here is to provide you one stop solution for any information related to Bhutan.
HOW DID I TRAVEL FROM INDIA TO BHUTAN?
The most popular way to reach Bhutan, is to take a direct flight to Paro(The capital town of Bhutan) from Kolkata or New Delhi.
If you are looking for a cheaper way to travel, just like we did, you should read the below:
- Take a direct flight to Kolkatta.
- Book the Kanchankanya express from Kolkata to Hasimara. Hasimara is the nearest station to reach Bhutan from the Indian side.
- Hasimara to Jaigaon by rickshaw. Jaigaon is the last border town on the India side. They charge 50 per head in a sharing rickshaw or you could take a private one for 200 INR, both options he would drop you till the border gate.
- Jaigaon to Phuentsoling is walkable in distance. Phuentsoling, which is the border side of Bhutan, takes about 2 mins to cross and walk over to the border.
Voila! Welcome to the “Last Shangrila”. I know! Quite a journey! Another option is, you could also take a flight to Bagdogra and hire a taxi to reach Bhutan or take a local bus from Bagdogra to Bhutan
Know the season
- March- May & September- Novemeber are the best months and specially if you are looking forward for some trekking
- July – August is Monsoon season in Bhutan.
- Dec – Feb are relatively less crowded. The maximum temperature during this time is 9 degrees Celsius and the minimum temperature drops down to -10 degrees Celsius.
The peak tourist seasons are March – May and September – November. If you’re considering visiting during these months, it’s best to plan your travel much in advance.
Time your arrival during a festival, There are numerous festivals occurring throughout the year in Bhutan. These festivals are vibrant with colourful dances in elaborate costumes, mask dance performance amongst others. We perfectly timed our visit to witness the great annual Paro festival “Tsechu”, which happens in March/April
HOW TO GET ENTRY PERMIT/PASS FOR BHUTAN?
Two common ways to get inside Bhutan.
1. Enter via Phuentsholing
2. Fly to Paro
Indians don’t need a Visa for entering Bhutan. Bhutan Entry Permit/Pass, can be obtained at any of the entry points from where you are entering Bhutan. Upon entering Bhutan through the Phuentsholing entry point, you will find the immigration office immediately on your right ( landmark: Next to petrol pump). You would require a couple of passport size photographs and a photocopy of your voter’s card or passport.
The immigration office is closed on Saturday & Sunday. Unfortunately, we reached Phuentsoling on Sunday and ended up wasting a day. The immigration office is seriously messed up and not at all organised, which even more delayed our permit. Since we reached on a Monday, all those people who were stranded in Phuentsoling because of no permit issuance on the weekend, added to the mad uncivilised rush.
The permit is valid for 7 days only in Thimpu and Paro. To stay more or visit other restricted places, you will need to renew your permit in Thimpu.
Bhutan is well connected by roads and it is best to hire a taxi. Try to ask for some discount as the initial price they quote is exorbitant. I’m sharing below some references if taxi drivers you could pre book. The below quotes rates are from 2016.
- Dophu: We hired this driver for our travel. Charged us 11500 rs for 5 days
- Rajesh Pradhan : Initial prices quoted 15000. Last Price 12000Contact Details: 9775297976
- Sukumar BarmanContact Details: India – 9733178126 ; Bhutan: 0097577316671
- Kelden : Contact Details : 00975-77777447
DETAILED ITINERARY BELOW:
DAY 1 :
Day 1 was all about getting to the destination. Took a flight to Kolkatta and reached by 3 pm. We booked Kanchankanya Express from Kolkatta to Hasimara. Our train was scheduled to depart at 8.30 pm. Considering we had a good amount of time, we decided to take a stroll at Kolkatta’s famous Park Street. We boarded the train and off we were on an adventure 🙂
Our train was scheduled to reach Hasimara by 10.30 am. So, according to the plan, we should have reached Bhutan by 11.30 am. But!But!But! The great Kanchankanya express was delayed by 5 damn hours. And we reached at 3.30 in the afternoon.
Upon reaching Hasimara, you will find rickshaws which will charge you 50 bucks per head, on a share basis. They will drop you till the the border gate. All you will have to do is walk to the Phuentsoling side of Bhutan.
Since we reached on a Sunday evening, there was nothing much to do. We stayed in Hotel Peljoring right opposite the Bhutan border gate. For dinner, we just walked to the Jaigaon (Indian side) and had dinner at Royal Annapurrna. Post dinner, we walked upto the Taxi Stand and hired a cab for 5 days. Since, we were just 2 people, we hired a Wagon R for the cost of 11500 for 5 days.
Things you could do in Phuentsoling – We decided to skip all of the below, since we were on serious time crunch.
- Amo Chuu : The Crocodile Breeding Centre on the banks of the river behind the bus station. The crocodiles are bred in order to be released in a nature reserve
- Karbandi Monaster
- Zangto Pelri Lhakhan
- Dhoti Chhu river
The plan was to cover Paro, Thimpu and Punakha, in order. But rarely things go as per the plan. For eg: We had planned to reach Paro by noon, see a couple of places and do Tiger’s nest the next day. But, the immigration formalities took longer than expected, we ended up reaching Paro by evening, leaving us just 1 day to cover Paro including the tiring hike to Tiger’s nest. First because we landed on a weekend and wasting a day for the permit, second the never ending wait for the permit. Sigh!
Okay! Coming to actually how day 3 went was as follows. We reached the immigration office at sharp 8.30 am, but there were already a so many people waiting before us. But, that didn’t really make a difference because as soon as they opened the shutter at 9 am, everyone just rushed in. It’s a huge mess inside, completely unorganised, people are clueless what’s the procedure and just chaos. The permit would have taken just an hour, if not for the uncivilized mad rush, it took us almost 4 hours. By the time, we got the permit it was 12.30 pm.\
Without wasting much time, we immediately called our driver and headed straight for Paro. The drive from Phuetsoling to Paro is beyond beautiful. As we moved further away from the border, the landscape became divine and air deeply serene. On the drive, the river flowed gently by the road overlooking rugged mountains. You will encounter small waterfalls and fresh streams of water on the way.
We reached Paro by evening 5.30 pm, freshened up and headed straight to the local market to explore the place. It is adorned with pretty shops and a good place to pick up some good Bhutanese souvenirs.
DAY 4 : PARO
Taktshang Monastery/Tiger’s Nest : The most photographed place in Bhutan. It clings to a cliff which is 3120 meters above the sea level. Legends says that Guru Rinpoche, father of Bhutanese Buddhism arrived here million years ago on the back of a tigress and meditated at this place
We started our day with the hike towards Taktshang Monastery. Started at 9am and reached by 1pm. There is a cafeteria mid way where you can rest, eat, drink and ofcourse take pictures. If you are on a serious time crunch, you can hire a horse which will take you half way almost near to the cafeteria. The cost for hiring the horse is at fixed price of 650 INR.
The hike is almost 8 kms both ways, quite manageable upto the Takshang Monastery “view point”. But, in case you decide to go inside the monastery, you might have to get down 1000 steps, which is pretty much easy. But climbing back, you can imagine!
Drukgyel Dzong : This is the oldest Dzong is Paro.
Kyichu Lhakhang : You might come across many Lhakhangs and Dzongs. Our driver explained in simple language that Lhakhang is a mini version of Dzong (monastery). The Dzong also serve as administration offices in Bhutan. Kyichu Lhakhang is one of the oldest monasteries in Paro district. There’s a belief that the two orange trees here in Kyichu Lakhang bears fruit throughout the year.
National Museum: The National museum of Bhutan is housed in Paro. It is among the few educational institutions that interpret the history and culture of Bhutan through its exhibits, conducting symposiums, publication of research findings and conservation of artifacts. Due to shortage of time, we decided to skip this.
Paro Rinpung Dzong : This is a must visit during your travel to Bhutan. The magnificent Paro Dzong overlooks the Paro river from its hilltop site. Ringpung Dzong means “Fortress on a Heap of Jewels” mainly because it was used on numerous occasions to defend Paro from the invasions of Tibet. This is quite a huge dzong as it houses both the monastery and the administrative offices of Paro.
Paro Tsechu Festival : Paro Dzong also houses “Paro Tsechu” the annual paro festival during the month of March/April. So, when we reached there, the area was swarming in vibrant colours and happy people. Unfortunately, we got a bit delayed after an exhilarating hike to tiger’s nest that we missed witnessing the mask dance performance. But, we did manage to see some other traditional dance performances.
Haa Valley: If time permits, please do visit Haa valley. You need a separate permit to visit Haa Valley. Incase, you are keen on visiting Haa, I would suggest please start your travel from Thimpu, where you can get special permit for both Punakha and Haa valley. This way, you can cover Thimpu, Punakha, Paro and Haa, in order.
Cheila La pass : On the way to Haa valley, you will pass Cheli La, which is one of the highest mountain pass in Bhutan.
DAY 5: THIMPU
There aren’t a lot of places to cover in Thimpu. You will be able to cover all the places in 1 day itself.
Incase you plan to go to Punakha or any other places in Bhutan, please apply for a permit in Thimpu. It shouldn’t take more than 30 mins for you to get a permit.
Places to see in Thimpu:
Tashicho Dzong/Thimpu Dzong : Known as “fortress of the glorious religion”. The Dzong is close to thimpu town, next to the banks of Wangchhu river.It is open from 5 AM – 6 PM (Mon-Fri), and 8 AM – 6 PM (Sat and Sun). It is the seat of Bhutan’s government and where you’ll find offices of the King.
Buddha Point: is a gigantic Shakyamuni Buddha statue constructed in the mountains of Bhutan and is one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. One can get a good view of the entire Thimpu city from the Buddha point.
Motithang Takin Preserve: Takin is the national animal of Bhutan, whose unique appearance attracts attention due to their unusual appearance. Takin are found in the Himalayan ranges and Western China.
Memorial Chorten: Soak in a bit of the local spiritual atmosphere at the National Memorial Chorten. located close to the center of Thimphu city.
Textile Museum: One will get to know the national art of weaving. Exhibitions introduce the major weaving techniques, styles of local dress and textiles made by women and men. But extremely expensive to buy from here. Skip this, if you are short of time.
Craft Bazar/ Handicraft Emporium: It is an extremely long row of shops made of bamboo and other eco-friendly material. Observe a wide assortment of colorful, hand woven textiles and other craft products, available for purchase at the government-run Handicrafts Emporium.
Folk Heritage Museum Restaurant : Head here for an authentic Bhutanese cuisine.
If you happen to be in Thimphu during the weekend, a stop at the colorful Centenary Farmers’ Market is a must. This is the largest domestic market in Bhutan, attracting farmers from faraway towns who sell their agricultural produce here. For artists and photographers, this is a great place to capture uninhibited scenes of local life.
DAY 6 : PUNAKHA
Punakha was Bhutan’s ancient capital. Unlike other places in Bhutan, Punakha experiences warn and temperate climate. As mentioned above, you need to renew your permit in Thimpu to visit Punakha and other places in Bhutan.
We left early in the morning from Thimpu and headed towards Punakha. Even though the distance is just 75 kms, it takes almost 3 hours, as the roads are in a bad condition which is mainly because of the many landslides. Sometimes, many vehicles get stuck for 7-9 hours due to the landslides. We were lucky to have encountered none.
Dochula View Point : One the way from Thimpu to Punakha you’ll pass through the Dochula view point. This is one of the most beautiful places in Bhutan, it houses 108 Chortens or Stupas. The view of the snowcapped peaks of Himalayas will take your breath away. We couldn’t stop clicking pictures despite the bone chilling cold at this place
Spectacular views of the Eastern Himalayas, with seven mountain peaks including Gangkar Punsum (7,570 m), Bhutan’s highest.
Rinchenling Cafe, Punakha : There are not many restaurants on the way from Thimpu to Punakha. But, we found a very nice cafe when we almost reached Punakha. The view from this cafe is quite beautiful, plus you can take a stroll across the shops which sell some good stuff. Please do bargain here as they quote high prices.
Chimi Lakhang: Known as the fertility temple. The hike up to the temple should be an easy 20 to 30 minutes walk as the trail cuts through a flat paddy field and gentle slope. According to legend, the story of “Divine Madmen” is such that, he wielded his penis ‘like a weapon’ and ‘converted’ an evil woman to Buddhism (an effigy of them both appears in the temple). Ever since, the phallus symbol has been used around Punakha as a protection symbol.
In my short trip, I learned how intrinsic faith is to the Bhutanese people. You will often find them turning the prayer wheels. It’s a habit that connects them each day to their spiritual roots
Known as “The Palace of Great Happiness or Bliss”. It is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Bhutan. On the way to Punakha Dzong, one can see the confluence of two rivers: Pho Chhu ( male river) and Mo Chhu ( female river). After the confluence of these rivers, the main river is known as Sankosh river which eventually crosses the Indo-Bhutan border and joins Brahmaputra river in the state of Assam, India.
We returned back to Thimpu to stay for the night. Next day, we packed our bags, left a piece of our heart in Bhutan and headed back to India.
- Most hotels have WiFi, but if you need more connectivity you can get a local SIM card from Tashi Cell or B-Mobile and top up with prepaid cards.
- The local currency is the Ngultrum ( Nu) is pegged to the Indian Rupee.
- Tuesdays are considered national dry days with no sale of alcohol
- Ema Datsi: A dish made of fresh yak cheese and chillies, is found in most restaurants. This delicacy is the national dish of Bhutan.
- Phaksha Paa: Chilies are an essential part of the Bhutanese cuisine. Phaksha Paa is a pork dish cooked with spicy red chillis with radishes or spinach. If you are a pork eater, then this is a must for you!
- Suja/Butter tea : This is the national beverage of Bhutan. It is prepared from Yak’s milk and butter to keep themselves warm. If you ask me, I didn’t like it much. It is an acquired taste, since it is salty and buttery rather than sweet. But I would urge you all to try it,
We didn’t pre book any hotels. This turned out to be in our advantage as we could ask for more discount plus we didn’t have to pay the Bhutan service tax, which we would have had to pay if we had pre-booked.
- Hotel Sinchula – 10 mins from the immigration office
- Hotel Druk – This is right behind the immigration office.
- Hotel Peljoring – Right opposite the Indo-Bhutan border gate. The immigration office is 5 mins walkable from this hotel.
- Mid-point Hotel
Paro : We stayed at Hotel Samden Norzim at a cost of 1000rs. We loved our stay here and totally recommend our fellow travellers.
Other options include
|Budget stays||Mid to High Range|
|Hotel Jigmeling||Naksel Hotel and Spa|
|Hotel Tandin||Zhiwa Ling Hotel|
|Sonam Trophel Hotel||Hotel Phunsum|
|Hotel Samden Norzin||Olathang Hotel|
|Hotel Valley view||Tenzinling Hotel|
|Budget stays||Mid to High Range|
|Norzin Lam||Khang Residence|
|Kisa Hotel||Taj Tashi Thimpu|
|Hotel Tandin||Terma Linca Resort|
Update: Total cost
The cost for the entire trip all inclusive came upto 25000 per person.
If you are planning to travel to Bhutan and if you have any specific question leave a comment below.