Bhutan, officially known as the Kingdom of Bhutan, is a landlocked country bordering the Tibetan Autonomous region of China in the North, the Indian States of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and West Bengal in the West. The country’s geography ranges from plains to the alpine Himalayan Mountains. Bhutan is known for their measurement of GNH that stands for the Global National Happiness which measures the collective happiness and well-being.
Bhutan was an absolute monarchy which was later transformed to a constitutional monarchy. The present king of the Kingdom of Bhutan successfully established the office of the Prime Minister, after going against the wishes of the people.
Bhutan has fostered a strategic partnership with India, during the rise of Chinese communism and maintains a close partnership with the Indian Government, which allows Indian citizens to travel freely, with a passport or a voter-id card. The visa on-arrival improves the momentum of tourists from India. If you do not own a passport, your voter id will gain you entry in to the country, after obtaining a stamped entry letter from the immigration office.
The only means of travel within the country is by road and it is best to hire a local cab/travel agent for the entire trip, as it eliminates the trouble of finding rides every day.
Bhutan experiences a pleasant climate with cool winds and breezes. There was never a need for us to switch on our Air Conditioners in the car, during our travel.
We reached Bagdogra airport and left for Jaigaon (the Indian town bordering Bhutan), in a car we had booked. It is almost a 5 hour drive, without breaks. Once you’re in Jaigaon, you can cross the border and enter Phuentsholing (the Bhutanese town bordering India). The entrance has a giant gate which looks spectacular on a clear sunny day or at night.
As we entered, we could see the Immigration Office towards the right, next to a petrol pump. The immigration employees are usually very active and process the applications without much delay. However, the day we arrived in Phuentsholing, there was power cut which delayed all the process as biometric systems weren’t working. Meanwhile, we did our lunch at a hotel Kuenga. The food was great and the place is amazing. Later, the officials decided to process our visa without biometric, as the number of tourists were piling by the hour, and we resumed our journey to the Land of the Thunder Dragon by 6 PM.
We had booked a tourist vehicle for the entire 6 days. After a drive of around 5 hours, we reached Timphu at around 11 PM and checked into our hotel rooms, to slowly drift away into a sound sleep.
The next morning we visited the Great Buddha Dordenma statute in the mountains of the capital city. The statue is made of bronze and gold and it houses more than 100,000 smaller statues of the Buddha and a temple. The view of the statue is outrageously breath-taking and the place gives an unbelievably picturesque view of the town.
The next stop was the Thimphu Chorten, also known as the Memorial Stupa. The Stupa is one of the most visible religious landmark in the country. Unlike a regular Stupa which enshrines the remains of Buddhist monks or nuns, this structure was built to represent the mind of the Buddha.
Post the two visits, we decided to have lunch. We had researched about the town a little and found that Ambient Café was a prominent location for tourists as it offers incredibly mouth-watering cuisine. It is a cosy place to chill, with good coffee, amazing desserts and a great Wi-Fi.
The place is a quaint little town with a lot of places to explore. There are a number of cafes and restaurants to relax. Ambient café, Busy Bean, Coffee Culture, Cloud 9, the Zone etc.
We drove around the town a bit and went to Simply Bhutan - a living museum that aims to conserve the local culture and also generate employment opportunities for the youth. It is a one of a kind museum that showcases their traditional architecture (which remains the same throughout the country, irrespective of the structure), folk music and dance, local wine making, and their national sport of archery. The museum has a small handicraft market, and also showcases live Foot Craft.
Later that afternoon, we visited the Motithang Takin Preserve, which is a wildlife reserve area for the national animal of Bhutan – the Takin. It has been said that when the animals were set free, they refrained from inhabiting any other place and that is the reason the reserve was constructed in the location that it is. The reserve, like almost all of the tourist attractions in the country, close by 17:00.
Our next stop was a few kilometres above the mountain on which the Takin Reserve is located. It is known as the BBS tower. Although, photography of the installation is prohibited, the road and the valley offers amazing views. The destination is known amongst the youth of Thimphu as the Lover’s lane (or so I was told) and it offers a picturesque view of the Thimphu Valley. The view of the town from the top is breath-taking.
The next stop was the King’s Palace. Although tourists aren’t allowed a close view of the Palace, stopping along the roadside will give you an amazing aerial view of the Palace. One section of the palace houses the king and his family while the rest is converted into offices.
We later visited the handicraft market, for some shopping. The market is aligned nicely along the road that hosts the SAARC Development Fund and Hotel Taj Tashi.
Later, we ended up dining in a small café named Zoombala, frequented by locals and tourists alike. Since the place was only a few minutes from our hotel, it was a place of preference. The food was amazing and the serving time is very less. The staff is very friendly too.
Overall, the day was a great one, with picturesque views, good food, and an amazing climate. The roads are very good throughout the country with apologetic boards placed along the road sections that are damaged. The traffic rules gives precedence to the pedestrians and all the vehicles stop to allow pedestrians to cross the road, provided they do it along the zebra crossing.
We left for Punakha and along our way, halted at the Dochula pass, which is a mountain pass that houses 108 Stupas. On a bright sunny day, the pass allows an uninterrupted view of the Himalayan range. The café located at the pass bakes some of the best cookies and snacks. We reached Punakha and strolled down the nearby town of Wagdue.
Punakha was the former capital of Bhutan. It is a quaint little town with again, picturesque landscapes and scenic views. The day was an exciting one as we began our first spot at Punakha Dzong, which is the one of the most majestic structures in the country. The second oldest structure of the country looks spectacular from across the river, while you approach the administrative centre. The Dzong is the place where the Kings get crowned and married. Naturally, the place holds a special place in the hearts of the natives. The high mountains and deep valleys lends the architectural space for Suspension bridges. The Punakha suspension bridge is the 520-foot long bridge, linking Punakha Dzong to Shengana, Samdingkha, and Wangkha villages across the Tsang Chu River (aka Po Chu). This is one of the longest suspension bridges in Bhutan and is adorned with colourful prayer flags.
Chimi Lhakhang, known to the English speaking world as The Fertility Temple, is a Buddhist monastery, in the Punakha District of Bhutan, idyllically placed on a rotund hill. The place is frequented by couples longing for children and there are various examples of how visiting this place has gifted couples with children.
We took part in white river rafting along the river Po chu and it was splendid. The stones situated at the bottom of the river, they say, has medicinal properties and are rich in minerals. We ended our day with the local peach wine.
Paro is a scenic valley town, located around 90 minutes from Thimphu. This mesmerising town is the only one which has an international airport in the country. It is known for many of the sacred sites and houses the Tiger’s Nest – the famous cliff-side monastery.
We reached Paro in the evening and rested for a while. Later that evening, we strolled through the by-lanes of the town. The walk was all we needed to replenish our energies. We marvelled at the scenic view of well-lit streets with minimal traffic, perfectly aligned shops and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. We had our dinner at Mountain café. The food here is amazing and delicious. Later, we decided to stroll a little more and found a place called Park 76. This is probably the most happening place in town. The karaoke here attracts good crowd. While we were in Paro , we ended up visiting this place on all evenings. Since alcohol is unbelievably cheap in the country, drinking at bars didn’t seem that expensive too
The next morning, we began our hike towards Paro Taktsang, also known as the Tiger’s Nest. It took us around 3 hours to reach to the top and approximately 90 minutes to reach the approximate mid-point of the hike, which houses a cafeteria. Although the place is expensive (obviously as it is located such a height), it serves as a good place to rest along the way. It is better to eat a buffet lunch here (Rice, Scrambled egg, Mashed Potatoes and liquid dal)) on your way down.
Our trekking experience was amazing as we met a bunch of interesting people along our way. The view from the viewing point was nothing short of spectacular. All we could see were green mountains around us. The sort of greenery I never witnessed in my life. It truly was an amazing experience.
Once we returned, we took Hot Stone Baths, which is quite famous in the region. The locals believe that the river-bed stones have essential minerals. So, they heat the stones and put it in a wooden bath tubs filled with cold water. Chilling in the water for about an hour takes all the exhaustion away is what the locals believe. And we had the same experience.
Next day was when we returned to India. We spent the first half of the day exploring the markets, taking in the vibe for one last time, and left with a heavy heart;to the land of reality.
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