Bhutan is a beautiful country in South Asia and is a kingdom of happiness where people follow Buddhism. The country is known for its monasteries, fortresses (or dzongs) and dramatic landscapes. These landscapes range from subtropical plains to steep mountains and valleys.
A great fact about Bhutan is that it is the only country in the world that's carbon negative. That means they remove more CO2 from the atmosphere than add to it. Because 60% of the country is covered in forest thus, Bhutan bleeds green.
There is something magical about this country that never lets you feel dull around. The simple yet astonishingly beautiful country manages to touch your soul in a way that you would want to live here forever. Bhutan has a population of 8,00,000 people only which is why the atmosphere here is different from all other countries.
Exploring Bhutan and its cities will be a memorable experience. If you are looking for a Bhutan Travel Guide 2020 or the best places to visit in Bhutan. Read this guide because it will help you to plan your trip without any confusion.
The foremost thing for all the tourists to know about the recent changes in the tourism of Bhutan.
Currently, Bhutan charges every foreign traveler $250 per day including $65 Sustainable development fee (SDF) and $40 visa charge. But 'Regional tourist' from India, Bangladesh and Maldives need not to pay any fee or visa charge.
Now, Bhutan has introduced SDF fee for the regional tourists from July 2020. Tourists from India, Bangladesh and Maldives will have to pay a ₹1,200/day fee for entering the country from July 2020.
What is easiest way to reach Bhutan from India?
Bhutan via Flight: The easiest way to reach Bhutan is to take a direct flight from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Gaya, Bagdogra, Guwahati to Paro. This is quite a convenient way of traveling. Paro is the only international airport in Bhutan. Also, note that Indian travelers can get a slight discount if they drop an email to Drukair airlines.
Bhutan via Railway: The cheapest way to reach Bhutan is to travel via Train. Traveling via trains though take longer but are cheaper compared to other commutes. Hasimara is the nearest Railway station to Jaigaon which is the Indo-Bhutan border. Travelers can book their journeys from Delhi, Kolkata, Ranchi, Guwahati, etc. Thus, book your tickets through the IRCTC website or app.
Bhutan via Road: The most typical way to reach Bhutan is via road from Jaigaon in West Bengal. Jaigaon is only 3 km away from Phuentsholing which is the Bhutan-Indo border. Taxi and Auto are available to reach the Bhutan border. Travelers can book a private taxi from Bagdogra airport to Phuentsholing that may cost them around Rs. 2-3000/-. A shared taxi is cheaper but its only good if you are traveling alone. Try bargaining with the cab drivers because they will always quote you a bigger amount.
Recommended: The best way to reach Bhutan will be by booking a direct flight from your destination. If you do not have direct flights from your city then book a flight to Bagdogra. After reaching Bagdogra take a taxi to Phuensholing. The traveling time will be approximately 4 to 5 hours.
When is the best time to visit Bhutan?
The ideal time to visit Bhutan will be from March to May when the valley is flooded with vibrant rhododendrons. The climate during these months is dry and pleasant. After Spring, Monsoon arrives from June to early's September with heavy rainfalls. September to November is also a good month to travel. Winters starts from late November and ends in February.
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How to get an entry permit in Bhutan?
All Indians should know that they do not require a visa to enter Bhutan. They need an entry permit to enter Bhutan. Travelers can get an entry permit by showing their Indian Passport or Voter Id card. They do not accept the Adhaar card or any other Id cards. Indian travelers can easily get an entry permit in advance through any travel agents ( which saves time) or by themselves at the Immigration office.
If you enter through Phuentsholing then you can get an entry permit from the Phuentsholing immigration office only for Thimphu and Paro. From the Thimphu immigration office, you can get permits for other cities. Remember that the Immigration Office is open on weekdays from 9 am to 5 pm and remains closed on weekends.
Documents required are:
1. An aptly filled form with all of your information
2. Original Indian Passport (at least 6 months validity) or Voter ID card
3. Passport size photograph
4. A roughly Itenary on an A4 sheet
5. Xerox of your advanced booked hotel in Thimphu or Paro with dates mentioned (mandatory)
6. An agreement letter ( in case you are traveling solo)
Important things to note:
1. The immigration office does not accept Adhaar card or any other Id card except passport and Voter Id card.
2. The office opens at 9 am. But the officer who signs the permit reaches only around 10 am. So, be there by 9:30 am or get in done in advance by any travel agent.
3. The entry permit is free and easy. However, if you are getting it done through an agent then you might have to pay him for his services.
4. In case you wish to travel to other tourist places like Punakha, Bumthang, Haa, etc, you will get the permit only in Thimphu.
5. Indian Currency is accepted in all parts of Bhutan. INR 1 = NG 1.
Recommendation: Get your permit through a travel agent to skip all these processes. Hence, save time and explore the beautiful country.
Skip the long waiting hours and get this all done without paying much. Looking for a travel agent? Call 0888 33 22 11 to get all the details about Bhutan.
What to wear or pack for Bhutan?
1. Since maximum tourist places are monasteries or fortresses, they request all the travelers to wear clothes that cover their bodies.
2. keep a shrug or a shawl when entering a place of worship
3. Pack light when going in summers or monsoon.
4. If you are planning to visit in Monsoon then carry an umbrella or a raincoat.
5. Comfortable flats and a pair of trekking shoes with socks are enough.
6. Keep a jacket because the evenings are usually cold.
7. Keep a sunscreen lotion to protect yourself from the sun.
8. Pack a decent swimwear if you want to take a Hot Spring bath.
9. Do not forget to keep a First Aid kit and a flashlight.
Top Festivals of Bhutan
The festivals of Bhutan are vibrant, colorful, and contented. To witness one of the Tschechu while you are vacationing will be the best thing to do in Bhutan.
These festivals are immensely significant and are believed that the citizens of Bhutan should at least once join these masked dances to wash away their sins. All possible Dzongs in the country carry out one Tschechu annually in respective chosen months. For your knowledge, Tschechu means the "10th day". Therefore, every festival is held on the 10th of every month to pay tribute to Guru Rimpoche.
Thimphu Tschechu and Paro Tschechu are massive and exhilarating to contemplate. Here are the top Festivals in Bhutan you should attend:
1. Thimphu Tschechu
2. Paro Tschechu
3. Mountain Echoes
4. Jambay Lhakhang Drup
5. Wangduephodrang Tshechu
6. Haa Summer Festival
7. The Punakha Tschechu and Drubchen
8. Black-Necked Crane Festival
What are the best places to visit in Bhutan?
Bhutan is incredibly beautiful. The vibes are so positive that you will be in a jolly mood always. There are so many places to visit in Bhutan that will make you fall in love with. On a tourist permit, you can visit the four major cities of Bhutan that are Phuentsholing, Thimphu, Punakha, and Paro. Let us discuss these four most popular places to visit in Bhutan.
The Phuentsholing city is the border town of Bhutan which is also one of the entry zones for Indians travelers to enter Bhutan. It is a glimpse of the country with a disciplined traffic system, clean society, small shops, great Cafes, and good smiling helpful people.
Best places to visit in Phuentsholing
The major tourist places to visit in Phuentsholing are Karbandi Monastery, Zangtho Pelri Lhakhang and Amo Chhu. Karbandi Monastery is regarded as the fertility temple where prayers for carrying a child are fulfilled believed by the locals. Zangtho Pelri is a Buddhist temple dedicated to Guru Rimpoche. Amo Chuu is a crocodile reproduction center.
There are many restaurants and clubs in town for entertainment. You may also go shopping since the town has some great foreign goods shops that offer cheaper price for clothing, show pieces, etc.
If you have entered from Phuentsholing then for visiting other cities like Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, etc will commence from here. 7-8 days is a good number of days to visit the country. You can visit Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, Bumthang, Haa, etc according to the number of days you plan to stay. Book a cab from Phuentsholing to Thimphu and so on.
Cab charges depend on the number of people traveling and the distance between the destinations. If you are a group of people then hire a private car. Solo travelers can travel in a shared cab that would be cheaper to travel. If you are good at bargaining give it a shot before fixing the amount. Note that the driver will be operating from 9 am to 5 pm, a new rule by their government to keep the health and happiness of their people. You can offer a small tip to the driver at the end of your trip.
Distance and Travel duration:
Phuentsholing to Thimphu - 155 km, 5 hours journey,
Phuentsholing to Paro - 150 km, 4.5 hours journey
Thimphu to Punakha - 93 km, 3 hours journey
Thimphu to Paro - 52 km, 1.5 hours journey
Punakha to Paro - 135 km, 4 hours journey
Thimphu is Bhutan's capital city with a panoramic city view. Surrounded by lush green majestic valleys, the city looks like it is hugged by nature. The capital has a major population of 1.5 lakh people. There are several places you can visit in Thimphu in 2 days.
Here is a list of places you should visit in Thimphu with their opening and closing timing.
1. Buddha Point - All days - 9 am to 5 pm - no entry fee
2. Memorial Chorten - All days - 9 am to 5 pm - 300 INR / person
3. Tashichho Dzong - All days - 9 am to 5 pm - 300 INR / person (photography not allowed inside the temple)
4. Simtokha Dzong - All days - 9 am to 5 pm - 300 INR / person (photography not allowed inside the temple)
5. National Library - Mon to Fri - 9 am to 5 pm - no entry fee
6. The Folk Heritage Museum - Mon to Fri - 9 am to 5 pm, Sat to Sun - 9 am to 1 pm - 30 INR / person
7. National Textile Museum - Mon to Fri - 9 am to 5 pm, Sat to Sun - 9 am to 3 pm - 250 INR / person
8. Craft Bazaar - Tue and Wed - 10 am to 6 pm
9. Weekend Market - Sat and Sun - 10 am to 7 pm
10. Motithang Takin Reserve - All days - 9 am to 5 pm - 30 INR / person
11. Handicraft shops - All days - 10 am to 8 pm
Where to eat in Thimphu?
Thimphu has many restaurants that provide Bhutanese, Indian, Chinese, and Italian cuisines. When in town do try eating in these places. Also, check out some of the cool clubs of Bhutan.
1. Seasons Restaurant ( recommended for vegetarians)
2. Spices Indian Restaurant ( recommended for vegetarians)
3. Zombala 2
4. Babesa village Restaurant
5. Ambient Cafe
6. Elsewhere Art & Cafe
7. Cloud9 Cafe & Bar
8. Mojo Park ( Live music Bar)
9. The Zone ( cafe & bar)
The national dish of Bhutan is Ema Datshi which means Chilli cheese. Try out the scrumptious local food of Bhutan. Their local drink or traditional alcohol is Ara made from fermented rice which is quite sour and might give you a head spin and spoil your taste bud.
"Suja" which means butter tea is the local tea of Bhutanese people. Momo's and thukpa are yummiest, do try out. Some of the liquor that is widely supped in Bhutan is Druk (beer), Red Panda (beer), K5 (whiskey), Grain Whiskey, Raven ( Vodka), Royal XXX Rum, Vintria (wine), and Peach Wine.
Some local food that you must try are:
1. Ema Datshi - Chilli cheese
2. Kewa Datshi - Potato cheese
3. Shamo Datshi - Mushroom cheese
4. Eu Cham - Red rice
5. Zow Shungo - veggie dish
6. Jasha Maru - Spicy chicken stew
7. Phaksha Paa - Pork with red chili
8. Jaju Soup - veg soup
9. Khuli - buckwheat pancake
10. Puta - buckwheat noodles
11. Momos and Thukpa
12. Suja - Butter tea
13. Ara - local / traditional drink
Do you know 80% of the Bhutanese population are vegetarians? Also, the country does not have a butcher shop, though they sell and eat meat which is exported from outside the country.
If you refer the map of Bhutan, Thimphu is nearer to Punakha than Paro so head to Punakha after Thimphu. There are many cabs available in Thimphu city that may charge upto 3000/- INR for a private cab. Buses are also available but they take too long and starts at an odd time. Solo travelers can travel in shared cabs that will cost them 650 INR only.
It's better to leave early in the morning for Punakha which takes approximately 3 hours to reach. On the exit point of Thimphu, you will have to show the permit for Punakha. After getting a seal you will head to the amazing destination Punakha.
The view while driving to Punakha will entice any photographer in the world to stop and click the panoramic views of mountain peaks. On the way to Punakha, you will cross Dhochula Pass which one of the major attractions of the country.
Magnificient Dochula Pass
Dochula Pass is a mountain pass in the snow-capped Himalayan mountains about 20 km from Thimphu. Spiritual Monuments of 108 memorial chortens or Stupas are built in the honor of the Bhutanese soldiers who lost their lives during a war.
The 108 stupas are usually surrounded by flags with written mantras for the wind to recite them all the time. Most importantly the climate is always cold and covered with fog. Therefore, do pay a visit if you are going to Punakha.
What to do in Punakha?
Earlier Punakha was the old capital of Bhutan till 1907. The beautiful valley popularly known for its Punakha Dzong or fortresses. The Dzong is situated at the confluence of lovely Rivers Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu. The incredible Punakha Dzong is historically important and is home to the holy relic, Ranjung Karsapani. The architecture of the fortress is definitely impressive and unique. It is the second oldest and the largest dzong in Bhutan.
People of Bhutan truly believe that visiting the Fertility temple in Punakha fulfills wishes of bearing a baby to the ones facing difficulties. To sum up, 2 days is enough to explore Punakha.
Gorgeous view of Punakha Dzong at night
White river rafting in the Mo Chhu or Pho Chhu river in Punakha is the most popular rafting course in Bhutan. They cover a distance of 12 km that goes about 30 to 40 mins with charges 10,000 INR per person. Though in India charges for rafting is 1000 to 4000 INR only. However, if you are a water baby then definitely try this out for an amazing experience.
Where to eat in Punakha?
There are some good places to hog in Punakha. Here is the list of restaurants and cafes:
1. Rinchenling Cafe
2. Menchuna Restaurant
3. Chimi Lhakhang Cafe
4. Druk Wangyel Cafe
Tip - Try staying with a local family to experience their hospitality and day to day life.
After spending a good 2 days in Punakha head to Paro. The journey from Punakha to Paro will be approximately 4 hours. You can either take the same cab to Paro or book a new cab that may approximately charge 2500 INR for a private cab. For Solo travelers, it is easy to get a shared taxi for 600 INR from Punakha to Paro.
Paro valley is situated in the west of the capital and is the site for the only international airport in the country. Paro international airport is situated in an extensive valley near the Paro Chhu river. Because the airport is 1.5 miles above the sea level and is surrounded by 18,000-foot mountains peaks, it is difficult to land and hence it has been named as the world's dangerous airport.
What to do in Paro?
The beautiful valley of Paro has some serene views and sacred sites to visit. The town is small and well planned with few hotels, shops, and fortresses. One of the main attractions of Bhutan is Taktsang Monastery or Tiger's Nest Monastery which is 10 km from Paro town. Here is a list of places you can visit in Paro.
1. Tiger Nest Monastery
2. Rinpung Fortress
3. Drukgyel Dzong
4. Ta Dzong
5. Kichu Lhakhang
6. National Museum of Bhutan
About Tiger Nest Monastery
Tiger Nest Monastery is built on a series of ledges on vertical rock cliffs thousands of feet above Paro. It is or will be considered as the national symbol of Bhutan. Below are the steps to follow to visit the monastery:
1. Buy a ticket to enter the Monastery at the starting point - 500 INR / person
2. You can take a horse ride to reach the halfway - 1200 INR per person
3. Approximately 2- 3 hours of trek
4. Show the ticket at the entrance to enter the Monastery.
5. Wandering in the temple would take 30 mins.
6. Your body should be covered when you enter the sacred site.
7. Take a Guide to learn about the history of the Lords and the formation of the Monastery. (Offer a tip to the Guide later)
8. While trekking down stop at the Cafeteria to have Lunch - 500 INR per person
9. Reach the endpoint and head back to the hotel and rest.
Where to eat in Paro?
Paro has some good cafes and restaurants to hog. Also, I will jot down some of the good bars and clubs. Here is a list of places in Paro:
1. Mountain Cafe
2. Sonam Trophel Restaurant
3. Season Restaurant ( pure veg)
4. My kind of place (Cafe)
5. Champaca Cafe
6. Authentic Pizza (Cafe)
7. Namgay Artisanal Brewery
8. Park 79 Cafe and Pub
9. Club Ecstacy
Paro is an ideal place for couples or travelers that seek adventures. The simplicity of the country lures travelers from across the globe. Trekking, hiking, cycling are some of the activities to enjoy in and near the town.
There is a gift shop "Pem Choden Gift Items" opposite to the Rinpung Dzong that rents traditional Bhutanese dress for 400 INR per person. Do click a picture wearing the Bhutanese dress with the spectacular backdrop of the Rinpung fortress and Paro Chhu River.
Places to visit near Paro
Chele la Pass
If you want to go to these places then take the entry permit from Thimphu.
To sum up, spending 2 days in Paro is good enough. Travelers from other countries than India usually have 10 days of visa permit.
Indians can stay up to a month in Bhutan upon extending their permit in Thimphu. If you are driving yourself in Bhutan then you would require a route permit from Royal Safety Transport Authority at the bus station in Phuentsholing. Also, Indians have the privilege to ramble in Phuentsholing and can go up to 5 km during the day without a permit but must return before 10 pm.
This is an ideal travel guide to Bhutan in 2020. Planning a trip to Bhutan? Well, visit the country before it implies the SDF fee that commence from July 2020. Nevertheless, the country is so beautiful that visiting after July 2020 will also be a great idea.