Bhutan, the land of the dragon, is, simply put, breath-taking. Thanks to the tourism relaxation for Indian travellers, the otherwise exorbitant fee of minimum $250 per head per day is not mandatory. If one is in India and keen to travel, one simply shouldn't miss an opportunity to explore Bhutan.
The country is culturally rich and beautiful in every sense of the word. Add to it the very friendly natives, a chance at a nightlife and to appreciate a heritage so exclusive. Further - the folk lores, the Buddhist culture, the transcends of the lamas, the 8 auspicious symbols, a king and queen revered by the people - and many such factors make the place truly amazing.
One can easily appreciate the difference right at the shared borders with India when one transits from Jaigaon to Phentsholing. On one side there’s tranquillity, on the other there’s visible chaos; on one side there is peace, on the other there’s like an explosion of population – the change is drastic, and a good one.
Bhutan, by far, remains the most elusive, yet incredible destination I have been to. One has to go there, be a part of the culture, catch a breath while hiking the legendary Tiger’s Nest Monastery, take a dip in the waters of Paro river, sense the peaceful walks in the many dzongs, taste the culinary differences…to truly appreciate the beauty that is deeply imbibed.
Day 0 (Bagdogra to Phuentsholing)We took a flight from Delhi (a few from Bangalore) to Bagdogra given that the only direct flight to Paro, Bhutan was quite exorbitant (~35,000 return journey for one).Getting a taxi to the entry point at Bhutan - Phuentsholing was easy and we got a prepaid one at reasonable cost (2875/- for 6) from the airport itself. The 5 hour drive to the Bhutan-India border was scenic, pretty and adorned by a couple of occasional showers.
Bhutan has kept itself safeguarded despite how drastically different the border areas is. It was 8 in the night when we reached Phuentsholing, but we could almost sense the change in the atmosphere around.We checked in to Hotel Druk, 200 m away from the Tourist Permit Office, for the night.Day 1 (Phuentsholing to Thimphu)While Indians don't need Visa to travel Bhutan, they do need a Tourist Permit for visiting Thimphu and Paro, the two main attraction cities of the country. The tourist permit is provided by the Immigration Office Center, which is easy to find and very approachable from the border, or from the main taxi stand. It's advisable to reach the Immigration office early, at around 9:00 am for a smooth process. Tourist need not take the long cluttered line for daily wage workers as there is a separate provision for them. A photocopy of passport and one colored passport size photo needs to be submitted along with the filled permit form. After cross checking details and taking your photograph through webcams, officials will ask you to collect the permits in some time (Anything between 30 minutes to 2 hours). In the meantime one can walk to the Zangto Pelri Lhakhang and to the Dhoti Chhu river 15 minute walk from there.We were easily able to secure a taxi from the many options from the main taxi stand nearby. While the prices are hardly negotiable in the peak season, we were able to get a taxi for 6 to Thimphu for 3500.
The taxi took around 6 hours to Thimphu. We stopped midway for some snacks at the military canteen which had tasty food at decent cost. After reaching the capital city and checking in, we roamed around the local market near the main intersection (it had a policeman directing traffic, gesticulating in a very suave manner which was interesting to watch).We retired for the night, for the city sleeps at around 9pm (except on Fridays and Saturdays, the happy hours).Day 2, 3 (Thimphu)We rehired the taxi we took from Phuentsholing to Thimphu for sight seeing @ ~2800 per day.We visited the following places on the first day -Simtokha DzongMemorial ChortenSchool of Arts & CraftsTextile & Folk Heritage MuseumZangtho Pelri LhakahngTakin PreserveBotanical GardensCoronation ParkIt might look a lot to do in a single day but given the proximity of each, and ease of reach we were free by the evening.On the next day we left for Dochula Pass early morning, as it was almost 16 km drive from the city center. Also there was this "gate open" system which lets vehicles pass through only between specified times. On the way back, we missed the open gate by a few minutes and we had to wait around for almost an hour and a half to pass through.Docula Pass was a serene, beautiful place. We could have proceeded to Punakha valley but it would have taken up the entire evening. In fact, when visiting Punakha, night stay is recommended. Later in the day we visited Buddha Dordenma statue which looks majestic on top of the hill that it is built on. The area is still under construction but the near-completed statue towering at 169 m is amazing to look at.The night being a Saturday, we checked out one of the many Bollywood Karaoke bars in the city. It was a fun experience, and we actually managed the stay out enjoying Bhutan's rare night-life till midnight.Day 4 (Thimphu to Paro)Next morning we left for Paro which is a 2 hour journey (subjected to weather conditions).
Day 4We reached Paro in the afternoon and ventured out to Rinpung Dzong in the evening. We also purchased the local alcohol "Ara" (for 60/- a bottle), couldn't drink it though owing to the super strong alcohol content. What we did enjoy was the beer crate of Druk 11000 that we bought (for ~560 bucks, which turns out to be 47 bucks a bottle!). We spent the evening exploring our Tashi Narmgaya resort. The resort was on the Paro riverside. There were trees laden with Apples and Pear, and we were free to consume those. Heaven!Day 5 (Tiger's Nest Monastery)The most awaited day of the trip was here, and having had a ball the night before we failed to start early. We still managed to reach the foothills of Tiger's Nest Monastery by 11:00 am. We had a few umbrellas with us, given the uncertain weather. We purchased a few walking sticks to assist us while climbing.The trek was mesmerizing, scenic and got better with every step we took. The panoramic view and the nature trail made the strenuous climb an engaging affair. And in the final moments of the climb, the bridge across the waterfall took our break away - it was beautiful. The Tiger's Nest Monastery itself was pretty awesome. We were lucky to have reached in time for the prayers. The monks also showed us the cliff through a trapdoor on the floor where the tiger meditated (the legend behind the monastery)After spending an hour we headed back to the civilization. The hike, and the experience left us almost lost for words on our way back. This was the most wonderful experience of this great little country that is Bhutan...
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