Escaping the scorching april summers in the midst of hustle bustle 'namma Chennai' life , desperately in need of a short mandatory getaway. With numerous suggestions pouring in , there comes the winner. Awestruck by the beauty in the pictures and the budget quoted ,I would say was a temptation hard to resist. Always been a lover of the coastal waters, wanted a different experience. And, that's how we three friends set off to the Dragon flagged Kingdom making memories.
Bhutan is visa free for us and because of the friendly alliances between the two countries , they have high regards for Indians. Any authenticated ID card , Aadhar or Pan Card is accepted to get the immigration permits. Need not carry a passport. Even otherwise Bhutan is a very tourist friendly country. Indian currency is accepted all over the country , that makes things easier. But one important detail the Indian travelers shouldn't miss, our Indian credit and debit cards are NOT ACCEPTED there as mentioned behind those cards (not accepted in Nepal and Bhutan) . So , do make sure you carry enough liquid cash to have a hassle free experience.
There are very few direct flights DrukAir from Delhi to Paro but the schedules are quite bizarre . For budgeto travelers from India, there is an overnight train from Kolkata to Jaigaon which happens to be the town near the Bhutan gate. One can just walk past the gate to reach Phuentsholing. We chose to fly to Bagdogra airport and took a 4 hour road from there to Phuentsholing. It was late evening by the time we reached. Checked into a hotel we pre booked, Asian kitchen hotel and bar. It was decent , good ac double rooms costed us Rs.1500 per night. Amazing food as well. Chicken sizzlers is a must try.
The Immigration office opens by 9 in the morning. We found many agents hovering around the tourists. At a reasonable price one can hire one to speed up the proceedings. We hired Mr.Chencho who was an agent as well as a driver. We booked him for the entire 5 day trip to take us around and after a lot of negotiation, settled up for ₹15000. Although was told car can be available for something around ₹10,000, it didn't pinch us much as it's a brand new 5 seater Honda Car.
About the permits, Phuentsholing issues permit for that particular region. We wanted to begin our trip with Punakha which belongs to a seperate province. The permit for Punakha is issued by the main office in the capital city , which we weren't aware of. We hurriedly headed straight to Thimphu. Beating the road sickness, could manage to reach before the closing time. Thankfully our agent took care of it and sorted things out for us.
The first destination was the farthest point of our tour, Punakha. Since the daylight hasn't faded yet , on our way we took a short enroute to Dochula pass. It could give a small peek at the snow capped mountains , better during the winter though but known for its high historic implication of the 108 stupas for the 108 Bhutanese martyrs.
There's a cafe close to it , Druk Wangyel Cafe. The best part is the ambience , having one entire side giving us some magnificent views, hard to describe. It is an amazing feeling to spend some quiet time gazing across the glass panes sipping their Fannie Bhutanese butter tea.
There's a cafe close to it , Druk Wangyel Cafe. The best part is the ambience , having one entire side giving us some magnificent views, hard to describe. It is an amazing feeling to spend some quiet time gazing across the glass panes sipping their famous Bhutanese butter tea.
We reached Punakha after 4hour long drive. Checked into Hotel Vara, a 3 star resort at reasonably good prices.
Exhausted with the long rides, decided to spend the later part of evening in the resort. For dinner, we tried the most recommended kewa datshi, a cheese based dish with red chillies. An absolute delicacy for spicy food lovers. Others might resist a bit. Grateful about the day, we called it a night.
Time to explore less crowded small town in the low lying plains of Bhutan. Started with the Instagram popular suspension bridge, the first one of its kind in Bhutan. Built over the river Mo Chuu Po Chuu. Connects the town with the Dzong.
Punkaha Dzong could be the next one to go for . It might take close to an hour to explore. Dress code is followed. No sleeveless tops or shorts allowed inside. Cameras aren't allowed inside either. Although the premises outside the Dzong are good enough.
Second half of the day was dedicated for some fun activities. I had my first experience of river rafting over the river Mo Chu. For people seeking out for a bit more adventure, rafting at river Po Chu would be ideal. Care to be taken off they are professionals. A good local guide would know the right place. It was a good 3 hours experience out there taking in charge. Mr.Chencho, our driver, was his enough to accompany us just to make sure we would be safe. We stopped across the banks of the river, sang and row all along. In the end , just lay down on the banks as the water gently keeps touching the feet. Such a calming and blissful experience.
Punakha is a small town and not a place with happening nightlife. The quietness and serenity of the surroundings is what people like to experience here. We spent the later part of the night in the resort chilling havin fun amongst ourselves, and eagerly looking forward to the rest of the trip.
Time to check out the capital city. Took a small detour to have the final peek at the Dochula beauty. Dochula eco retreat , must do thing . We had delicious breakfast as we got to gaze at those green valleys . We had Emma datshi , noodles with butter tea in our breakfast. They have got some public binoculars as well for a closer look of those mountains and clouds passing by. Such a visual retreat.
Knowing one day in Thimphu is too less , we did try our level best to leave no corners untouched. Startimg with the greatest Buddha Dordenma, the second tallest Buddha statue with 10,000 others in the shrine. One of the most valued and proud possessions of Bhutan. Truly sacred, one would feel the soul connected with the almighty. Words fall short to describe the experience.
We hit the roads checking out the streets and the cultural heritage of the city. It was quite impressive to find the King so respected and loved by the people. One would not miss the pictures of the King and ofcourse the adorable 3 year old Prince, at every corner of the street.
And the night life , how could we miss it?? It was my friend's birthday eve and we picked this cute little place with a live band. Bollywood is well adored in Bhutan and was sweet to find them sing some for us as we groove. The local wines a must try. It would be fun to stay up long but we had to wrap up early.
Drizzly morning and we set off to the visit the most beautiful part of our trip, Paro. After a 3 hour awesome ride , we reached a much more colder and quieter town.
The most recommended to-do thing in Paro, trek to the Paro 's monastery. It might take nearly 2 hours to reach the top and close to 3 hours to get down, provided the weather conditions are suitable.
Highly recommended to make sure , you pick the trek on a day of dry weather. For the elderly, kids or whoever finds it difficult to climb up, the locals provide horses. There's a cafe in mid way of the trek. In my opinion , it would be just enough to stop here at this level , enjoy the beauty, click some instagrammable snaps and get down, unless one really wants to be adventurous. The weather art Paro is quite unpredictable. A little rain might spoil the whole trail , slippery and the pain isn't worth. We were unfortunate to have a bad experience getting caught in the rain while on our way down. I would say just happy to have made it down alive before it got dark. The local guides are quite helpful.
Drenched in rain, made our way to the car. With great difficulty, reached our place safe.
As the curious bone in us keep triggering off and on , we planned our stay this time at a Bhutanese household, Paro village homestay. Lovely people. The host family stays downstairs while we are given the entire house upstairs with 3 bedrooms. The decor of the household is indeed a splitting image of their culture and beliefs.
Hardly we knew what surprise was in store for us. The next morning just added the cherry on a cake.
Spellbound we were as we woke up to the beautiful colours of Paro. The charm of this place was so mesmerising, we hardly had the need to touch our phones except to capture those moments.
We spent the day with the loving family and the kids. There was a provision for hot stone bath. Privacy guaranteed and the best part was the view facing the bath.
Such a splendid experience.. fall short of words.. it was indeed the 'Scotland of Bhutan'. We left the place with a heavy heart as we realised we neared the end of our trip. Paro would be a preferable place to buy done souvenirs , at a much better price than Thimphu.
Back in Phuentsholing. Last day , the weather got worse confining us to stay indoors for the most part of the day. Unable to leave this amazing land , we took one last troll around the town greeting people, ' kuzu zampola' .
Well.. this zero pollution carbon negative land should be on everyone's bucket list. Each time I feel like losing myself in this race of survival , I am gonna come back to find that piece of me that would help me restoring myself back to life.
Tashi Dalek! (In Dzongkha)
Few Pointers :
1. Carry enough liquid cash. Please don't reply on cards. Most people want the payments in cash. Indian cards not accepted.
2. A good 6 day trip would be better.
3. Indian passport holders , can visit with just Aadhar card.
4. Do plan your trip as per the weather forecast. Rain could ruin the experience.
5. Must try foods - Emma datshi , kewa datshi
6. Prefer the airbnb homestay for a better Bhutanese experience.
7. Please be polite with the locals. You come across very few corrupts. Always greet them with a smile.
8. A seperate permit is needed for Punakha which is given only at Thimphu. So, plan your itinerary accordingly.
Happy Tripping !! ????
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