The visit to Bhutan is an amalgamation of being in extremely scenic beauty, looking into past making way for the future and an awareness of your higher self. Now I know this sounds too complicated but I am sure once we are through with the blog you would know what I mean.
Bhutan is one of the rare countries which has not been colonized and has remained independent. Though there had been a civil war in the 19th century which led to the emergence of the Wangchuk Dynasty but apart from this there has been largely no outside interference. The Wangchuk Dynasty is the one which reunited Bhutan in 1907 and since then have been the rulers of Bhutan getting the highest title of "The Dragon King". You will see the Royal Family's photo everywhere and after some wondering it was clarified to us by our driver that actually the King is their God. Bhutan started to pave a path for democracy by means of elections in the year 2008. I was particularly amazed by the fact that how the Royal Monarch and independence by means of Democracy go hand in hand.
Okay lets get started with the trip now! So to reach Bhutan you can either take a flight from Bagdogara or drive to Phuentsholing which is the Bhutan border city (also the financial capital of Bhutan). The India side of the border has a place called Jaigaon. You will see a stark difference between the two and thats the first time the fact that our country is really unclean and8 populated will hit you. Phuentsholing rather the whole of Bhutan is a very clean and organised place with stone paved streets, people crossing roads only at zebra crossing and dustbins being covered. Ofcourse they have a population of just 9 lakh something which is like tier 3 town for India. Once this got soaked in, we moved to the immigration process. The immigration center requires you to be formally dressed (the local people are supposed to be in the Bhutanese dress, I saw almost 90% of the people anywhere in Bhutan in the traditional dress always, guess that is a rule). This whole thing took us a day and we started our drive to Thimpu! The journey is going to take you through proper temperature changes and you are slowly going to get into the deep sleep of a world which is clean, green and pure!
In Thimpu we stayed in the Wangchuk Resort which is a beautiful property and highly recommended. You could visit places like the National Library, the Takin Reserve, the Handmade Paper Factory, the Largest Buddha Statue, the Heritage Museum and the local bazaar.
If you have already gone to Ladakh you would know how the scriptures in Buddhism over time are preserved in neatly cloth clad files, you find the same in the National Library apart from the new age books. The Takin reserve has the national animal Takin there which almost got extinct some time back and this is an effort to preserve the species.
We did try the traditional food of the Bhutanese People which is red rice and chilly cheese, they do have a lot of other veg and non veg items but chilly and cheese seems to be a favorite. And yes dont forget the butter tea - sheer delight! If you are a liquor fan - try "Ara" at the Heritage Museum which is a wheat based fermented liquor.
Next day we headed to Punkaha which earlier used to be the capital instead of Thimpu. Punakha has two major rivers flowing through the city - Pochu, the male river and Mochu, the female river. It seems the rivers got flooded so much that keeping Punakha as the capital didnt seem feasible.
On the way you will cross the Dochu La Pass which is situated at a height of 3140m. This was one of my favorite places with a stone paved path leading to a semi forest having meditation camps and secluded coffee shops. Of course there is a busier set up where all the tourists go but I would suggest you to Look East :)
After this we went to Chimi Lakhang which is a temple dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley. Now this saint is a favorite of the local people for his outrageous ways. He preached that truth be told and accepted the way it is. He advocated to indulge in women, alcohol and do things which were a reality. The symbol promoted by him is the Phallus ( a decorative penis woodwork/ painting) which you would surprisingly find everywhere in Bhutan in all shapes and sizes!! The way to Chimi Lakhang passes through paddy fields and a delight for a hiker like me.
Next stop we did rafting in the Mochu river. I have personally done rafting twice in Rishikesh and trust me this one is far far away from it and hence not recommended. But now comes the most beautiful part of Punakha - The Punakha Dzong. Entering this place was like listening to a lullaby and feel your heart go to a peaceful sleep. The architecture is that of traditional Bhutanese or Tibetians with usage of a lot of wood. It is located at the confluence of Pochu and Mochu rivers. You need to cross a wooden bridge to enter the Dzong. Our guide Tashi explained to us how the Dzong had dedicated rooms/ areas for the governance part and separate ones for the religious part. It is surprising that in Bhutan a lot of beliefs which could have a direct conflict go hand in hand. People accept that the religion is very important to them but at the same time the country needs to move forward as well. I used to think that Buddhism is about compassion only but here I learnt the various ages of the religion and how in different eras the essence of the religion will be different. For example the next avatar is to be Kalki who will be the destroyer of filth!
The country has a certain affinity with Purple and you will see beautiful purple trees/ shrubs all over :) On the left is one of the pretty purple trees. After a good day at Punakha we drove back to our resort at Thimpu. Next day is the trek and will be tiring!
Next day for us was to be in Paro. We went to our hotel "the Pelri Cottage". It is a beautiful little place with a view in the mountains, the staff is extremely nice and you get a whole cottage to yourself :D I loved this place, lets say a little more than the Wangchuk Resort. Our cottage had a small balcony outside and the architecture was true Bhutanese. After settling here we headed to the major event - trek to the Tiger's Nest. Okay so here the story is that Guru Padmasambhava meditated here in the 8th century and is credited with bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. It is also said that he came here riding a tiger and hence the name Tiger's Nest. The trek is beautiful and my most favorite part of the trip. It takes a steep uphill and then a steep downhill via stairs and final uphill to reach the place. The whole trail is filled with trees, occasional flags with the Om Mani Padme Hum chant, one cafeteria and some sitting benches. You also see a beautiful waterfall and cross over via a small bridge to reach this beautiful place.
You also can do some shopping once you are back, I think the local sellers near the ticket counter for Tiger's nest give the best prices. Also no tickets post 1 PM so reach before that :)
The last day in Paro was pretty chilled out for us. First we drove to the Chele La Pass which is the highest motor-able road in Bhutan. On the way we saw some yaks, some pretty purple shrubs. Most of the view from these top places would be blocked by fog as Bhutan is really cold even in our summers. In winters its ice covered. On the top you will find a a guy selling momos, thupka etc from the back of his van- try them, the momos are world class!
After this we went around the city, looking at the local market and eating the local food. Suddenly we discovered the famous hot stone bath which is a signature of Bhutan travel it seems. It consists of a wooden bath tub being divided in two unequal parts and red stone stones being put in one part, you should be in the other. The hot water that travels though the herbs and the hot stone is good for joint pains. I didn't try this but if you are someone who is interested in self grooming, go for it.
After this a relaxed dinner, some random games and storytelling with the family brought my perfect vacation to an end. Bhutan has everything from hills and hikes to history and religion. The only thing it dosent have is the sea but the Mochu/ Pochu river definitely compensate for it. Another fact which I missed is that Bhutan is a protected state for India which means Bhutan seeks our guidance in many ways. Bhutan generates a lot of hydro electric power and India receives more than 2000MWs of it. In turn, we are responsible for the modernization of Bhutan and its prosperity. Personally I think it is one of the countries where India is respected a lot and the relationship valued.
I am putting up a simple google map image below so that planning is easier. Happy Travelling!
No of Days - 7
Spend per person - 35k average
Image Credits - Family and google open images