Sometimes life takes us places where we least expected to go and in a manner we never imagined. Such was my journey to Bhutan, which was sparked by a call from a fellow Tripoto member Ms. Arundathi Sridhar. In times of economic recession, with the rupee hitting an all-time low and foreign currency skyrocketing it was not looking good for the backpacker Indian traveler. Arundathi had challenged me to find an international vacation spot for the budget conscious Indian traveler. Keeping in my mind her love for nature and my hatred for cumbersome Visa applications, I was able to arrive at my most ideal location. The land of happiness, Bhutan. Also called "The Land of Thunder Dragon", Bhutan was my answer to the challenge. Feeling satisfied having won the challenge, I thought why not execute it, after all I had the entire trip planned out.
Hence, I set forth on an adventure, without any prior bookings as such, and take Bhutan for what it had to offer. The hardest, and the only difficult part is getting to Bhutan, especially for a South Indian like me. So, after finding phenomenal prices for air tickets on Bhutan's national carrier Druk air, I found a local travel agent who could get air tickets for half the fare than what the site had mentioned and off I went from Kolkata to Paro. Driving me on was the amazing story of Tigers' nest in Paro, which was supposed to be the location for Batman's training in Batman Begins.
The Druk Air (Bhutan's national carrier) flight, is the only way to fly into Bhutan from Kolkata, Bagdogra, New Delhi, Gaya, Guwahati and Mumbai. The flight rates quoted on the site are way too expensive for such short distances. Find a local travel agent and you'll get it for half the price. Another, much cheaper, option via road into Bhutan was through Phuentsholing in Bhutan, either via bus from Kolkata (18 hours) or from the Hasimara Railway Station (1hr). But since I was informed about the spectacular view of the Himalayas and the location of Paro's airport between the mountains, I decided to take the aerial route landing into one of the most difficult airports to fly into. With the plane zig-zagging through the peaks like a fighter craft, the flight itself was an experience. Another option available to fly in private owned airline called Tashi Airline or Bhutan airways.
Thimphu, the capital city of the Kingdom of Bhutan, is an hour and half drive from Paro Airport. Thimphu serves as the first stop in your journey to Bhutan, whether it is obtaining special permits to restricted areas, initial sightseeing, the Takin Zoo, Buddha point (world's tallest Buddha statue, taller than the Statue of Liberty), souvenir shopping, indulging in local culture and soaking in Bhutan's serenity.
Getting to Phajoding Monastery, located at a height 3500 meters, is one of the best day hikes you can undertake while in Thimphu. The monastery serves as a school and orphanage for young Buddhist monks. I was lucky enough to climb the harsh, muddy and narrow trail leading up to the monastery in the clouds. Truly worth a climb as I had an interesting conversation about life, Buddhist principles and gifted my copy of Mahatma Gandhi's Book "My Experiments With truth" to Lama Namgay Tenzin.
The Dochu La pass remains one of the must-see sights in the Thimphu Region, with 108 chortens located at 10000 feet, with a breathtaking view of Punakha. Dochu la pass and cafe is indeed a recommended stopover on your way to Punakha.
Located at a distance 77kms from Thimphu, a cool 3-hour drive takes you to the beautiful rice fields of Punakha. The Punakha Dzong, which serves as a sight, administrative house, courts and an amazing picnic spot is the highlight of Punakha. Located on the banks of the two meeting rivers Pochu and Mochu, this is an amazing spot to unwind and relax on the banks of the river. *Note: Your visa on arrival does not cover Punakha, Wangade or any of the other interior places. You must obtain a permit from the Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs.
My final stop was the one structure that is synonymous with Bhutan, The Tiger's Nest or Taktsang Monastery. Located at 12000 feet, a climb which takes you on a spiritual trail with amazing views and a sense of greatness. What kept me going despite an injured knee was the fact that the monastery was a training spot for Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. My journey was complete with strong winds and a slight drizzle of snow, to give me a perspective of life like never before. A must visit. The first proper view of the monastery from the opposite edge of the cliff equals the first glimpse I had of Petra in Jordan. I still wonder why this is not considered a wonder.