Everything about Bhutan -10 days

Tripoto
28th Dec 2017
Photo of Phuentsholing, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

“Bhutan is no ordinary place. It is the last great Himalayan kingdom, shrouded in mystery and magic, where a traditional Buddhist culture carefully embraces global developments.”

How to reach ?

By Road : I took the road as all the flights to Bhutan had only Business class tickets left. You can book your flight on Druk air website.

By road the nearest airport is Bagdogra. I took a flight from Bangalore to Bagdogra.I wanted to start early morning from Bagdogra to Phuentsholing, get my pass and proceed to Thimphu.

Photo of Paro, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

Phuentsholing is the second largest town of Bhutan, is on the Indian border, next to the town of Jaigaon. The town has hotels and lots of cafes to laze around, however it serves mainly as a transit town. You get the entry permit to Thimphu and Paro here at permit office. As soon as you start from Phuentsholing there is a check post where you have to produce your permit so there is no escape here. The permit office operates from 9 am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. I was here on a Friday and had lesser people. Note that there will be a lot of people on Mondays and days after government holidays. Plan your travel such that you are not stranded at Phuentsholing.

Photo of Everything about Bhutan -10 days by Abhinav Sharma

The distance from Bagdogra to Phuentsholing is 140 km and takes about 3.5 hours. The ride is picturesque, especially if you start early morning, you get to see the sun rise amidst tea gardens.Your entire ride is in West Bengal, do not miss the poori sabzi, samosa, tea and rasogullas at numerous eateries on the road. There are a lot of ATMs near the Indo-Bhutan border and better to carry cash as majorly hotels in Bhutan prefer cash. The preferred denominations are 100 and 500 and Indian currency is happily accepted however many government places have clearly written that they won’t accept Indian 500 and 2000 notes. Since ours was an early morning taxi , it cost us INR 3000, otherwise you can bargain and get a ride for INR 2500 also.

I reached the permit office at 10 am and was done by 11:30 am. You need a photograph, your itinerary, proof of stay in Thimphu and Paro. You can also download the form online. The permit here is only for Thimphu and Paro is not given for more than 7 days. After that you have to get it extended extended at the immigration office in Thiumphu. You also need to apply for separate permit for Punakha and other places at Thimphu again by producing an itinerary and accommodation proofs. I was travelling with my wife and got the permit easily, however if you are solo or gang of friends, you will need to convince the authorities.

The distance of Thimphu from Phuentsholing is 170km and takes 5 hours in a taxi and 8 hours in a bus. We were carrying one bag pack each and easily took shared taxis everywhere in Bhutan. The shared taxi fare from Phuentsholing to Thimphu is 750 per person and mostly taxis are 5 seaters.

Please find below the shared taxi costs in Bhutan. Also note that Chele la pass and Dochula pass comes during the way and you can do it in shared taxi by letting the driver know before hand and paying extra.

Phuentsholing to Thimphu- 750/person

Thimphu to Paro- 200/person

Paro to Haa (not via Chele La)- 350/person

Haa to Paro via Chele La- 450/Person

Thimphu to Punakha- 350/Person

Our itinerary:

Day 1: Phuentsholing to Thimphu

Day 2: Thimphu to Paro

Day 3: Paro

Day 4: Paro-Thimphu-Haa

Day 5: Haa

Day 6: Haa-Chele la- Paro

Day 7: Paro-Punakha

Day 8: Punakha

Day 9: Punakha

Day 10: Punakha- Thimphu

Day 11: Thimphu-Phuentsholing

Photo of Thimphu, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

Tips:

Bhutan is typically divided into Thimphu, Western Bhutan, Central Bhutan and Eastern Bhutan. The first thing I do before planning an International trip is to get a Lonely Planet Guide, get a map and start reading blogs. Planning a trip on your own is fun plus you end up knowing much more about the country. You need to do your research for Bhutan as it has so much to offer: Spirituality, Museums, Arts and Crafts, Mountain treks, Day trails, wonderful wildlife, food,forests and blooms. You also have a varied choice of cities depending on the number of days you have. I planned for a holiday which had day hikes and still ample time to stand and stare, after all it is not about the destination, it is about the journey.

Photo of Everything about Bhutan -10 days by Abhinav Sharma

So do your research, plan out your trip on what you like to do, rather than blindly following any itinerary. If you are travelling in January, carry woollen wear, you will get heaters in your rooms. Carry cash, don’t bargain as people here tell you the right price. Buy souvenirs from market area in Thimphu, find out new places to eat from the guide book. We booked our hotels before hand but you can easily get a place in off season without any pre booking. Bhutan rises early and sleeps early, mostly dinner closes by 9, you are expected to eat by 8. We had downloaded an offline map from Maps.me which was accurate and helpful. You can easily get day guides and we availed one in Haa.

Let me now take you to the more serious stuff, about destinations, stays, food, things to do etc.

Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan seems to be struggling with the old and the new. From cars on the market road during peak hours to Museams, Dzongs and monuments, it is an old city trying to evolve into a new one. Thimphu is also the only one city where you can expect night life, more choice of cuisines and a welcome break from your itinerary.

Photo of Thimphu Bus Station, Dechhen Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

There is a huge taxi stand and an adjoining bus stand. You can just walk up to the taxi stand and hitch a shared taxi ride or book an individual taxi. There are a lot of counters at the bus stand where you can book your bus tickets in advance, do try and get a bus ticket done to return back to Phuentsholing well in advance, experience a bus ride for this is your opportunity of interacting with the locals. Thimphu should also be your destination of buying souvenirs. There are a lot of shops all along the market road but we got the best deal and choices from Yarkay Central Arcade.

I passed Thimphu many times in the trip, mainly because of permit extension and it being the gateway to other cities of Bhutan. I stayed 2 nights in Thimphu and roamed around

Things to do:

1)A walk on the market road and the clock tower:

There is one market road in Thimphu which has pretty much everything. You can just walk on the market road and spend the entire day exploring the cafes, eateries, bakeries, shops, bars, karaoke pubs, supermarket etc.You will find a lot of hotels on this road. Even the immigration office is on this road. If you get a chance to wake up early you must take a walk on this road while the city sleeps. Spend sometime by the clocktower in the morning otherwise this place is always full of people. The arena around the clock tower also serves as a stage for performances.

Photo of Clock Tower Square, Hogdzin Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

2) Buddha point:

You can get a taxi to Buddha point but as I have mentioned, I am more of a walker, it helps me experience the city at a slow place and gives me ample opportunities to click photographs. I had Maps.me installed and i took a leisurely walk to the Buddha point. I hired a cab back while returning.

Photo of Everything about Bhutan -10 days by Abhinav Sharma

The Buddha Dordenma is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfills an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world.

Photo of Thimphu, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue, 100,000 8 inch tall and 25,000 12 inch tall statues respectively. Each of these thousands of Buddhas have also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.

Photo of Everything about Bhutan -10 days by Abhinav Sharma

3)Bhutan Postal Museum:

The idea of getting your personalised stamp, really invigorated us. All you need to do is go to the Bhutan Postal Museum. It is on the road opposite to market road and can easily be found. You have 2 options of getting the stamp done, one by paying 360 bucks and the other by paying 500 bucks. Note that here only 100 rupee denominations are accepted. A visit to the museum hardly takes any time and should not be missed.

Photo of Hotel Shantideva Bhutan, Thimphu, BHUTAN, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

Places to stay and eat:

I stayed at 2 places:

Hotel Shantideva: Good stay, especially loved the amazing paratha complementary breakfast. The hotel is on the market road, right opposite to the clock tower and very close to the taxi stand.

Hotel Kisa: Amazing place, 3 star business hotel, great location, could improve on the breakfast.

Photo of Everything about Bhutan -10 days by Abhinav Sharma

Places to eat:

I got good food almost everywhere. But really worth mentioning were the Maggie and tea at Maggie point next to clock tower. Really loved the cosy environment of The Silver oak cafe on the main road and would highly recommend a meal here.

This time i take you to Paro:planned, unplanned, I spent 3 days in Paro and thoroughly enjoyed it. Paro is one of those places where you have plenty to do. If you are taking the aerial route this is where you will land and believe me the landing will be exciting.

Photo of Paro Airport Bird's Eye View Point, Paro, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

Things to do in Paro

Trek to Taktsang Monastery: If you are in Bhutan and relatively fit, you can not afford to miss this monastery. Located at almost 3000m, it was an experience I will always remember throughout my life. I had never imagined such a magnificent place sandwiched in mountains.Once you reach the place, deposit your bags and camera and climb the stairs to the monastery, you reach a place which is so quiet and equally majestic. I sat by the window in the prayer hall, closed my eyes and meditated. As the legend goes Taktshang (Tiger’s lair) evolved form 747 AD when Guru Padmasmbhava chose a cave on a sheer rock face to meditate and, assuming a wrathful form, Guru Dorji Drolo, astride a tigress, subdued the evil spirits n the locality. Taktshang thus became one of the most important Buddhist monuments in the Himalayan Buddhist world.

Photo of Tigers Nest, Taktsang trail, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

2. Paro Dzong and Museam:

Paro Dzong and museum is something you will never miss as it marks the entrance to the small city of Paro and can be seen from quite far. The entrance to the Dzong is so enchanting, you cross a medieval bridge over a beautiful river. You walk in a garden to the series of steps to the Dzong. Enjoy the architecture and the magnificent view of the city from here. Carry your lenses and take some good clicks. It was formerly the meeting hall for the National Assembly and now, like most dzongs, houses both the monastic body and district government offices, including the local courts.The museum is located further up from the monastery and has an entrance ticket, like other museams you will not be allowed to carry cameras and mobile phones.

Note that you can go to the museum and Dzong by taxi as well but that fun of seeing a place in slow motion is always on the walk.

Photo of Everything about Bhutan -10 days by Abhinav Sharma

3)Chele La pass:

Many people do a day trip to Chele La and back . You can do a round trip on a taxi, spend good time at the pass and come back. It will be a good 4-5 hour activity. At the Chele La also you could explore one of the trails and probably plan a trip to Haa valley and back. I had done the pass while travelling from Ha valley to Paro . Chele la (pass) at an elevation 13000 ft asl is considered to be one of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan. About an hour’s drive from Paro as it passes through lush valleys, pine and rhododendron forest. The pass provides stunning views of the sacred mountain Jomolhari and Jichu Drake.

Photo of Chele La, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

Places to eat in Paro

We explored a lot of places to eat as the there are so many varied options both on the market road and on the road parallel to the market road. The road parallel to the market road has more of pubs and some high end resturants while the market road has a mix of hotels and restaurants. I mention below a list of great places to eat, special mention to Biroche Cafe which has cakes made by a 5 star chef and worth a try.

Photo of Brioche Cafe, Paro, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

Biroche Cafe(Try the cheese cake)

Sonam Cafe(Momos)

All season cafe (Try the Ema Datse and peanut masala)

Yegyel Cafe (It had amazing Thai food )

Places to stay:

I stayed at 2 places which i Booked through MMT. 1)Hotel Dorje Ling – Would advice not to book this place. 2)Khamsum hotel- It is a business hotel and one of the best in our stay, please go for this.

I had chosen Haa Valley in particular for the fact that it was less travelled and hardly an overnight stay among tourists. However I went here for 2 things: 1) Quietude and peace 2)Walking trails. The town is situated by the Haa Chu river and has the shops and town on one side and IMTRAT (Indian Military Training Team) on the other side.

Photo of Haa, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

I had requested my resort for a day guide around Haa and walked around the city with him. If you are in here for long, you can actually trek from Haa valley to Chele la pass. We started from our resort to the golf course which is inside the army area. This trail is the gateway to two important temples : the black temple and white temple and are located in close proximity to each other. I really loved the feeling of being in an isolated temple, just wandering and admiring the ancient architecture and the beauty of something so big nestled in valley surrounded by trees and mountains.

Photo of Punakha, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

After visiting the temples i walked along the river to the city. Had a cup of tea and poori sabzi in a very small shop, was amazed to see a microwave in the shop. From here I went to what is known as the view point. It is an hours trail from the city nestled in pine forests and has a well defined track. This is the trail to the haa valley and I wished i had more time to go atleast half the trail. I reached the point which gives you a spectacular view of the city. The view point has a seating point and it would be an amazing place for a cup of tea and snacks.

Photo of Everything about Bhutan -10 days by Abhinav Sharma

Where to eat and stay: Our trip would have been incomplete without a comfortable stay offered at Risum Resort. It was easy to get accommodation here in this month, otherwise you would definitely need make prior bookings for this accommodation. The food here was good and I especially enjoyed the breakfast. However do head out to the city and don’t hesitate to eat at the small points, though limited, all these eateries serve real delicious food.

I spent 3 days in Punakha and I must say, miss any other place in Bhutan if you don’t have much time but do not miss Punakha. You can cover this place in a day or like me enjoy it for 3 days. Situated by the side of Pho Chu and Mo chu rivers, this is another laid back town of Bhutan which boasts of the Punakha Dzong, a 17th Century fortress. The very feel of being surrounded by mountains, a river by your side and plenty of birds, Punakha was nothing but magical.

Photo of Punakha Dzong, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

Punakha is a 3 hour journey from Thimphu and remember you will need special pass for this area. Reaching Punakha itself is so amazing, you climb up to the Dochula pass and then descend to Punakha. Dochula offers the majestic view of Mountains: Gangchey ta(6784m), Masang Gang(7194m), Tari Gang(7304m) among the few. 108 memorial chortens or stupas were built here by Ashi Dorji ; the eldest queen mother.

Things to do :

Also called Punthang Dechen Phodrang (The Palace of Great Bliss), Punakha Dzong is beautifully situated between the convergence of Phochu and Mochu Rivers ( “male” and “female” rivers), It is said to be the most magnificent of all the fortresses in Bhutan.Built in 17th century, Punakha Dzong served as the capital and seat of goverment of Bhutan before it was moved to Thimphu in 1955. Today, it houses the administrative and judicial offices of Punakha District.Punakha Dzong is also the winter home of Bhutan’s spiritual leader, Je Khenpo. He and his retinue of 600 monks migrate to Punakha from Thimphu every November. The Dzong also houses the sacred remains of two of Bhutan’s holiest lama and saint.

Photo of Dochula Chorten, Trashigang-Semtokha Highway, Hungtso, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma
Photo of Dochula Chorten, Trashigang-Semtokha Highway, Hungtso, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

2. Walking to the suspension bridge:

We just walked to the suspension bridge from our resort. As mentioned before, we love to watch the world go slowly and nothing like a walk especially in a country which has so much clean air and surroundings. Take the road from inside the Dzong to the suspension bridge, ask for it otherwise you may end up taking a longer route.

Photo of Everything about Bhutan -10 days by Abhinav Sharma

3. Chimi Lhakhang temple:

Also known as the “Fertility Temple,” the single building site was originally built in 1499 on a short hill that had been blessed by rogue Buddhist leader Drukpa Kunley, known as the “Divine Madman.” Drupa Kunley, also known as “The Saint of 5,000 Women” worked overtime to spread enlightenment through an active sex life.

Photo of Chimi Lhakhang, Bhutan by Abhinav Sharma

4 Bird Watching

I was just amazed by the variety of birds this valley has to offer. If you love clicking birds, you may want to spend more time here. Great Cormorant, ducks, shelducks, black necked cranes, sparrows are among the famous species.

Photo of Everything about Bhutan -10 days by Abhinav Sharma

Where to stay ?

Damchen Resort:

Your experience of any place is magnified by your stay, if the stay is good, nothing like that. Our resort was situated by the river and had a private spot to go and sit by the river. The restaurant was good and had a good choice of cuisine. I would highly recommend this place and was absolute value for money.

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