So we had 3 weeks(in March) after we finished our last exams till our convocation program of our MBA course. As was customary in our college, this interim period is usually utilised for one final trip with college friends. Also, since we were unemployed, it was imperative that we keep the costs to the minimum. Bhutan seemed like the place which was both beutiful, idyllic and easy on our pockets.
We had started planning for this trip in December and booked our train tickets in 2nd week of Jan.
We were planning for a 10 day trip with almost 4 days of train travelling. We knew this trip would require extensive train journey and hence asking only those friends who we knew wouldn't back out at the last moment.
Let me briefly describe the journey. We took the Mumbai LTT - Guwahati Express. It takes around 46 hours to reach New Jalpaiguri Station. To experience a real train journey, we had very bravely booked "Sleeper Class" tickets. Now, if you take a look at the route this train takes, you would notice that it goes right through MP, UP and Bihar. Since, we were 4 guys, we knew we could handle the train. But a non ac sleeper class is not for the ladies.
This is how a non ac sleeper class compartment looks like. You will have random people sitting and even sleeping next to you, having food and joking with you. These are extremely friendly people who just need to sit for few hours or in some cases, the entire journey.
So this was our route after we reached New Jalpaiguri.
The train journey from Siliguri to Hasimara took about 3 hours and it was extremely beautiful with tea estates and forests along the way. Coming from Mumbai, I had never seen a peacock before, in wild.
Our Bhutan trip -
Phuentsholing is a border town in Bhutan. You could just cross over here from a village called Jaigaon from India. For Indians, tourist permit is provided on entry against a valid ID proof such as voter ID, Election Card, Passport at the Immigration Office. Three of us had our passports and one had Voter ID proof. While the people at the Immigration Office may insist on exchanging Indian Rupees to Bhutanese currency, there is no real need to do so. Indian currency is accepted everywhere in Bhutan. The whole process takes less than 30 minutes.
From Phuentsholing, you could take a bus to Thimphu or Paro. But it is difficult to obtain bus tickets on the go as they get filled a day before. An easy alternative is to book a cab. For 4 people, a cab would be convienient.
The entire Bhutan is at an altitude. So the journey from Phuentsholing to Paro/Thimphu will be through ghats. It takes around 5-6 hours to reach Paro from Phuentsholing.
Paro is a small town in Bhutan. It has an airport, so for those who would like to have a comfortable journey, they could try booking a flight till Paro. Paro has few five star luxury resorts as well as cheap affordable hotels. Bhutan is not exactly known for its food. So, its best to avoid "local delicacies". Anyway, Indian food is available at most places. Cake shops and cafes are good. Cafe Sonam is a nice place to have breakfast.
Our main objective of this Bhutan trip was to trek Paro Taktsang, also known as Tiger's Nest.
Paro Taktsang is located around 10kms from the Paro town. So we started towards the basecamp early next morning. It is advisable to start the strek by atleast around 10. It takes around 2.5 hours to climb the entire hill. And during the lunch break (1.30-2.30), the temple remains shut. So either start early or by 12. Also, make travel arrangements before hand. It is not easy to find a cab if the trek is finished by 4-5pm.
We stayed in Paro for 2 nights and then booked a cab till Thimphu. The advantage of travelling in a cab is that you can travel at your own speed and make as many stops as you would like to have.
Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and you could easily get a clean and comfortable AC room(with attached bath tub) for as less as Rs 1500. If you are travelling during off season, pre booking is not required at all. There are quite a few luxury hotels and restaurants and you would get the feeling of a city here. We didn't like this place as much. There is a handicrafts market which is worth visiting if you are looking to buy something. However, most items sold there are easily available at any shops in Thimphu at much cheaper rates. If you are looking to buy prayer flags, you could try the local shops instead which offer bigger and cheaper flags.
On our 2nd day in Thimphu, we had planned to visit Buddha Statue and then move on to Wangdue Phoderang. On the entry into Bhutan, we had taken the permit for Paro and Thimphu. Hence, for moving further into Bhutan, we had to extend our permit till Phobjikha Valley. This we did in Thimphu on our 2nd day.
Well, Buddha Statue is a beautiful place and from there you get a Bird's eye view of the city of Thimphu.
On our way to Wangdue, we stopped at Dochula Pass.
We stayed in Wangdue for a night. You could get a decent place to stay for as low as Rs 1800. Next morning we started our sightseeing with Punakha Dzong. Its a beautiful monastry.
From there, we went to Phobjikha Valley. It took us a lot of time to travel since the roads weren't great and there is only one road which goes through the entire country. There was a patch of road which was under construction and was closed for an hour.
We came across this serene river on route to Phobjikha.
Lots of Yaks will be seen roaming freely in Phobjikha Valley. We came back to Thimphu the same day and started our journey back the next day.