Bhutan, a kingdom in the eastern Himalayas is an abode of exotic natural beauty. If you can endure snaky turns and hairpin bends along the hills, uphill treks and yet feel the joy of being in the lap of nature, Bhutan will never cease to mesmerize you!
The currency of Bhutan is Ngultrum. However, Indian Rupee (INR) is accepted almost everywhere. The conversion ratio between Ngultrum and the INR is 1:1. Once you reach Bhutan, a comfortable week long trip could cost around 20000INR, but it can come down if you are travelling in a group.
One can reach Bhutan by air. The on-arrival visa process is hassle-free and separate permits for the districts to be visited. Hence, it helps to have a tentative itinerary about the places to be visited. I preferred by route by road, through Phuentsholing- a town that lies at the gateway of Bhutan from India and had taken permits for Paro and Thimpu. Taxis are the best option for sight-seeing within Bhutan and are easily available. A good taxi driver, who can be your guide as well, is always an advantage.
Day 1: Travel from Phuentsholing to Thimpu
My 6-hour long uphill drive through the clouds, coupled with a mild drizzle and intermittent splashes of sunshine was a visual splendour. The route provides numerous photo opportunities and the little Bhutanese restaurants along the way are worth a try.
Day 2: Explore Thimpu for the entire day
There are textile and handicraft museums, parks and monasteries to keep busy all day. A must visit place is the Buddha point- a place on the hill-top where the gigantic statue of Lord Buddha sits overlooking the Thimpu valley, with the snow-capped Himalayas at a distance. The Buddhist flags fluttering in the winds, on the bridges and high up in the mountains make the entire district seem extremely exuberant and colourful.
Day 3: Visit to Tango monastery and Cheri Monastery
The monasteries are located on hill-tops and involve treks, each taking about a couple of hours. The trek to Cheri is rather well paved, with little huts at regular intervals to facilitate an occasional rest.
Day 4: Dochula Pass and later, head to Paro
Take a taxi to Dochula Pass-it has 108 chortens and the place offers excellent scenery of the Himalayas. An additional permit is needed for Dochula, which can be obtained in Thimpu itself. The local café, located atop the Dochula Pass that offers a panoramic view of the landscape and decent food options as well.
Day 5: Day long trek to Tiger’s Nest
Tiger’s nest- a monastery located on the cliff-side is one of the most visited sites in Bhutan. The trek could get tiring, but the views are amazingly beautiful to keep you motivated. In any case, pony rides are available which cover most of the arduous part of the trek.
Day 6: Explore Paro
The streets are lined with handicrafts and souvenir shops for tourists. However, bargaining skills are a definite advantage since the prices quoted are generally high. The magnificent Paro Dzong and national museum elaborately displaying Bhutanese culture and tradition were the highlights for me. Besides, one can choose to experience the hot stone baths, archery yards and the Paro market.
Day 7: Return from Paro to Phuentsholing. Alternatively, there is an international airport in Paro, but the flight schedule is seasonal and plans need to be made accordingly.
Bhutan is not so expensive and do try out the local cuisine- ema datshi, phaksha paa and the thukpas, amongst others. There is a widespread adherence to tradition and most of the locals are adorned in their national dresses-the gho (for men) and kira (for women), which are bright and colourful. The people are warm and hospitable and an absolute pleasure to talk to. It is simply impossible to miss the joy and happiness oozing out when you have little conversations with them. And the best part is- it’s infectious!
Bhutan is the place to be if one seeks for a budget-friendly and relaxed vacation amidst serene, tranquil beauty- far from the din and cacophony of life.