Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan

Tripoto
26th Dec 2018
Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Bhutan is known by many names. The Land of Thunder Dragon, The Land of Drukyul, The Land with highest Gross National Happiness(GNH). It is the only carbon negative country in the world. Bhutan has four seasons & a tropical climate. Every season has it's own charm and each season has something to look forward to. I visited in Winters (December, January and February), end of December. Selected this time of the year as I wanted to catch a glimpse of Black - Necked Cranes at the Gangtey (Phobjikha) Valley and also wanted to experience winter Snow for the first time ever in my life. What can be better than a Himalayan winter!

The best thing about planning a trip to Bhutan was No Visa required (Citizens of India, Bangladesh & Maldives need no visa or entry fees to travel in Bhutan and are only Nationals that have permit for independent travel). Bhutan is not expensive. Indian Rupee (INR) & Bhutanese Ngultrum (Nu) value is equal. And even our currency (INR) is widely accepted in Bhutan so one doesn't need to get into the currency exchange business. Also, there is a fun fact about the Paro airport - only 8 pilots are qualified to land at this airport, making it the most dangerous landing in the world. How cool is that?

Bhutan is easily accessible from India by air as well as road. Road trip obviously needs more time. I traveled by air. A valid passport or a voter id card is enough. There are two flights that operate from India - Druk Air & Bhutan Airlines from Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra and Guwahati. On arriving at the Paro airport, after visa-on-arrival procedure(need to show accommodation details & return ticket), one can buy the local sim cards Tashicell or B Mobile.

The majestic Mt Everest as seen from the plane's window! Left side tall black peak

Photo of Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Mt. Everest is visible on your left side while traveling to Bhutan and on right when heading back to India. So choose your seats accordingly. It is the most scenic flight route I have ever traveled. As it is a mountain place, it experiences erratic weather, so don't forget to pack your umbrellas and down jackets. Pack a lot of heavy woolens during winters as the temperatures touch zero degrees and minus in high altitude places. It was a sister trip for us & we are so glad we did it.

If you plan to go for long hikes, do carry Diamox with you. Try local cuisines while you are there. My favorite is Ema Datsi, a dish made out of local cheese and chillies.

Thimpu(2 Days)

An aerial view of Thimpu

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

After completing our visa-on-arrival formalities, we headed to Thimpu - the capital of Bhutan in our car. Our guide Mr. Phelpo was there to receive us at the Paro airport. It was chilling cold even at 3:45 PM. We passed through farmlands, temples, mountains seen all around. We stopped by at the Paro Chhu river for some adventure activity. Crossed the Paro Chhu river with élan in 1 degree via zip lining. Crazy experience it was. Later, we saw the confluence of two rivers. The sound of the gushing waters is something to be experienced.

Photo of Thimphu, Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

We had chosen to stay at Damchoe's Homestay, located in Langjophakha, not far from Thimphu town yet very secluded. We were greeted with some hot tea & Bhutanese biscuits. The place was stunning. Mrs. Damchoe gave us a memorable time.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry
Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/18529784?location=Damchoe%27s%20Homestay%2C%20Thimphu%2C%20Bhutan&guests=1&adults=1&s=-Mc6diei

We started day 2 early. After having a Bhutanese style breakfast that consisted of Buckwheat pancakes, butter tea, organic home grown walnuts & some bread and butter, we headed out to explore Thimpu city.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

We saved time by not visiting the immigration office to collect permit for Phobjikja Valley & Punakha as it was taken care of by our guide Mr. Phelpo. (the permit which we get on visa-on-arrival is only valid for Thimpu & Paro). The people of Bhutan are very humble & sweet.

Started our day by visiting the massive Buddha statue at the Buddha Point. We enjoyed a winding drive up at Buddha point road. The shining Buddha is surrounded by smaller statues of celestial beings making offerings.

Massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 54 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. It is made of bronze and is gilded in gold.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Took at stroll at the National Memorial Chorten. Next we visited Simply Bhutan - A living museum. It basically promotes Bhutanese culture. One can experience the household rituals and traditions of Bhutan in this museum. You get to do their local dance, try your hand at their national sport - Archery, see materials they use at home, try Butter tea - Suja & get to taste their local rice wine - Ara. It was entire Bhutan packed in an hour session.

Our next destination was the Changangkha Lakhang temple, a Buddhist temple established in the 12th century. We were rewarded with a beautiful sight of prayer flags fluttering in the breeze & prayer wheels whirling together in sync. Basically here they perform christening of a newborn baby amidst the deep-throated chants of the monks. Families bring their children to get special blessings and get them named. The idol of the Buddha at this temple is exquisitely crafted. We met very cute Bhutanese kids at this temple. They are a treat to watch. Photography was not allowed inside the temple. This place had spectacular views.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

We visited the Motithang Takin Preserve to have a glimpse of the National animal - Takin, an adorable crossbreed of Cow & Goat. It’s believed that Lama Drukpa Kunley — aka the Divine Madman, who was known for his unusual way of teaching Buddhist lessons, as well as his demon-fighting phallus — actually created the Takin when asked by local villagers to perform a miracle.

Takin's strolling

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Had lunch at Momo's & Noodles. Everything here, the food, prices, taste, service, everything is simply perfect. I relished one of the tastiest & spiciest Veg Momo's of my life. Momo chutney was fire. The Veg Thupka & Veg Chowmein both were amazing in taste. Do visit this place when in Thimpu.

Veg Momo's with Chutney

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Post lunch visited the Bhutan Post Office & sent postcards to India. Later strolled in the Thimpu main market. I saw an interesting thing. A booth at one of the junctions in Thimpu downtown which had a policeman giving directions that everyone followed. There are no traffic signals throughout Bhutan. Amazing place, amazing people! What a way to end a long day by learning so many new things about the Land of Thunder Dragon.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Next day we left Thimpu & proceeded to Punakha. On the way we visited the Dochula Pass. Our first acquaintance with Snow. The Dochula Pass is a mountain pass in the snow covered Himalayas within Bhutan on the road from Thimpu to Punakha where 108 memorial chortens or stupas known as "Druk Wangyal Chortens" have been built. Halt here to grab snacks/tea/coffee with a view at Druk Wangyal Cafe. Enjoyed a lot at the pass & played with snow. Lovely place to visit.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry
Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Phobjikha Valley(Day trip)

Our next destination was Phobjikha Valley. There is no denial that Bhutan has got some fascinating wonders of the nature & here in Gangtey/Phobjikha Valley, you can find mesmerizing views that the nature has to offer. The drive from Dochula Pass to Phobjikha Valley is in itself absolutely stunning and scenic.

Photo of Phobjikha Valley, Wangdue Phodrang, Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

The best time to visit the Phobjikha Valley would be around the months of October, November & December. The temperature is pleasant during the day time, anything between 5 degree to 8 degree Celsius. We witnessed the stunning valley & a few Black-necked cranes. Saw Karma - The injured Black - Necked Crane. Overall a worth visiting experience it was.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry
Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

From Phobjikha Valley we drove to Punakha, our next stop. On the way there was snowfall. The weather was chill cold. We reached Punakha in the evening. Punakha is a bit warmer than Thimpu & Paro. We stayed at Damchen Resort. A lovely resort where we found Indian food. The resort is situated right beside the Mo Chhu river. We stayed here for a night.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Punakha(1 Day)

Probably 'Dumbstruck' would be the right word to describe my physical and mental state when I saw the Bridge. The Punakha Suspension Bridge spans over 350 metres, it dangles above the beautiful Po Chu river. Must visit for the breathtaking stunning view it offers. Walked the entire bridge to & fro.

Photo of Punakha, Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry
Photo of Punakha, Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

We next moved to the Punakha Dzong - the region's icon. It is the second oldest & second largest dzong in Bhutan. It houses the administrative offices and temples. It is situated at the confluence of rivers Mo Chhu & Po Chhu (male and female river). Inside, mammoth effigies of Buddha, flanked by Guru Rinpoche [Padmasambhava] and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, soar towards the ceiling. A riot of color reveals hundreds of painted dragons on the latter whilst the 12 episodes of Buddha’s life are narrated on the walls. We took a one hour guided tour to understand in depth about the same & entry fee was Rs. 300 per person.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

After visiting the Punakha Dzong we proceeded to see Chimi Lhakhang - Tales of the fertility temple. It was a very interesting place. Buddhism is associated with serenity, peace & beauty and fertility temple is no different. It just has a lot more penises or like they call it "Phallus".

Phallus in Bhutan have its origin in Chimi Lhakhang monastery near Punakha. Drupka Kunley also known as the Divine Madman was known for his unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism. He was fond of women and wine. People who paint phallus or hang these from the rooftop of their house, drive away evil spirits, attract luck and fertility and subdue demonesses. He is known as the fertility God. People of Bhutan have nothing to hide, they are not shy of anything and believe in unorthodox teachings and transparency that could be the reason of their happiness.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

The facts about this place quite literally blew my mind. Post this we halted at Chimi Lhakhang Cafeteria for lunch. It was a Cafe with some splendid views. Food was awesome but service was super slow. Hogged on some ever tasty momos, fire chutney, Chowmein & Ema datsi(chilli & cheese) on a chilly afternoon. Bhutanese people love their chillies and so do I.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry
Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry
Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Paro(3 days)

After a long tiring day we drove to our final stop Paro. It had just been 3 days in Bhutan & by now we were used to the beauty of this country & we were witnessing some of the best long drives of our lives. Passing by the winding roads, mountains all around, beautiful landscapes, snow everywhere it was a sight not to miss. We reached Paro in the evening. We choose to do a homestay here - Authentic Bhutanese Homestay hosted by a wonderful lady, Sonam.

https://www.facebook.com/Authentic-Bhutanese-home-staysonams-home-stay-331711240547242/

We had a warm welcome at Sonam's house. She and her two little daughter's were all smiles when we entered. Had superb dinner with the family & a lovely chat. Sonam is extremely good at cooking. She makes lovely Indian food as well. I had the best Ema datsi in Bhutam at Sonam's place.

Photo of Paro, Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Post dinner we went for a night drive in the super cold weather with the family to Rinpung Dzong. It basically means Fortress on heap of Jewels. The night view of the Dzong was amazing! It is approached by a gently sloping flagstone road and an attractive wooden bridge. Like most Dzongs, Rinpung is the administrative seat of the district of Paro, and also houses state monastic community of about 200 members.

Rinpung Dzong night view

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Next morning we woke up to some stunning views of sunrise from the snowclad mountains. Sonam's house has spectacular sights. There was an overflowing water tank next to our window where there was frozen water. It was that cold.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Sonam served us Pooris with Beans & Cabbage Datsi (french beans & cabbage cooked in chillies and cheese) for breakfast along with tea. After a scrumptious breakfast we headed out to Chelela Pass. It is the highest point of Bhutan at a height of approx 4000 metres. We couldn't reach till the top and had to return half way as the roads were blocked with thick layers of fresh snow. The road going upwards towards Chelela was covered with thick ice making it a very slippery & risky ride. Hats off to our guide Mr. Phelpo, he managed to take us half way up. We enjoyed the views and indulged in snow fight. There were white flags fluttering in the breeze. We got a peak-a-boo of Mt. Jomolhari (also known as "bride of Kanchenjunga")

Mt. Jomolhari seen from mid way Chelela Pass. Have zoomed it

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry
Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry
Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry
Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

We spent a good 3 hours here. From here we drove to Paro Airport Birds Eye View. This is the most picturesque airport I've seen so far. Breathtaking views. One can't stop clicking. And pics will not do justice to the naked eye view that we get.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

For lunch we stopped at the very famous Champaca Cafe. A good break from binging on traditional Bhutanese cuisine. Champaca cafe is a must visit when in Paro. A very stylish cafe in main town with freshly brewed coffee aroma all around. It has a very cute sitting. Had Hazelnut latte, sandwich & fresh walnut cake. Service, price & taste were top notch.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry
Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Evening we got home and chilled with Sonam's daughter's at the freezing Paro Chhu river. Sonam's homestay is just beside the flowing river. Fantastic views. We had a good time here.

7 stones

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry
Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry
Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

Evening had yummy dinner with the family with some fun talks. Wore the traditional dress for women called Kira. Exploring & learning about different cultures is always so amazing. Slept early as next day was a challenging one for us. Doing the Taktsang trail.

Hiking to the Tiger's Nest (Taktsang Monastery)

After our hot filling breakfast of Bathup (soupy dish similar to Thupka made out of flour) we started our drive to the base of Tiger's nest. It is a moderate hike. Paro Taktsang, or the 'Tiger's Nest' is a Buddhist temple constructed in 1692 around a sacred cave system. Built into the steep cliffside, it offers panoramic views of Paro valley. The Second Buddha of Bhutan is said to have meditated here. Guru Rinpoche flew here from Tibet on the back of a tigress which was the manifestation of his divine consort Yeshe Tsogyal. It is one of the most recognized spots of Bhutan. The entry fees per person is Rs. 500

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

One can reach Tiger's nest monastery by walking or by horseback. It is a challenging trek & you gain merit with every step. The hike starts with a gentle forest climb. You get sticks for walking down priced at Rs. 50(Recommended). Halfway up the climb is a nice tea house with stunning views of Tiger's nest. You get Tea & snacks here (very costly).

Hiking with our guide Mr. Phelpo

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

After the tea house we continued to climb till the view point. It has the best views of Tiger's nest & great spot to click pictures.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

From the viewpoint you have to walk down a series of steep stairs to a waterfall before making it to the Tiger's nest entrance. We got to see a rainbow in the waterfall. At the entrance one is required to leave their backpacks, cameras & phones in lockers provided.

Final stair descent on the way to Tiger's nest

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

One has to start heading back after exploring the monastery. You have to climb back up the stairs to the viewpoint & then make your way down. What a way to finish our 6 days amazing trip to Bhutan. Ending 31.12.2018 by hiking 10 km return hike to the world famous Tiger's Nest Monastery. Dream came true.

Evening we had a bonfire as it was Sonam's birthday. Dinner was from her side. Super yummy. Tried the local Peach wine from Bhutan. Smooth it was.

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

The perfect host, Sonam

Photo of Mountains, Monasteries & Magic - Bhutan by Siddhi Mistry

We were super tired after the hike. Had some fun & slept as had an early morning flight to India. A lovely trip to the world's Happiest country, Bhutan it is!

Be the first one to comment