Traveling was always in my mind but never got a chance to explore it the way I had planned it this time. Bhutan being one of the most clean and peaceful country I decided to start my solo travel journey from here. I come from a background where there responsibilities come with many restriciton, to make it simple I stay in proper joint family where my Mom dad were coolest but my grand mom was strict. I am sure many girls out there would be able to related the story with me hahah... So after a lot of research and reading of articles I confirmed on few things which I wanted to see and explore in Bhutan also friendly relation with India gave me an add on advantage to save bulky $250 per day cost. I was very excited to actually live in the Country which is rightly measured by its happiness. My trip was totally a budget planned hence I had done booking before hand which gave me good deals over flight rates and hotel booking. May being the peak season it was bound to be crowded (If looking for less crowd advise you to visit in September and October). Let me take you through all the places to visit, things to do and not to do and give a life changing experience through this story…
A hot day started at Mumbai and by lunch I reached Kolkata it was hot though around 37 degree but chilled at airport had a quick snack at Idli.com and dessert at Flurry. The Kolkata airport is very huge and creative. The distance between Kolkata and Bagdogra is 500kms ie 50 mins By 5.30 I had another flight to catch for bagdogra and 5 or 4 hours drive to Pheutsholling. The journey was quiet hectic, reached at 10pm the restaurants shut by then food arrangements handy because you will be needing it after long bumpy ride. But just to give you gist there is just one gate which divides India and Bhutan and you would see explicit change between them the air, noise, people and rules everything changes after one gate. I ate and passed out to get refreshed for the beautiful journey waiting ahead.
Hotel Silver Point
There is a small garden just outside Hotel DamChem called Vampa Park, do visit for a short walk there. I reached immigration office by 8am which is just opposite to hotel Damchem. Though the office opens by 9am sharp its better to reach early also best to have a agent as well because 3 permits are issued 1. Yours, 2.Driver, 3.Car. I got my permit ready by 2pm and left for Paro. It was a long ride which curvy roads. People having issue of motion sickness are recommended to have medicine and light lunch before proceeding to paro. Its an 5 hour journey 167kms approx. Light showers which made the journey beautiful.I reached paro by 8pm after long drive with innumerable puking break. On the way there is Chuka Dam which generates Hydro electricity. It is the perfect stop to halt and enjoy the view. A simple little village called Wankha is situated here. My reservation was in Galling resort(4.5 rating by Trip Advisor) but when I reached there the arrogant receptionist informed that she has accommodated me to some different hotel called Hotel Silver Point which was not equivalent to a 2 star property. I was waiting for the night to end and leave for my much awaited hike to Tiger’s nest.
Authentic Pizza: Must have Margarita Pizza
Brioche Café: Chocolate Tart, Macroons
Paro came to me like a shock. It was just perfect city I want to live in for my later part of life. It had a very chill vibe. We started our day by 8 am and headed towards Tiger’s Nest. The entry ticket cost Rs 500 for adults and Rs 250 for student (Quite expensive I know). I bought a hiking stick along which costed me another Rs50. I had no idea about water and food scenes up there. I still carried some dry fruits along and energy drink powder. I started my hike by 9.45am. It was quite cold by then but when I started climbing higher it became really humid and hot. It seem to be extremely impossible to finish but strangers at that time became friends. We kept each other motivating. Trust me if visiting Bhutan, hiking up to tiger’s nest is worth and a feeling of peacefulness. As you get closer to Tiger’s nest you see another challenge of approx 1k steps to climb and down (No one informed us about this). I took approximately 5 hours to finish the hike post that I felt very hungry and headed to Paro market. I saw this really cute place called Authentic Pizza where I had a bowl of Mix Vegetable soup and Margarita Pizza and Brioche café for yummy dessert.
So basically at Paro ; Tiger’s Nest was life changing and Authentic Pizza was life saving
After some lunch I decided to take a short walk through the market to know the culture and speciality. Few unique items found for gifting purpose:
1) Hand Made soap (Rs. 150 a bar)
2) Red Rice (Rs.80/kg ; which is more than basmati rice) It can be found at any general store
3) Big Cardamom (Rs 120)
4) Natural solid perfume (Rs 300 ;after bargain) - @ Jigdrelhandicraft
5) Handmade Charcoal Soap (Rs 50) - @ Jigdrelhandicraft
6) Lemon grass Air Spray (Rs150)
After hectic day at Paro we decided to move to Punakha by 9am. The distance between Paro and Punakha is about 85km approx 3 hour 30 minute driver. Punakha came to me as a shocked, it was a small and calm village with sparse population with good level of education facility available. The infrastructure was beautiful and scenic weather was explicit. I visited Talo Monastery, not may know about it. It is a beautiful monastery which in houses many young monk and helps them in education. The huge dzong which stood like a perfect structure and monk praying and taking care of it. One must visit Talo Monastery even if it is not included in ones itinerary. On our way to Dzong monastery I came across Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu river, the combined streams become Puna Tsang Chhu where the river rafting takes place (Expensive for a medium to low level rafting difficulty). Post that we visited District court of Punakha, at the entrance you shall see trees with purple flowers which are beautiful. The Whole ground was filled with it. The fort was perfect for photographs. On the top of the monastery you will find huge honey comb and inside the monastery there is huge Buddha structure which will blow off your mind.
After a long day I opted to go for some Bhutanese spa which was present in Hotel itself. Prices for the spa were quite reasonable.
I wanted to visit destination which is quite off beat and not many people know about it. I spoke to couple of localiest and found a driver who can help me to reach the unexplored destination of East Bhutan. Due to time constraint I was just able to finish few spots. Gangtey Phobse Ramsar Site which is about 70km from the East of Punakha. A place called Wangdue Phodrang which has been named Wetland for International Importance with surface area of 1,225 hectares. A little ahead to it there is a valley called Objikha Valley also Known as Lower Valley. The best time to visit Objikha valley is during October to January as you can spot The Bird Of Fortune ; Black Neck Crane which fly to the valley from Tibet. A village ahead of Gangtey comes Bumthang which is 1 day drive from gangtey. Bumthang is a beautiful village which is covered by snow for most part of the year. We also visited Dochula pass on way to the capital city of Thimphu
Thimphu is a very commercial city, being the capital there were couple of places to visit. First on my list was National Institute of Zorig Chusum which was founded in 1971 which was basically established to promote and preserve 13 traditional arts and crafts by conducting programs ranging from 7 days to 6 years. You can visit their website on www.nizc.gov.bt . Just outside the institute there is this Art gallery called Buddhist Art Gallery. Post that we visited National Museum of Thimphu which was a heritage center of the things which were used by their ancestors. The entry fee at each and every place ranges from Rs50 to Rs100. Post that National Zoo to spot the Nationa Animal Takin. There is nothing apart from few takins inside. This sight you can give a miss. I visited this calm monastery called Kunzang Lam. Then came the Buddha Shrine which is made up of gold and a sight of it will give you goose bumps. Evening I decided to go for local shopping, but just honest advice Thimphu has a huge market but with that the prices of the products are also sky high. The shop keepers do not believe in bargain even if they do they wont reduce the price more than Rs 10 funny right?! Hence, I preferred shopping at paro as the crowd was also less and the products were also unique.
Hence to sum it few facts about Bhutan
1) Fishing is prohibited
2) Tobacco is totally banned but do try ZumZin Peach Wine and Takin Wine
3) No traffic signals in entire country
4) Indians are not allowed to loiter after 7pm
5) Indian currency is well accepted every where
6) For vegetarians there might be food issue so carry your supplies to be on safer side
7) Bargaining is difficult
8) Water brand- Royal Bhutan is suitable for Indians so drink that water to avoid indigestion
9) Do try local cheese which is called datsi
10) No hawkers are there in the entire country so you have to control the craving and taste buds
11) Women friendly country, you will find most of the main jobs done by women
12) You can gift kids crayons and color books, it will make them very happy
13) There are no manufacturing factories in the nation
14) The investment by Bhutanese is done in luxury cars not in gold and real estate
15) Carry enough water and food while hiking Tiger’s nest. There is nothing available there.
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