Bhutan, happiness is really a place!

5th Nov 2017
Photo of Bhutan, happiness is really a place! by Amisha Chordia

The healthy-pleasant climate, the breathtaking views, and the majestic monasteries, may seem a cliched way to describe Bhutan, but each word used for this gorgeous country is in its purest form. This is a country where the rice is red and where chillies aren't just a seasoning but the main dish; where monks check their smartphones after performing a divination, and where giant protective penises are painted beside the entrance to many houses. This Buddhist land is the only place on earth that absorbs more carbon than it emits!

After wanting to visit this Happy State since more than a year, me and my friend decided to book the trip for November, this year.

We wanted to explore the country on our own and didn't want to rely on any travel agency or tour guide. So we sketched out a rough customizable itinerary after reading various travel blogs and booked our flights and hotels about a month in advance accordingly. We decided to take local buses and cabs for traveling within Bhutan.

Some things to keep in mind while traveling to Bhutan:

1. Bhutan is 30 min ahead of Indian Standard Time.

2. Indian currency upto denominations of 500 is accepted everywhere in exchange of Bhutan currency (1 Rupee = 1 Bhutanese Ngultrum).

3. Most of the Bhutanese people speak English and Hindi as their second and third languages after Dzongkha, their national language.

4. Immigration offices are closed on Saturdays, Sundays and on their public holidays.

5. All Tuesdays are dry days in Bhutan ;)

Day 1

We flew in at Bagdogra airport from Mumbai - a 2.5 hour flight with great view of Himalayas. Bagdogra is a small airport in West Bengal, India about 170 km away from Phuentsholing, Bhutan border.

One will be mobbed by taxi drivers just outside the airport; but since we were on a budget trip, we chose to go via local state transport bus. Taxis charge about Rs. 2-2.5k from Bagdogra to Phuentsholing.

We took a share cab to Siliguri Bus Station, about 15 km from Bagdogra, and a bus from there to Phuentsholing for Rs. 112 per head. It took us about 5 hours to reach the border, but the journey was really comfortable with cold breeze and fresh air and most importantly - no traffic!

Bhutan Gate

Photo of Bhutan Gate, Phuentsholing, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia
Photo of Bhutan Gate, Phuentsholing, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

The India-Bhutan border is separated by the Bhutan Gate with Jaigaon and Phuentsholing on either sides respectively. The bus left us at Jaigaon from where we took an auto to the Bhutan gate which was at a distance of about 2 kms. The moment we reached the other side of the Gate, we could feel the difference... We had entered a no honking and a no smoking country :)

We stayed at Bhutan residence, next to the city bus stop in Phuentsholing, a 10 min walk from the Bhutan gate. There aren't many restaurants in Phuentsholing since it is a small town where people only travel to get their tour permits done.

Fried cheese momos @Zen Restaurant

Photo of Bhutan Residence, Norgay lam, Phuentsholing, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

Baked Alaska @Kizom Cafe

Photo of Bhutan Residence, Norgay lam, Phuentsholing, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

Zen Restaurant and Kizom Cafe are good places to eat; both of them are next to each other. Try the carrot cakes and cheese momos here. We also tried some local wines - Takein and Zumzin (peach wine). Zumzin is really good if you want to try something different.

Day 2

We got up early the next day and visited the city bus stop at 7am to get our tickets reserved for Thimphu. They operate 18 seater comfortable buses with no standing passengers. We bought 2 tickets for Rs.245 each to Thimphu for the 2pm bus and planned to get our permits and do some sight seeing in Phuentsholing by then. Private cabs charge about Rs. 3000 and share cabs about Rs. 750 per head for the same route.

The Immigration office is about 200 m from the Bhutan Gate. Its timings are 9am to 5pm with a one hour lunch break. There is quite a queue on Mondays, so be there by 8:30am.

Documents needed for Indian tourists:

1. Passport/ Election ID for Indians (original and xerox)

2. Passport size photographs

3. Hotel reservation copies for the rest of the trip

4. An Itinerary or travel plan copy

Once done submitting these documents, they take about 30 min to validate them and then call for biometrics. Overall the process takes about an hour.

There is a xerox/ print out/ SIM shop exactly opposite to the Immigration office. We bought a SIM for the rest of our trip once we were issued the permit.

Zangtopelri Monastry @Phuentsholing

Photo of Zangtopelri, Phuentsholing, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

There are very few places to see around in Phuentsholing and all of them are about walking distances from each other. We visited the Zangto Pelri Lhakhang which lies in the centre of Phuentsholing, right opposite to Zen or Kizom Cafe.

We didn't have enough time to visit the other places in Phuentsholing i.e. Karbandi Monastry and Amo Chhu Crocodile Breeding Centre, since our permit took a lot of time due to missing documents. So we decided to visit these while returning back from the trip.

Phuentsholing Bus and Taxi Stand

Photo of Phuentsholing Bus Station, Norgay lam, Phuentsholing, Chhukha, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

We reached the bus stop with our luggage by 1:45 pm after lunch and soon left for Thimphu. It is a 165 km ride and takes about 5 hours due to winding roads, but it is an amazing drive with mountains and valleys on all sides. Temperature began to fall as we moved closer to Thimphu since it is located 2,334 m above sea level.

The bus dropped us at the taxi stand in Thimphu by 7:30 pm. Our hotel was about 2 kms from the bus stop. While we were bargaining with the taxi driver, someone asked us if we wanted a lift to the hotel. My friend was a bit sceptical as we were new to the place and being from India, it is not easy to trust strangers; but later we agreed to take the lift. While driving us to the hotel, he introduced himself as the Chief Auditing Commissioner of Bhutan. Yes, that was when we realized how helpful Bhutanese people are to their guests. He not only dropped us to the hotel but also helped us plan places we should be visiting the next day.

Finally we were at our hotel - Namseling Boutique Hotel by 8pm. Since we wanted to experience the night life in Thimphu, we left immediately after dropping our luggages in the room.

Photo of Mojo Park, Thimphu, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia
Photo of Mojo Park, Thimphu, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

Expecting a dull Monday night we walked to Mojo Park, a famous pub in Thimphu, about 12 min walk from our hotel. To our surprise, the place was full with foreigners and had a live band playing for the night. It played some Bollywood songs too on request :) It is a great place to spend late evenings in Thimphu as it is open until midnight except Tuesdays (since Tuesdays are dry days), offers great food - try Koka here and has live band performing almost each day. Other pubs here are Viva City and Space 34.

Day 3

One needs another permit to visit Punakha, the old capital of Bhutan. So we got our permits done from the Immigration office in Thimphu (5 min walk from our hotel), a day before visiting Punakha.

Documents needed for Punakha Permit for Indians:

1. Original and xerox copy of Passport/ Election Card

2. Original and xerox copy of the main Permit issued at Phuentsholing

After submitting these, we were asked to come back within 30 min to collect the permit for Punakha.

Cappuccino @Ambient Cafe

Photo of Ambient Cafe, Nordzin Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia
Photo of Ambient Cafe, Nordzin Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

Ambient Cafe is a perfect place for breakfast. It has a lively ambience and awesome food.

Photo of Buddha Dordenma, Thimphu, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia
Photo of Buddha Dordenma, Thimphu, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

Thimphu Valley from Buddha Point

Photo of Buddha Dordenma, Thimphu, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

We had been seeing the gigantic Buddha statue in the mountains since the day we reached Thimphu. So we decided to visit that before anything else and took a taxi from outside our hotel to the Buddha Point for Rs. 250. It is a massive, 51m-tall steel statue of Buddha Dordenma and looks best in morning light when it is illuminated. This point also has a great view of the Thimphu Valley.

Memorial Chorten

Photo of Memorial Chorten, Chhoten Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

We took another taxi from Buddha Point to the Memorial Chorten for Rs. 100. Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’. The Chorten is an extraordinary example of Buddhist architecture and artwork with its gorgeous paintings and intricate sculptures.

Living museum

Photo of Simply Bhutan, Genyen Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

We then headed to Simply Bhutan (10 min walk from Chorten), a living museum that gives a good guided introduction to various aspects of Bhutanese traditional life. We even tried the Bhutanese national dress Kira here.

Tashi Choedzong

Photo of Tashi Choedzong, Chhagchhen Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

Tashi Choedzong set on this River

Photo of Tashi Choedzong, Chhagchhen Lam, Thimphu, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

We took a cab to Tashichho Dzong (Thimpu Dzong) for Rs. 100. It is the venue of the famous Buddhist religious celebrations in Thimphu and is set on the banks of a river.

Entry fee: Rs. 300 per head

We spent the rest of the day at local markets looking at beautiful handicraft items, sitting by the clock tower and enjoying the chilly weather.

Our next destination was Punakha, it is a small and pretty town and can be easily done in a day. So we reserved a car for the entire day for Rs. 3000 -- pickup from hotel, sightseeing in Punakha and drop back to our hotel in Thimphu.

Day 4

Stupas or Chorten @Dochula

Photo of Dochula, Thimphu-Punakha Highway, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia
Photo of Dochula, Thimphu-Punakha Highway, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

En route Punakha, we stopped at Dochula Pass for breakfast. Dochula Pass has a stunning view of snow-clad Himalayan peaks including Mt. Masanggang, the highest peak in Bhutan on one side and includes 108 stupas or chortens on the other.

Punakha Dzong

Photo of Punakha Dzong, Punakha, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

Inside the Punakha Dzong

Photo of Punakha Dzong, Punakha, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

Punakha Dzong is one of the most historic dzongs in the whole country and served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955. It is located at the confluence of the Pho Chhu (Male) and Mo Chhu (Female) rivers. This is the site where various religious events, festivals, King's marriage ceremony and coronation are celebrated.

It has an Entry fee of Rs. 300 which is totally worth it since you will be provided with a guide to help you visit the huge Dzong.

Longest Suspension Bridge in Bhutan

Photo of Punakha Suspension Bridge, Punakha, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

This is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan and has its unique beauty and you can feel the wind as the prayer flags flutter on the sides of the bridge. It provides an excellent place for photo-shooting with both male and female rivers beneath and mountains on all sides.

Druk River Rafting

Photo of Druk Rafting Service, Punakha, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

Next was the most exciting part of the day - River Rafting. Rafting could be organized in both male and female rivers; while the female river is calm and gentle, male river is powerful with more rapids.

Generally they charge Rs. 10,000 and Rs. 8,000 per raft for male and female river respectively. We managed to bargain for the male river rafting at Rs. 8k. We found two more people, so it cost us 2k per person.

This is also known as the fertility temple. Do ask someone about its history and the Divine Mad Man.

After the long tiring day in Punakha, we left for Thimphu by 6pm in the evening.

Day 5


Photo of Paro, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

We headed to our next destination Paro, about 55 km from Thimphu. We booked a cab for Rs. 800 and reached Paro by 11 am.

There are a lot of cafes in Paro market - Champaca Cafe, Mountain Cafe, Brioche Cafe. Carrot cakes are a must anywhere in Bhutan. Other places to eat - Authentic Pizza.

Rinpung Dzong

Photo of Rinpung Dzongkhag, Paro, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

We walked along the banks of the river Paro Chuu to visit the Rinpung Dzong and a museum close to it. It is just on the banks of the river and has a walk of about 15 min uphill from where one can get mesmerizing view of the entire city - Paro.

Dzong timings - Until 4pm in winters

We spent the rest of the evening chilling on the banks of the river just outside the Rinpung Dzong.

We stayed at Hotel Dorjeeling located right opposite to Champaca Cafe

Day 6
Photo of Tigers Nest, Paro, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia
Photo of Tigers Nest, Paro, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

Tiger's nest or Taktsang, probably the most sacred place of Bhutan is located in the cliffside of the upper Paro valley, about 12 km from Paro market. Cabs take around Rs.600 for the round trip from hotel to the base point.

Once you drive up to the base of the mountain to embark upon the journey to Tiger’s Nest, the climb seems very daunting - to the naked eye, all one sees is a tiny white spot on the side of the mountain – about 3000ft up vertically. With every curve of the mountain, via the winding road, the air gets thinner and the climb more rigorous. But as Lord Buddha said, it is the journey that you need to keep in mind and not the destination. It took us about 3.5 hours uphill. The descent to the base was not much easier considering that it is just a beaten path and a fairly steep incline. The entire experience was unforgettable.

Things to keep in mind for Tiger's nest trek:

1. Get your tickets to the temple from the base point itself (costs Rs. 500 per head) as you cannot avail it from anywhere else once you leave the base.

2. Carry enough water and juices as there is nothing other than a Cafe throughout the trek.

3. Carry enough food as there is just one Cafe located midway of the trek and serves food only at lunch hours from 12 noon - 3 pm.

We spent the evening at Tshetob Ying Yum Spa and Massage to relax ourselves from the strenuous trek.

Day 7

Phuentsholing is about 160 kms from Paro and takes about 4.5 hours. We left for Phuentsholing by the 9am bus from Paro.

Bus Ticket cost - Rs. 235 per head

Crocs @Crocodile Zoo

Photo of Crocodile Zoo, Norgay lam, Phuentsholing, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

Aligators @Crocodile Zoo

Photo of Crocodile Zoo, Norgay lam, Phuentsholing, Bhutan by Amisha Chordia

We visited the Crocodile zoo or Amo Chhu Crocodile Breeding Centre at Phuentsholing; it was a 10 min walk from the city bus stop and our hotel Bhutan Residence.

Entry fee: Rs. 100 per head

We stayed again at Bhutan Residence as we did on our first day. We had our flight back to Mumbai from Bagdogra on the next day, so we got our cab booked to Bagdogra from Phuentsholing for Rs. 2000.

Day 8

Take off @Bagdogra Airport

Photo of Bagdogra Airport, Darjeeling, West Bengal, India by Amisha Chordia

The cab picked us from the hotel early morning at 6:30 am and reached the airport within 4 hours.

We spent the return journey just browsing through the pictures clicked... Each one of them had a story and a memory attached!!!

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