The Solo Bhutan Trip - Casting Off the Transient

16th Dec 2016


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“Solo is the journey to Soul”

Solo travelling was just a dream until sometimes back. I fearfully thought of taking some short solo trips to nearby places to combat my fears but never dared to. With every passing day, few wishes getting on the edge and urge, solo trip became everyday thought and unconsciously it curbed into me as a whole. The other reason for this, I want to turn all my fears into strengths and travelling solo is one of them. As it’s said that what you think become the reality because every single inner thought and emotion is a communication to the universe and that vibrates and re-vibrates according to your attitude. Therefore, I believe that everything fell in place beautifully for me to make a beautiful Solo Trip to Bhutan. The sole purpose to write this blog is to help my friends who are planning to visit Bhutan. With this, I also take the opportunity to share my emotions to all those female travelers who still have a second thought about travelling alone or looking for the right opportunity or have any sort of fear. Bhutan is the best place in the world if you wish to travel solo first time because it’s safe and also it’s officially world’s happiest country. A special mention - “if you are struggling anything in life, taking a solo trip to Bhutan is more than enough to change you as a person and give you a fresh perspective to life. Moreover, solo trip to Bhutan can give you ideas and awareness for future trips. The blog is mainly about the routes and schedules so it helps to plan your visit in better way to utilize time and money. Because when you travel, time and money both are precious along with your happiness. If you are nature and peace lover, this place is all yours. Here is my 8 days travel schedule:-

Day 1 :-

Bangalore - Bagdogra Airport - Siliguri Junction Railway Stn - Hasimara - Jaigaon

9:25am - 3:00pm - 4:45pm - 9:00pm - 9:30pm

I followed the above route to reach Bhutan Border. For information, Jaigon is border on India Side and Phuentsholing is the border on Bhutan side. The entry to Bhutan is closed by 9:30pm so had to stay overnight in Jaigon and with some help, managed to find a decent stay for the night. (Fares are nominal for public transport).

Day 2:- It was Dec 17th, Saturday and came to know from Security at Bhutan Gate that 17th Dec is national holiday so their offices are shut hence cannot get permit. They are closed on Sunday too so now I was bit disappointed as the trip is limited to only 5 days. So I gathered some information on how to best utilize these two days and decided to go to Darjeeling. From Jaigon, I again took Jaigaon-Hasimara-Siliguri Junction (Railway Stn) route. There is bus stand outside of railway station around 200 mtr away and as per my information frequency of buses are less than Tata Sumos for Darjiling. So, I took Tata Sumo on sharing basis and reached Darjiling at 5pm (takes around 3 hrs from siliguri junction) and it was already dark there. I took another one and half hour to find a decent lodge. This small yet so beautiful town gets closed by 8pm so I spent some time walking from Toy Train Station to the other side of Town which is Mall Road, and Chaurasta to get the zest of the place. And luckily there was some 3 days live concert was going on for some local festival so got to enjoy that. Spending time in a café named “Amigos” which gives a feel of sort of Spanish Café and tasting the local Darjiling Tea with Aloo Parantha in the shivering cold at the 4 degree temperature and watching the live concert from the café was the cozy and a nostalgic experience and hindi songs from 80’s and 90’s were taking me into the childhood winter memories. I am from Rajasthan and Rajasthan is pretty cold in Winters so the combination of climate, songs and tea with parantha was enough to be nostalgic sick. I did not want to leave the place but have to as life is all about moving on and traversing to new places, new stages, new experiences so let’s move ahead. Reached my lodge at 8:30pm and here I am on mission “Darjiling in A Day” so I negotiated on a package in 2000 rs including 2 night stay, a day of sight seeing. Slept off for the day with extreme cold I have ever felt in ages. (Never experienced chilled winters than Delhi and Rajasthan and Darjiling was much more along with chilly winters)

Day 3: As a part of package, have to be ready at 4am to witness the ever beautiful sunrise in my life so far from Tiger Hill. Then visited an old Monastery, went to Batasiya Garden - a view point for the Kanchenjunga snow covered peaks, a Japanese Temple (they chant Nam-Myo-Ho-Renge-Kyo solely for world peace) and Buddha Peace Pagoda, Tea Garden, Himalayan Mountaineer Institute (a very special visit for me) and Zoo. Enjoyed the cable car ride too. Finished sigh-seeing around 5pm and again went to roam into the town. I love walking so walked from one corner to other of the town, talked to different people to know more about the place and feel the local town flavor of Darjiling. By the time, I am already in love with the place JJJ

(Note :- I will write separately about my experiences to specific places and destination, this particular blog is to help with basic information like the routes, medium of transport, stay, etc to visit Bhutan and now Darjiling too if they are in like alike situation)

Day 4: It’s Monday and the aim is to reach Phuentsholing asap to get the permit. Started from Darjiling 5am via the same route (Darjiling-Siliguri-Hasimara-Jaigaon) and reached Phuentsholing Immigration Office around 1pm and it took around 2 hours to get permit due to long queue. One thing to note is they do not provide permit to single people that’s what I have heard so it’s good to attach your permit form with someone else so it’s get easier. After getting the permit, I decided to go to Thimpu as did not want to waste time so caught the last bus to Thimpu from Phuentsholing bus stop. There are buses available in every 30 minutes from Phuentsholing to Thimpu and vice-versa and the fare is 245 rs. That’s the best frequency they have, else the availability of buses are very limited in Bhutan so the people have to rely on taxis and that too if it’s in sharing basis, it’s affordable else you have to pay equal to 4 people in reserved taxi. I took the last bus at 4:30pm from Phuentsholing to Thimpu which reached at 10pm. Meanwhile, my primary concern was accommodation as the city shuts by 8pm. Though I heard that Bhutanese people are too helpful but yet to experience. Apparently, while enquiring about the bus timings and availability, I met a Bhutanese guy and he was too helpful that he arranged my stay in decent lodge in decent budget by the time I reached Thimpu. It was a great help. So yes, Bhutanese people are too awesome and they are always glad to help others. Thimpu is too cold. Reached to the lodge which was walk-in from where the bus dropped me. The town area is quite small but beautiful, neat and clean with no much crowd.

Day 5 : First thing to do is to get local SIM number so I got it for 150 rs. Had breakfast and It’s bit difficult to find a good place for vegetarians in Bhutan as most of the population is non vegetarian. The girl who helped me to buy local mobile number, made a list of all the visiting places in Thimpu. Quite helpful again. Taxis are very expensive for single person and eventually happened to share the taxi with two other Indian guys I met there. Coincidentally, they are also from Namma Bengaluru and became friends now. The whole day, we visited all the places in and around Thimpu like Chorten War Memorial, Thimpu Heritage Museum, One of the oldest Monastery, some other monasteries, one of the largest Buddha Statue in the world, The football stadium, The royal palace (also called Dzong – the administrative offices) for flag hoisting ceremony said to be the good one but I missed it as the timings changed. (it’s open from 4:30pm – 5:30pm and the timings keep on changing as per their rules so always confirm in advance). One suggestion is, there are so many monasteries in so pick and choose few monasteries with significant history and popularity because it’s very difficult to visit all the monasteries in short trip and the driver can guide you in this.

The day was a very different kind of experience in every sense though Bhutanese people speak hindi and English as well. You can hear hindi songs very often there. There is no beggar in Bhutan neither they have any traffic signals. That shows how disciplined and well behaved they are. Knowing more about Bhutan was very impressive.We paid 1500 for taxi for one day in Thimpu and the driver was so patient and nice that he provided so much information about the place and also helped us to extend our permit in Thimpu for further places. (Please note that No Permit required to visit Phuentsholing, To visit Paro and Thimpu, you have to get permit at Phuentsholing and if you want to go somewhere else apart from Thimpu and Paro, you have to extend your permit at Thimpu Immigration Office. There are two checkpost from Phuentsholing to Thimpu, you have to get your stamping done at both the checkpost.)

As of now we are three people and one more was suppose to join the next day. So we planned to visit Punakha next day (Wednesday) and to reach Paro the very same day by 8pm (Wednesday) so we can trek to Tigernest Monastery on Thursday and it’s full day activity and I have to reach Pheuntsholing from Paro by Thursday night.

Day 6 :- Started to Punakha from Thimpu at 9:30am and it takes around 3 hrs to reach Punakha. It was just a visit to Punakha, no plans to stay there so there are few good places on the way like Dochula Pass and further to Punakha. The zigzag route makes it even more adventurous with the beautiful view of mountains then there is a conflux (where two river meets and there is Dzong situated between both the rivers which makes the whole view even more beautiful. There is a hanging bridge too which I did not visit. I went till Punakha Dzong. I would suggest to stop at Damchen Resort while coming back from Punakha Dzong. Dzong remains closed from 1-3pm and we reached there at 1:30pm hence we all went to have lunch and stopped at Damchen Resort though the food is okay types but too expensive then we roamed around and went to the river shore which flows very close to the resort. That’s the best way for me to enjoy my solitude sitting near the river shore in cold weather with some sun rays shining over me and the divine blue color of the river water was making me insane and all this is enough to cleanse my inner conflicts. After spending 2 hrs including lunch, went back to Dzong. We started around 5pm from Punakha Dzong for Paro. Reached there at around 8pm. We paid 3500rs for 4 people. Arranged for accommodation and planned for next day the much awaited Tiger Nest Trek which I was longing since a long time and finally the day is here and I am already too happy :)

Day 7 :- Started from Paro town to TigerNest base camp at 10am then from base camp to Tigernest peak at 10:30am. Paro to Tigernest Base camp distance is around 10km. The trek was moderate throughout except one or two places being bit steep but easily doable. Trial is so clear and pre-defined that makes it easily doable for first timers too. I reached there around 1:15pm and monastery remains closed from 1pm-2pm so had to wait for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, those 45 minutes of solitude just went by like few moments in admiration of nature. The whole view from the Monastery is just serene. It’s full of nature, on the left side, the range of mountains full of greenery with crowning clouds and right side, there is a waterfall flowing from the higher mountains. The hanging monastery on the cliff always left me stunned whenever I saw any picture and this time, the feeling was so different as I was present there at the moment witnessing the stunningly awesome beauty “The TigerNest”. Finished the trek and hit the base camp around 4:30pm.

There are horses to carry the people to the monastery but I would suggest climb on your feet because as experience speaks it’s always journey over the destination. Destination is certainly stunning and beautiful but achieving the destination on your own makes the journey profound.

Reached to Paro town by 5:10pm and left for Pheuntsholing though it seemed impossible to get the shared taxi but one gentleman helped me too much and he accompanied me till Chunchun Pass (spelling may be incorrect but this is the place where Thimpu and Paro intersects and there are three ways, one for Paro, second for Thimpu and other one is for Phuentsholing) and he asked to Police people to help as no vehicle stops there except if police stops them for checking. From there, they helped me to get one taxi to Pheuntsholing. Reached Jaigaon.

Day 8:- Back to India – Jaigon-Hasimara-Bagdogra Airport-Kolkata-Bangalore

Ø Indian and Bhutanese currency is of same value and Indian Currency can be used in Bhutan.

Ø Master & Visa Cards are accepted in ATMs and 100 bucks are deducted per withdrawal.

Ø Internet is quite expensive.

Ø Carry a passport size photo and ID proof. Also, get the national holiday list beforehand to save time.

“Roads may be random, destination may be destined but the journey is always profound and the journey itself makes it’s life through you.” - Dimple Ranawat