I have always loved to explore tough and challenging places where one can experience what real life is all about. Through my travelogues I’ll be sharing information about all the places that I have visited and my itinerary which mostly focuses on staying close to nature and the hearts of local people. My travel information will help you have a wonderful trip on a budget and save a lot of money which you can use for future travel!
Let’s begin with this Himalayan Kingdom and Land of The Thunder Dragon, decorated with myths, legends, happiness and spirituality – Bhutan!
BASIC TRAVEL INFORMATION BEFORE YOU PLAN: WESTERN BHUTAN
Best Season to go
Spring – March, April, May
Fall – Sept, Oct, Nov
Slow in Dec, Jan, Feb, June, July, Aug
Official Language – Dzongkha
Currency – Nguttrum (NU). INR are accepted. Rs.500/- and Rs.2,000/- notes are not accepted in Bhutan.
Two main Rivers of Bhutan
Mo chhu – Mother River
Pho chhu – Father River
- No VISA required for Indians
- Copy of passport, company-id, any Gov. ID and Xerox copies of these documents, application letter to the immigration officer requesting a permit, 04 passport size photos.
- Form is available at the immigration office
- Fee – No Entry Permit Fee for Indians
GETTING INTO BHUTAN
There are three border points in India to get into Bhutan. Phuntsholing(W.Bengal), Gelephu(Assam) and Samdrup Jongkhar (Assam). I entered Bhutan via Phuntsholing as this route was cheaper.
I flew by Air India to Bagdogra (IXB) airport via Delhi from Mumbai, I took a local taxi from IXB airport to Siliguri Hashimara train station to catch a train for Phuntsholing gate. It was a 3hrs train journey which was pretty relaxing.
Once you get off at the Phuntsholing train station, you will find share taxies for the gate. Please note that there are no good budget hotels around this gate, there are 2-3 five star hotels next to the Immigration Office.
Que up at the immigration office early in the morning. Carry all your documents. The Phuntsholing Immigration office will issue 07 days permit for THIMPHU AND PARO only which will be checked at every single post. Incase you want an extension of the 07days permit or if you want to travel beyond Thimphu and Paro, all that paperwork can be done only at Thimphu Immigration Office.
There isn’t much to do in Phuntsholing, I would suggest proceeding straight to Thimphu.
I travelled to Thimphu by local bus. It is advisable to book the bus ticket a day in advance. The bus fare was Rs.350/- and it was a 6hrs drive to Thimphu. Taxis will charge you approx. 3000/- or more.
The Capital City of Bhutan – THIMPHU
Thimpu is a lovely city, the perfect blend of traditional and modern. There are 2 main streets Wogzin Lam and Norzin Lam. The immigration office of Thimphu is located on Norzin Lam (any street is great to stay). Being the capital city, many good hotel accommodation options are easily available here. I wanted to travel further and also extend my stay in Bhutan so I decided to get my permit extension work done first.
My advise would be to reach the office as early as possible since once you submit your application, they will tell you to collect it after 2-3hrs. In the meantime you can explore the places in Thimphu which are close to the office.
Things to explore in Thimpu:
- Clock Tower Square and Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan opposite the Immigration office). Entry Fee- Rs.50/-
- Thimphu Chorten – Place of worship built in 1974
- Changlimithang Stadium of Bhutan and A Statue Of Buddha, must visit
- Once you collect your new permit, visit Buddha Dordenma on the mountain top to enjoy the beautiful and windy evening and get a spectacular view of the city from the top. Buddha Dordenma – Timing daily 0900Hrs to 1700hrs. I reached the mountain top by taxi in 20mins from Thimphu town.
The buddha is made of bronze and gilded in gold. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large Meditation Hall. The statue houses over one thousand smaller Buddha statues, it is considered to be one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. You can see this statue from any corner of Thimphu!
BEAUTIFUL AND SPIRITUAL PUNAKHA VALLEY
Punakha is a quaint town in the heart of Punakha-Wangdue Valley also at the junction of the Mo Chhu and Po Chhu rivers. It is Bhutan’s former capital, decorated with rice fields and monasteries. This valley is famous for its monasteries, majestic Dzongs and also for mountain biking, trekking and river rafting in Po Chhu River. I travelled by bus to Punakha from Thimphu, It took 2-3hrs and was a beautiful morning drive.
Memorable Punakha Monastery Visit: One must visit the monastery in Punakha for a divine experience
I had the most amazing spiritual experience at the monastry. So, I decided to visit in the morning and came across a few monk kids playing in the monastery’s small ground, I couldn’t stop myself and joined them in their games. They were very shy and hesitant to talk to me at first but in no time we were all friends! I realised that they were very cautious about something and soon I knew what! The Lama entered and everything changed, one of the senior monks politely told me that all monk kids would have to join Lama back in the monastery for their regular rituals. I wished to enter the monastery with them, but it wasn’t allowed. I met the Lama and expressed my wish to be a part of them at least for a few hours and he allowed me!
I entered the monastery without any gadget, a monk kid closed the door and I knew I was in a different world then. Everything was so peaceful and spiritual around me, the lama took his seat, and one of the monk kids came and gave me a mattress to sit on. The sun’s rays showered every one of us inside the monastery and the Lama started chanting some mantras which were repeated by the kids in chorus. I was surrounded by flowers, sun rays, Buddha statues and traditionally painted walls, disciplined monks and their mantras. This experience can’t be expressed in words, one needs to live in that moment to feel it.
After thanking the Lama and the kids for this divine experience, I decided to spend my afternoon at Punakha Dzong.
2. PUNAKHA DZONG (The Palace Of Great Happiness or Bliss)
Opening Time: 9 am to 5 pm, Sunday closed. Timing differs as per season.
Entry – At the entrance, the officer checked my travel permit so carry your travel permit while visiting this Dzong. Entry Fee- 300/-
No Photography is allowed and there are guards inside the Dzong.
This monastic fort is the administrative centre of Punakha and the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan. It is located between the two major rivers, the Pho Chhu (Po means male) and Mo Chhu (Mo means female). This majestic dzong also houses famous Punakha festival.
As I sat chatting with the locals, sipping their famous butter tea they told me how this dzong was built without the use of any nails, not even one! After spending good 02hrs inside the Dzong, I decided to go across the river and enjoy its beauty and pleasant weather, you can also camp across the river. I spent a good amount of time chatting with an old farmer who told me lot of local stories. Whe I was ready to leave to visit my next destination, this kind farmer gifted me a bag of Bhutanese red sticky rice from his farm as a parting gift!
The love and warmth of the locals and the memories in my heart from all the places I visited made me feel really rich.
3. PUNAKHA SUSPENSION BRIDGE
This Hanging Bridge over the Mocchu River is at the Punakha dzong and is a 15min walk. It is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan and was built to connect the villages of the nearby districts to the palace. You will find a lot of prayer flags all along. The real fun begins when it sways a bit due to the strong winds from the flowing river beneath.
4. KHANSUM YULLEY NAMGYAL CHORTEN
It is a short uphill hike from the suspension bridge, through the rice fields. There is a 4 storey temple which has been dedicated for the wellbeing of the kingdom. It took 9 years to build it.
5. THE CHIMI LHAKHANG (The Fertility Temple) It’s the sacred temple, known as the fertility temple where childless couples come to worship with hope that they will be honoured with a blessing from a Buddhist Monk. The woman is made to carry a wooden phallus around the temple thrice.
WANGDUE PHODRANG (Last western town before central Bhutan)
Wangdue Phodrang is a small town which is a 45min straight drive from Punakha. Frequency of local buses from Punakha to Wangdue is a bit less. So I hired a taxi which cost me 1000/- for a round trip.
There is nothing much to see except a formed calm face of Buddha in the rocks
- Buddha Face In The Rocks. Find Me!
- Phobjika valley (one whole day visit) – It is a kind of a sanctuary, famous for endangered black-necked cranes and other wildlife. People do wildlife treks in Phobjika. It is a paradise for bird watchers, trekkers and the wildlife photographers.
I boarded a local bus for Paro from Punakha early in the morning. It is advisable to book the ticket a day in advance, you can book it in closeby local shops also. I paid INR 320/- for the 3hrs drive to Paro from Punakha.
Paro is a prime location for numerous tourists. Paro International Airport is known to be the most challenging airport to land on!
I got off in Tshongdue (name of the area), it is a prime location surrounded by the Himalayas. It is also very famous for bhutanese as well as western food, souvenir shops, small bars, local bands and small local markets. Great hotel accommodation options are easily available.
You will also see youngsters wearing their traditional outfit. Men wear Gho which is a knee-length robe tied at the waist with a handwoven belt known as Kera and women wear Kira which is ankle length piece of woven fabric.
Bhutan’s love for Red Sticky Rice With Hot Ema Datshi
A must try while in Bhutan is their national dish Ema Datshi, (Ema means ‘chilli’ and Datshi means ‘cheese’), it is a famous Bhutanese spicy stew made mainly from hot chilli peppers and Yak cheese and it tastes really good with the red stick rice.
PARO RINPUNG DZONG
Timings 0900Hrs to 1700Hrs. Entry – Free
It is also known as Rinchen Pung Dzong means FORTRESS ON A HEAP OF JEWELS. It was formerly the meeting hall for the National Assembly and now houses both the monastic body and district government offices.
3. National Museum Of Bhutan
Timing – 0900Hrs to 1630hrs
It is located at the top of the hill above Paro Dzong. An old watchtower that was renovated in 1968 to house this national museum. It is a small museum which you can finish quickly after enjoying the top view. Come down on the street and explore the surrounding area which is very beautiful. In Paro you can relax, enjoy good local food and drinks, visit some local music band and spend some quality time before you begin your steep hike to Tiger’s Nest.
4. Tiger’s Nest/Paro Takstang (Bhutani name- Taktshang Goemba)
This monastery is perched on a cliff. It was constructed around the cave where Guru Rinpoche first meditated, the event that introduced Buddhism into Bhutan. It is said that Guru Rinpoche was carried from Tibet to this location on the back of a tigress, thus giving the name ‘Tiger’s Nest’.
To reach hear you need to start your day early. Eat well and don’t carry too much weight since it’s a steep hike. Round trip is approx. 5-7hrs., it depends on your speed and stamina. At the base, there is a cafeteria for you to refresh before you begin climbing.
You will have to deposit your camera at the Tiger’s Nest gate. Photography is not allowed.
I advise you to start climbing early in the morning to avoid getting to your destination when it is crowded, the lesser the crowd the better the spiritual experience. The view from Tiger’s Nest is spectacular and the weather is beautiful, you will see monks meditating there and the whole atmosphere at the top is amazing. I bet that once you reach the monastery, you will forget all your tiredness, in fact, you will feel more energetic!
You can hire a horse to climb but I do not encourage riding a horse or any animal for that matter. The only way to feel the magic of the Tiger’s Nest is to climb all the way to the top and believe me on reaching there you will understand the reason why Bhutan is known as The Happiest Country!
The best way to travel is to travel by local transport, walk as far as possible and connect with as many locals as you can.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Bhutan! For any queries feel free to connect with me via the comments section.