Who should visit Bhutan?
- You are spiritual: Do you like introspection? Are you a big fan of self-exploration and mysticism? Do you believe in a cause higher than the satisfaction of physical pleasure?
- You like different people and culture: Are you always curious about why people are so different; do you take out time to learn more about the reasons? Try visiting Bhutan during a Tsechu (festival).
- You are comfortable travelling slow: you do not want to cram in all the places at one go. You do not care if you miss out a certain “must-see attraction”, and you can completely enjoy your fifth day at the same place. Bhutan is a very small country, in terms of cultural differences, or even, landscapes, for that matter; there is little visual change from one dzongkhag (district) to another.
How to visit?
For Indian/ Maldivian/ Bangladeshi travellers:
- Start with the landmark city: Kolkata (Calcutta).
- From Kolkata, catch a train to Hasimara (Kanchenkanya express; ~14hrs). Or catch a bus, directly to Phuentsholing (Non AC, seater; ~17hrs)
- (For train travellers) After reaching Hasimara, catch a share rickshaw/ taxi to Jaigaon. This is the Indian side at the Indo-Bhutanese border.
- (For train travellers) From Jaigaon, you can simply walk across the border to reach Phuentsholing. This is the Bhutanese side at the Indo-Bhutanese border.
- At Phuentsholing, you need to apply for permit at the Immigration Office, near to the border gate. Office timing: Monday – Friday from 9AM to 5PM.
If you’d be a solo traveller (like I was), you will be asked to write an indemnity bond. No worries here; the person at the counter will help you out with the content; he will also provide you a paper to write on. Essentially, it is a letter which states that if something unfortunate happens to you, Bhutanese government will not be held responsible. (The whole process took about 40 minutes, for me.)
- From Phuentsholing, you will get a bus to Thimphu and Paro, and few other places. (From the Phuentsholing Immigration office, you will only get permit to visit Thimphu and Paro. To visit other places, you need apply for route access after reaching Thimphu.)
Simply fly into Paro airport. All the immigration formalities will be taken care of at the airport, itself. Pretty straightforward.
For other nationals:
Contact a local travel agent in Bhutan. You will find numerous agents with a brief google search. Though the official rate would be between USD 200 – USD 250 per person, per day, with the increase in competition, some agents even arrange trips for less than USD 170, at undercut.
What is there in Bhutan?
Tiger’s Nest monastery: This is one of the most interesting pieces of architecture in Bhutan. It’s simply mesmerizing. The entire structure seems to be placed delicately onto a mountain cliff. It is scary, yet marvellous. The 3 hour hike is filled with views that would take our breath away, and at the end of it is the most enthralling of climaxes.
Rinpong Dzong: This Dzong is infinitely peaceful. It is filled with Lama students, but it would give the appearance of a deserted palace. Every corner, every angle is a goldmine for ardent photographers. While inside the Dzong, walk towards a nearby window and you can see airplanes landing into the beautiful Paro valley. The landscape makes for an amazing shot. Try taking a selfie with the young Lamas, they are normally very shy.
Museums: Just further ahead on the road for the Dzong is the National Museum, Paro. Apart from this, there are two museums in Thimphu that are worth a visit: Folk Heritage museum and the Textile museum, both of these are close to town.
Drayang: This is a Bhutanese version of “dance bar”, albeit, without any of the vulgarities associated with it. Here, young Bhutanese girls, attired in traditional clothes (Kira) dance to the tunes of romantic Bhutanese or Bollywood songs. This is one great place to grab a drink.
The Buddha point: This is also good for a hike from the Thimphu town. It is quite a long hike, so start early in the morning. I had started the hike around 11AM, a ridiculous time; the sun had shown no mercy! Thankfully, a pretty girl was walking to her home after a seminar in a nearby Church; her umbrella and her company kept me from cursing my choice of time!
Relish Bhutanese cuisine at the Folk Heritage museum restaurant. There are two set menus, (as of September 2015) for Nu 300 and Nu 500. Obviously, I chose the Nu 300 one. It had rice, chicken curry, fried Spinach in Vinegar, Potato cheese, Chilli chutney, and Soja (Butter Tea) and raosted rice and corn flakes for appetizers. Everything was unlimited, you could keep on refilling as much as your tummy would allow. And, the best part is, the lunch was wholesome, and delicious!
Good to know
- Bhutan is essentially run by India; and, Indian currency works just fine (except for the thousand rupee notes).
- Roads in Bhutan can be quite as bumpy as certain Indian roads. (Interestingly, it is managed by BRO.)
- Bhutanese Sim can be purchased for 210 nu from Tashi complex, few hundred metres from the Phuentsholing border. (This is including 200 nu talktime!)
- Kolkata is the lifeline of Jaigaon. Jaigaon is the lifeline of Bhutan.
- One of the things I disliked the most is that littering is prevalent in Bhutan. And, most of them chew Doma (Betel nut and leaf) and spit the juice in public places. But, thanks to the low population (~754,000 in 2013), the streets are not that dirty.
- Robberies happen in Bhutan, especially, with the rising unemployment. (I had my phone robbed, alongwith 6000 rupees cash, from my room in Hotel All Seasons, Paro. Land of happiness made me sad!)
- Most of the staffs in Bhutan are women.
- International Debit card ATMs:
- Visa – Bank of Bhutan
- Master – PNB
- Single beds start from as low as 350 (albeit, it would be a room with common bath).