Bhutan — The Land of Thunder Dragon. This is no where related to the existence of dragons 😀 It’s just because of mighty thunders.
What makes Bhutan so special? Gross National Happiness and Nature.
In 1972, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, 4th King of Bhutan, declared Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.
Before diving into my journey, here’s a glimpse one must witness to know about the significance and the role of this Buddhist nation in today’s world.
Tshering Tobgay is the former Prime Minister of Bhutan and the President of People’s Democractic Party in Bhutan. The first registered political party in Bhutan. Remember, Bhutan is a kingdom 🙂
Bhutan is a landlocked kingdom located in the Eastern Himalayas with less population after Maldives and the happiest place on earth. Nearly 72% is under forest cover and the only nation which is “Carbon Negative”.
A country with no districts and no traffic signals. Smoking is illegal and tobacco products as well. One can enjoy liquor at most of the restaurants instead. Thimpu is the capital and Phuentsholing is financial centre. Currency is Bhutanese ngultrum and Indian Rupee is also accepted widely.
The Government is Parliamentary Democracy, the head of the State is the King of Bhutan also called as the Dragon King.
If you’re not flying direct to Paro, you can experience to live in two places at once like a fantasy.
Amidst of the mountains and lush green trees, there are few major destinations to visit everyone. They’re not simply tourist spots for the natural beauty but also having mighty significance with heartfelt stories existing behind.
One has to travel through valleys for reaching every other district by road and no other mode of transport is available. Starting from one hill to reach another hill for a different district is amazing although few feel dizzy 😛
Paro, Thimpu, Punakha are the major places one can cover if they travel for a week as travelling takes most of the time.
Nation with no traffic signals.. No peep peep!!
Time to visit :
Depends on the individuals I’d say as if someone is really wanted to enjoy cool weather October to January is the best time. In this trip, I couldn’t find much greenery along the valleys although hills are much in green. I’d love to visit in late spring as the famous rhododendrons blooms and will be spectacular.
How to reach :
Air : Direct flights are available from Kolkata and Delhi. If you’re lucky you’ll see Mt. Everest. Remember, Paro airport is a dangerous one which is 1.5 miles above sea and only 8 pilots are qualified.
Rail : New Jalpaiguri (West Bengal) is the last station and one can book cab to Phuentsholing.
Road : Reach Bagdogra/Siliguri and reach Phentsholing. Advised to fly till Bagdogra and catch/hire a bus/car to save time and relax.
Indian citizens carrying a Valid Passport/Aadhaar card is enough and the immigration process takes max up to 1 hour. For a foreign citizen, the rules have been changed from 2020. It is advised to go through the official portals.
Ending decades of free entry to Indian tourists visiting Bhutan, the government in Thimphu has decided to levy a daily ₹1,200 ($17) fee for Indians. Starting from July, 2020.
Bhutanese currency is Ngultrum which is equal to Indian Rupee and one need not to worry about it as we’ve seen many stores for exchanging currency. ATM’s are available and banks charge 3% – 5% so better to carry cash or card.
Shopping is truly expensive and if one wants to shop something, it is advised to shop at Phuentsholing.
Language isn’t a barrier here as most of them speak hindi and understand english. Fascinatingly, most of the hotels have a bar in the entrance.
B-mobile and Tashi are the mobile networks available in Bhutan and one can easily get a 3g sim although every hotel offers WiFi signal.
Food & Tickets :
Ema Datsi, Tukpa are quite good to try if you’d love to taste something new. Momo’s are available every where and mostly one can get North indian food at a decent rate almost in all of the restaurants.
No KFC, PIZZA HUT, DOMINOS — Remember there is a King seeking the Welfare of the People unlike our Governments 😀
Every monastery is almost free and few charge you an entrance fee of ₹ 50/- to ₹ 200/-. Only for Tiger’s Nest it is ₹ 500/-.
- River rafting
- Cave crossing at the Tango Monastery
- Watching the Archery Game in Thimpu
- Can plan Lunch in a canopy on some river side as well.
Suggest you to experience the stay at Norbuling and Himalayan Dragon’s Nest Hotel although we didn’t stay here but at par the best I’ve seen and bookmarked to stay if I’m going to visit agian.
We started from Siliguri to Phuentsholing which took 7 hrs to reach (Route is worst, under construction and one-way mostly). Phuentsholing is the first city you’ll come across and don’t forget to get a snap of the gate.
As you enter, you can find the visa office for immigration on your right and you’ll be in two places at the same time 🙂
Had lunch and later, headed to Paro which took 6-7 more hours and we all were so damn exhausted ending up in a sound sleep.
Pro Tip :
Try to stay overnight in Phuentsholing and reach here by afternoon if visiting from Siliguri by road. As one can process immigration soon and visit Alan View Point and Crocodile zoo as well.
Karbandi Monastery is our first visiting spot which is 5 kms away from Phuentsholing then to Kyichu Lhakhang temple and Ta Dzong where there’s an ancient watch tower and even we can get a glimpse of Paro Airport 🙂
Later we went for street shopping.
Kyichu Lhakhang is the oldest temple which 10 mins far from Paro city. Dzongdrakha is a cliff-side temple famous for 4 shrines and the statues Shabdrung Ngawang, Guru Rinpoche, and Shakyamuni Buddha are so mighty one has to witness personally.
It is believed that :
According to legend, an Indian pilgrim couple visited this place and prayed for a child. The wish was granted, and since then, couples have been visiting this place in hopes of a better future.
Dzongdrakha Temple (TIGER’s NEST)
The most famous & prominent temple which is 3120 meters above sea-level on the side of paro valley which takes nearly 5-6 hours (4 miles approx.) to complete. B’limey it’s worth doing & we left to Thimpu, Bhutan’s Capital.
Pro Tip :
Carry light food and you won’t feel tired in the beginning however after crossing the mid-way restaurant beware the slope/steep is harsh.
It is believed that :
Guru Rinpoche meditated first here eventually brought Buddhism to Bhutan. They believe, he was carried from Tibet to this location on the back of a tigress (name behind TIGER’s NEST).
We started to Punakha from Thimpu after having a pretty happy breakfast to see Dochula Pass and Punakha Dzong.
Dochula Pass is the mountain pass connecting Thimpu and Punakha having a great significance beyond the natural beauty. Chimi Lhakhang (Fertility Temple) is another temple quite special for it’s own significance. However, I loved the route we walked through Sopsokha village along the paddy fields. Punakha Dzong is a fort on the side of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in Punakha Valley.
Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen Mother built 108 Chortens or stupas in the memory of 108 soldiers who died in December 2003 battle while fighting against Indian Assamese insurgents.
As the trip is going to end and as we couldn’t manage time we missed visiting the Punakha hanging bridge as we didn’t get enough time to manage the lunch and yet we compensated by visiting Buddha Dordenma built on the eve of their fourth king Jigme Singy Wangchuck‘s 60th anniversary.
We spent our time for the rest of evening at the flea market to shop some goodies and as usual they’re pretty costly.
This mighty 117 ft statue construction was started in 2006 and completed in September 2015. Although, there’s slightly parking lot need to build. Statue was built of bronze and glided in gold. Under the statue there are over 100 thousand small statues, can you believe!!
Our guides are pretty cautious about the departure as they expected snow fall and the journey becomes so mess as there won’t be no other transport connectivity so we started early in the morning to cross those valleys at the earliest possible. Although, we stuck at one checkpoint for 30 mins, we made it luckily. Unfortunately, we couldn’t witness the snow fall and honestly, the weather used to fall till -5ºc which is quite thrilling.
If you’ve observed and added the duration it took for reaching thimpu from the beginning, one can easily understands why I advised to visit Paro directly or make time to visit places in Paro at the end 😀
Just Missed :
Snowfall which happened the very next day and Punakha suspension bridge.
Personally, I’ve never travelled in a flight and the first time experience made me excited a bit. For the fact, I’m not a excited person always.
We went to a local pub in Paro on Day 2 and that was mind-blowing. The energy and the scenes we’ve seen while bargaining with the staff is hilarious.
Thanks to my fellow darlings, even Day 3 was amazing. We went out into the fields for trying astro-photography and ended up dancing till 1 a.m in – 7ºc temperature. Post arriving to the hotel, I ended up with another crazy “Never ever” time pass session which I really never ever came across.
Room heaters, Hot water, Maggi, Jacuzzi what not even the sandwich I bought in flight gave a memory to me. Yet, I’m not completely satisfied and I really look forward to visit another time.
Do's & Don'ts
- Bhutan Gate closes at 10 p.m and no one will be allowed post the stipulated time.
- A local guide is mandatory to travel in Bhutan.
- Smoking is not allowed in public and Tobacco is banned in Bhutan.
- Weed can be seen growing but smoking weed is prohibited and imprisonment up to 5 years.
- Photography isn’t allowed inside any temple and most of monasteries.
- While visiting the temples, please do wear proper outfits preferably not much revealing.
- King and the Royal Family. Almost in every restaurant, cafe, house, shop you’ll find the posters/photo frames so don’t make fun of it.
Reach Thimpu in whatever mode you travel and end the trip from Paro. Plan in such a way you’re going to visit TIGER’s Nest before departure and enjoy the Hot Stone Massage post trekking.
Eventually, your trip is going to end with a bang. Wish you’ll have a Happy Time in the so called Happiest Country ^_^
So that’s the end of my trip.