Monsoon road-trip to Bhutan
The Land of Happiness
Days we spent – 6 nights 7 days during the month of June 2016
Total costing – Delhi to Delhi Rs.90000/- for 2 adults 1 child all inclusive
Route taken – Delhi – Bagdogra – Dooars – Phuentsholing – Thimphu – Punakha – Paro – Phuentsholing – Bagdogra – Delhi
Documents required for Indians – Permit available for free at Phuentsholing by producing Voter’s ID or passport copy and 1 photograph each between Monday to Friday Currency – Indian currency is acceptable everywhere including the NEW 500 and 2000 rupees notes Dress code – Bhutan is a conservative country, they don’t allow women in shorts and short clothes inside their monasteries and dzongs.
We visited Sikkim a couple of years back and while we were on our way to Sikkim, our driver showed us the beautiful looking Pink Coronation bridge and mentioned that to reach Bhutan you have to cross this bridge. From that point onward Bhutan was on our mind. So this year we finally decided to visit Bhutan and we chose to visit in the month of June which isn’t a peak season neither an off season and we anyways enjoy the hills when it rains….everything seems so green, misty and beautiful…
So, we researched how to reach Bhutan. We stay in Delhi so there were two ways to reach Bhutan, either fly directly to Paro, Bhutan by DrukAir (https://www.drukair.com.bt), which was pretty expensive for my family of 3, so we chose the other available option.
Day 1: Reaching Bhutan – We flew till Bagdogra and hired a cab, an AC Maruti Wagon R for the rest of our trip at Rs.2500 per day all inclusive with a decent driver. (Driver Laltu – +91 7547993994)
We reached Bagdogra around 12 noon and started our road journey towards Phuentsholling, the border town to enter Bhutan, from where every Indian would be required to take a permit to continue their journey ahead. It took us about 5 hours to reach Phuentsholing with a lunch break and some photo breaks in between through the beautiful forest range of Dooars, West Bengal, tea gardens, crossing a few rivers etc.
Phuentsholing is a small quiet town in Bhutan one would need to spend a night at least to get the permit or they can stay at Jaigaon, India which I found very crowded and dirty. So we stayed at Hotel Lhaki, Phuentsholing which we booked online through http://www.bhutanbookings.com. Phuentsholling has a few nice restaurants like Zen restaurant, Kizom cafe and Kimsa
Day 2: Permit – Next morning at about 7 am we reached the Permit office in Phuentsholing with filled up forms, passport copies and our photographs and still I was number 7 in queue. The office opened at 9 am, as expected there was a complete chaos as there were hundreds of Indians specially and the local travel agents. The office was completely mismanaged and everything was manual so I had to use my Delhi’s aggressive qualities to get my permit valid for next 7 days which was in my hand in about an hour, our driver immediately got his vehicle permit from the transport office and we were good to start our journey into Bhutan.
We started our journey around 11 am after breakfast, visited the Crocodile farm and Phuntsholing Gumpha, stopped at DANTAK Army canteen for Lunch, bought some fresh plums and apricots on the way, travelled amidst the clouds and mists, stopped at Chuzom, the confluence of Thimphu and Paro rivers and at few more places for clicking photos and reached our hotel, Hotel Norbuling Thimphu around 5 pm. As I mentioned I love travelling when it’s not the peak season, I got an upgrade to a valley view Suite room for no extra cost.
Thimphu has a few very nice restaurants and cafes like The Zone, Ambient cafe, Tibet kitchen, Thija cafe and many more. These are the ones where I actually had great meals.
Day 3: Thimphu sightseeing – After having our breakfast around 9 am we rushed to the permit office to get our permit for visiting Punakha, Bumthang and Haa which is only available at Thimphu. We got that very easily hand to hand just by producing a copy of our Phuentsoling permit. One can even get their permits extended from here if they intend to stay for more than 7 days in Bhutan.
We continued our Thimphu sightseeing and visited the giant Buddha at Buddha Dordenma, Thimphu memorial Chorten, Changangkha Lhakhang, and National folk heritage museum. We had a nice traditional Bhutanese meal at the National folk heritage museum which costs about Rs.500 per person and it’s completely worth the money.
We even got a Bhutan stamp made with our own photograph from the Bhutan Post Office at Thimphu just for Rs.360 and we immediately sent a few letters to India with those stamps. In the evening at about 4.50 pm we reached the Thimphu Tashichho Dzong where we witnessed the Change of guards / Flag dehoisting ceremony sharp at 5pm.
Day 4: Punakha – Early morning at about 8 am we started out journey for Punakha which is about 72 km from Thimphu and took us about 4 hours to reach. We stopped at the Dochula pass which was totally covered by clouds and had zero visibility. We reached the Punakha Dzong at about 12 noon and we had to really rush inside as the dzong remains closed for lunch between 12-2 pm. We were mesmerised to see the Punakha Dzong from outside. The river flowing next to it made it even more beautiful. Then we visited the Punakha suspension bridge and Chimi L’hakhang temple. One can even do rafting there, we were not carrying any extra clothes so we had to skip that. Had lunch at a small town Lobesa and returned to Thimphu at about 5 pm. Thimphu has a nice market but everything is very expensive as compared to India. Bhutan sleeps early so everything shuts around 9 pm.
Day 5: Chele La Pass and Paro – Around 9 am we checked out from our hotel and started our journey towards our next and most awaited destination, Paro. We stopped at Tachogang Lhakhang suspension bridge which is ideal for some photo shoots and then we continued our journey towards Chele la Pass. We reached Chele la pass around 11 am. It was above 13000 ft and totally covered with clouds and mists and we could hardly see anything but it was an amazing feel. We had some Maggi and cup noodles there for about Rs. 100 each, stayed there for a while, clicked some pictures and decided to return to Paro. We skipped visiting Haa as there was no visibility and there wasn’t much to do at Haa.
Day 6: Trek to Tiger’s nest monastery – This was our first trek and we also had an eleven year old with us, we were extremely excited and motivated to do the trek and had our individual backpacks filled with juices, chocolates, biscuits water etc. We started from our hotel at 6 am and started our trek exactly around 6.30 am. The trekking path was beautiful and very scenic with a few waterfalls. One can either take the horse for Rs.600 that drops them midway till the canteen or can trek the whole. We decided to trek. The trek took us about 4 hours to reach the top with lots of breaks in between and it was quite tough towards the later half. The TaktsangPalphug Monastery or Tiger’s nest is at 10200 ft and the trek is almost about 3.5 km long. The view we got after reaching there was totally worth the trek and the hard work. We stayed there for about an hour, clicked some pictures and reached down in an hour or so. The downhill trek was much easier. On our way back we visited the Rinpung dzong and Kichu Lakhang.
There were few very good restaurants and cafes in Paro like Authentic Pizza and Brioche cafe. I even visited a local karaoke bar at Paro and let that be a mystery for everyone to experience but it was funny and entertaining.
Day 7: Trip ends – So here we came towards the end of our trip and it was time to return home with thousand of pictures and memories for a lifetime. We started our drive back towards Phuentsholing, had a nice lunch at Kizom cafe, they make such amazing Pizzas and desserts and continued our trip towards Bagdogra to catch our flight to Delhi.