What do you think about spending your next holiday in the world’s happiest country? Bhutan is a mystical land with charm and beauty surpassing the ordinary. A small neighbour of India, Bhutan is still ruled by the monarchy. The Bhutanese are said to be the happiest people of the world, but Bhutan is much more than just that. Also called the land of thunder dragons, the country is mythical to some and extraordinary to those who travelled the place.
Bhutan can be reached either by air or by road. There are Druk Air flights to Paro that are quite affordable if you buy the tickets earlier. Alternatively, you can travel to Phuentsholing by road and then enter Bhutan. Travel to Hasimara by train and then take a car to Phuentsholing. Phuentsholing is the Indo-Bhutan border. A permit is required that can be easily obtained from the Immigration Office in Phuentsholing itself. Carry an ID Card and photograph with you for obtaining the permit. For Indians Passport is not mandatory.
Places to visit in Bhutan
To travel Bhutan it is better to hire a full car on daily basis and visit the different places. Bhutan is a world in itself. The Bhutan Tourism is quite developed and is devoted to responsible and sustainable tourism. The new rules for tourism make sure that Bhutan does not face the threat of over tourism.
Thimpu is about 165 km from Phuentsholing. We had hired a car from Phuentsholing and started towards Thimpu. It is a five hours drive from the border town to Thimpu and the route is one of the most scenic we had seen. The roads were smooth and we passed through a few waterfalls on the way. By afternoon we reached Thimpu.
The capital city of Thimpu is a beautiful, clean city. In Bhutan, we observed that most of the building were of modern built, yet had the traditional motifs and designs about them. I found it to be a perfect blend of the tradition and modernity. The people are also very respectful of their culture. Whenever they are to visit any government office or even a temple, they are dressed in their national attire. And they do it without any complaint and with full devotion. No wonder they are so happy!
The best place in Thimpu is the Buddha point situated at the outskirts of Thimpu. There is a huge statue of Lord Buddha atop a hill. The entire city of Thimpu can be seen from the hill-top.
Apart from that, there are Dechen Lakhang, Archery stadium, Tashicho Dzong and Motithang Takin Reserve worth visiting.
After roaming around Thimpu, we headed towards Punakha the next day.
Punakha is situated about 72 km from Thimpu and it takes about three hours to reach there. En route Punakha, we have to Pass the Dochula Pass. Dochula is a mountain pass connecting Thimpu and Punakha where there are 108 chortens known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens”. There is also a monastery at Dochula. Dochula Pass is like a dreamland. At one moment it is sunny while at the next moment, you can find the clouds surrounding you. You are simply transported to a surreal world at Dochula.
The enchanting Dochula Pass still remains fresh in your mind when you will reach another beautiful place, Punakha. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan until 1960 when it was shifted to Thimpu, so the place still retains its regal and serene atmosphere. The most famous place here is the Punakha Dzong. Dzongs are basically old forts now used as Government and administrative offices of Bhutan. But unlike that of the boring looking Government offices of India, the dzongs are quite beautiful and aesthetically built.
The beauty of the Punakha Dzong is enhanced even more because of its location. It stands on an island at the confluence of two rivers – Pho Chu and Mo Chu and is one of the most scenic of all the buildings of Bhutan. The dzong is connected to the mainland by an arched wooden bridge which contains many precious relics from the erstwhile kings.
We returned to Thimpu that day itself, but you can stay for a day at Punakha. If you are staying you can give a visit to the Koma Hot spring and Guru Rinpoche caves which are a few kilometers away from Punakha.
After our excursion to Punakha, the next day we started for Paro.
Paro is a historic town and has many historical buildings scattered around. It also has the airport of Bhutan. Paro is merely 45 min journey from Thimpu. Paro is a picturesque valley and heaven for the nature lovers. Apart from its natural beauty, you can visit the National Bhutan Museum and the Paro Dzong. But the best in Paro is the Taktsang Monastery or the “Tiger’s Nest monastery”. It is perched on a 1200 metre cliff giving an impression that the monastery is hanging over the cliff. You can reach the monastery either by foot or by a horse. But the horse will take you only upto a certain point. The rest part has to be covered by foot only. A hike of about two and a half hours will take you to the monastery.
Night stay at Paro is highly recommended.
From Paro, you can visit the Haa Valley. While going to Haa, you will go through Cheli La, one of the highest passes in Bhutan. Haa is a pristine and one of the most beautiful and isolated areas of Bhutan. The alpine forests and the tranquil mountain peaks of Haa will definitely leave you spellbound.
Your itinerary will depend on the number of days you spend in Bhutan. If you have 4 days in Bhutan you should visit Thimpu and Paro. You can also include a visit to Punakha one day in between.
If you are having a week in Bhutan, then definitely include Haa Valley in your list. You can also stay one day at Punakha and explore Punakha at your pace.
If you are spending 10 days at Bhutan, you should then visit Bumthang and Trashigang.
Some important tips
Car rentals in Bhutan are around INR 3000 to INR 4000 depending on the type of car you take.
Indians can bring their own cars and travel in Bhutan. For a travel permit, you will have to apply to the Road Safety Department for a minimal payment of about INR 400 for one week travel. For the vehicle travel permit, you will have to produce all valid documents of the vehicle along with the driving license of the driver.
Hotels in Bhutan are quite reasonable. There are both luxury as well as budget hotels in Bhutan.
Indian currency of 2000 are not usually accepted in Bhutan.
Smoking is prohibited at public places in Bhutan.
Food to try in Bhutan
Ema Datshi – Mainly made from Chilli peppers and cheese. “Ema” literally means Chilly and Datshi means cheese.
Kewa Datshi – Made from potato and cheese, a less spicy version of Ema Datshi.
Yak meat – a delicious meat preparation.
If you want to know more about the place and detailed itinerary and travel plan, contact us.
Update: Permits in Bhutan
Bhutan entry permit is categorized in two ways
- For citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives
- For citizens of any other country
For Indians, you can get your entry permit in three ways:
- At Immigration Office at Phuentsholing
- At the Paro Airport
- With the help of a registered Bhutanese Tour Operator.
The easiest way is to go to the Phuentsholing border and get the application form from there. You need to fill up the form and submit it along with 2 passport size photographs and an ID proof like Passport/Voter ID card. Carry the original documents with you also. For children below 18 years without a valid passport, Birth Certificates and valid school ID are required to get Entry Permit.
It usually takes one hour to get the formalities done and get your permit. Immigration office at Phuentsholing opens only on working days (Monday to Friday) from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Bhutan Standard Time (9:30 AM to 5:30 PM IST). The Immigration Office remains closed on public holidays. So please check the Bhutan Holiday Calendar before planning your holiday.
Please note that Bhutan officials usually refrain from issuing Entry Permits to solo travellers for safety concerns. However, in most of the cases, you will get the permit if you convince them that you are fully capable of travelling solo and there are no concerns.
Nowadays, to get a permit, you need to show a confirmation of your hotel booking for the initial days of stay in Bhutan. You can carry out the print out of email confirmation. Also, you have to show the itinerary of your stay in Bhutan.
You also need to show a confirmation of your hotel booking for initial days of stay in Bhutan. You have to carry the print out of email confirmation. Also, you need to present your itinerary for your stay in Bhutan.
For citizens of all other countries
All other tourists must obtain a visa clearance prior to the travel to Bhutan. Visas are processed through an online system by a licensed Bhutanese tour operator directly or through a foreign travel agent. The tourism sector in Bhutan is controlled by Tourism Council of Bhutan that has set a Minimum Daily Package rate for the travellers. These must be paid in US dollars prior to arrival in Bhutan.
The minimum daily package rate applicable per tourist per night halt in Bhutan for tourists travelling in a group of 3 people or more is USD 200 per person per night for the months of January, February, June, July, August, and December and USD 250 per person per night for the months of March, April, May, September, October, and November.
But this rate includes a plethora of services like
- A minimum of 3-star accommodation (4 & 5 stars may require a premium payment).
- All meals
- A licensed Bhutanese tour guide for the extent of your stay
- All internal ground transport
- Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours
- USD 65 Sustainable Development Fee (SDF). This Royalty goes towards free education, free healthcare, poverty alleviation, along with the building of infrastructure.
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