Bhutan is not your conventional tourist destination; it has hardly any touristy to do. There is no night life, few sightseeing places, and limited food options. However that is precisely the reason why one should explore this blissful and heavenly place. It will not give you lot of thrills and for some it may even be boring, But there is a certain calm and contentment you experience. You visit Bhutan to experience the local culture – people here focus on Gross National Happiness instead of GDP. You visit Bhutan to breathe what is probably the cleanest air in the world and you should definitely experience the landing at the most dangerous airport in the world where only 10 pilots are authorized to fly. Then there is the most photogenic of all temples in the world, – the Tiger Nest, you need a 6 hour roundabout trek here to experience this and the chance to taste the local food –Ema Dachi (chilly and cheese).
Here are a few helpful tips from our visit to Bhutan, Including Travel, Stay, Food
If you are in India, you can reach Bhutan through land or air.
By Land. You need to reach Phuentsholing which is right on the border of India and Bhutan. Phuentsholing is 4 hours’ drive from the nearest airport Bagdogra.
Tip : The immigration is supposed to be lengthy process. You should reach early in the day since it takes few hours depending which season you go for the clearance. Also be wary of the time and the day. Weekends are closed, also on Public holidays and late afternoons. You don’t want to be stuck at Phuentsholing and waste precious few days .
You can do an online immigration to save time, however for the same you need to hire a Bhutanese travel agent. He can arrange one in advance however you would need to ensure that a guide is also booked along the package and min. 3 star hotels are selected.
From Phuentsholing, drive to Paro or Thimpu is scenic and takes between 4-5 hours.
More comfortable and bit more expensive is the aerial route.
You can fly directly to Paro airport from Delhi, Kolkata and Bagdogra. Do be informed that only Druk and Bhutan Airlines fly to Paro, so there are always fewer seats available and peak season rates can be very expensive.
During Dec the flight cost were as follows
- Bagdogra – Paro : 12k return
- Delhi – Paro – 24k return
- Kolkata – Paro – 18k return
The flight experience though is worth it. Unlike regular travel this would be a great experience, as on a clear day you can see the Himalayan range from the windows.
Also as you approach the landing you can see how the pilot manoeuvre the plane between two mountains and lands on possibility the smallest air strip in the world.
The immigration here is a smooth and fast process
Tip: You can buy local sim card just as you exit the airport. Its pretty cheap data and voice plan of around INR 600 for a week.
Indian Notes are accepted in Bhutan . Rupees 100-200 notes are accepted everywhere, Rs 500 at most places and Rs 2000 only few locations. So its better to carry Rupees 200-500 notes.
Please note Credit Cards don’t work in Bhutan . There are no ATM’s
Places to Visit in Bhutan
If its your first trip, the most popular circuit is Paro, Thimpu and Punaka
You can cover 2-3 days at each place and so 6 nights are good enough to just get a taste of what Bhutan has to offer. Of course to really understand the culture and immerse yourself you need to spend at least 3 weeks. If
Here are some must visit places across Bhutan, these are in no particular order.
- Dochula pass
One of the highlight of Bhutan tour was the visit to Dochula pass on 1st Jan. It was a clear day
Dochula Pass, Bhutan is a beautiful mountain pass which was created in the honor of 108 Bhutanese soldiers who died in a 2003 military operation, 108 memorial stupas were erected known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens
This place tells an interesting story of spirituality, bravery, and Bhutanese culture.
This place is simply stunning and on a clear days the views are the best you will ever see anywhere in the world.
Try to visit early to get best lighting for the pics
There is a nice restaurant next to docile pass , you can grab a beer or tea and click nice pics
There is a washroom on the other side of the road and a small shop which serves some hot tea.
2. Punaka Dzong
The most beautiful and important Dzong in Bhutan has to be Punaka dzong. One of the best Dzong in Bhutan with marvelous architecture. The Dzong is located between the two major rivers in Bhutan, the Pho Chhu (pho means male) and Mo Chhu (mo means female).
I read that it took only a year to finish the building of this Dzong, but by far the most impressive thing about this Dzong is that it was built without the use of nails, not even one. Most of Bhutan’s national treasures are kept inside this Dzong.
The free guide service was also commendable as he narrated the history in a rather lighter way to make it interesting
Entry fee is 500 bucks
They provide you a tour guide for inside trip
Estimated time 1.5 hours
3. Fertility temple
This temple is dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, known as the “Divine Madman.” He challenged the Buddhist establishment back in the day. This temple is visited by people who want to have children.
The temple is quite small, but it’s the walk through the rice paddy field and the village which gives you a glimpse of the rural life which was a great experience.
We did not buy tickets for this temple so saw it from the outside.
It is a lovely and not difficult walk through rice paddy fields and a bit of a touristy village. Well worth visiting, and, according to local lore, especially if you want to have a child.
Grab a lunch :Chimi Lakhang Cafeteria you can start your trek from here , or drive closer to the temple and walk.
4. Tiger nest
The Tiger Nest is without a doubt one those experiences which will stay with you for years among the most fabulous landmarks you will ever visit.
Tiger nest also known as Taktsang is located in the cliffside of upper Paro Valley .It is a sacred Buddhist site built in 1692. This shrine has a cave where Guru Padmasambhava (introduced Bhuddism in Bhutan) has meditated for three years.
To reach this shrine you need to hike anywhere between 2-5 hours depending on your fitness level. On the way back it should take you roughly 1.5-3 hours. The visit to shrine itself you will take around an hour through their guided tour
Is it worth it? Absolutely. The first glace of the shrine when you are almost there is the best possible feeling. You can appreciate the immense content feel which pictures wont justify.
Here are a few tips to make this more safe and enjoyable
- You should be reasonably fit to do this trek. If you have any medical conditions its best to avoid since there is usually no support services during the hike
- You can complete the trek anywhere between 2 to 4 hours. Downhill is around 1.5 to 2.5 hours
- Preferably start early to avoid crowd and the sun ( depending on which season you go)
- Carry a walking stick which is available at the base camp for Rs 50
- The journey gets progressively difficult since you also lose energy, so walk at your own pace. Take stops however not for too long.
- The last 10% of the journey involves a 900 steps decent and climb to the shrine which will be exhausting
- Carry Water, Any sugary drink, Chocolates, Energy Bar, Almonds etc
- Wear good hiking shoes. Thick socks during winters, you need to remove the shoes in the shrine and its bloody cold.
- There is a café near the halfway mark; you can stop for tea, food here or restroom.
- Ideal to wear layers of clothing, as you climb up you may sweat due to the climb also once at the shrine its very cold and windy
- The best views of the dzong would be from the opposite side just before you reach. Take plenty of photographs.
- Hot Stone bath is a highly recommended experience post the trek.
- Once at the entrance of shrine you need to deposit your bags , mobile etc and enter into the shrine. There is a guided tour and he will take you through all the temples within the shrine. It’s a very nice but crowded experience.
To be continued.