Bhutan – The land of the Dragon. Starting the Bhutan series from Thimpu.
Traveling to Bhutan was a very impromptu plan. The heart, as usual, was longing for clear sunlight and deepest blue morning clouds and, one call from a close friend who shares the same love for mountains was enough to hit the road and Bhutan was IT. A few days of internet search of things to do in Bhutan, to do’s, not to do’s, currency, permits, weather…and we were on way to plan our 10 days in the land of the dragon. We booked our flight from Delhi to Bagdogra, and from the small town in West Bengal, we had planned to reach Thimpu from Phuentsholing via a taxi.
There are a few mandatory things you need to keep in mind while planning your trip to Bhutan. I hope the following points help you in planning one.
1. No Visa is required to visit Bhutan for Indian travelers.
2. Carry either (a) Passport, having a validity of minimum 6 months or (b) Voter Identity Card
3. If entering Bhutan by road (Phuentsholling), every traveler needs to complete biometric formalities at Phuentsholing town. The travel permit does not cost anything if you apply it yourself at the entry points but usually, it involves several hours of waiting in a queue (Mondays being extremely crowded). You can apply via a travel agency too that will manage all your permits, but in that case, it is mandatory that a Bhutanese guide will accompany you throughout the trip and the agency will also charge an entry fee and fee for the guide (approximately Rupees 1500 per day).
4. Permit office at Phuentsholing is open only from Monday – Friday from 9-5. Phuentsholing Immigration office remains closed on Sat, Sun & Govt holidays and no permit issued on these days so it is highly recommended to check arrival date and plan your trip accordingly. Reaching Phuentsholling by late Friday evening might cost you spending more time in Jaigaon or Phentsholling, in that case, you can club your trip to nearby towns like Darjeeling, Gangtok or Kalimpong.
5. Smoking is illegal in Bhutan.
6. Indian currency works in Bhutan, the Bhutanese Ngultrum is on par with the Indian Rupee. it’s better to carry cash, as credit cards are not widely used. (We carried Rupee 100 notes, as we had read from numerous platforms that the new 500 or 2000 Rupee note might not work in Bhutan.)
Now back to the experience in the Druk Land…
Come May, and we landed in Bagdora.
From Bagdogra, we took a prepaid taxi(Innova, Rs, 2500, extra Rs 500 for AC) for Jaigaon that is the border town to Phuentsholling. If you happen to spend a night in Jaigoan, Sheetal Residency is a decent budget hotel that is barely 100 meters from the immigration office. Once done with your permits, you can either book a taxi to Paro or Thimpu from either side of the border. From the Indian side of the border, the standard price of a taxi is Rupees 3500 per day(single cab, 4 people in a cab), and if you happen to just need it for one way trip, the taxi owner will quote a price of Rupees 6000 or more. It is advisable to look for a taxi from Phuentsholling only. We found private taxis charging Rupees 700 per person, negotiated down to Rupees 500 per person till Thimpu.
Once we had our biometrics done and passport stamped, we wheeled into the snaky cloud-covered mountains of this carbon negative nation.
Almost 70% of Bhutan is under forest cover, which is absolutely incredible. The dense forest cover doesn’t let the moisture to escape easily, causing the clouds to hang heavy with loads of moisture and often reducing the visibility to barely meters.
The white background you see in the below picture are basically clouds floating away.
We stopped over for lunch at Bunagoo and had our first taste of traditional Bhutanese cuisines.
How about a cup of ginger honey tea here?
Filling up my lungs with fresh air.
We started off with the most famous Bhutanese food of them all: ema datshi and red rice, which is chilies and cheese. When in Bhutan you will eat ema datshi not only every day but most likely for just about every meal. The chilies, which can be either fresh green chilies or dry red chilies, are sliced lengthwise and cooked with datshi, which is local Bhutanese cheese, and plenty of butter. Being a Buddhist nation, killing is one of the big no-nos and to be avoided. The Bhutanese will not officially kill or butcher animals, they do eat meat but they’re mostly imported from India. Even fishing is not allowed in Bhutan.
The tiny blue bowl has ema datshi – super delicious. My mouth waters just thinking about it. I need to find a recipe to recreate this in Delhi.
This tiny restaurant cum cafe is approximately 40 km from Phentsholling.
If you do happen to stop over for lunch, chances are you might meet these extremely charming boys.
Running around the blooming trees, their sparkling eyes remind you of exactly how childhood is meant to be, unlike the faces glued to devices in city parks.
Getting dirty the old way.
Green – the most predominant color in Bhutan
Greedy for all
Licking off all of our lunch, we packed and headed towards our first layover of the trip, Thimpu. Thimpu is the capital and the largest city in Bhutan. It takes nearly 5 hours to reach Thimpu from Pheuntsholling. The main street had hotels lined up parallel to each other offering rooms from Rupees 2000-6000 or more per night.
A good on foot search and we found an excellent deal in Tara Inn which cost us Rupees 2500 per night. The rooms were very spacious with a living room and a functional kitchen. Quite a decent place to stay in if you plan to stay in Thimpu for 2 or more days.
With the extremely strict traffic rules and lack of ceaseless honking, Thimpu is surprisingly silent. And, Thimpu is the only capital city in the world with no traffic signals. Every one in Bhutan follows the traffic rules, without a patrol car following them everywhere and enforcing them. Driving in a single lane and no honking seemed an acquired habit which we as Indians can definitely inculcate in our daily routine.
You can easily sit on some quaint corner cafe on the main street, enjoy your honey lemon tea and a good read.
Our first-night in Thimphu, we headed out to experience the famous music culture of this little corner in Himalayas – which has famously hosted the likes of Mick Jagger. Looking for a good music place minus the headache-inducing neon lights and smoky rooms we landed in Mojo Park – a live music venue bang in the heart of Thimphu city. Every weekend and on weekdays the club features local bands that belt out music of all genre. A splendid Beatles way to say goodbye to the day.
By 8 in the morning, Thimpu was still asleep. Nearly everything was at a standstill. Now, this was quite opposite to the fair share of mountain life that I have experienced in all my previous travels.
The place we stayed in (Tara Inn) had no breakfast arrangements, and we had no intentions of making use of the kitchen, so we headed out in search of some scrumptious sandwiches and cupcakes. Thimpu has plenty of cafes serving good food. Maggie Point, Ambient Cafe, Central Cafe and Karma cafe are few of the cafes you can check out.
Next, we headed to the Great Buddha Dordenma, a gigantic Shakyamuni Buddha statue in the mountains of Bhutan celebrating the 60th anniversary of fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
For May, it was quite cold.
We stayed in Thimpu only for a day, but for ones who plan to stay for longer, they can visit the National Textile Museum, shop at the local crafts market. Visit the Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory – a small factory produces traditional Bhutanese paper handmade from the bark of the Daphne bush. Also, one can visit the Motithang Takin Preserve and see the national animal of Bhutan or experience how the incense sticks are made at the Nado Poizokhang Incense Factory.
Thimpu was the starting point of our 10-day long road trip in Bhutan. I have plenty of pictures and a library of emotions that I’ll share in series of posts. Until then, enjoy the Thimpu ride 🙂
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