Trip Journals: The Land of Thundering Dragons - Bhutan Part 1


Last year after much research I and my better half went to Bhutan though the land border, I have planned to write a detailed travel plan for all the misers of the world who can save some few hundred dollars using some of the tips from these travelogs. 


Well Bhutan is a small landlocked countries nestled between China and India ( for all the guys who flunked geography). It is a mountainous country and is called the land of the thundering dragons. I planned Bhutan trip by sheer luck and some help from a few colleagues and online posts. It is a country worth visiting if you like the crisp mountain air and want some peace during your holiday. We just finished a 6 day trip ( actually it was a 4 day trip with two days in transit) but the transit itself was fun as we moved by road rather than taking a flight into Paro 9 the only international airport).

There are two type of tourists who go to Bhutan 
1) Citizens of India/ Bangladesh & Maldives - No Visa needed, permits granted easily, no tourist fee or other 
2) Rest of the world - You need to pay tourist fee, book through an authorized travel agent, get visa etc. etc. etc.

My post is primarily for the first category.

We planned our trip such that we enter Bhutan at one of the land borders and go to Thimpu via the main highway. The route is extreemly picturesque. We landed in Bagdogra ( Siliguri Airport). This is well connected with all cities in India. We took a cab from the airport till Butan border town of Phuntsholing. Our driver took us through the better route going through the "Dooars" and not the Siliguri Guwahati main highway. It is a 4 hour drive but can get extended. We landed in the afternoon and reached only by late evening in Bhutan. 

Dooars are densely wooded region of west bengal. I have lived in the city of Calcultta or Kolkata twice in my life but Dooars made me realize that North Bengal is entirely different from the southern part of the state I was accustomed to.Given a chance, it is worth staying in one of the tea gardens around Siliguri & exploring the region further. On your way to Bhutan you will find a number of tea gardens amidst dense jungles. The wind you feel on your face is clean and cool unlike the wind we feel in the big cities.

                                                                               Kizom Cafe

                                                              Reception at Hotel Park, Phuntsholing

Phuntsholing is a small bustling town in Bhutan used as a trade centre by both India and Bhutan. Phuntsholing is connected with India via a large gate which serves as the border entry point. On the Indian side there is a west Bengal town called Jaigaon. You can find a number of hotels here and stay for the night while you check at the immigration point. The most famous of them is Druk Hotel right at the border, I found another hotel decent enough to stay as Druk was full. So it was the Park hotel for me. They readily accept Indian currency without any hassle. The border immigration point stays open till 7 in the evening and starts work in the morning at around 830 ( though you can check with them as sometimes they start even earlier). We were not so lucky as due to rain in the week preceding our stay the internet lines went down the day we landed. So we couldnt get the immigration letter that night and stayed at the hotel itself. It was a long day and so we decided to rest in the evening after a short walk in the border town.  For dinner, we restrained ourselves to continental food at Kizom Cafe ( Must Visit).

                                                               While we walk Around Thimpu

                                                          A monk offering prayers at a local stupa

                                                                     On our way to Tiger's Nest

POINTER: You can take a local sim card & call India at INR 5/minute. We didnt take one though & managed on watsapp. Phuntsholing has decent connectivity without international roaming ( just set your signal to manual and select any indian telecom company during you stay in Phuntsholing).

The immigration point has a long line during tourist seasons so be ready for spending some time there. Just carry your Passport or India Voter ID card & fill up a form ( I will attach the PDF link here). They will take your picture there and print you a letter.
Bhutan Entry Permit

Once you have the letter with you, just take a bus from the bus stand there or a cab ( we took the latter). If you negotiate well you will get a cab for 2500 INR.

                                                         Waterfalls & weather on our way to Thimpu

POINTER - The earlier in the day you go, the cheaper is the cab as it takes time for people to come back from Thimpu to Phuntsholing. Also try a BT01 number plate cabs ( Bhutan Taxi - 01 stands for Thimpu), as these cabs tend to naturally return to Thimpu from Phuntsholing.

The ride is almost 4 hours, since we got our permits in the afternoon due to the connection loss, we reached Thimpu only in the evening. Else if you start early you can reach by late lunchtime.

RECOMMENDATIONS : Hotel Park/ Hotel Druk/ Kizom Cafe ( Pizzas are good) - Bookings for stay can be done online or over email. ( They give good discounts if you ask for it)

The drive to Thimpu is great, speially for all those who love the mountains. There are a number of gorges and waterfalls and over that the Bhutani songs that the cabbies run while they drive are great. Do ask your driver to stop for a while in between to take pictures, Couple of big waterfalls too, avoid going too late as it may get dark sooner along with some amount of fog.

Map data ©2016 Google, ORION-ME, SK telecom, ZENRIN

Thimpu - This being the capital city is the largest city in Bhutan and will look a bit more planned and organized, unlike most Indian hill-stations this town is in a valley so the sun is harsh even in Septemeber October ( so be prepared for a light tan). The day is mildly warm and the nights are cold. CIty has a lot of good hotels right from a Taj to lot of cafes running bed and breakfast. The options to stay are many so you can chose. We stayed at Hotel Norbuling in the main town area only close to the city centre.(Booking was done through Agoda)

                                                 Archery Grounds from our room in Hotel Norbuling

RECOMMENDATIONS: Hotel Druk/Norbuling - Try staying close to the town as staying in far off resorts will only cost you more as you will need exclusive taxis everytime you want to come down town.

Thimpu is pretty famous for its night life & has a lot of pubs and night clubs & we saw decent mix of local and Indians there with some expats too. You can give it a try though we skipped it as we had a packed day the next morning.

There are a lot of places to go eat all across Thimpu and we being sucker for  something new in cuisine tried a whole local meal...more on that later..... Will post the rest of our journey in the next part....coming soon

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