Bhutan in a Week!

Bhutan comes across as a country with a rich culture, peace and serenity but also scads of discipline unannounced.

With a high Gross National Happiness index and a negative carbon footprint, well yes, Bhutan is beautiful!

In addition to the panoramic visual representation below, I hope my words entice you enough to backpack ASAP.

For some food related queries, check this out: Vegetarian Food in Bhutan

So Kanika Patoria and I are friends since 5th grade and being army kids, we’ve had a thing for travel ever since. A lot of you requested for the itinerary of my visit. Well here it is, as brief as possible..

Ways to reach: Via train, air or bus depending upon proximity to the place.

By air: Till Bagdogara, Kolkata or Guwahati, the closest being Bagdogara. From these three places, you need to reach the border by your own convenient means.

What we did: Kanika took a flight from Delhi to Bagdogara. I took one from Bangalore. That is where we met.

Day 1: Make sure you take a flight which makes you reach by 1530 hours at max. Plan to reach the border on the same day. Also if your booking is across the border, make sure you reach before 2200 hours. The gates get shut by then.

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What to do once you reach Bagdogara airport: If you’re up for a lavish tour or if you’re a spendthrift, take a taxi till Jaigaon/ Pheuntsholing. You’ll easily get one from the airport.

If you’re tight on budget like we were and also if struggle travel gives you a sadistic pleasure, you can do what we did: Take an auto till Siliguri Junction, then buy local train tickets till Hasimara, a station very close to Jaigaon(Indian border to Bhutan).

Ours started at 1830 and reached by 2330 hours. It would be better to get a lodge booked at Jaigaon or Pheuntsholing. But again for Pheuntsholing, you need to reach before 2200 hours as the border gate gets closed by this time.

Day 2: After crossing the border, we went to the immigration office. You need a photocopy of a few documents beforehand. Check them online as requirements keep changing for the same. It took about an hour for this process. Also we bought a local sim from the same office. After getting done with the procedure, we left for Thimphu. To go to Thimphu, you can either take a cab directly from the immigration office or go to a bus stand which is about 10 minutes drive from the office. From there you get direct local buses to Thimphu. That is what we did. A 4 hour journey, our childhood talks left us sighing in nostalgia for the rest of the day. The scenic view made us fall in love with the country already. We planned that day for a chill time, local savouries and drinks. The market space there is called Norzing Lam. Also beer and wine is really cheap here in Bhutan.

Thimphu

Booking a hotel or homestay in or around the market area would be ideal as the markets per se, are not rackety as one might expect.

Day 3: Visited Thimphu on foot. Apart form Buddha point( Kuensel Phodrang), we walked all our way into picturesque sceneries. There are 5-6 local points to visit within Thimphu. The chants from Dzongs left us high. A happy one! One thing to note is that one needs a separate permission for Punakha from Thimphu office. So spare some time to complete that work. Also book your tickets for every place one day prior. Intercity buses running are limited. Else cabs are always an option.

Buddha Point

Day 4: Dochula Pass falls on the way to Punakha and is well elevated from the rest of the towns. The famous 108 chortens are worth the sight.

Also, the bus drivers need to be convinced to stop at the Pass. Convincing skills on the go! Most of these locals are pretty public spirited and helpful. The bus finally left us right near the famous Dzong of Punakha. It is one of the most classic places of Bhutan. DO NOT miss it.

Punakha Dzong

Later we left for Suspension bridge. The path from the Dzong to the bridge reminded us of the poem “The road less travelled”. That road wasn’t but the bifurcations it created on the way gave us a reminiscing moment. The bridge is beautiful. The view!

The other side was rather interesting for us. We met this little girl Chiki Ongwa and her siblings. She was way too talkative which was amusing. She had this weird obsession with dead creatures, unfathomable. She strongly believed in mermaids and told us there was one in the river near the Dzong. We looked convinced, conveyed our thanks and byes and started back for the hotel. On the way we sat next to the river. Some moments can’t be penned down. Roamed around the market area for the rest of the day.

A small Cafe on the other side of the Suspension Bridge

Also the most common food available there is Mushroom datshi, rice and a spicy chutney!

Veg Food

Day 5: We finally left for Paro via Thimphu. Upon reaching Thimphu, we learnt that the buses were full and so started exploring our options. Fortunately, we found two more Indian girls looking for a share cab. Tada! we hopped in. Had a nice time talking to them enroute. Paro was relatively several degrees higher. Checked into our homestay.

An interesting event occurred. We ran out of cash! Neither of us had international activated on our debit cards. Thankfully the owner was helpful and provided us with some. Until that evening, when my debit card international got activated, we were counting every penny. Let this not happen to you…or let it? A thing or two to learn eh?

Another, all the buses going to all the places from Paro were cramped, even for the next 4 days. So cabs were the only option left from Paro. So we re- planned our trip. Improv bro. Never underestimate the shortage of public transport in Bhutan. We continued to explore the market and I will forever be thankful to cafe Champaca for their amazing Carrot and banana cakes and lip smacking coffee. Also there are a few nice pubs to glorify your evenings.

A few pics from a pub in Paro..

I love you Druk 11000!

Day 6: The famous trek of Paro Taktshang or famously known as Tiger’s Nest was to be scored today. My birth day! I felt old and excited at the same time. Payed heed to the latter. The trek wasn’t a cakewalk but not very mighty. One gets to stop at a mini cafe in the middle of the trek up. They also provide buffet which we gorged on while climbing down since we were famished. Tiger’s Nest is another magnificent place to certainly visit. Apart from the beautiful architecture, we tried our luck going inside the actual cave which looked scary. It was dark inside and the way was steep. But that is where the tigress actually resided often. Climbing down was a treat! We found ourselves munching and shopping for the rest of the day..

Day 7: Visited the Dzong in Paro, which by the way, is artistically lit up at night. Left for Pheuntsholing at around 1400 hours in a shared cab. The mezmerising route turned out to be terrifying as there was minimal visibility! Met this really interesting guy from India who lightened our mood. I was left wondering how talented the driver was to drive us safely to the border. Everyone secretly shat in their pants that day! One cab ride to remember. Avoid traveling at night. Helps one sleep peacefully. Reached Jaigaon and our hotel there by 2130 hours. If you have to cross the border, do it before 2200 hours as the gates get shut by then.

Day 8: Left for Bagdogara and subsequently Delhi.

Bhutan has certainly imparted one of the best memories of a random visit and as I continue to fill my little jar of travel, I shall open up this leaf time and again.

Thankyou Bhutan! We loved you!

And as befitting as it might look, Bhutan certainly is a

Ps: Kanika has clicked most of these winsome pictures. Oodles of talent in this girl!

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18 thoughts on “Bhutan in a Week!

  1. Hi Saumya
    Thanks for the great article. Can you please lemme know the name of hotels or homestays you were at? Perhaps the prices too? I’m planning my trip for this year and haven’t booked any hotels yet. Thinking of reaching there and finding something as I like to travel budget. Do you think that’s a good idea? Thanks
    Parind

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    1. Hi Parind. Sure i will.
      Thimphu- Hotel Golden Roots- the best one we got. Grand at a good price. Cost~ Rupees 1500 per night.
      What was even better was that it is close to the famous street in Thimphu, Norzing Lam.
      Punakha- Punakha Residency- the best available there. Cost~1800 per night. You might not like any other out there. This one is also very close to the bus stand ao convenient.
      Paro- Hotel Peljorling- this was like a homestay. Cost~ Rupees 1000 per night. Again, this one was close to the market area.
      So see, taking one close tk the market area is convenient as you can roam and eat around freely until late (2145 hours) night with no extra expense on a cab back to hotel.
      Hope this helps! Have fun!

      Like

  2. Thanks. Did you book these hotels after you reached there or in advance? If advance then what medium (direct website, some other website, your agent, etc) did you use? I’m asking this because I see more than double the rate you mentioned in some websites.

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      1. Thanks again.
        Sorry but I got one more question – I read that we need a separate permit for Punakha. Did you get that along with the permit at entry? Or did you have to get separate permit for Punakha? If separate, then did you get it at Thimphu or did you arrange it from some tour operator?
        Thanks for all the help. I appreciate it.
        Parind

        Like

  3. Wow nice article, i’m planning in Dec and my origin station will be Chennai. I dont see any flights from Chennai or Kolkotta or Delhi so i’m stuck here. Did you get the permit to Bhutan online? If so please share the procedure.

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    1. Thanks Vimal. Not online. You can get the permit from Pheuntsholing(Bhutan side of Bhutan- India border), once you reach there. The procedure takes about an hour if there isn’t a long queue. There are direct flights from Delhi and Kolkata to Paro. But if it’s ok with you, try taking a flight to Bagdogara. From there, go to Jaigaon via train or cab. Jaigaon is the Indian side of India-Bhutan border. Please read the blog carefully to know what i did. Regards.

      Like

  4. Hello, I have plans to get to Bhutan and I was reading this article. It seems you were free to go where you liked and organise your own travel. My understanding is that it costs a lot and you get chaperoned about by a tour guide. I’m wondering is your access to Bhutan based on your nationality? I’m trying to find alternative means of visiting the country other than paying the high fee. Any thoughts let me know.

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    1. Yeah Bhutan does not have a 250 dollar a day restriction on Indians.
      Sadly, all tourists (excluding Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian passport holders) who wish to travel to Bhutan require a visa and must book their holiday through a Bhutanese tour operator or one of their international partners. The tour operator will take care of Visa arrangements for visitors.
      So there isn’t any alternative.

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  5. Thank you for the details. Iam also planning to travel solo.
    I have flights to and from Bagdogra,
    I have a question, are cabs/taxi/buses easily available from Bagdogra to Phuentsholing and vice-versa?

    Like

    1. Hey Shikha, when are you planning to travel to Bhutan? I’m also traveling to Bhutan solo, so if our schedules match, then we can synchronize our travel.

      Like

  6. Hi,
    Thank you for all the information. It is of great help as even I am planning to travel solo.
    Are cabs/taxis/buses easily available from Bagdogra To Phuentsholing and vice-versa?
    I have my flights from Bagdogra.

    Like

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