My Experience in the Last Himalayan Kingdom – Bhutan
Blog By Saptadeepa
Surrounded by the Himalayan Mountain ranges, lies a tiny nation on the world map which can be missed by your eyes. Bhutan is an Independent nation surrounded by India at its south and China at its north and yet shares no similarity to both its neighbours. While both India and China have excelled in the races to make a significant mark on the global map, Bhutan seems in no hurry to adapt to the ever-evolving race of globalization. All that matters to Bhutan is the happiness of the Bhutanese people.
The idea of Bhutan was a mystical land beyond my imagination until I visited.
How to reach Bhutan –
Indian nationals can have an easier entry to Bhutan. The most preferred and economic route is via roads connecting Jaigaon (a hill station in West Bengal,India) to Phuntsholing (border district of Bhutan). A permit to enter Bhutan can be obtained from Regional Immigration Office at Phuntsholing gate. A valid Indian Passport or Voter Id card is sufficient. Please check the Bhutanese holiday calendar before planning the travel dates as the Govt. Immigration office are closed on holidays. A road trip may reduce your Bhutan travel cost by 10k.
There are also flights connecting Delhi or Bagdogra in India to Paro International Airport, Bhutan. Only Bhutan Airlines and Druk Airlines operate India to Bhutan flights. No other commercial airlines fly into Bhutan.
Note – Indians entering Bhutan need not pay any fees for the permit.
India to Bhutan Flight–
The early morning Druk Airlines flight from Bagdogra to Paro took less than an hour to reach. The flight had a soft Bhutanese music playing in the background and the onboard crew were dressed in the traditional dresses of Bhutan i.e. Kira (for Women) and Gho (for Men).
Landing in Paro Airport is fascinating. The flight dived right into the Himalayan mountain ranges over tiny houses, dense green forests and the Paro river before its dramatic landing into the Paro International Airport. Another highlight was the in-flight view of the snow clad Mount. Everest and Mount. Kanchenjanga.
Rivers around Bhutan –
In Bhutan the mountanious highways ran parallel to its rivers. We came across the Paro Chu in Paro and Pho and Mo Chu in Punakha. The crystal clear gushing rivers with shores lined by round pebbles is a beautiful sight all along. We didn’t miss the opportunity to stop the car and soak into the pristine vibes of the rivers. Also it was fun to cross the suspension bridges on the rivers.
Every season has its own kind of charm in the Himalayas, but the best time to visit Bhutan is from late March to October to witness the fuller rivers and the colors of nature.
Tip – Try river rafting for some adventures in Bhutan.
The Capital City of Thimphu
Thimphu has the royal residence of the King of Bhutan. Most administrative and parliamentary activities are held in Thimphu. This hilly town has well-maintained infrastructure and perfect traffic management notably without any traffic signals.
We visited the Memorial Chorten (Buddhist Stupa) in the center of the city, the hilltop view of Tashichu Dzong which also holds the Druk King’s residence and the government office, the Big Buddha statue made of bronze that overlooks the entire city of Thimphu. We also went to the Takin National Park which preserves the Takin, national animal of Bhutan.
Dochula Pass and Punakha –
Thimphu to Punakha was a scenic road journey with a brief halt at the Dochula Pass. It is known for the 108 stupas encircling a small temple on the hill. If it is not cloudy, some distant snow covered Himalayan peaks are visible from here. This road further leads to Punakha, the old capital of Bhutan.
Punakha Valley which lies along the Pho and Mo rivers is known for its rice paddy fields. The Punakha Dzong being the initial administrative capital is an architectural marvel with colorful designs and carvings on wooden interiors and exteriors.
The trek through the rice paddy to Chimi Lakhang (Fertility temple) is picturesque. The village that we trekked through had colorful phallus drawings on their walls. The locals pray to this fertility god for their kids’ wellbeing. There were cattle grazing and chickens running around the village lanes, children playing and some shops selling artifacts to the tourists.
Trek to Tiger’s Nest in Paro
If one has ever come across the image of Paro Takhsang, it’s like a dream to even imagine reaching that Dzong suspended from a mountain cliff. It was a long exhilarating trek to reach the Takhsang. Every few steps the fellow trekkers encouraged us and the people returning from top inspired us. With the rise in the altitude there were spells of breathlessness and energy loss but the spirit remained high for taming that altitude of 3100ft above sea level.
There were beautiful paintings depicting stories of local deities which the local guides shared. The best part of the trek was the number of travelers we befriended on the way and the travel stories they shared.
Note – Among the things to do in Bhutan, a trek to Tiger’s nest is highly recommended.
A stay amidst the pristine mountains
I can never forget our one night stay at a cottage resort in Paro. The wooden cottage’s balcony opened to the view of giant mountains surrounding paddy fields. It was a surreal experience to witness a gorgeous sunset in such a romantic setting while sipping on our tea cups.
Tip: Even if you are on a Bhutan backpacking tour from India ensure you book a night at a cottage or a homestay in a local village.
Strolling around the local markets
Markets in Thimphu and Paro are known for their handicraft stores, cafes, restaurants. We pick souvenirs for home décor and gifting. Though the cafes and restaurants serve sandwiches, coffee, Indian and Continental cuisines, we did try the local delicacies like Ema Datshi (Chilly with Yak Cheese) and Thukpa (Noodle Soup).
Bhutan also promotes organic farming and a visit to Sunday farmers market in Thimphu can be added to your Bhutan travel itinerary.
That feeling of coming back to Bhutan
The divine vibes in the atmosphere, the hymns of the prayer wheels and flattering prayer flags, the rhythm in the prayers of its monasteries and a nation that counts its progress on happiness has given me many reasons to return to the last Shangri La again.
The first impression of Bhutan has left me craving more from this beautiful land.