Sandwiched between the monoliths India and China, The Land of The Thunder Dragon or the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan has inspired many around the world by placing the happiness and prosperity of each of its individuals ahead of economic wealth. This is the central idea behind Gross National Happiness (GNH), Bhutan’s development philosophy.As you step out of your flight, you take in the clear blue sky and breathe in the crisp air. Driving to Thimpu from Paro brings to your notice the absolute lack of known names like McDonalds/Subway/Wrangler/Levi’s/Etc staring you in your face. Yes, there are no ‘brands’ here. Refreshing, in more ways than one!
With a population of ‘more than 7 lakhs but less than 1 million’ (in our guides words) the Bhutanese love their King, their country and culture. They are guileless people, a bit shy and fiercely proud of their tradition, a fact which is evident as you see them gracefully donning their national dress everyday. Still untouched by modernisation, every building is built with a strict emphasis on a traditional facade, adding to the uniqueness and beauty of the place.
This is also the very first country I visited where service people didn’t hover around with a expectant look on their faces waiting for tips.
How long should your trip be and which are the places you need to visit:
Though personal preference is what makes one plan their holiday, Thimpu-Punakha-Paro are the popular trio. Bumthang is another spot fast gaining popularity(we missed it)
2 days in Thimpu, an overnight stay in Punakha (as opposed to the day trip which most people take) and 3-4 days in Paro (4 days if you plan to attempt the trek to Tiger’s Nest, as that takes up almost half of your day) should ensure a good relaxed holiday.
How should you book your trip:
You need to book a car along with a driver and guide to travel around Bhutan. There are also certain road permits to be arranged.
The popular option is book your trip through a reputed travel agency, who take care of everything.
The other option is to book your hotel, and ask them to arrange a car+driver+guide+permissions for you.
Both options work well, with the latter being slightly more economical.
P:S: When booking your Hotel do ask for special packages for Indian tourists (which include discounts on the rack rate, certain meals and day tours)
What you’ll need to carry with you:
The only way to travel through Bhutan is by road. If you have car/motion/altitude sickness, do carry the appropriate medication.
A high SPF Sunblock is a must, as the sunlight here is very sharp. A good hat and pair of sunglasses help even further.
Carry a light jacket and/or stole/scarf with you even in the non-winter months, as temperatures dip without a warning.
Good, comfortable walking shoes.
When to visit:
Best time: Spring, or the months of March, April & May. Excellent weather, with nature in all it’s glory. A perfect time for touring & trekking.
2nd best time: Fall, or the months of September, October & November. Pleasant weather and festival time.
Most Economical time: Summer, or the months of June, July & August. When the crowds, and the tariff’s are both at an all time low. Sudden rain showers could confine you indoors though.
How to get there:
Druk Air and Tashi Air fly you to Bhutan from India.
Druk Air, a government airline, is much preferred, as Tashi Air, a private airline, is known to cancel flights at the last minute if they don’t have enough passengers on board.
Druk Air flies from Kolkota, Delhi & Mumbai. The flight time from Kolkata to Paro was 1 hour.
Brace yourself for the most adventurous flight of your life, as due to the lack of an Automatic Landing System (ALS) at Paro Airport the pilot follows the course of the river, and veers between mountains to land safely.
If you sit on the left side of the aircraft while flying to Paro (and the right side while flying from Paro) on a clear day you could spot the summits of the Mighty Mountains, The Everest & The Kanchenjunga.
|The Kanchenjunga Summit viewed from the flight window.|
Indian Nationals traveling to Bhutan do not need a visa.
An identity document, either a Passport or a Voters Card however is required for presentation at the immigration during entry. Keep some passport size photographs handy too.
An Affidavit from the Supreme Court is needed for those who don’t have any of the above documents.
Currency: The Ngultrum (BTN) is on par with the Indian Rupee (INR).
Indian currency is accepted everywhere, except the Rs 1000 note. Most places accept major credit cards. I did not spot an ATM anywhere.
Language: Dzongka is the national language. English is widely spoken. Some locals tend to surprise you with the fair knowledge of Hindi.
What to eat and drink: The Bhutanese love their chillies, which are considered a vegetable, and not a spice. Spicy Chillies (Ema) cooked in a cheese sauce, Emadatse, is the National Dish, and you will find it everywhere. Red Rice and White Rice are a part of every meal, along with fresh, lightly cooked vegetables. Various Chutneys, as meal accompaniments, are a must try too. Thukpa, a very filling noodle soup. Suja, or butter tea, a savoury tea. Ara, their local very potent rice wine. Beef & Pork are the preferred meats and Chicken and Fish are on the menu is various forms. For the non adventurous palate, basic Indian and Chinese Cuisine is also on the menu of most hotels/restaurants.
The Weekend Market’s are the best place place to shop, as everything here is priced at at least 40% less than it is in the shops. If you visit Tiger’s Nest, you could pick up trinkets and souvenirs from the starting (and ending) point of the climb, at 1/4 the price you would pay in Paro for the same.
National Memorial Chorten. The Tashichho Dzong. The Changangkha Lhakhang. Drubthob Goemba or Zilukha Nunnery. The Motithang Takin Preserve (to see the Takin, the national animal of Bhutan). Sangaygang view point.Tango Monastery. The Weekend Market (a must visit)
In Punakha we visited Chimi Lhakhang, a Buddhist Monastery dedicated to the legendary Divine Madman, where you are blessed by striking you on your head with a Phallus! The sight of the Punakha Dzong, with fragrant lavender hued jacaranda trees in full bloom took our breath away!
Our adventurous side took us White Water Rafting on the Mochhu river, and what fun that was!
Our last stop was, Paro…
…where we trekked up to the magnificent marvel of architecture, The Tiger’s Nest. We paid homage to the temple built in the 7th Century, Kyichu Lhakhang, where twin Orange Trees bear fruit throughout the year. A beautiful drive to the picturesque Haa Valley via the windy, and highest pass in Bhutan, the Chele La Pass was a fitting end to a wonderful trip. We gave the Ta Dzong and Rinpung Dzong a miss.
If culture, history, adventure and fun are your thing, head to Bhutan. You will come back with much more!