Bhutan - The Land of the Thunder Dragon
Updated: Sep 13, 2020
"The Land of the Thunder Dragon" "The happiest country" "The 1st carbon negative country of the world"
"The paradise on Earth"
"One of the most dangerous airport in the world"
"The country with no traffic signals yet the safest traffic"
These are some of the results that you'll come across when you search "Bhutan", and it's all true!
In the winter of 2019, I decided to visit Bhutan intrigued by it's natural beauty, adventurous terrain and kind and hardworking people.
As an India, it is pretty straightforward to go to Bhutan. You don't need a Visa or even a passport. Similarly, for a Bangladeshi or Maldivian national, Visa is not required. You just need to get a permit (free) at the point of entry, which allows you to stay in the country for 7 days. Any further, you would need to apply for an extension in Thimphu. However, this permit only allows you to visit Thimphu & Paro. To visit any place else you would need an inner line permit which is also issued in Thimphu only.
However, there were talks of ending free entry for Indian passport holders.
For nationals of other countries, you need to pre-book your travel with a certified tour operator for a guided tour. Moreover, you need to spend a minimum of $250 daily while you are in the country. However, it includes all the costs (Guide, stay, food, travels, etc.). And it's worth the spend! ;)
You can get more details, here.
The immigration offices are closed on Saturday & Sunday, so plan your travels accordingly. If entering by road from the Jaigaon-Phuentsholing border, try getting into Bhutan and to the immigration office between Tuesday and Thursday. Monday and Friday are too crowded due to the weekend off.
The only airport in Bhutan is the Paro airport. It is considered to be one of the most challenging airport and less than two dozen pilots are certified to land there.
By land, one can enter Bhutan through the Jaigaon-Phuentsholing border.
Bhutan is the place to be if you love cheese and red meat. 'Datshi', the local cheese, is made with cow's or yak's milk. 'Ema Datshi', chilli ('Ema') & cheese is the national dish of Bhutan. It is made of hot chilli peppers and cheese and tastes delicious. Other vegetarian options with the cheese are 'Kewa (potato) Datshi' and 'Shamu (mushroom) Datshi'.
You can eat these with the traditional red sticky rice, naan or chapatis. These are so delicious that you won't stop eating.
Red meat in Bhutan is way cheaper than white meat. You'll find many dishes with beef (specially dried preserved beef), yak, pork and bacon. Some of the dishes are 'Shakam (Beef) Ema Datshi', 'Sikam Paa' (sun dried bacon with dried chillies), 'Yaksha Shakam' (Dried yak meat with yak's milk cheese) are some of the widely loved dishes in Bhutan.
Apart from the traditional dishes, international food can also be easily found in Bhutan. Bhutan does have lots of Indian food outlets which serve pure vegetarian food as well. Many restaurants serve delicious burgers & fries, pizza, noodle soup as well.
The country :
After you enter Bhutan, you'd be treated with happy faces, kind people and probably the safest traffic conditions. I, myself entered
Bhutan through the Jaigaon (Indian side) -Phuentsoling (Bhutan side) border. And you could see the stark difference between the two sides. On one side, there was this loud traffic and dirty roads while the other side was peaceful and clean.
After getting our permits, we headed towards the capital city of Thimphu by bus. Phuentsholing is well connected to Paro and Thimphu by bus throughout the day. You can also get taxis on rent.
The Himalayan roads were well maintained and scenic throughout the way. Sometimes due to the heavy fog, it felt like there is no road ahead!
Once we reached Thimphu, we decided to walk through the city to my place of stay. The bus stand and my hotel were at the opposite ends of the city. However, we didn't regret the decision to walk across the length of the city with our backpacks. Loved walking on the footpaths, exchanging smiles with the locals, stopping by at some shops, going through the market area and then through the outskirts where we were greeted by this view.
Who would regret walking a long way when you are greeted by views like these! The river, 'Thimphu Chu' flows through the city of Thimphu.
After reaching our place of stay, Kisa Villa, we decided to take some rest and freshen up before the dinner.
The entrance of the hotel may look tiny, but the hotel was itself pretty huge. It had a great garden and we even got a backyard with our room! We could see the Tashichho Dzong clearly and brightly lit at night, from the backyard.
After resting for a bit, we decided to visit the Brusnika Russian Cafe & Bakery which was right next to our hotel. It was a cozy cafe with a selection of books that you could read and Russian food & beverages on the menu. Since it was almost 0 degree Celsius, we decided to have roasted Chicken wings with some warm Kompot (Russian fruit tea) along with some Pirozhki. The chicken wings were huge & delicious!!
The next day, we got up early and checked out of the hotel. With our backpacks on, we again started walking towards the city center. From there, we took a taxi to Buddha Dordenma (the largest sitting Buddha statue in the world).
We spent around an our there, before heading to Paro! Paro is the most visited place in Bhutan, even more than the capital of Thimphu. The reason is it's proximity to the airport and the Taktsang (The Tiger's Nest) Monastery, one of the most sacred sites in Buddhism.
After checking into our hotels, we again started walking around the city, exploring. Paro is also based on the banks of a river, the Paro Chu.
Once the sun set, we hopped around restaurants and karaoke bars, starting with a Karaoke bar at one of the many hotels of Paro. We then went to Park 76 Cafe & Pub. Had some great burger and listened to a live band performance! Then went on to a couple more karaokes before settling in for the night, with a trek coming up the next day.
The next day was brutal! Somehow managed to get up and ready, hungover. Got a little late so didn't have time for breakfast, didn't feel like eating as well. Took the taxi to the base of the trek and were overwhelmed by the task ahead.
We had to go up & down 3 mountains to reach the Monastery on the 4th one. It was approximately a 900 m. gain in height in around 4 kms. Hungover, with no breakfast and some water, we started our trek to the monastery. Took some time, some dangerous steep shortcuts but finally reached the place! Oh, what a feeling when you finish a trek!
It was a beautiful place. Worth every drop of sweat and each aching muscle. It was strangely peaceful, even with so many people around at the time we went.
It took us a whole day to complete this trek and come back to Paro. We decided to eat in that night and slept. The next day, we had to come back to Thimphu to get our inner line permit to Punakha. We did get the permit but not until early afternoon. Since we had the return tickets booked along with experiencing some exhaustion, we decided not to risk our health and miss our flights from Bagdogra (the next day). We only went till the Dochu La Pass, which like everywhere we had been in Bhutan, was peaceful and beautiful!
After coming back to Thimphu we strolled around through the market had our dinner and came back to our hotel to sleep.
Next day, we got up early and left Thimphu to come back to Siliguri on the same day.
It was an amazing trip. We had walked over 50 kms in 5 days and we didn't regret any of it! Bhutan is peaceful and very welcoming.
While on the last day, we captured this from the street of Thimphu.
The traffic discipline, the cleanliness and the natural beauty are some things that would make me visit Bhutan again!
P.S.: If you see far on the mountain, you can see the statue of Buddha. Feels like he watches over this city of beautiful people! :)