Just across the Indian border, lies the untouched land of Bhutan. Shrouded in mystery and magic, this tiny kingdom is rightly referred to as “The happiest country in the world” or “The Last Shangri-La”.
While discussing Bhutan, people usually talk about breathtaking landscapes and majestic monasteries. But, one thing that really differentiates this country from any other country in the world is its amiable people. Donning their traditional attire, Gho and Kira, Bhutanese are sure to charm you with their composure and outlook towards life.
Tip: If you are not planning a trip now, save the story for later
Here is a travel guide to help you plan your Bhutan trip in the best possible way —
Best way to reach Bhutan from India
By Air: Bhutan’s only international airport is located in Paro. Drukair and Bhutan airlines are the two airlines that operate direct flights from Delhi, Kolkata, Gaya, Mumbai, Guwahati and Bagdogra.
Imp: Before booking your Bagdogra flight, check with Drukair for comparison of fare, and if you get a good deal with the Bhutanese Airline, book tickets with them.
We suggest: As the direct flights to Paro are expensive, travellers can opt for flights till Bagdogra and take a cab for the further journey, till the border town of Phuntsholing.
By Rail: Hasimara is the nearest railway station to Jaigaon, an Indian town on Indo-Bhutan Border. It is situated at a distance of 17 kms from Jaigaon.
By Road: Travellers can enter Bhutan from Jaigaon town in West Bengal. It is only 4.3 kms from the border town of Bhutan, Phuentsholing. Private cabs are available between these two places.
Best Time to Visit Bhutan
The best time to visit Bhutan is in March, April, October and November. Although travellers looking for a snowy vacation can visit during the peak winter months.
How to Get your Tourist Permit
The Immigration Office in Phuentsholing is the place to issue permit if you are travelling by road. Those travellers flying directly to Paro can get their permits from Paro International Airport.
So, the list of documents needed to get your permit are:
- Copy of ID (passport or Voter’s ID)
- An Itinerary on an A4 Sheet
- Booked Hotel’s Voucher
- 1 Passport Size Photo
1> To avoid long queues, reach the immigration office between 8:30 AM and 9 AM.
2> There are several shops just opposite the office for photostat. So, Don’t Panic!
3> Tourist permit is not chargeable. Though, if you need a travel agent, you will have to pay some amount.
Note: This permit, only allows you to visit Thimphu, Paro and Punakha. For other destinations, a separate permit is required.
About the Bhutanese Currency
The Bhutanese currency is known as Ngultrum. Ng 1 is equivalent to INR 1. All notes of Indian denomination are used widely in Bhutan.
Myth: Notes of 500 and 2000 are not valid in the country.
Fact: All notes of Indian currency are valid in the country. We mostly had 2000 rupee notes and didn’t face trouble anywhere. So, Relax!!
What to Wear
While exploring Bhutan, you will be mostly visiting temples, dzongs and monasteries. It is mandatory to wear covered clothes. Even caps or any other kind of headgear is not allowed inside the places of worship. Legs and shoulders should be covered at all times.
Note: Don’t forget to carry comfortable shoes for hiking and walking. Also, if you are not familiar with high altitude, carry medicine with you at all times.
What to see
If you have opted for a normal tourist permit, you are allowed to visit three destinations; Thimphu, Punakha and Paro. A permit is not needed to visit the border town of Phuentsholing.
We chose to opt for a tour package from a private operator, that provided a private cab with me for all six days.
Day 1: Immigration | Day at Phuentsholing
After clearing immigration, we met our guide and driver and went to our hotel to spend some leisure time.
In the evening, we went for a walk in the main market. A number of souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants can be dotted across the streets.
Tip: Make sure your hotel is in the main market or walking distance from there.
Phuentsholing to Thimphu — 6-hour drive
Day 2: Arrival at Thimphu | Day for Sightseeing
Next day, while heading towards Thimphu, we took a pit stop at Kharbandi Gompa. The monestary contains beautiful statues of Guru Ripochey and ShubdrungNawangNamgyal. One of the highlights is the sensational view of the Indian plains and Phuentsholing.
Recommendation: Stop at Sonam’s Restaurant for a delicious lunch. Do try the delicious Bhutanese delicacy Emadatsi and Kewadatsi along with Suja.
The way leading to Thimphu is beautiful and filled with scenic sites. On arrival at Thimphu, we decided to check-in at the hotel and without wasting any time, left for sightseeing.
Country’s capital, Thimphu gives you a glimpse of the rich cultural heritage of the country. Expanding rapidly like a mini-metropolis, Thimphu is the best place to enjoy Bhutanese dining, shopping and nightlife.
Attractions Covered —
1> Buddha View Point
2> Simply Bhutan
3> Thimphu Crafts Market
4> Night View of Thimphu Dzong (don’t miss this)
Day 3: Exploring Thimphu | Leaving for Punakha
After a hearty breakfast, we checked-out from the hotel and headed towards National Memorial Chorten. This white structure crowned with a golden spire is dedicated to world peace and exemplifies Buddhist architecture and artwork. The intricate sculptures inside the chorten are admirable. Later, we visited Tashichho Dzong, which is a Buddhist monastery and fortress.
Entry fees for National Memorial Chorten — Rs.300 per person
Entry fees for Dzong — Rs.300 per person
Later, we visited Takin Zoo to see the national animal Takin, also called cattle chamois or gnu goat. We also paid a visit to the Vegetable Market Thimphu. Although there is nothing special in the market but we wanted to see the local produce and try some local fruits.
After a 40-minute drive from Thimphu towards Punakha, we reached Dochula Pass. An instagrammers delight, this pass offers 360 degree panoramic view of the Himalayan mountain range. The 108 chortens honouring this mountain pass are a major highlight. There is a restaurant and bakery near the pass, where you can grab some delicious snacks.
Attractions Covered —
1> Memorial Chorten
2> Tashichho Dzong
3> Takin Zoo
4> Vegetable Market Thimphu
5> Dochula Pass
Entry fee for Takin Zoo — Rs.300 per person
Thimphu to Punakha — 2 hours 30 minutes drive
Day 4: Exploring Punakha
The day was booked to explore Punakha. We started the sightseeing by visiting the renowned Punakha Dzong, also known as Pungthang Dewa chhenbi Phodrang. It is the second oldest and second-largest dzong in Bhutan and one of the most majestic structures. Located between the Pho Chhu (Male) and Mo Chhu (Female) river, the dzong is the best place to spend some peaceful time.
Later, we decided to visit the Punakha Suspension Bridge, which is a small trek away from this dzong. This 520-foot-long suspension bridge offers a sensational view of the river and valley. It is the best place to get some cool pictures clicked.
fter spending some leisure time at the river bank, we moved towards Chimi Lhakhang, commonly referred to as the Fertility Temple. Watching people worship Phalluses might come to you as a shock, but after understanding the fascinating tales behind that, you will not find it very unusual. Before starting the trek, you will find a number of souvenir shops loaded with exclusive antiques. A word to the wise – they are expensive, like really expensive.
Don’t miss a visit to the beautiful Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup nunnery. The intricate work done inside the temple is sure to blow your mind. Other than this, the view of the valley from this place is sensational.
Recommendation: We stayed at this beautiful property called Hotel Vara. The view from the hotel was to die for. Also, the rooms were beautiful and the service was prompt. You can choose to stay at this property for a wonderful experience.
Attractions Covered —
1> Punakha Dzong
2> Suspension bridge
3> Riverside fun
4> Fertility Temple
6> Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup nunnery
After exploring Punakha, we left for Paro. Don’t miss the night view of Paro Dzong.
Punakha to Paro distance — 3 hours 23 minutes
Day 5: Trek To Tiger’s Nest Monastery/ Paro Taktsang
The most recognised spots of Bhutan, Tiger’s Nest Monastery is a must-visit. Perched on a cliff, the monastery is situated 900 meters off the ground.
We suggest you to keep an entire day for Tiger’s Nest trek. It takes an average of 5 hours for a round trip to the monastery and around 1 hour to explore it. A cafeteria situated at the halfway point is an ideal place to take a breather and enjoy some light snacks. The entire way leading to the monastery is decorated with prayer flags. As you go up, the scenery just keeps getting better.
1– Trek light (don’t carry things you will not need while trekking).
2– Carry enough water for the entire trek.
3– Don’t forget sunglasses and a light scarf to protect your face from sunlight.
4– Comfortable sport shoes are a must.
5– Carry chocolates as they act as instant energy boosters.
6– There are vendors selling sticks at the start of the trek. You must rent them.
After completing the Tiger’s Nest trek, we decided to opt for an authentic Bhutanese Hot Stone Massage. This 1-hour massage is accompanied with a hot stone bath water-soaked with herbs.
After resting for a while at the hotel, we went shopping at the wonderful Paro market. The market is filled with souvenir shops, some of them selling the products at really good rates.
Paro to Pheutsoling distance — 3 hours 36 minutes drive
Day 6: Return to Pheutsoling
In the morning, we checked out from our hotel in Paro and moved towards Pheutsoling. Spent the day at relaxing here.
Pheutsoling to Bagdogra distance — 4 hour 12-minute drive
Day 7: Pheutsoling to Bagdogra
With a lot of memories and a heavy heart, we said goodbye to Bhutan and left for Bagdogra for our return flight.
As per a recent regulatory, Bhutan is planning to start charging Indian tourists. So, before it’s too late, plan your Bhutan trip now.