Land of the thunder dragon…trip guide!

Some relevant and authentic information about Bhutan… collected from websites and based on my experiences with the land.

Bhutan is a small landlocked country in South Asia, located at the eastern end of the Himalayas and bordered to the south, east and west by the Republic of India and to the north by the People’s Republic of China.

Butan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is no ordinary place. This is a country where buying cigarettes is illegal, where the rice is red and where chillies aren’t just a seasoning but the entire dish. It’s also a deeply Buddhist land, where men wear a tunic to work, where giant protective penises are painted on the walls of most houses, and where Gross National Happiness is deemed more important than Gross National Product. Tourism in Bhutan is also unique. Visitors famously have to pay a minimum of US$200 per day, making it one of the world’s most expensive countries to visit, but this fee is all-inclusive, you don’t have to travel in a group and you can arrange your own itinerary. What you won’t find in Bhutan is backpacker-style independent travel.
It is also a country of surprises. This is not just a nation of saintly, other-worldly hermits. Bhutan is straddling the ancient and modern world and these days you’ll find monks transcribing ancient Buddhist texts into computers as traditionally dressed noblemen chat on their mobile phones.
If you do visit Bhutan, you will become one of the few who have experienced the charm and magic of one of the world’s most enigmatic countries – the ‘last Shangri La’ – and you’ll be playing your part in this medieval kingdom’s efforts to join the modern world, while steadfastly maintaining its distinct and amazing cultural identity. Bhutan offers an opportunity to glimpse another way of living, an alternative vision of what is truly important in life.
Not surprisingly, in 2006, Business Week magazine rated Bhutan the happiest country in Asia and the eighth-happiest in the world based on a global survey.

Ways to reach Bhutan

1.By Air:
Paro is the international airport of Bhutan. Regular flights operate between Paro and Delhi and Kolkata. If you are traveling to Bhutan from Nepal, you can avail of direct flights to Paro from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. All flights to Bhutan are operated by Druk Air, which is the national carrier of Bhutan.

Paro is a scenic valley-town of gurgling streams, quaint houses and old monasteries, hemmed in by the Himalayas. It is just a 2-hour drive from Thimpu. Car rentals and government and private run mini bus services are available for the journey from Paro to Thimpu. Car rentals may cost you 2000 to 2500 Nu but bus drive may cost to a mere 200 to 500 Nu.

2.By Road
There is no rail network within the country and travelers can gain access to Bhutan by means of road transport – buses, private cars, which are authorized by the government of Bhutan. All parts of Bhutan are well-connected by a network of roads. If you are planning to reach Bhutan from India, the point of entry is the border town of Jaigaon. It is about 150 kms from Siliguri, the furthest that you can get near Bhutan by rail. A stately gate separates the Indian town of Jaigaon from the Bhutanese town of Phunsoling. Cars are available for hire from Siliguri to Jaigaon.

The laws for traveling to Bhutan are stricter for people of other nationalities than of India and China. The purpose of such laws is to preserve its environment and culture. Both the touring party and the car rental company need to acquire permits to be in Bhutan for a given length of time

Our travel itinerary to Bhutan and some suggestions…
Day 1: Bangalore to Kolkata in flight. Over night train to – Kanchankanya Express – from Sealdah to Hasimara.
Day 2: Reach Hasimara at 10 am. Drive to border and cross to Bhutan road. Get the Entry permit done. This border is called as Phuentsholing. Check into a hotel. There are many decent hotels available like Hotel Druk, Hotel Sinchula, Hotel Namgay etc. Overnight hotel stay in Phuentsholing…
Note 1:- There are private buses and shared taxis from Phuentsholing to Thimpu available. A comfortable option is to book a Bhutan Post bus (Rs/Nu 170) which leaves each morning at 7 AM (Bhutan time) from the post office /Phuentsholing GPO premises, book this bus on day of your arrival itself.
Day 3 – Morning drive to Thimphu (approx 7 hours)
After early breakfast, begin your long journey to Thimphu. It’s 6 to 7 hours drive away… there are Plenty of stops are made en route including for lunch (though we didn’t enjoy food much except for cheese momos… Indians may face taste issue. The food here is quite blant). The drive is beautiful, and you’ll see some waterfalls along the way. Check into your hotel on arrival. Hotels is Thimpu can be found in this site: http://hotels.lonelyplanet.com/bhutan/thimphu-r1973629/
Overnight hotel in Thimpu…

Day 4 – Thimphu sightseeing
The whole day today is set aside for sightseeing in and around Thimphu with your driver and guide. You have a choice of various places to visit and tour and you can discuss which are of most interest to you with your guide and they will arrange your day accordingly.
Options include,
the National Takin research centre where you can see several of these strange looking animals on an easy stroll through open pine forest, and enjoy great views over the Thimphu valley; the Memorial Chorten, a stupa conscpetualised by the Third King to ward off negative influences. It was later built in his memory by the present King and the Queen Mother ;the Folk Heritage Museum, for an insight into the medieval lifestyle of the Bhutanese people; the National Library, featuring the largest book in the world, and displays of traditional Tibetan style books, written on long strips of handmade paper; the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, which has a small museum and a clinic where many people are still treated with traditional herbal and other medicines; a traditional hand-made paper factory with a shop selling attractive and interesting souvenirs; the Textile Museum with displays of local weaving and normally some weavers at work; Trashichhodzong, the beautiful medieval fortress/monastery which houses most of the Government’s office and King’s Throne room it is also the summer residence of Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot; several short half-day hikes are also available around the valley.
Some of the local specialties are the traditional clothes, also you can browse different items like hand-woven fabrics, carved masks, religious thangkas woven baskets to crafted metal statues. Shops are fine but we recommend you to browse at roadside small shops, there you can negotiate and buy things cheap.
Lunch will be included during the day, and if there is an archery tournament taking place, a stop at the national stadium is well worthwhile. Displays of traditional folk dancing also run every day for those who are interested. The other main highlight in Thimphu is its vast weekend market 9Sunday market) with its hundreds of different stalls selling a huge range of fresh vegetables, spices, and of course, chillies. There is also a handicrafts and clothing market here, and overall this is a great place to pick up some souvenirs as a memory of your time in Bhutan. In the evening we normally take you to a restaurant on the hillside with great views overlooking the city. Overnight at hotel in Thimphu.
Day 5 -Drive to Paro (distance is 65 kms – 2 hrs of time)
This morning drive to Paro. Visit the Ta Dzong, once a fortified lookout tower that is now the National Museum. Then walk down the trail to visit the Rinpung Dzong meaning “fortress of the heap of jewels”. Next visit Kichu Lhakhang, the oldest temple in the country. From there you will be taken to the Drugyal Dzong (Bhutan Victory Fort), which was built in 1646 to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over Tibetan invaders during the 1600s. On a clear day you can see Mount Jumolhari, Bhutan’s second-highest mountain at 7,314meters. Overnight hotel in Paro.

Day 6 – Paro – Excursion to Taktshang (Tigers Nest) After an early breakfast, you drive to the foot of the Taktshang cliff before walking uphill for 2-3 hours to reach this monastery, giddily perched on a sheer 800m rock face. Taktshang is probably Bhutan’s most famous site, and means ‘Tiger’s Nest’, as legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava flew to this spot on the back of a tigress in the eighth century. He meditated here making this temple a sacred pilgrimage destination for Buddhists. You’ll break for lunch at the Taktshang Cafeteria about two thirds of the way up. The trip to and fro takes 4-5 hours and riding ponies can be arranged for most of the route if you wish. We did not take this trip as it was kind of difficult with a toddler around.
In the afternoon, you do a short sightseeing tour to Drukgyel Dzong, the fort of the victorious Drukpas. Although gutted by a fire, this fort is renowned as the stand from which several Tibetan invasions were repulsed. To the north can be seen in all its majesty, the dome of sacred Mt. Chomolhari, or the “mountain of the goddess.”You will also visit one of the oldest landmarks in Bhutan – the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang was one of the 108 temples built in the Himalayas by the Tibetan King, Songtsen Gembo. It is revered as one of the most holy shrines in Bhutan and embodies the arrival of Buddhism here. In the evening you can have a final stroll through the streets of Paro, or enjoy a relaxing traditional hot stone bath to ease any tired limbs. Overnight at hotel in Paro.

Day 7 Paro to Phuentsholing by Cab or Gvt buses.
Some private players like Dhug operate 22 seater air conditioned buses between Paro International airport and Phuentsholing.. One can take a bus form the paro airport to Phuentsholing. The bus takes journey takes about 11 hours to reach the place and the roads are in very bad condition. There are private operators as well as Government run buses in the region. Some private players like Dhug operate 22 seater air conditioned buses between Paro International airport and Phuentsholing.

One can also take a taxi from the airport to the town of Phuentsholing. Taxis can be hired from the tea stall outside the airport.

Buses run regularly from Paro international Airport to Phuentsholing. There are buses run by private operators as well as government. Private operators also run 22 seater air conditioned buses apart from the standard ones. One can also hire a taxi to reach Phuentsholing from the Paro International Airport.

Note:
**For Indian Nationals, Visa is not required. They will be given permit at the immigration point
for which they will require 2 passport sized photographs and identification (like passport or voters ID)
About Cuisine:
The cuisine in Phuentsholing, like the rest of the country, has a strong influence of Indian and Taiwanese taste. A lot of red chillies are used in the preparations here. Most of the restaurants, cafes and pastry shops are located in the Tashi Commercial Complex here. The pastry shops here are very popular among travellers.

However, the street side shops are not necessarily clean and hygienic. Most of the good restaurants are located inside hotels which serve Indian, Chinese as well as local cuisine.

Alcohol is popular here and is found to be cheaper than in the rest of the Indian and Bhutanese cities. The restaurants stop serving dinner after 09:30 pm. However, the bars and the nightclubs in the area remain open till midnight.

Momos and noodles are a commonly enjoyed here while red rice, often with saffron, is considered a delicacy. Rice is eaten with meat and vegetables.
Yak cheese is very popular here and ‘souza’ is the specially prepared Bhutanese tea.