Entering the Land of Thunder Dragon - Bhutan

Bhutan a Buddhist country on Himalayan region, known for its top position in happiness index. Mysterious but well known for its monasteries, Dzongs (fortess), Hills, beautiful landscape. It was on my travel bucket list for long time. Finally last week I was able to complete 6 days trip to Bhutan and covered Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Ha Valley.

This is going to be a different type of blog, not the usual travelogue I write but its more like an information blog. But I will post two more blogs covering Thimpu and Paro in my usual storytelling style. I am getting many messages about my trip, how did I plan, how to get in there, permits and all..so here we go

Getting in there
There are two ways to reach Bhutan.

By Road -, Another way is to reach by road. I took a flight from Bangalore to Bagdogra, Siliguri, and then hired self-driven car. Jaigaon is the border town in India and the other side in Bhutan is Phuntsholing. From Siliguri to Bhutan Gate (between Jaigaon and Phuntsholing), it will take 4.30 hrs. Once you get a permit in Phuntsholing, you can reach Thimphu (145 km) or Paro (120 km) by your own vehicle, hired taxi or bus.

Bhutan Gate at Jaigaon (India) - Phuntsholing (Bhutan) Border
By Air - Paro is the only international airport in Bhutan and you can get flights from Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Gaya, and Guwahati. Only two airlines are flying in and out, Druk and Royal Bhutan. You can get your ticket booked from their respective website only.

Paro International Airport
Permit/Visa
There is no Visa required for Indians but you will have to get the permit. If you are coming by road get the permit from Phuntsholing(Border town). Near the Bhutan Gate, you will find Immigration office (opens on weekdays only). You need carry these documents

Permit - required documents

Bhutan time is 30 mins ahead of IST, so make sure you reach the immigration office at 8:30 IST, get in the queue, carry all documents, and duly filled form. Outside of the immigration office, 2/3 employee will check your documents and if everything is fine. It will be sent inside for further processing. You will have to wait outside. Then after some time one employee will come back with all your documents, call you name and then write a counter number in the first page of document.   Go to that counter, get your biometric done and passport stamped. The permit will be issued for 7-10 days to travel only in Phuntsholing, Thimphu and Paro if you have to extend it can be done in the Thimphu immigration office. Once you get the permit (stamped on the passport or permit copy in case of voter ID) get the entry stamped at checkpoint 5km after Phuntsholing Border town and while coming back make sure you get exit stamped at the same place.

Immigration Office in Phuntsholing

To cover Punakha and Ha Valley you need a separate permit that can be obtained from the Thimpu immigration office. For self-driven car, another permit is required, that can be obtained from RST office in Phuntsholing and Thimpu. Make sure you start from weekdays if you are entering via road, Immigration office will be closed during weekends and holidays.

Immigration Office in Thimphu
Itinerary -
Day 1 - Base Thimphu - Permit done at Phuntsholing, Traveled to Thimphu (145 km / 4.5 hrs)
Day 2 - Base Thimphu - City sightseeing (Handicraft Market, National Library, Royal Monetary, Tashicho Dzong), Permit done for Punakha and Haa Valley
Day 3 - Base Thimphu - Punakha via DochuLa (74 km from Thimphu), Explore Punakha Dzong, Suspension Bridge, Dochu-La 108 chortens
Day 4 - Base Paro - Big buddha (Thimphu) and Traveled to Paro (50 km, 1.5 hrs), Visited Haa Valley via Chele-La (60 km from Paro)
Day 5 - Base Paro - Tiger Nest (Parking and Base 11 km from Paro) and Paro Local sightseeing Day 6 - Base Phuntsholing - Paro Dzong, Museum and Drove back to Phuntsholing

Expenses - All expenses are for six days in Bhutan and shared by 4
Travel Expense - Paid 2600 per day for a self driven car,  per head 3900 Rs
Fuel expense was 4000 Rs, per head 1000 Rs
So Toal travel expense 4900 Rs.

On the way to Thimpu

Hotel Expenses - Hotel choice It depends upon person to person but you can easily get good hotels to start from 1200. I paid approx 25k for four-person two rooms in 6 days. Per Head 6250 Rs.

Hotel in Paro
Food - You can easily get the Indian foods, though Bhutanese cuisines were amazing. Again it depends how much and how well you want to eat but I found the price there is not so expensive and similar to India. So I would say it would have been 700-800 rs per Day. For 6 days 4200 Rs. per head



So overall - Travel + Hotel + Food it would be 15350 Rs.

Over and above of these expenses, you can do shopping, pay entry fees for some of the attractions, do clubbing in Thimphu. You can easily find Clubs, Pubs and Bars there.

Pls note I have not included my travel details from Bangalore to Jaigaon (Border Town). Its only for Bhutan. We took flight from Bangalore to Bagdogra, hired a car, and drove to Jaigaon.

Others
You need to pay entry fee of 300 rs for most of the Dzong that covers the guide fee as well. Visiting monastery inside Tiger Nest entry fee is 500 rs.
Tashicho Dzong in Thimpu
You can get local tourist SIM (B-mobile) in rs. 150, with that you will get 100 rs talk time. You can buy 99 rs data pack (900mb) additionally.

Indian currency is well accepted there. I had not used 2000 Rs but other denominations are well accepted. You can use your Indian ATM card and withdraw money from any of the ATM. Bank of Bhutan charge 200 per transaction (whether its 100 or 15000) better use Bhutan Development Bank ATM with Rupay card, it didn't charge me any transaction fee.


Weather was unpredictable, it was hot in the morning, rained in the afternoon and evening but able to explore all the major attractions without any issue.

For shopping, Thimphu and Bhutan has many shops, especially the handicrafts. For the best experience and price visit Handicraft market in Thimphu. It's opposite to Taj Tashi hotel in Norzim Lame.


And don't forget to try Bhutanese beer and wine. Druk Lager beer costs 120 and the wine I liked most was Zumzim Peach Wine.




I hope this blog will help you to make a plan for Bhutan trip. I will write two more blogs covering Thimphu, Paro, tourist attraction and my experience there.

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