Tag Archives: Bhutan

Things to keep in mind while traveling in Bhutan

The following are certain things that you have to keep in mind while traveling to Bhutan, which I came to know after my recent trip to Bhutan. I thought of writing about them here so that it is useful for others who are also planning for a trip there.

Getting into Bhutan

There are two ways to get inside Bhutan. One is to enter via Phuentsholing and the second option is to fly up till Paro and land there. To come out of Bhutan you can use the above two routes or come out through Samdrup as well. But you can’t enter through Samdrup.

Visa and Permit

For Indians you don’t need a get a visa in advance to enter Bhutan. You can get the permit on arrival, either at Phuentsholing or at Paro. You will initially get a permit for 7 days at Phuentsholing and using it you can visit only Thimphu and Paro. To stay more or visit other restricted places which I visited like Haa valley, Punakha or Bumthang, you need to renew your permit in Thimphu. The immigration office is located at Norzin Lam in Thimphu.

Timezone

Bhutan follows a different timezone than India. It is GMT + 6 hours, which is 30 minutes ahead of Indian standard time. Once you cross Phuentsholing all times which are displayed are in Bhutan timezone. We missed our bus to Thimphu from Phuentsholing because of this timezone difference.

No smoking

Bhutan has a very strict policy about smoking. Smoking or sale of tobacco products is completely prohibited inside Bhutan. The fine is pretty high and it also includes jail time if you are caught. So be aware of this rule.

Dress code

Bhutan has a strict dress code for its people but it is pretty relaxed for tourists. Bhutan nationals are supposed to wear their national dress (Gho for men and Kira for women) on all formal occasions and places like government office, temples, Dzongs, monasteries etc.

For tourists when you enter Dzongs you should wear full pants and shirts with collars or full sleeves. The easiest option is to always carry a jacket and just wear it when needed. Even though not needed if you happen to buy a Gho or Kira, then they will be very happy to help you wear it. But keep in mind that it is not that easy to wear and are generally quite expensive 🙂

If you are anywhere near their national flag, you should remove your caps or hats. Also remove your footwear when you enter a holy place or temple. Most of the time it is clearly specified whether you have to remove your footwear or not.

Language

The official language of Bhutan is Dzongkha but pretty much everyone can understand and speak Hindi and English. Almost all the taxi drivers and shop keepers can also speak English. So it shouldn’t be a problem.

However if you learn a couple of words in Dzongkha like Thank you (Kadriche) or Hello(Kuzuzangbo la) and speak to them, they are very happy.

Photography

Photographing People

Bhutan people are generally shy and if you want to take a photo, it is always good to ask them. In our experience mostly they said yes. Also it is a good manner to get their postal address and send a copy to them. But don’t ask for their address if you don’t plan to send it to them.

If you happen to see anyone from the royal family then you should not photograph them, even if they are in the public place.

Photographing Places

Most of the places including Dzong and monasteries are okay to be photographed expect places where the deity are kept. The good rule of thumb is that if you have to remove your shoes, then it is not okay to photograph. Also when in doubt just ask someone and they will let you know.

Driving

You can take your own vehicle from India inside Bhutan and drive it with your Indian license. But for that you have to take a permit at Phuentsholing. You would need all relevant documents for your vehicle like RC book, pollution certificate etc. To drive Bhutan registered vehicles you need either a Bhutan license or international vehicle and can’t drive them with your Indian driving license.

If you are going to drive your own vehicle then be mindful of the rules. Almost everyone drives below 50 Km/per hour and there is absolutely no horn. Also the entire country doesn’t have a single traffic signal and I guess that should pretty much explain it 😉

Taxi Tariff

Almost all the taxi tariff are fixed by the government and is generally considered a bad practice to bargain. We found it to be cheap if we hire the taxi for the entire day or still cheaper if you hire it for the entire trip. We hired a taxi for 8 days and paid 3000 Nu per day.

Most of the taxi’s are 4 seaters and if you are in a group of 5, then you have to hire two separate taxi’s and they follow this rule pretty religiously.

Food

Most of Bhutanese food is like Indian food, but they are very very spicy. They don’t add chilies to dishes but pretty much the entire dish is made out of chilies. You have to specify the spice level when you order Bhutanese food. You can try out some of these Bhutanese dishes, which we found to be very good. Ema Dhatse (chillies and cheese), Kewa Dhatse (potatoes and cheese) and Shawa Datse (mushroom and cheese). You also would get rice and dhal pretty much everywhere.

You can also try out kokka (a special type of noodles), channa and tea for breakfast which are also very good.

Trekking

Multi-day trekking is extremely expensive. The cost is around $150-$200 a day. It is because of very stringent rules regarding trekking and disposal of human wastes. There are lot of opportunities for half-day hikes which doesn’t require guides. You can also try out mountain biking and there are lot of beautiful trails available throughout the country. Mountain bikes are available for full day rent and the cost is around Nu 1000 per day.

Rivers and Lakes

Most of the water bodies (either rivers or lakes) are considered to be sacred places. Contaminating them or throwing stones or garbage into them is considered to be a serious offense, so be mindful of them. Fishing is also prohibited in most places.

Pedestrian Day

Every Tuesday is Pedestrian Day and no private vehicles are allowed on road and people are encouraged to walk or use bicycle. In small towns all taxi’s are allowed and in big cities like Thimphu and Paro, taxi’s are allowed based on their registration number. Taxi’s with odd and even registration numbers are allowed on alternate Tuesday’s.

Dry day

Every Tuesday is also a dry day and selling of alcohol is prohibited throughout the country.

Mobile and GPRS

It is very easy to get a local pre-paid GSM sim. You just need your permit and activation is instant. Calls to India are charged 5 Nu/per minute. There is no 3G and GPRS is very expensive. It costs around 10 NU/per MB and the connection is not that great. In Thimphu there are a couple of restaurants that provide free wifi. (The cafe and Ambient Cafe. Both are near the clock tower). In other places you can go to an Internet cafe and the cost is around 60-90 Nu per hour.

Update: Total cost

A couple people were asking me what was the total cost for the entire trip. I just did the accounts and it came to around Rs 17,500 per person for two weeks in a group of 5. If the number of people in the group is less then it might have be slightly high.

If you are planning to travel to Bhutan and if you have any specific question leave a comment below and I will try to update this post with the answer.

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Bhutan Trip – Itinerary

After reading about my recent Bhutan trip, lot of people were asking me for my itinerary. I thought of sharing it here so that it is useful for other people who are also planning for a trip to Bhutan.

Day 1 (15-Sep-2012)

Bangalore -> Kolkata -> Bagdora -> Jaigaon

Took an early morning flight from Bangalore to Kolkata. In Kolkata, we had a layover for 5 hours. So we went to some near by places like Maha Lakshimi temple, Bellur Matt etc. From Kolkata we took a flight to Bagdora. After reaching Bagdora airport, we took a pre-paid taxi to Jaigaon, the Indian border town from the airport. Usually it should take you around 4-5 hours (around 180 Km) to reach but for us it took close to 8 hours because of huge traffic jam caused by a landslide. One important thing to note is that there is a 16 Km stretch near Jaigaon, where the road is extremely bad. It will take at least an hour to cross this stretch, of course with some severe back pain. We stayed overnight in a hotel in Jaigaon opposite to the India Bhutan border.

India-Bhutan Border

Day 2 (16-Sep-2012)

Jaigaon -> Phuentsholing -> Thimphu

We took the permit from the immigration office and crossed the India Bhutan border gate (which is just an arch) and reached Phuentsholing. The border town at the Indian side is called Jaigaon, while the border town at the Bhutan side is called Phuentsholing. From Phuentsholing we took a taxi to Thimphu, which is the capital of Bhutan. The ride will take you around 5 hours (around 180 Km). This stretch of the road is extremely scenic and there are around 5-6 major water falls on the way. We did the mistake of traveling there after dark, but found out what we missed on our way back. If you are planning to take this route, make sure you do it at day time and keep a camera handy. We reached Thimphu pretty late and stayed at a hotel in Norzin Lam.

It is also possible to go by public transport. The cost for the bus to Thimphu is around 200 Nu (Bhutan currency, which is almost equal to Indian currency) and you have bus every 30 minutes till 4:30 PM Bhutan time (GMT + 6 hours, which is 30 minutes ahead of Indian time)

Day 3 (17-Sep-2012)

Sight seeing in and around Thimphu.

Visited a couple of places like Telecom Tower, Dechen Lakhang, Archery stadium, Tashicho Dzong and Buddha Point which is present on top of hill. Out of all the places, I liked Buddha point a lot. The Buddha statue was massive and also the view from top of the hill was amazing.

Budha Point in Thimpu
From Buddha Point in Thimphu

Day 4 (18-Sep-2012)

Thimphu -> Paro

The permit that you get at Phuentsholing is valid only for 7 days and you can visit only Thimphu and Paro using it. In order to visit other places or stay longer you need to extend your permit at Thimphu. So we went to the immigration office in Norzin Lam to extend our permit and also to get permission to visit other places in Bhutan. It took us a couple of hours, since the officers were busy because of some meeting.

After getting the permit, we took a taxi to Paro. Paro is around 60 Km from Thimphu and it will take you around 2 hours to reach there. After reaching Paro, we stayed in a hotel in the main street of the town.

Paro is a very beautiful valley and you can catch a glimpse of it in the below photo.

Paro Valley

Day 5 (19-Sep-2012)

Sight seeing in and around Paro

The highlight of the day was the hike to Tiger’s Nest (Paro Taktsang). It is a Buddhist sacred site and temple complex located in a cliffside of the upper Paro valley. It took us about 3 hours to climb up and around 2 hours to climb down. It was really an amazing place and I might a separate blog post about this place.

Below are some photos of Tiger’s Nest.

Tiger's Nest
Tiger's Nest

Day 6 (20-Sep-2012)

Sight seeing in and around Paro

Visited a couple of places in the Paro valley like Drukgyel Dzong, Paro Rinpung Dzong, Kyichu Lhakhang and National Museum. Out of all these places, I liked Drukgyel Dzong, which is an old ruined fortress and Paro Rinpung Dzong, which is the main administrative office and monastery in Paro.

Most of these places are near to Paro and you can hire a taxi to reach these places from Paro.

Day 7 (21-Sep-2012)

Paro -> Cheli La -> Haa Valley

We hired a taxi for the next 8 days at 3000 Nu per day and left Paro to Haa Valley. On the way to Haa valley, we passed Cheli La, which is one of the highest mountain pass in Bhutan. It was very cold at Cheli La, and you could see the below photo, to find out how chill it was. After Cheli La, we reached Haa valley, a very small and cold town. We stayed overnight in Haa valley.

Cheli La
Cheli La

Day 8 (22-Sep-2012)

Haa Valley -> Thimphu -> Douch La -> Punakha

We visited the Indian Army camp (photo below) in Haa valley and then left to Punakha. To reach Punakha we had to go through Thimphu. Between Thimphu and Punakha we passed through Douch La. Reached Punakha a little late and found it difficult to get room, since the hotels are spread apart. This is was the only place, where we had little struggle to get the room.

Indian Army camp in Bhutan

Day 9 (23-Sep-2012)

Sight seeing around Punakha and Wangdue

Punakha was little hot when compared with other places. We went to Chimi Lhakhang (temple of the famous fertility king Drukpa Kinley), Punakha Dzong and to an Iron Bridge which was build over the Punakha river. We also witnessed Tsechu, the local festival in Wangdue. If you are interested in cultural dances etc, you will really like these festivals.

I liked the Iron bridge very much. It was a completely different experience to walk in the long, swinging hanging bridge. Checkout some of the photos which we took in the iron bridge.

Long Iron Bridge
Long Iron Bridge

Day 10 (24-Sep-2012)

Punakha -> Wangdue -> Pele La -> Trongsa -> Bumthang -> Jakar

We left Punakha a little early and reached Jakar down in Bumthang at around 4 PM. On the way we crossed Wangdue, Pele La and Trongsa. The entire drive was very beautiful and took about 9 hours. Bumthang was slightly hot during the day and cold during the night. Locals call Bumthang as second Switzerland and it lived up to its reputation.

Day 11 (25-Sep-2012)

Sight seeing around Bumthang and Jakar town.

We went to Jakar Dzong, Wangdichholing Dzong, Kurji Lakhang and then attended the Tsechu at the Tamshing Lakhang. Almost all places were very beautiful and picture perfect.

Day 12 (26-Sep-2012)

Sight seeing around Bumthang and Jakar town.

Went to Burning Lake, which is arond 13 Km from Jakar. It was very beautiful and we tried to get into the water, which was very cold even though the sun was very hot. After coming out of Burning Lake, we parked our car near a small bridge and got into the river. The water was very clean and cold and it was a very nice experience. We spent about 2 hours there in the river itself.

Aswin and Subbu did mountain biking for the entire day, while I did it only in the evening. There are lot of trails for doing mountain biking and you should definitely try it out if you are in Bumthang.

Day 13 (27-Sep-2012)

Bumthang -> Trongsa -> Pele La -> Punakha -> Douch La -> Thimphu

It was a long drive and it took us about 12 hours (257 Km) from Bumthang to Thimphu. The entire drive was very beautiful and on the way we entered Trongsa Dzong from the eastern gate. We reached Thimphu in the evening and went for shopping since almost every shop had a sale because of the local Tsechu festival.

Day 14 (28-Sep-2012)

Thimphu -> Phuentsholing -> Jaigoan -> Siliguri

The drive from Thimphu to Phuentsholing is very beautiful and you pass numerous majestic waterfalls on the way. There is a small stretch of road near Phuentsholing where it is always misty and you could witness lot of past landslide areas. We were both sad and glad, sad because it was our last day in Bhutan and glad that we did this trip. We crossed the border around 2 PM and you could immediately notice the cultural difference. We were greeted with heavy vehicle horn sounds as soon as stepping inside Jaigaon.

We had lunch in Jaigaon and took another taxi to Siliguri were we stayed overnight.

Day 15 (29-Sep-2012)

Siliguri -> Bagdora -> Kolkata -> Bangalore -> HOME

Our flight from Bagdora was at 2:40 PM, so in the morning we went around Siliguri, even though it was very hot. We went to “Hon Kong Market” which is a famous place to get cheap electronics stuff. After that we took a taxi to the Bagdora airport, took flight to Kolkata and then took our connecting flight to Bangalore. Reached home at around 10:30 PM and slept in my bed after around 15 days 🙂

Itinerary Recommendation

If you have only a week to visit Bhutan then I would recommend you to visit Thimphu and Paro. If you have around 10 days then make sure you visit Thimphu, Paro, Haa valley and Punakha or if you have 15 days like us then you could also include Bumthang to the list.

Update

I have also written about the things that you should keep in mind while traveling to Bhutan.

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Kadriche Bhutan

(For those who don’t know Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan the title means “Thank you Bhutan” 😉 )

“Ohh my god, what a country?” All of us were saying this phrase at least a couple of times everyday during out stay there. Druk (pet name of Bhutan) is no ordinary country. You experience the charm and magic of one of the world’s most enigmatic countries.

My initial plan was to spend one week in Bhutan and the next week in Sikkim. We enjoyed Bhutan so much that I changed my mind immediately after entering Bhutan. You feel that you have entered a completely different world just after crossing the border between India and Bhutan.

All most every place in Bhutan is so scenic with high mountains, breath taking valleys, majestic water falls, crystal clear water in rivers and streams, beautiful Dzong, fantastic monasteries, nice whether and I could go on. But more than the beauty of the place, it is the hospitality of the people that convinced me to stay longer.

Pretty much every one in Bhutan is very polite and goes out of their way to help you. Their life style is very relaxed and you could never find anyone in a rush. Almost everyone follows the law and most importantly no one drives rashly. In fact there is not even a single traffic signal in the entire country. I guess this could pretty much explain it 🙂

We had lot of instances where people from all walks of life (from a taxi driver to a owner of a big hotel) went completely out of their way to help us.

Towards the end of the trip we were so amazed that me, Aswin and Subbu have decided to try out the Bhutanese way of living (like being polite and helpful to others) and especially the Bhutanese way of driving for at least a week to see how it feels. If possible I am planning to continue doing it as long as possible in Bangalore. Wish me all the best 🙂

I am glad that I did this trip and it is one of those trips that you will remember for a very long time.

Over the next couple of days, I will be writing more about my trip, including the itinerary, places you should not miss, things you should prepare for while visiting Bhutan etc. So stay tuned.

Update

Here is the writeup by Aswin, who also came with me to Bhutan.

I have also written about the things that you should keep in mind while traveling to Bhutan and my itinerary.

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Traveling to Bhutan

I have been quite silent in my blog for sometime now. There are lot of things happening around (more details soon) and one of them was that I was planning for a trip to Bhutan and Sikkim.

I have traveled to most parts of India expect north-east and with this trip, I could claim that I have covered most parts of India 🙂

Initially I thought of doing a bike trip, like my last western ghats trip but then decided to not to. I Will post more details about the trip, with photos once I am back.

I will be back by the end of this month and till then my phone will be switched off and if you send me an email you will get a response only after I am back.

And regarding the secret project, you might have to wait till I am back 😉

Update

I have also written about my experience, the list of things that you should keep in mind while traveling to Bhutan and my itinerary.

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