Almost everybody loves to travel different places, either it is a hill station or sea beach, all you need to get rid of from the monotonous life for some days. I am not an exception. But there are two types of people who love to travel. One is tourist and other is a traveler.
Now you think what’s the difference between these two. So let me tell you, for me, a tourist is who planned everything for a tour, I mean they pre-book the hotel, car for sightseeing or take the help of a travel agent to spend a good and hassle-free time. They are correct in their own ways. But a traveler is way different from them, they don’t go to a pre-booking hotel, cars.they don’t need any travel agent to organize their travel, they can spend their night in a Homestay, station building or any cheap roadside room, they can walk miles without complaint.
I am the second kind of person, who wants to enjoy travel time in a different way, with full of uncertainty and excitement. My last trip to Bhutan was the same. It’s an unplanned trip.
So it all started when one of my colleague in my office showed me the picture Tiger’s nest Monestry. I was stunned by the beauty of that place, and that the next moment I decided to go to Bhutan. So with my fellow colleague, I started planning to go Bhutan, but somehow they don’t make it. So I decided to go alone. When my one cousin brother came to know about my plan, he got interested and ready to come with me, and after someday, one of my close friends also gear up for the trip.
We decided to go Bhutan without any bookings. So we booked only the train tickets as we will go to carry some luggage including warm cloth and some of my camera gears. So we booked a train on 28th September. And our return ticket was on 3rd October. I started reading other’s blog about Bhutan trip for the permit processing. I came to know from a website that we can get the permit using our voter id card or passport in the border as well as in Kolkata office.
So we went to the Kolkata office two months before on our trip. There we came to know that we are late we had to come 3 months before the trip, they can’t help us to get the permit. They advised us to reach Phuentsholing on 28th September (Thursday) as the immigration office will be closed on weekends and the next Monday, as the Tshechu festival will start.
Now, this was something we didn’t expect. Now we have a new challenge, that we have to reach the Bhutan border on 28th September. So we canceled our train on 28th and booked a bus from Durgapur to Siliguri. That will reach Siliguri at 8 AM on 28th September.
At last that day came and we reached safely, on time, in Siliguri.We have to reach Phuentsholing as soon as possible to get the permit on the same day otherwise we have to stay in Phuentsholing, and we don’t want to lose our 1 day.
But the distance from Siliguri to Phuentsholing is not so less (157.2 km). So we were searching any shared cab but failed to get one. We spend too much time to get a cab with some useless people who actually traveled agents, they offered us full travel plan including car, hotel booking for 35k. And we reject them one by one. We could easily get the train from Siliguri station to Hasimara, but we lost the opportunity. So we headed towards the public transport, and booked a bus to Jaigoan, from where we can reach to the border easily.
It took 4 hours, and finally, we reached Jaigoan. From there we get an auto and reached the Phuentsholing border. Now, after the security check, we crossed the Indo-Bhutan gate and reached Immigration office. The office will be closed at 5 PM, we had maximum 3 hours to get the permit. But there were so many queues of people and they all were there to get the permit. I asked someone and he told me that they were here from 9 am and till now they don’t get the permit. Hearing this we know that we have to stay there for that day, as there was no chance to get the permit.
We talked to the officers, they informed us using the hotel booking bill, it will be easier to get the permit quickly. But we don’t have any bookings, so we asked for the permit form and left in the taxi stand to book a taxi for the next day.
On the main road, one Bhutani lady saw us, as we hold the permit form in our hand, she greeted us and informed that she can help us to get the permit quickly. She asked to follow her to their office, we reached there and another lady informed us that they will arrange a hotel bill to get the permit only, this is not a real hotel booking bill, they filled our form take the photocopies of our IDs and attached the photo along with the hotel bill they created. We need 3 permits for three people and they charged 1000 in total. They asked to give the money after getting the permit, and We found it is a good deal. We follow the first lady, she asked us to wait outside of the immigration office, within 30 min she called us, the officers took our photos and fingerprint and we got the permit within 15 min. We thanked her and left for the taxi stand.
We had our lunch at a roadside bar with strong Bhutani beer and snacks and we got our shared cab to Thimpu. Now it was too a long distance (164.4 km), the driver charged 800 per person. It was a very good journey, the roads and the scenic beauty started impressing us and the Bhutani music have its own magic.
The driver was too expert and our journey went smoothly, we reached Thimpu at 10:45 PM. The driver suggested some cheap hotels, but all hotels are packed up, we tried 3-4 hotels and did not find any room. Suddenly we found a hotel, but they asked for too much for one night. So we thought that we have to spend the night beside the road, the temperature was also low, we had blankets with us, so we started preparing ourselves mentally.
We were hungry too, so our first priority now to have some food, we were searching for any shops and restaurants but everything was closed. Suddenly someone called us, He was Abdul, a Bengali fellow who works as a waiter in Hotel Lotus Pond. He waited for a team of tourist who booked the room and he was the person who will welcome them. Being a Bengali he understood that we need food and a room badly. He offered us a room for 1000 per night in his hotel. It was a common room, with 3 beds, he lives in that room with one bed, and ask us if we can adjust here with 2 beds, the room was nice and the bathroom too.
We were happy, we thanked him. He was a nice person, he asked us to go the hotel restaurant as it’s quite late, and we will not get food if we go late. So we rushed to the restaurant, the restaurant was good, we ordered one chicken fried rice and Ema datsi (Bhutanese dish). The food was delicious, we finished quickly and go to our room to take some rest.
We had a deep and funny conversation with Abdul Bhai, about his journey to Bhutan from West Bengal, his personal life, and so many things. He asked us to go some must-visit places in Thimpu.
The next day we leave the hotel at 9 am, we roam the city, the weather was too good. We had our breakfast (tea and beef Momo) in a roadside cafe. After that, we go to a mobile shop for a tourist SIM card, as our Indian SIM card was useless there. They asked for a photocopy of our id and a passport size photo and give us 3 SIMs. We purchased the SIMs, for 200, with 100 talk time and we recharged it with 99 and get 800MB internet, which was enough for a6 days trip in Bhutan.
We found a decent restaurant where we can have our lunch. We ordered some Bhutanese dish along with red wine. And enjoyed our meal totally. The food was delicious.
After that, we go to the immigration office which is located opposite to the Saarc Bank in Thimpu. We need a new permit for visiting Punakha Dzong. They asked for the photocopies of our permit and asked us to fill a form. We did that and submitted the same, they asked us to come before 5 PM and to collect the permit.
So we booked a taxi to visit the Buddha Point, which is situated on the top of Thimpu Town. It took 30 min to reach there and it was a very good place. We spend some quality time there, the views were awesome. We returned to the immigration office before 5 PM and got the permit. The people of Bhutan are so polite and disciplined AF. They follow the only the Zebra crossing for crossing the road, they don’t smoke openly they kept quiet in traffic jams.
We reached the hotel, got fresh and went to the Chorten, which is situated in Thimpu town. It was prayer time, people were busy in prayer, it was a very calm place. We spend some time there and go back to the hotel and had our dinner. Suddenly Abdul Bhai came, and ask us to go a nightclub for experience something new. We asked the address of the Disco, and he guided us. We reached the nightclub named “Space 34”, they charged 350 per person, we got in, it was not so crowded, but gradually the crowd increased, girls and boys came in groups and enjoy themselves, we also enjoyed fully, and made some friends there.
We leave the place at 1 AM and reached our hotel. We were exhausted and slept until 8 Am.
We got ready and for Punakha Dzong. As the Tshechu started people were not ready to leave Thimpu, and taxi drivers offer a good deal. So we got a Taxi driver, who was ready to go with us for 2500. The distance from Thimpu to Punakha via Dichula pass is 85.7 Km.
We reached Dochula pass at 11:20 Am and it was a very good place, the weather was not good though. It was raining in the morning. But the place is worth a visit. We spend some time there and started our journey again for Punakha Dzong.
Punakha is another district, the Monestry or Dzong is situated beside a river. The place is very calm and spiritual. The blessing, giving ceremony was going on, people from so many places were present there to get the holy blessing of the lama.
We got some friends there, spend some time with them and left for Thimpu again. We asked our driver to stop somewhere for getting our lunch, as we skipped our breakfast and we were too hungry.
He took us to a roadside restaurant, we ordered some noodles, chicken Thupka and cheese Momo.
After finishing our lunch he took us to a botanical garden, but we did not go there, we spend some time outside as the view was mind-blowing.
We reached Thimpu at 5 PM and we asked him to come next day, as we were planning to go Chele La pass and then Paro, he agreed for 3000 for 114KM. We spent the last night in Thimpu, we bought some handicrafts and sweater from the roadside shop, these were temporary shops for Tshechu festival. We spend our evening in a roadside cafe with tea and Alu paratha. And headed back to our hotel.
Abdul Bhai was upset as we told him that we were leaving the next day, he joined with us at dinner, and offered chicken curry which he made for us, we thanked him and finished our dinner and later he offered us to drink beer with him, we joined and had a good conversation again. The next day after having breakfast we left the hotel, thanked Aunty (the owner of the hotel). Our driver reached on time, and we started our journey for Paro.
We reached the Chele la pass at around 12 PM, and trust me this place is heaven on earth. We were amazed to see the beauty of that place. It was top of the cloud, and the view of the place was fantastic. We spend lots of time there, our driver called us, that we had to leave soon, he had another booking in Thimpu. So we left the place and headed towards Paro.
Our driver took us a good cheap hotel in Paro. Luckily we got a room for 1000 per night. We paid the taxi driver and checked in to the hotel.
That evening we roam in the Paro city. It is a very small city and the population is less compared to Thimpu. We were hungry, so we search for a decent restaurant. But in Paro, it was a tough job to find a budget restaurant. Fortunately, we found a cafe and ordered veg chow mein. The cafe was good and food as well.
After having the food, we go to the nearby Dzong, the wooden bridge near the Dzong was beautiful. The Dzong was closed, but we can go to the top. Suddenly we met a stranger, and had a conversation with him, he informed us that up there was a museum, and we can take a shortcut to reach there, but at night the shortcut was not safe, as the wild dog or the wild bear may attack us. But we were full on mood, we decided to take the shortcut path, it was a very narrow path in the hill, we enjoyed the view from the top, the night scene in Paro was stunning. We went to the top suddenly we show a house up there, and there was a barrier, which prevented us to go further. Suddenly we heard some noise of an animal, we don’t know which animal it was, but we left the place as soon as possible. We returned back to the hotel and had our dinner with Kewy datsi, chicken curry, ema datsi, daal. The hotel owner gave us some vegetable fry for free. We complete our dinner and had a decent sleep.
Next day our destination was the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. This place was the reason I came to Bhutan. We found a cheap cafe cum restaurant near our hotel and had a good breakfast.
We booked a taxi to reach the monastery area, it was 11 km away from our hotel. After reaching there, we had to trek for 6KM in the hilly road to reach the monastery, which was situated at 10,232 ft from sea level. This was something everybody should try in their life. We met so many new people from different parts of the world, we interact with them, listen to their stories, experience in Bhutan, We made so many new friends, took lots of pictures and overall enjoyed a lot.
The trek took 2 and half hour to reach the top, there are some resting points, where you can take rest, drink water and also there is a cafe, where you can have lunch or take snacks, but it is quite expensive, my suggestion is always carried some chocolates, water, cakes or biscuits for quick energy.
We had nothing, so it was a little tough for us at the end, we consumed the stream water, which was so fresh. Some locals told us not to take the water as this water contains a high level of minerals which can affect our stomach, but luckily nothing happened.
You can book a horse ride to reach the monastery, but trust me that is a bad idea, it will take more time and they charged quite well. So take a deep breath and walk. The view from the top is mesmerizing. You have to pay 500 bucks to enter the monastery, and the security was very tight, you are not allowed with any electrical goods like camera, watch, go pro anything.
It took 1 and a half hour to return back down. It was a tough job to get a cab to reach the hotel as the taxi drivers ask a very high price. So we started walking and the path between the village was so beautiful, we walk at least 2 km more and get an empty van with decent fare and reached the Paro town within 20 mins. We were hungry, so we reached the restaurant we found in the morning and had some Indian dishes. That was such a relief.
In the evening we search for a taxi driver who will come early for us in the next morning as we had to reach Phuentsholing. We had a train back to Howrah next day from Alipurdooar. Luckily we got a driver and booked the cab for 3000.
We went for window shopping, we brought some wine and country liquid named Snofy to take with us and took some biscuit and cake for next day breakfast. We had dinner at a nearby restaurant. The ambiance was calm and good. We tested a peg of Snofy there, it was too strong. We had some delicious food and enjoyed our meal.
Paro is a very little town compared to Thimpu. The shops, hotels, and restaurants are closed within 10 PM. So make sure you had your dinner on time. Next was the last day in Bhutan, we got our taxi ready at around 6 Am. Now the destination was Phuentsholing.
We had our breakfast in a roadside cafe and the location was too good. We reached Phuentsholing at around 11:30 AM and booked a bus for Alipurduar from Jaigoan. This Bhutan trip is very memorable for me, we had enjoyed a lot, we learned so many new things, experience some bizarre incident. We had a gallery full of photos and memories.
So if you want to travel, Bhutan like a traveler, and with a good budget here is some information and tips.
* Always plan your trip on early weekdays, to get the permit easily
*Always search for budget hotels
* There is no Ola or Uber in Bhutan, always do negotiate with the local driver
* Respect the culture and rules
*Don’t smoke in public, it is a criminal offense
*Carry the permit with you and make some photocopies and a pen
*Food is expensive in the remote area, carry some packaged food
*Get a local SIM to contact the driver
*Always carry a master card, for no exchange fee