After procrastinating for ages I finally managed to complete a blog post on my tour to Bhutan and a few north Eastern states in India which I will do in a series of posts, so stay tuned as I recount the trip in the form of a journal entry.
So the summer of 2018 we planned a family trip to the Land of the thunder dragon🐉. A beautiful landlocked country which is popularly known for it’s innovative Gross National Happiness Index.
Funfact: Bhutan earns it’s name from the fierce storms that roll in from the Himalayas.
Bhutan is one of the places where an Indian citizen can travel without the need of a passport or visa. However you do need to apply for a travel permit which will be issued based on any ID which proves your Indian citizenship.
There are 3 ways in which one can travel to Bhutan.
1. Recommended by the Bhutanese, is by air through one of the international travel agents like (Thomascook, Sitatravels etc). Here the agency will put you up in five star hotels and in addition the government will charge you 250 dollars per day. In this way you end up spending 4 to 5 times more.
2. Available only for Indian tourists. By obtaining a travel permit at the border town of Phuentsholing, some travel in their own cars whereas others travel by hired vehicles and still others will use the state government buses.
One can spot these guys from their rash driving unlike the Bhutanese drivers who are very disciplined in their driving and follow strict traffic rules as a consequence of them having to undergo a strict driving test to get their driving permit.
We chose the second way and went through a local travel agent. These travel agents have connections with other travel agents in the Indian border town of Jaipalguri who in turn have connections with the Bhutanese drivers, who aren’t well known outside the region of Jaipalguri.
However this resulted in a situation in which there was no one responsible for our safety or in case anything went wrong and it was further compounded with us not having taken a Bhutan SIM for communication.
However we were fortunate to get a very smart and well educated driver who spoke very good english as he had done his college education in India.
May 20th: Our trip really began when we left Baghdogra airport at around 3:15 and started 5 hour long drive towards Phuntshoeling. Between nodding off and staring out of the window at the scenic view. When finally we made it to Phuntshoeling, a little border town in South Bhutan from we where we would get our permit for Thimphu and Paro. We passed the India-Bhutan border through the beautiful Bhutan gate which we had a good view of from our hotel room window. We had a quick dinner at the Asian inn where we were staying and then went out for a late night stroll around the neighborhood and bought fruits and souvenirs.
We had to buy an additional umbrella cause we got caught in the pre-monsoon showers.
What struck us immediately being in the foreign land was that the traffic was so orderly and organized. The infrastructure, though old was well built and well maintained. There were no hawkers occupying the streets and pavements. Most of the Bhutanese are very smartly dressed in their traditional outfits which for the ladies consists of checkered skirts and a traditional monochrome silk top. Whereas the men wore a long sleeved shirt over which they wore their traditional checkered, knee length, robe-like cloth which is wrapped around their bodies .
Travel tip: Most of the places do use Indian currency which but not the new notes (200, 2000, 500)
So if you are Indian don’t exchange too much of your Indians rupees into Bhutanese ngultrum. Or you can just exchange it with your driver when necessary.
May 21st: THIMPHU
The next morning we were woken up at 7 in the morning by the crowds which had gathered outside the Bhutanese consulate because our hotel was just on the opposite. The place was in a state of chaos and had to wait for quite a while outside.
However at 8 am a Bhutanese locale who was in charge of us took us to get our permit. Then we finally got our permit in the afternoon unlike the others who had to wait longer as we had applied for the permit online before are trip.
(This is a picture of the people waiting for their permits at the consulate)
We had a typical Bhutanese lunch and their local beer named Druk then we bought some sweets from a Jain restaurant.
(Lunch is at Phuntshoeling)
We then packed our bags and met our taxi cum tour guide named Maxcy who really made our trip. Besides taking us to the unusual and the lesser known tourists spots, he also narrated local legends and took us to a local haunt to try out the traditional Bhutanese lunch. He was one of the few good drivers we had during this trip who also kind of saved our lives when we got stuck in a land slide.
We stopped by waterfall and got a few pictures then took a break for our beloved tea and had a chance to taste the local snacks.
We then drove on to our hotel in Thimphu. When we started the journey the roads were straight and the climate warm that we were reconsidering whether we overestimated the amount of woollen clothing we would need. But barely half an hour into the car ride the roads became steep and winding and the temperature began to drop that we needed two sweaters to keep warm. The roads were foggy and the sky was dull and we kept getting rain on and off through out the ride. We did get lost on our way as there was a problem with communication between the hotel owners and the agents.
Alright funny story here , our driver didn’t know the way to this hotel and accidentally took a diversion through an untarred road through a deserted , forested area and mind you it was really dark cause it was late in the night and there were no street lamps. This road then ended up being a dead end and non of us had network. Maxcy then went out of the car to call the hotel staff for directions. At this point my parents panicked as they began to imagine the worst case scenario as we were in a foreign land with no help in a deserted area that we had been scammed and now would be robbed or murdered. It didn’t help that Maxcy decided to show off his dagger which he carried on himself in self defense.
Anyways finally after getting in touch with the hotel staff we had to shift hotels because of a mix up.
In the hotel I watched some television. Between channel surfing from local school kids performing a dance routine and a part of a documentary on a south Korean channel airing the story of a young mordern Buddhist monk which was really insightful to the very different yet similar culture I was going to experience in the upcoming days.
The serene atmosphere, and quite and calm was in contrast to the hustle and bustle back home was quite a refreshing change. So this brings to a close the Day 1 account of my trip. Tama che gae (See you later)