Bhutan (5 days)
Places to See: Paro, Thimpu, Wangdue, Punakha, Lobesa, Chimi Lakhang Temple, Phobjikha Valley
Things to keep in mind:
- There are two ways to go to Bhutan: by flight and by road. And the only road way is through Phuentsholing/Jaigaon Bhutan/India border. If you are taking a flight from India, you would need your passport but no visa is needed for Indians. If you are going by road, an ID proof like Driving License/Voter ID card would suffice
- If you are planning to take the road trip, you’ll need to obtain a permit at the border. The permit can be made on weekdays during office hours only, and is closed on weekends. Please check with the local authority about the permit before you plan to go on the weekend by road
- Bhutan has cultural fests several times a year. But there are many festivals/events in February which could help you absorb some local flavor
- Since most of Bhutan is hilly, a taxi is the best mode of transport in Bhutan
- Indian currency is widely accepted in Bhutan, so no need to buy the Bhutanese currency as such
- Bhutanese SIM cards are available in the main market in Paro, and are way cheaper than the International roaming plans available, So I would advise you to buy the local SIM card when you land in Paro. Just make sure to carry a passport sized photograph
Bhutan is the land of peace and tranquility. It is like a place which seems to be oscillating between past and future. Past because it has un-spoilt nature and future because it feels like an ideal place in the world where people are happy and content. It is like a place where people realized the cost of industrialization somewhere on the road to development and made peace with themselves and stopped there. It is rare to find a place in the world where ordinary people revere and love their King, and rightly so. Would you not love a king who stops his motorcade when anyone on the road desperately asks for help, and gives away land and other resources to the needy? Bhutan has Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, as a way to measure well-being and happiness of its citizens. Though words and pictures may fall short in expressing, I’ll try to share my stories from the Bhutan adventure so that it helps you in planning your next amazing trip to The Land of Thunder Dragon.
Day 1: If you are taking a flight from Delhi, it is advised to book your seats towards left side of the aisle. By doing so, you’d be able to see some of the highest Himalayan peaks, including His Majesty, Mount Everest from the aircraft. From Delhi, Paro is a 2-hour flight. Paro is a city in Bhutan, 1 hour away from the capital, Thimpu. It has one of the only two operational airports in the country, the other in Bumthang.
After getting maneuvered in the plane between the mountains during the last 15 minutes in the flight, we finally landed in Paro. The cool breeze was a big respite from scorching heat and pollution in Delhi. After getting the permit at immigration, we took a taxi and headed to the resort we booked in Paro. Paro is a small and quiet town. If you are looking for a way out of the regular cacophony of your urban life, Paro is the place to be. It feels like life slows down there, prompting us to reflect and clear out our otherwise clogging brain. Even the Paro river, called Paro Chhu complies and flows quietly through the city without any noise. We planned to stay in Paro for 2 days. We arrived in the evening and after figuring out the SIM cards, rested in our resort. It was a quiet place near the river and had cottages.
Day 2: The next morning, it was time to go to Tiger’s Nest, also known as Paro Taktsang, and one of the most famous landmark in Bhutan. It is a monastery complex on a cliff. It is said that Guru Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche, came riding on a tiger from Tibet and meditated at this place for 3 years, 3 months and 3 hours in the 8th century. He is also known to have introduced Buddhism to Bhutan. Reaching Tiger’s Nest would require 3-4 hours of trekking. After around 2.5 hours, we reached the place which is the picture clicking spot at Tiger’s Nest. After that, it is 30 more minutes of zig-zagged stairs to the top. The view from the cliff is stunning, with waterfalls and mountains in the distance. The way back in quicker and easier. There is a restaurant somewhere in the middle of the trek, where refreshments are available. You can also book your lunch while trekking up in the morning, so that they’ll have it prepared for you while you come back from the Nest.
After exploring Tiger’s Nest, we came back to the resort and took some rest. In the evening, we explored the market and bought some souvenirs. In the night, we set out to indulge in the night life Paro had to offer. There are not a lot of places, but some are really good. We went to this pub called Park 76, which is near the main market and is a very lively place with live music. If you crave for Indian food, it is easily available in many restaurants in Paro.
Some other places to explore in Paro and nearby areas are the Paro Dzong and Chele La. Almost every big city in Bhutan has a Dzong, which are old Buddhist fortresses, and have now been converted to museums and offices. Chele La is the highest road pass in the country. Also, don’t miss out on sitting on the Paro river side for experiencing the natural spectacle.
Day 3: After spending two blissful days in Paro, it was time to head east. We did not plan to stay in Thimpu because we wanted to explore countryside more. However, to go to places other than Paro and Thimpu, a permit is required to be obtained from Thimpu. The immigration office in Thimpu is situated in the main market and it is pretty easy to obtain the papers. We submitted our application and went to see the Buddha statue in Thimpu. It is situated on a hill and has a bird’s eye view of the city. After obtaining permit, we did some souvenir shopping in the market and had lunch. In the afternoon, we started for our next destination, Wangdue. On the way to Wangdue, we crossed a mountain pass called Dochu La. It is famous for two things. First, you can have a 180-degree view of the Himalayan range from there which is quite spectacular. And the second is connected to a place called Chimi Lakhang Temple, about which I’ll tell shortly. We reached Wangdue by evening and relaxed in a great resort on the riverside, called Dragon’s Nest. It is situated right next to the river Puna Tsang Chhu. It is a very spacious place and has a great service. Highly recommended. The main reason we came to Wangdue was to see Phojikha valley. In the night, we sat in the lawns right next to the river and just looked at the moon-lit river and mountain, captivated by the raw splendor.
Day 4: In the morning, we started for Phobjikha valley. It is around 2.5-hour drive from the town. It is a supremely picturesque and beautiful place. The valley is dotted with dense forest and large farms. The best part was the hiking we did in the forest there. Following a small trail, we walked through the forest. For someone who yearns to be in the lap of nature, this is the place to be. There was hardly anyone else in the hiking trails except us. We walked into the forest at a leisurely pace and after a soul soaking 2-hour walk, emerged out in the valley again. The valley is also famous for blacked-neck crane birds, which you can spot after the hike.
After visiting Phobjikha valley, we started for Punakha, which is a town barely 20 minutes from Wangdue. We mainly wanted to see the Chimi Lakhang temple, located near village Lobesa, in Punakha.
Lobesa is a small village with many souvenir shops and some cafes. After around 30-minute walk, we reached the Chimi Lakhang temple, which is situated on a hilltop. This temple is dedicated to Drukpa Kunley, also known as Divine Madman was a Buddhist monk who hated the established social norms and conventions and openly defied them. The monk in the temple told us that he subdued the demoness from Dochu La (the second reason why Dochu La is known) and buried her at this site, thereby saving people from it. He indulged in wine and women, unlike most Buddhist monks. Women reached out to him in hopes of attaining enlightenment. In his memory, almost all the houses in Lobesa village have Phallus (erect penis) paintings on them. Chimi Lakhang temple is also known as the fertility temple, where many couples, who wish to have a child, visit to offer their prayers. After visiting the temple, the night was again spent in the resort lawns next to the river.
Day 5: We planned to explore some places in nearby Punakha before heading back to our next destination, Sikkim. Punakha Dzong (Old Buddhist fortress) is one of the oldest and biggest Dzong in Bhutan. It is located on the confluence of two rivers, Po Chhu and Mo Chhu. After seeing the Dzong, our driver took us to a very long Suspension bridge nearby, which is built on top of a river. A walk on the bridge is scenic and is recommended. After seeing the bridge, it was time to say goodbye to this beautiful country and head back home by road to Sikkim. Our driver dropped us on the Phuentsholing border from where we took an Indian taxi to explore Sikkim.
Bhutan trip was memorable in many ways. From the un-spoilt nature and splendid terrains to the hospitality of Bhutanese people, everything was pleasing to soul and mind. Sometimes we try to go far-far places in pursuit of happiness and peace, but it may be right next to us.