Exploring Bhutan – My First International Trip

After the Andaman trip, while searching for the next destination came across Bhutan along with Srilanka & Meghalaya. Thought of visiting Srilanka afterward as I recently visited Andaman, so thought of avoiding beach destination for a while.

To complete an international trip before 2019, finalized Bhutan. Just like my Andaman trip, I have traveled Bhutan with HTC ( Hyderabad Trekking Club ), an 8-day Budget backpacking trip.

Initially, I was a bit skeptical about this 8-day trip, as there was so much of travel & fewer places to explore but the scenic view of those places & most importantly the Tiger’s Nest trek drawn my attention.

Note: Bhutan Govt is planning to introduce daily charges on Indian visitors as the tourist count from India is increasing gradually, also to help them improve the infrastructure. Currently, for India, Bangladesh & Maldives, the visa is free, for other countries, the charge is around $250 per day which will include a dedicated guide/driver with vehicle & accommodation. This is just a proposal, might come into full effect from 2021. I guess they might be charging around $10-$25 per day without any facilities. Let’s wait & see what the govt is planning.

To give an outlook of our trip, the first 2 days were travel to Bhutan & the next 4 days we explored Thimphu, Punakha & Paro, the last 2 days travel back from Bhutan to Bagdogra.

Let’s start with my day to day activity of the entire trip, if you aren’t interested in the day to day breakdown, you can jump to final conclusion for the travel cost & also alternate way to plan in a short duration trip.

Day 01 – Hyd to Jaigaon via Bagdogra

The day started with an early morning flight from Hyd to Bagdogra & then meet & greet with the grp ( 17 mem including the organizer from HTC ). Jaigaon is located on the country’s border with Bhutan & it took around 5-6 Hrs drive from Bagdogra Airport including a lunch break.

Jaigaon - Phuentsholing border

Jaigaon – phuentsholing border

Bhutan will witness early sunrise & sunset, which was quite evident on the first day itself, we reached Jaigaon around 5-6 PM but it was too dark ( like midnight in Hyd ). We checked in the hotel, had dinner & then rested after roaming a bit in Jaigaon busy & noisy street.

Day 02 – Jaigaon to Thimphu

We had breakfast & then walked to the immigration office in Phuentsholing ( Bhutan country border ) to get out tourist visa & permit. Then started our journey amidst a peaceful Bhutan environment without any noise & disciplined traffic.

Travel from phuentsholing to Thimphu is a different kind of experience for me. It started with moderate temperature in Phentusholing but slowly the temp was down because of the altitude of hill areas which is a serious warning of things we are going to witness.

Reached Thimphu around 4-5 PM, which was already dark by then. Checked in hotel & roamed in the streets for dinner & some shopping to save me from cold.

Note: when I checked in Google, the min temp was around 7-8°C but it was around 3- 4°C & also touched negative at mid-night. So just be prepared to face anything.

Day 03 – Thimphu Sightseeing

Early morning start for Thimphu sightseeing, started with Royal Textile museum followed by a viewpoint of the entire Thimphu city.

The Thimphu Dzong was closed for tourists because of the recent incident of a Maharashtran biker climbed on top of the memorial stupa in dochula.

Buddha Dordenma Statue

Then we headed to Buddha Dordenma Statue which was awesome, located on top of the hill with the view of the entire Thimphu city. Beneath the statue there is a temple which was closed due to lunch timings, so we had around 1 Hr to explore & take pics. This 169 Ft giant Buddha statue is surrounded by 50+ Bodhisatva statue.

There was a park nearby which you can reach by a small trek. The temple beneath the statue was superb with a lot of details about Buddhism.

After that, we visited Memorial Chorten & then shopping in the local market.

Tried the Bhutanese style of noodles, called Thukpa ( basically soupy noodles ) though not a big fan of soupy stuff, it was good but left all the soup & ate only noodles.

Chicken Thukpa

Day 04 – Dochula Pass / Mad Man Temple / Punakha Dzong

Day 4 started with an early morning journey to Dochula Pass. The journey to dochula pass was good with a narrow road in the hill region with the valley on the other side.

Dochula Pass

Dochula Pass

The view of Himalayas from Dochula pass was outstanding & because of the altitude ( 3100m ), the wind & freezing temperature, made it even more awesome. In winters, you can witness heavy snowfall here but it’s a tricky location to visit in winters. Heavy snowfall might restrict the travel to Dochula, so enquire about it before visiting.

Chime Lhakhang

From Dochula, we visited Mad Man temple ( Chime Lhakhang ). This was a strange experience for me, a fertility-related temple & you can see images, symbols of the penis all along the path towards the temple, on the walls, streets, etc.

Traditionally symbols of an erect penis in Bhutan have been intended to drive away from the evil eye and malicious gossip.

Don’t take the direct road path to the temple, walk from the main road in mid of green fields & the village, would take around 1-2 hours of the walk.

Punakha Dzong

I was never excited about this until I came across it in itinerary & gone through pictures in Google. My expectations were huge & it didn’t disappoint a single bit. A Dzong with great architecture surrounded by the river on either side & also a suspension bridge is located 1Km from Dzong.

Punakha Dzong

Even the interior of Dzong was superb with a big statue of Buddha & others. A guide was allocated to explain the entire history of Dzong, you don’t need to pay extra for a guide.

Overall pretty much satisfied with this one & then we reached our hotel in Punakha.

Day 05 – Chele la Pass / Punakha to Paro

An early morning breakfast followed by check out & then our journey to Chele La Pass. Again we were greeted with a superb roadway of the hilly mountain on one side & a valley on other.

Chelela Pass

Chele La pass is located at an altitude of 3988m & it gave us the closer look of the Himalayas which we encountered at Dochula. The wind & freezing temperature at that altitude was a bit difficult to survive. We trekked a bit to reach the top, the view from the top was outstanding.

After this, we headed to Paro, reached Paro by evening & had our dinner & took rest to get ready for the important day.

Day 06 – Tiger’s Nest

This was the most important day of the whole Bhutan trip, Tiger’s Nest. We had morning breakfast & then started our trek to the nest. Entry ticket ( Rs 500 ) will be available at the start along with trekking pole, the pole is mandatory as there was a steep path in between.

This is the starting point of Trek, the white color on the right side of the mountain is Tiger’s Nest. The top of the left sidehill is the temple.

Tiger's Nest

We started our trek around 9 Am & reached Tiger’s Nest around 1 PM. Be prepared to tackle anything, you will face the sun for 10 mins & the next 10 mins freezing cold temperature, steep path, forest, waterfall, steps, etc.

Though they had Mules till a specific location, I advise not to take mules & go by walk. If you aren’t fit enough then don’t visit it.

Go at your own pace & there will be no food stalls / any hotels midway ( there is one restaurant but thought of having it after the visit), so load your bag with chocolates & energy drinks. The Last 1 hour of trek is only steps, first half we need to go downstairs & then upstairs, this was the most tiring part of the whole trek.

Tiger's Nest View point

The viewpoint before the steps.

The Tiger’s Nest location was scenic & marvelous, though the trek was tiring, you will get a glimpse of the temple in between which will motivate you.

Just like all other Dzongs, Tiger’s nest also have these huge statues with superb architecture, a guide will be explaining everything about the tiger’s nest.

Started around 2 PM to trek a bit more to reach the top of the hill, this path was bit difficult & dangerous but it was fun, only 4 out of 16 visited this. Then I started my trek back to the base, completed it by 4-4:30 PM. There is a small restaurant halfway up the mountain but there were no snacks, only buffet option was available, so decided to ignore & have our lunch in Paro.

This whole Tiger’s Nest trek experience will be posted in a separate article, as it was my first trek & a lot to cover in it. A bit of shopping & then reached our hotel, my legs were already paining & tired.

Day 07 – Paro Sightseeing / Paro to phuentsholing

After the tiring trek, a late wakeup call followed by our breakfast in hotel & then checkout. From the hotel, we visited a museum & then headed back to Phuentsholing.

Reached Phuentsholing by evening & then did some shopping & taken rest.

Day 08 – phuentsholing to Hyd via Bagdogra

Early morning checkout from hotel & started our journey from Phuentsholing to Bagdogra to catch out flight. We reached early, as there was no traffic.

Finally back to hyd after 8 days. The entire trip was awesome with freezing temperature & mountains, narrow road on hilly region & forest. Most importantly the traffic sense of Bhutanese people, I heard vehicle horn only 3 times in 7 days, that’s how they drive sensibly & patiently with strict rules.

Expenses

The most important part, expenses. So, here is the breakdown of the entire trip expense.

  • HTC Package – Rs 17000
  • Flights – Rs 10000
  • Food + Other expenses – Rs 5000

Total = Rs 32000

Finally done with my first international trip, first stamp on my passport.

Suggestion for a shorter trip

If you can’t spend 8 days on a trip or need a shorter trip, here is my suggestion & keeping in mind that budget isn’t an issue.

  • Take a flight from Delhi / Kolkata / Guwahati to Paro. In our 8 days trip, almost 4 days were allocated to traveling only, as we traveled by road, so by flight, you can save 4 days & the journey will be only 2-3 Hrs.
  • Then plan the trip accordingly, start with Paro then to Thimphu & Punakha & travel back from Punakha to Paro for the return flight.
  • Push Tiger’s nest to last day or penultimate day rather than on a starting day.
  • You can add Haa Valley to the itinerary & also a couple of lakes ( Jimilang Tsho is a must in that )
  • Regarding lakes, it’s better to enquire about the local guide in Bhutan.

Precautions / Safety Measures

  • Be prepared for anything, when I checked Google, the min temperature it indicated was around 6- 8°C but it was around 1°C & -2°C also. So don’t trust the apps & be prepare for anything that nature throws at you.
  • Don’t do any silly things, always keep in mind that you are visiting another country, so don’t make fun of their culture or dressing styles or on the royal family, etc.
  • Smoking is banned in Bhutan, drinking is allowed though.
  • while visiting Dzong / Monastry or any place in Bhutan, before clicking images, make sure to check if it’s allowed or not.
  • Most importantly, have a safe trip & enjoy the peace & calmness Bhutan delivers.

Indians are having a bad name with repeated incidents in Bhutan, so be careful & responsible while visiting. Let me know if you have any doubts or queries regarding the plan in the comments.

Feel free to reach out to me on social media. !!!

Pranay Anumula

I'm a part-time blogger interested in movies and gadgets. Still figuring out what to do in life while exploring various fields. Love watching cricket & research about Telugu movies.

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