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Bhutan - Paradise on Earth!!!

  • Submitted by: Carol Nettar
  • Submission Date: 29th Feb 2008

I want to share with you all my experiences in Bhutan. I got the opportunity to visit Bhutan in Jan 2006.

I was planning for a long vacation with my wife for a long time. I searched the Internet extensively and also the MS website and was very much impressed with the information I got about Bhutan. Most of the websites of Bhutan tourism are made keeping the Americans and the Europeans in mind. They have to apply for Visa and have to come through a Govt. of Bhutan authorized travel agent. Foreigners have to pay around 200 dollars per day for food and accommodation. This fees is compulsory. This makes Bhutan one of the costliest destinations in the world.

I wrote to the Ministry of Tourism of Bhutan and I got the answers that I was expecting. Bhutan has a great relationship with India and Indians are treated very well. I was informed that Indians do not require a passport to enter Bhutan. Any identity card issued by the Govt.Of India sufficient. Even a driving license is sufficient. Indians can travel freely they do not have to pay in USD. This was indeed very good news for me. I planned my journey to the minutest details and made most of the reservations over the Internet. My wife and I took the Dadar- Guwati express from Mumbai on the 28th of December 2005 and reached New Jalpaiguri on the 30th December day early morning. The train journey was very tiring. One thing I hated about the journey was that there were beggars and hawkers roaming around EVEN in my 3AC compartment. The attendant did nothing to prevent this. I think he must be getting favours from those people!!! The food was not good, but we can rarely expect anything good on our trains.

We reached New Jalpaiguri by 2 am and we were taken aback by the weather there. The temperature was less than 5 degree C and the whole station was covered in fog. We really enjoyed the sight. We were shivering and had to quickly put on our heavy woolens and winter jackets. Gloves are a necessity there during winters. There was nothing much we could do at 2am. So we spent time in the waiting room in the Railway station.

By 5 am we decided to move on. We hailed an auto from the Railway station and made the short trip to Siliguri. We were charged Rs. 100 for the 8km trip. We found out that the Govt. of Bhutan runs a bus from Siliguri to the border town of Bhutan, Phuentsholing. Our journey to Bhutan on the Bhutan Transport Corporation’s bus, took five hours. The area was very scenic and it was a pleasure seeing hundreds of tea estates on the way. But I must say that the bus journey was bone shattering!!! We reached Phuentsholing by 12 pm. Bhutan time is half an hour ahead of Indian standard time. Indians who do not have a passport require a permit from the Indian embassy in Phuentsholing. The permit is issued after the officer checks the Indian’s identity card (voter’s id, driving license, etc). This permit has to be produced before the Bhutanese Visa officer and he issues a travel permit for 7 to 30 days depending on the purpose of travel of the applicant.

For Indians with a valid passport, there are no hassles. We went to the Bhutan Immigration officer and filled up the visa application forms. We had to submit two photos along with our passports and application forms. We got our one-month tourist visa by 2 pm.

We started our journey to Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, from Phuentsholing by 3 pm on a taxi. I would like to add that 90% of the taxis in Bhutan are our very own Maruti Omnis. Our driver’s name was Tashi and he spoke good Hindi. Our passports and visa were checked 5 times on the way.

The road to Thimpu was very narrow and full of hairpin curves. There must have been at least a 1000 of them!!! India’s Border Roads Organization built the roads and it was well maintained. We crossed so many mountains and the view was very scenic. We also saw some waterfalls on the way. The journey to Thimpu took us 6 hours. We reached Thimpu by 9 pm and immediately checked into a good hotel. Accommodation is cheap in Bhutan. Very good double rooms are available in the range of 450 to 1000 Ngultrum. Bhutanese currency is at par with Indian Rupee. The hotel room, which we stayed in, had a heater, geyser and wood paneled walls. When we reached Thimpu the temperature was very low. Probably 1 or 2 degrees. The city is very well planned, with very good roads. Thimpu is the only capital of a country without traffic lamps!!!

Thimpu is a small city with just one petrol pump and our Bharat Petroleum runs it. The daytime temperature in Thimpu is low. Heavy woolens are required in winter. The night temperature falls below zero. All types of cuisines are available in Thimpu and most of the restaurants are family businesses. The mother cooks and the sons and daughters serve, while the father handles cash. Very interesting! One thing we loved about Thimpu is the tasty food.

We visited some Buddhist temples in Thimpu and also the Dzongs. Entry is restricted and a special permit is required. There are lots of shops in Thimpu and all foreign goods are available there. Some bargaining is necessary. The people of Thimpu are very warm and helpful.

I would like to share a very touching incident with the readers. All hotels and restaurants close down in Bhutan by 10 pm. Some pubs and discotheques remain open till 1 am. One night we went to a pub that had live music. We spent some time there. We had forgotten to inform our hotel that we would be late. We reached our hotel by 10.15 pm and the main door was closed. We rung the bell and was knocking on the door for half an hour. Still no one heard or answered us. Our hotel was also run by a family and they stayed on the third floor. We saw that all the lights were out. We spent an hour yelling and knocking on the door. Still no one heard us. We had no other option left. My mobile was latching on to Bhutan Telecom network, but I was not allowed to make calls. All local call booths had closed down and no one was willing to help us. As a last resort, we went back to the pub and told about our plight to the pub owner, who also did the work of the bar man. He was so helpful and immediately called up the hotel’s number which was on my room key. No one answered. We had made up our minds that we may have to sleep in the pub.

Then the rock band’s drummer offered to help us. He came with us all the way to our hotel and started shouting along with us in Bhutanese language. By now the time was 1am. That guy and I even tried going behind the hotel in an attempt to wake up the owners. But we were chased by street dogs and we had to return. Finally, someone heard us and came down and opened the door. We will never be able to express the relief we felt to be inside the hotel. We thanked the drummer boy as earnestly as we could. This was an example of the friendliness and sincerity of the Bhutanese people.

We celebrated our New Year in Bhutan. We went to a Disc in Thimpu and partied the whole night. The youth in Thimpu are very modern. We could see a very strong influence of western culture in the people there. Almost all youngsters spoke fluent English and wore very modern clothes. But around 70 % of the population wore traditional clothes.
We were so very happy with Thimpu that we did not want to leave that place. The people are so warm and their hospitality was wonderful.

We also visited Paro. Paro has the only airport in Bhutan. The airport is a sight to behold. It has mountains on all four sides and the Pilot has to be an expert to land in the airstrip. Paro is a very small city compared to Thimpu. The famous Buddhist monastery, Tiger’s nest is in Paro and there is also the Dzong in Paro. Hotels in Paro cannot be compared to those in Thimpu. They are not too good. But are cheap.
Paro is much more colder than Thimpu. Even in the daytime, temperatures will not exceed 10 degrees. We were well prepared for winter. So we did not have much problems. The food is great in Paro. We tried the famous Ema Datchi( Rice with Chicken) dish. Bhutanese dises are very spicy, but we enjoyed them.

We stayed in Bhutan for a week. We can never forget the wonderful relaxing experience. We were completely cut off from the outside world and we enjoyed the seclusion. No phone calls, no emails, no relatives, etc, etc. The solitude is what we enjoyed most about Bhutan.

I would surely recommend Bhutan to couples and newly married honeymooners. It is a wonderful place and one of the safest places to visit!!!

Bhutan is a very traditional country. Almost all the buildings there are made with wooden traditional carpentry. The buildings convey the Bhutanese culture to the beholder! I have lots of photos to share. Anyone interested can mail me for the same.
Bhutan is a duty free country. There is not much tax for imported vehicles. We could find hundreds of Land cruisers and Prado’s in Thimpu. I was informed that a Prado costs just 17 Lakhs Ngultrums there. There are lots of Hyundai Tucsons also. We really felt that we were in an european country.
There is a Maruti Suzuki showroom in Thimpu. As I mentioned earlier, 99% of the taxis in Bhutan are Maruti Omnis. The drivers are experts and they wear their traditional costumes when working.

Bhutan is very popular for its Natural beauty. There is a point called Dochulla Pass near Thimpu. From here, we could see the Himalayas very close. It is very very cold there. And it snows in winters. But sadly, we could not see any snow in Jan 2006.

Paro is much more beautiful than Thimpu. The natural beauty will take your breath away. There is nothing much to do in Paro, other than trekking and shopping for imported goods from Thailand and China.