There is something magical about Bhutan, the simple yet mesmerizing land somehow manages to touch your soul, balm it with peace, and even mend the broken heart. The salubrious climate, the breathtaking views, and the majestic monasteries, may seem a cliched way to describe the beauty of Bhutan, but each word used for this gorgeous country is in its purest form. Visiting and exploring Bhutan can be a wonderful experience, something you will never forget. So, do you also want to have this unforgettable experience? Yes, well, then this blog is for you. Allow me to help you with the finest Bhutan travel guide that will let you plan your Bhutan tour from India in the best possible way. Below is the step by step guide that will help you plan your tour without any hassle or confusion to this land of Thunder Dragon. So, let’s get started!
Ways to Reach Bhutan From India
By Air: Flying to Bhutan from India is quite easy. There are two direct airlines, namely, Drukair and Bhutan Airlines that operate flights from Delhi, Gaya, Bagdogra, Kolkata, Mumbai and Guwahati to Paro, Bhutan’s only international airport. Indian travellers can be offered special fares in Drukair, if the airline is contacted through email.
By Rail: One of the cheapest ways to reach Bhutan from India is by rail. Hasimara is the nearest railway station to Jaigaon, an Indian town on Indo-Bhutan Border. It is situated at a distance of 17 kms from Jaigaon. There are trains to Hasimara from Kolkata (690 kms), Delhi (1663 kms), Ranchi (749 kms), and Kanpur (1197 kms). Another station that offers a decent connectivity is situated in New Jalpaiguri. The tickets and timetable is available on Indian Railway’s IRCTC Website. Though trains take longer but are quite cost efficient and are ideal for budget travellers.
By Road: The most common way to enter Bhutan from India by road is from Jaigaon town in West Bengal. It is only 4.3 kms from the border town of Bhutan, Phuentsholing. Private cabs are available between the two places. People getting down at Bagdogra (by flight) or at New Jalpaiguri (by train) can also avail cab services. The airport at Bagdogra have prepaid taxis as well. However, for those travelling on budget can hire the cab by directly cracking a deal with the cab drivers.
Best Way to Reach Bhutan
For Budget Travellers: Take a flight to Bagdogra, and from there hire a cab to Phuentsholing (Prepaid Taxis charge about INR 2500). Also, before booking the Bagdogra flight, check with Drukair for comparison of fare, and in case you get a good deal with the Bhutanese Airline, without any second thought book tickets with them.
For Other Travellers: The best way to reach Bhutan from India is to take a direct flight to Paro. It takes around 2.5 hrs to reach from Delhi to Paro, flying time is at its minimum if you’re taking a flight from Bagdogra.
How to Get Tourist Permit in Bhutan
The Immigration Office in Phuentsholing issues permit (for SAARC nations). There are few documents that need to get verified before the tourist permit is handed out. Those travellers flying directly to Paro can get their permits from Paro International Airport.
List of Documents:
- A duly filled form
- Copy of Voter’s ID or Passport
- An Itinerary on an A4 Sheet
- Booked Hotel’s Voucher (It is mandatory to show hotel booking confirmation of at least one hotel in Thimphu/Paro)
- Passport Size Photo
- An Undertaking Letter (In case you are travelling solo)
Things to Remember:
- Be clear about what you fill in the occupation section, merely writing ‘Service’ or ‘Private Job’ will not be sufficient. Mention the sector you work in as well as your designation.
- Go early in the morning, around 8 – 8.30 AM, this way you will be able to dodge long queue. Also, you will get free early, and shall have the chance to reach Thimphu/Paro before evening, as both the places are at a good 5-6 hours long drive from Phuentsholing.
- In case you forgot to take photocopies of the required document, there are shops just opposite the Immigration Office for photostat.
- Through this Tourist Permit, you can go to Thimphu, Paro and Punakha. Please note that in order to visit Bumthang and other tourist places in Bhutan, a separate permit is required.
- The Tourist Permit is free of cost, however, if you are seeking help of an agent (apart from the tour operators), you might have to pay him some amount for his services.
Note: If you have booked your tour through a travel company like Tour My India, their agent/representative will help you get the permit quickly and without any hassles.
Once your rough itinerary is prepared, you can start looking for your suitable accommodation. Since tourism in Bhutan is flourishing, one can find hotel options in different budget. In fact, the concept of homestay is also not new anymore in the country, as a lot of people have opened their houses for tourists in order to provide an authentic experience to them. Right from Phuentsholing to capital city, Thimphu, everywhere you can find hotels in your budget. Here are few things that you should know while booking hotels in Bhutan:
- An average hotel during the peak season can cost up INR 2500, whereas, the same hotel offers room at INR 1300 -1500 during off season. There are also accommodation available on shoestring budget (INR 400-500), but they will be quite basic and may lack comfort amenities.
- Also, a lot of budget travellers have complained about armies of mosquitoes and bugs attacking them at nighttime. So, if you are planning to book hotels on-spot, make sure to first see the room.
- In case, you are booking in advance, you should go for a hotel that range between INR 1000-1500, if at all you love your sleep.
The Bhutanese currency is called Ngultrum, which is equivalent to the value of Indian currency, i.e., INR 1 = Ng 1. The notes of 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 of Indian denomination are used widely in Bhutan, however, notes of 500 and 2000 are not valid in the country.
What to Pack for Bhutan
- A shawl/jacket or a shrug: These are mandatory for both men and women when entering a place of worship.
- Raincoat and Umbrella: In case you are travelling in the monsoon, these two things will be required.
- Pack light clothes for summer and monsoon, and heavy woolens if travelling in winters to Bhutan.
- Swimwear: If you wish to experience the traditional hot stone bath or hot springs.
- Comfortable Flat Shoes and A Pair of Trainers/Hiking Shoes
- Motion Sickness Medicine: For the country has winding roads
What to See and Do in Bhutan
On a normal Bhutan Tourist Permit, you can visit three tourist destinations, i.e. Thimphu, Paro and Punakha, along with the exception of Phuentsholing, which you can explore without the permit as well. Let us discuss these four destinations and which can be visited on normal tourist permit.
The border town of Bhutan, Phuentsholing is indeed the reflection of what the country is all about. Clean locales, sound traffic system, orderly homes and shops and smiling and humble looking individuals. Phuentsholing is a small town and has quite few attractions, which can be covered in a day. The major tourist attraction here is Karbandi Monastery, from where one can witness a breathtaking view of the Bengal plains and that of Phuentsholing town. The Monastery is popular amongst the local as a place where prayers for fertility/bearing of a child is said to get fulfilled. Another place to see in the town is the centrally located Zangtho Pelri Lhakhang, a Buddhist shrine dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. There is also a Crocodile Breeding Centre, called Amo Chhu that can be an interesting place to visit. Apart from this, Phuentsholing has foreign goods shop where one can buy clothings at very less prices. There are a number of restaurants in Phuentsholing, where Bhutanese, Chinese and Indian dishes are served. One can also find dance and singing bars that are quite a thing to have an experience of.
Distance with Major Places in Bhutan
- Phuentsholing to Thimphu: 164 kms
- Phuentsholing to Paro: 160 kms
- Phuentsholing to Bagdogra: 164 kms
- Phuentsholing to Siliguri: 155 kms
Phuentsholing a Bus Station that is under Road Safety and Transport Authority of Bhutan (RSTA) from where one can find buses for several cities/towns in Bhutan. The buses are usually small, and are mainly Toyota Coaster buses, however few Eichers can also be spotted. Just outside the Bus Station is the Taxi Stand, from where one can hire full cabs or shared ones instantly.
Note: In Phuentsholing, you can exchange your Indian Currency, in fact you can even ask in the hotel you are staying for currency exchange, and they shall happily help you with it.
Country’s capital, Thimphu is just what you need to understand why Bhutan is one of its kind. A drive of about 6 hours (by Bus) and 5 hrs (by Cab) from Phuentsholing brings you to a modern town that still has its ancient look intact. Yes one can find multi-storied building, some in fact too high for the city but majority of them done in traditional Bhutanese architectural style. A systematic and comparatively crowded area mark as the main market, where you can buy anything to everything. Thimphu has a few attractions but all special in their own way.
Top Places to Visit in Thimphu
- Memorial Chorten: In case you have not booked this tour with a travel company, about Ng 300 will be charged as an entry fee.
- Kuensel Phodrang (Buddha Point)
- Trashichhoedzong/Tashichho Dzong
- Simtokha Dzong
- National Library
- Institute for Zorig Chusum
- Traditional Medicine Institute
- The Folk Heritage Museum (Phelchey Toenkhyim)
- National Textile Museum
- Handicrafts Shops
- Changangkha Lhakhang
- Craft Bazaar: Organized on Tuesday and Wednesday
- Weekend Market: Saturday and Sunday
- Junghi Handmade Paper Factory
- Zangthopelri Lhakhang
- Simply Bhutan Museum
- Takin Reserve
What to Do in Thimphu
Apart from sightseeing, Thimphu is a great place to enjoy nightlife in Bhutan. There are a number of clubs and bars that stay open till late for people. Some of the best places for experiencing nightlife in Thimphu are Club Ace, Vivacity, Mojo Park, and Space 34. A dining experience in the city is also top-notch, give your taste bud a new flavour to savour by trying out Bhutanese Cuisine in the capital city. Try Ema Datshi with Red Rice, and don’t miss out on that delicious dry pork because it is one of the best things to eat in Bhutan. Thimphu is also a perfect place to go shopping in Bhutan, one can buy Thangkas (scroll painting), masks, prayer wheels, Buddha figurines, Mandala paintings, yak hair bags and colourful kiras from here. A must-try here is the locally brewed alcohol called Ara. Apart from this, an evening view of Tashichho Dzong is something that cannot be missed in Thimphu.
How to Travel in Thimphu
Local taxis are available for hiring in Thimphu. One can book a cab for a day and can see all the top attractions in one day. There are few places where local buses can also take you, however, it is better to take a cab. You can also choose to walk to some of the tourist places in Thimphu, just schedule a cab one of the attractions and then with help of the map walk to its nearby places to visit.
Around 85 kms east of Thimphu, Punakha is a beautiful valley that is known for its Dzong/Fortress, which is situated on the confluence of two popular rivers of Bhutan, Mo and Pho. The gorgeous and majestic dzong of Punakha is historically important, it was not only was the centre/capital of Bhutan once (between 1637 to 1907) but is also home to the sacred relic, Ranjung Karsapani. The valley and the dzong, both are a popular tourist places in Bhutan. The place has a lot of visitors (both locals and tourists) during the Punakha Tshechu and Drubchen.
What to Do in Punakha
Apart from visiting the popular dzong, one can enjoy river rafting in Punakha. The Pho Chhu in Punakha Valley, that meanders on a 16 km course with about 15 rapids of grade II-IV is the most popular place for rafting in Bhutan. Another river in Punakha Valley, ideal for river rafting is Mo Chu with 10 km course comprising around 10 rapids of grade II and II+.
How to Reach Punakha
Cabs are available from Thimphu City for Punakha. There are also RSTA run buses too but the timings are little odd. It is best to head out for Punakha from Thimphu early in the morning as it takes good 2.5 hours to reach.
One of the widest valleys in Bhutan, Paro is a picturesque place that can make you fall in love with its first glimpse. Spanning from the confluence of Paro and Wang Rivers at Chuzom upto Mt. Jomolhari at the Tibetan border to the North, this heavenly place is where you can think to settle down. The main Paro town is nothing but a small well planned area with houses, hotels, shops and restaurants all in a perfect equation in the widest part of the valley. Whereas, its main tourist attractions like the Rinpung Dzong, National Museum and the very popular Taktsang Monastery/Tiger’s Nest Monastery are nestled in the hills. Paro, unlike Thimphu, can be seen working things at its own pace. Here the places and activities to enjoy are less, but whatever this beautiful town in Bhutan has on offer shall remain etched in your memory forever.
Top Places to Visit in Paro
- Rinpung Dzong
- Taktsang Lhakhang or Tiger’s Nest
- Ta Dzong
- Drukgyel Dzong
- Kyichu Lhakhang
- Farm House (traditional village house)
- Druk Choeding Temple
- Dungtse Lhakhang
- Ugyen Pelri Palace
Places Around Paro
- Haa Valley
- Chele La
- Dzongdrakha Goemba
What to Do in Paro
Paro is ideal for couples on honeymoon, it is that perfect place where the nature accompanies you everywhere to make your togetherness feel even better. Paro is also a destination for adventure lovers, as it offers opportunity of not only trekking but that of mountain biking, rafting and kayaking. The Tiger’s Nest Monastery trek is definitely a thing to do in Paro, and so is watching the snow-capped Jomolhari from the ruins of Drugyel. One can also enjoy witnessing the sunset view of the town from Paro Museum, and relish the sight of flights taking off from the Paro International Airport.
How to Travel in Paro
Walking is the ideal way to explore Paro. However, there are cabs available for sightseeing tour. Also, it is necessary to take a cab to the base point of the Taktsang Monastery, which is some 11 kms from the town.
Travelling in Bhutan is an extraordinary experience; the country teaches you how to be happy in small things, and that to be grateful for all that you have. Well, I hope, this Bhutan travel guide will help you plan a perfect holiday in this happy country, and that you will be able to keep yourself away from all the hassles. You can contact us at Tour My India, for more on Bhutan and on our amazing travel packages that are designed to cater to all your needs.