Bhutan Trip Review – A Trip You Will Remember For Decades To Come

The ULP VIEW, Travel

If you were to ask anybody what their favorite hobbies/pastimes were, 99 out of 100 people will list travelling. Each year, millions of people from around the world set out for their chosen destinations in the search of scenic beauty, relaxation, adventure, ethnic food and much more. There are, however, few places that will etch itself in our mind forever and Bhutan is one such place.

Nestled within the Himalayas, this happy little country is home to some breathtaking scenic views and some challenging yet fulfilling tourist attractions. One visit to this country will renew your mental edge, fill you with vitality and rekindle your spirit. Thankfully, we were able to visit and enjoy the boundless offerings Bhutan is loved for. Here is an end to end guide on visiting and enjoying Bhutan if you have already not done so.

Memorial Chorten Photo ULPNET Exclusive
Memorial Chorten Photo ULPNET Exclusive
  • Getting Into Bhutan: There are two ways you can gain entry in Bhutan, one via road and another via air. If you are travelling via road, you will have to get to New Jalpaiguri, West Bengal. In order to do that you can take a train to Jalpaiguri from Kolkata or take a flight from Kolkata to Bagdogra. Once in Jalpaiguri, you can hire a cab to take you to Phuentsholing, the bordering town of Bhutan. You will cross the Jaigaon town in India along the way.

If you are travelling via air, just take a Druk Airlines flight from Bagdogra to Paro airport (check the timings first).

  • Getting Entry Permit: Indian nationals do not need visa to visit Bhutan. They need an entry permit issued either from Phuentsholing or from Paro airport (based on the mode of entry). If you chose air travel, entry permit will be issued at Paro airport. If you chose road travel, things are about to get a bit hot as the queue at the entry permit office is usually huge. The office is located within 100 meters of India-Bhutan entry gate to the right side of the road next to a petrol pump. The office is open from 9:00 AM Monday to Friday. New applications are taken only till 11 AM so be there early. A better option would be to reach Phuentsholing on Sunday, stay in a hotel and get the entry permit before checkout on Monday.

Also note that there are three steps to the permit process. First fill up the forms thoroughly for everyone in the group and staple them together before submitting to the first counter. Then wait for your name to be called and get to the second counter where your biometrics will be logged. Finally you will be called again and given your entry permit. During this whole process you will have to wait in that room or you might miss when they call.

  • Documents Required And Form Fill-Up: It is great idea to carry your passport although voter cards should work as well. Also carry one passport size photo to attach with the form. Carry a xerox of both front and back pages of your passport. Attach this zerox to the form. This should be sufficient. You can obtain the form from the entry permit office itself or from a xerox outlet across the street for 5 INR. Filling up the form is easy as it will have generic questions such as your name, address, address in Bhutan etc. Just put in the name of the hotel you will be visiting.

Please note that using this permit you can visit Thimphu, Paro and Phuentsholing. In order to visit other places of Bhutan, you need to extend this permit once you are at Thimphu. This basic permit is valid only for 7 days. So fill your form accordingly. Bhutan is a non-tobacco country so if you have tobacco products like cigarettes, get them taxed properly at the entry permit office before getting into the country.

Prayer Flags On The Way To Tiger's Nest Monastery Photo ULPNET Exclusive
Prayer Flags On The Way To Tiger’s Nest Monastery Photo ULPNET Exclusive
  • Money And Currency Use: Bhutanese currency is called “Ngultrum”. Indian currency is accepted throughout Bhutan so Forex is not a problem. But they will always give change back in Ngultrum. So spend those first otherwise on the day of return you will have boatload of Ngultrum and not enough opportunities to spend them. Ngultrum and INR have the same value so do not worry about conversion rate also. RBI does not allow you to carry 500 and 1000 INR notes outside India (now they are banned for the time being anyway) so only carry 100 INR notes lest you get caught.

Estimate: With quality lodging, fooding and travelling by car, cost of travelling in Bhutan for one week per person is estimated 20,000 INR. To be on the safeside, carry a little more per person. If you have international usage on your debit card, please note per ATM withdrawal costs about 100 INR/Ngultrum so plan thoroughly.

  • Get The Tashicell Sim Card: You can get Tashicell sim card by showing entry permit or passport which is a boon in Bhutan. A lot of times during your stay you will be making local calls especially to drivers, hotel and other service providers. A local number means no hassle in terms of connectivity and no hefty international roaming charges. Also ISD calls to India is only 4 INR per minute so you can stay in touch with your folks at minimal cost.

Location: Just opposite the petrol pump next to the entry permit office, a road goes straight inside. Once there, walk for 2-3 minutes until you reach a building with Tashicell banner in front. The sim charges are 200 INR/Ngultrum if I remember correctly. Based on the rush, the whole process does not take more than 10-15 minutes.

  • Start Your Journey For Thimphu: Your basic entry permit allows you to visit Thimphu and Paro and you can visit either one first. But connectivity to Thimphu via bus is better so it is suggested to visit Thimphu and then go towards Paro. After getting the sim card, take a cab to Phuentsholing bus stand. Fare is about 50 INR. At the bus stand you need to book a ticket for Thimphu which is about 450 INR/Ngultrum. Please note that there is a lot of rush for Thimphu buses so get there as soon as possible and book before the seats are all filled. It takes about 6 hours to reach Thimphu so earlier you start, the better. Bus timings are in Bhutan standard time so adjust your watches accordingly lest you miss your bus.

The buses provided are actually Toyota Coasters. The 6-7 hours journey through mountains is a thing to enjoy. On the way to Thimphu, your permit will be checked and stamped twice. There is a mandatory police checking on the way too. Make sure you do not have cigarettes or other tobacco products on you and if you do, make sure you have paid the taxes for them. Once you reach Thimphu, take a cab to your hotel. No matter what distance, they will charge around 100 INR anyway. Take a much deserved night out in the hotel as you have a few days of total bliss awaiting.

  • Breakfast: Based on the location of your hotel, you might have a lot of options for breakfast or none at all. Bhutanese people do not seem very keen on breakfast as most hotels will disappoint you in terms of traditional breakfast items. Your hotel, however, should be able to provide you some delicacies to get you in the mood.
  • Sight Seeing: There are so many things to see in Thimphu and many of these tourist attractions do not have public transport connectivity. So taking a cab is your best option. Contact your hotel for cab drivers and they will connect you with some people. Ask for their price and bargain. A whole day’s trip should be between 1,000 and 1,400 INR. Make sure you are able to visit all the tourist spots you have in mind. Many cab drivers will try to divert you towards their choice of sights.

Cab Booking Tip: On the road, you will see cars with yellow number plates starting with “BT (Bhutan Taxi)”. Get out of the hotel, stop random taxis and ask for their price for the same number of spots that you have decided to visit that day. If their price matches with the price of the cab provided by hotel, you have got a good deal. Else if the taxi provides a better deal, take it and scrap the hotel cab.

  • Lunch: The National Folk Heritage Museum has a canteen and it provides a traditional Bhutanese lunch, complete with wooden utensils, for only 300 INR. They have both veg and non-veg. For the first day it is highly recommended that you have your lunch there so plan accordingly.
Traditional Bhutanese Lunch At National Folk Heritage Museum Photo ULPNET Exclusive
Traditional Bhutanese Lunch At National Folk Heritage Museum Photo ULPNET Exclusive
  • Thimphu Tourist Spots: Thimphu has following prominent tourist spots. You will need at least 2.5 days to cover them:
    • National Folk Heritage Museum 7.5 Stars7.5 / 10
    • Dechen Phodrang (monastery)  9 Stars9 / 10
    • Changangkha Lhakhang (Temple, Bhutan’s oldest temple)  9.5 Stars9.5 / 10
    • BBS Tower View  4 Stars4 / 10 (Ordinary view point as compared to the Thimphu view point)
    • Thimphu View Point  7 Stars7 / 10
    • Memorial Chorten  8 Stars8 / 10
    • Clock Tower Square  8 Stars8 / 10
    • Tashichho Dzong  7 Stars7 / 10
    • National Painting School  [NA] (Was closed for official meeting hence no rating)
    • National Library of Bhutan 8 Stars8 / 10
    • Takin Preserve (Takin Zoo)  6.5 Stars6.5 / 10 (Lower rated due to high charges of 100 per person)
    • Dochula Pass (Requires extended permit)  [NA]
    • Buddha Dordenma  7 Stars7 / 10 (Lower rated because parts of it was closed for maintenance)
    • Royal Botanical Garden  6.5 Stars6.5 / 10
    • Simtokha Dzong  8 Stars8 / 10

(These ratings are based on ULPNET point-of-view and not absolute. You might find the lower rated attractions better suited towards your travel goals.)

Buddha Dordenma Photo ULPNET Exclusive
Buddha Dordenma Photo ULPNET Exclusive

There are several other things to see as well but these are the most prominent ones. You can visit any 5 or 6 of them each day. Please note that visiting Dochula Pass requires the extended permit which allows you to visit the whole Bhutan. But getting the pass from Thimphu is a one day affair so not recommended if you have only a week.

ULPNET Suggestions for Thimphu: 

Hotel: Khamsum Inn 8.5 Stars8.5 / 10

Lunch/Dinner Options: National Folk Heritage Museum Canteen 9 Stars9 / 10

Zombala 2 7.5 Stars7.5 / 10

Ama Restaurant 8.5 Stars8.5 / 10

(These ratings are based on ULPNET point-of-view and not absolute.)

Thimphu And Paro Rivers Meeting Point Photo ULPNET Exclusive
Thimphu And Paro Rivers Meeting Point Photo ULPNET Exclusive

From Thimphu To Paro: Once you are done travelling in Thimphu, you need to get to Paro. It should not take more than 2.5 – 3 hours to get to Paro and there are plenty of options to get there. Any taxi will take you there. The standard rate from Thimphu to Paro is 800 INR/Ngultrum for hatchbacks and sedans. So if you are 4 people, that is only 200 per person. If someones asks for more, do bargain.

Depending on when you reach Paro, you can go and visit the Paro Dzong which is right at the edge of the town or some other spots. If you reach by afternoon, you might start your ventures next day as there is plenty to see here. Paro is a much smaller town as compared to Thimphu hence your fooding and lodging options are limited. If you have a hotel pre-booked, go for the food your hotel provides or you can take a stroll in the town and try some eateries.

  • Paro Tourist Spots:
    • Chuzom  10 Stars10 / 10 (On the way from Thimphu to Paro, bridge where Paro and Thimphu rivers meet. Must stop and enjoy the atmosphere and the view)
    • Taktsang Lhakhang (Tiger’s Nest Monastery) 10 Stars10 / 10
    • Kichu Monastery (Established 7th Century) 9 Stars9 / 10
    • Drukgyal Monastery 7 Stars7 / 10 (It is called the ruined monastery, don’t expect much to see here)
    • Rinpun Dzong 6 Stars6 / 10 (It is an official building, you cannot get inside. The view is splendid though)
    • National Museum [NA] (Was closed due to a government holiday)
    • Taa Dzong [NA] (Was closed due to a government holiday)

(These ratings are based on ULPNET point-of-view and not absolute. You might find the lower rated attractions better suited towards your travel goals.)

Tiger's Nest Monastery Photo ULPNET Exclusive
Tiger’s Nest Monastery Photo ULPNET Exclusive

Tiger’s Nest Monastery or Taktsang Lhakhang is situated on top of a hill. The climb and descend takes almost 5 to 6 hours for an average person who is not in great physical shape. It is one of the most challenging tourist attractions you will visit. If you do not start early in the morning, you will not have enough time to visit other spots once you are back on level ground. Also as the day progresses, the weather gets hotter making ascension harder. The monastery is closed from 1 PM to 2 PM for lunch so try to make it before 1 PM. Also at the entry point of the monastery, they will ask for your entry permit so carry it with you.

Visiting all the attractions of Paro should not take more than 2 days. If you have been to Thimphu before Paro, then after Paro you need to get back to Phuentsholing. Connectivity from Paro to Phuentsholing is not ideal so you can book a cab till Thimphu bus stand. You will get a lot of options from there. If you are in a large group, you can book a cab directly from Paro to Phuentsholing. The charges are 2,600 to 2,800 INR/Ngultrum per car.

Thimphu From Top Photo ULPNET Exclusive
Thimphu From Top Photo ULPNET Exclusive

On the way back to Phuentsholing, your entry permit will be stamped once and at the second checkpoint it will be taken away. Make sure to submit your entry permit otherwise if you come back to Bhutan at a later time, you will have troubles getting your entry permit. After reaching Phuentsholing, there is a separate exit on foot that you have to take to get out of the country and get back to India.

Language: Written and spoken language in Bhutan is “Dzongkha”. But Hindi and English are understood throughout the country. There are many Nepalese people in Bhutan who speak and understand Hindi perfectly.

Religion: Bhutan is predominantly Buddhist with some Hindus and Christians scattered around.

Food: Bhutanese people eat both veg and non-veg. Traditional Bhutanese dishes are Shikam Datsi (Pork), Beef Datsi, Kewa Datsi (potato), Ema Datsi (vegetable). Datsi is the authentic Bhutanese cheese. You will also find Indian and Chinese dishes almost everywhere.

Cost: Almost all tourist places are costly and Bhutan is no exception. It is important to count your money in Bhutan or else expenses can mount very fast. Make sure to bargain wherever you get a chance.

Bhutan is a country of unlimited beauty. Limited construction allows unhindered view of the horizon from almost everywhere in the country. So you can just stand at roadside and enjoy the view for hours. Make sure you have enough memory in your camera because you will burning through the storage faster than you think. Enjoy your Bhutan trip and create a memory for life.

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Soumyajit DasMazumdar
Soumyajit is an SAP technical consultant with a flair for writing. An avid blog reader, he started off with a free WordPress blog and slowly moved to his own personal news and blog site. Apart from writing he loves reading books, playing table tennis and long bike trips. He is currently trying to learn playing guitar and failing miserably.

One thought on “Bhutan Trip Review – A Trip You Will Remember For Decades To Come

  • Great article. With regard to vechile numbering BT does stand for Bhutan taxi. It also stands in the country domain for “bhutan”. I saw this interesting website being developed for with both BT being used. 🙂

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