It all started from having an intense plan and huge back packing of 20-25 days which included a good part of North India , a long sojourn in the Northeast India but for all of us the most exciting part was to explore “Bhutan: The Land of thunder Dragons” as it is fondly called and the dice were rolled out. Highly planned and most exciting part of our journey started on the third week of March 2015.
We took a flight from Delhi to Bagdogra in West Bengal as it is the most preferred way to reach Bhutan for Indians. Our first stopover was at the queen of hill stations called Darjeeling which was roughly 80 KM and a 3 hour drive from Bagdogra Airport. Then After reaching Darjeeling(Click here to read my posts on Darjeeling & Street foods of Darjeeling) we visited some of the must see places there and the next morning we planned to leave for Jaigaon/ Phuentsholing ,which is the gateway town to enter Bhutan.
Day 02: Darjeeling to jaigaon is a 5 hour drive about 200KM going through NH31 and overlooking the beautiful Teesta River for a part of the drive. A permit is mandatory to enter into Bhutan for Indian/Chinese citizens for others it is the routine visa procedure and they have to pay some royalty fee to the government. We had to make sure that we reach Jaigaon before 10AM as the permit office in Phuentsholing closes at 11AM and the driver was just the right guy for the task taken straight out of a fast and furious movie. We reached the Jaigaon border town around 9:40 AM then we crossed the border by foot and entered into Bhutan(Phuentsholing) then at the customs office we applied for our Bhutan permits.
We got the permit in an hour, had breakfast in a local restaurant and exchanged our Indian rupee and got some Bhutanese currency NU (Indian Rupees also works in Bhutan) and a local Tashi cell SIM card as Indian networks will not be working here and we were set for the capital city Thimphu while one of my friend GK still struggling to find the difference between Bhutan and Taiwan.:P We reserved a 6 seater taxi for Thimphu from the local taxi stand for 3500INR.Thimphu is 174 KM from Phuentsholing, a 5 hour drive from a risky yet beautiful road carved out of Mountains. As we enter the serene environment of Bhutan we are greeted with a cold breeze and a peaceful noise of the surroundings. We felt like we are in for something soothing and also exhilarating.
The highway to heaven as it is called was a masterpiece by the creator and also by the Bhutanese government as the road is neatly carved out between mountains and makes for a decent yet risky ride, surrounding the nature. The weather was pleasant and the air was so soothing, That is one of the reasons why Bhutan is called as the most peaceful & Happiest country in South Asia. As we were having this discussion the driver proved it right by revealing that he has been happily married for almost 15 years with two wives, living with both of them under one roof for these many years which was something astonishing for all of us. It is more of a tradition in Bhutan and there are many such examples.
We entered Thimphu city after a 5 hour drive and what we saw was large houses with similar Bhutanese/Tibetan Architecture , clean roads, probably the cleanest we have seen.
The city had a very calm yet happening vibe. We had to complete a tough task of finding cheap and best hotels in the vicinity called as the clock tower. We found one called as tashi delek which was 950 INR per room. Please note that there are hardly any hotels offering rooms at ground/first floor and you will have to to shell out a lot more to get a room on lower floors.However we got one on the third floor and it was a never ending climb to the third floor after an almost 400 KMs long cross country drive.
Next Day of the plan was to explore the every nook and corner of Thimphu. Basically to know about the traditions and culture that represents this beautiful country. Thimphu, as I mentioned is the most populous city in Bhutan which also means that there were enough people to interact. The men were extremely welcoming, the women equally beautiful. Karthik already began to work his charm, while lalla was still finding ways to start a conversation 😛 We took two local taxi’s as all taxi’s in Thimphu city are only small 4 seaters and we were 5 and we first went to the national library of Bhutan.
We’ve no idea that it is closed on weekends. So we just clicked pictures from the outside and moved to Zorig chusum, a government backed institute in providing education in embroidery, sculpture, painting, weaving, carving, etc to aspiring students to provide them with skills to boost their employment opportunities in the future.The school had an annual orientation going on as it was good to see an assembly of school kids after we were last part of it a decade back. Wow!!A decade!! i just realized. Time flies.
Closer to the school was National folk heritage museum which was an exhibition of the heritage of Bhutan, Also depicting how ancient Bhutanese used to live. We were out after a short visit to the place, which was an education of Bhutanese history, culture and traditions and took a taxi to the most famous tourist place of Thimphu called National memorial chorten. Believed to be built in memory of the former Queen’s brother the place is right in the center of the city and is mostly visited by old monks for their prayers and to relax.
Little did we knew, that the next place we were going to was this spectacular. It was the giant buddha dordenma golden statue, which is not yet completed from the inside. Upon completion this will be one of the largest buddha statues in the world.
Geographically it is perfectly located. The statue will be visible from a very long distance as we can see the Buddha shining in gold and also overlooking the whole city of thimphu from the top of the cliff. The place is hugely spacious and also windy and we moved on to spend some quality time at the place.
If you go to a different country make sure you see its animal species.That is what we did next.The takin preserve was the place which houses the national animal of Bhutan, Takin. You can see a lot of them here and you can cover this place in quick time as it is only a conservatory for Takins.
Then we paid our visit to a small Buddhist monastery called Zilukha nunnery.The nunnery is located in Zilukha, Thimphu overlooking Tashichodzong and is a few minutes drive from Zoo.t was built in 1976 by the 16th emanation of Thangtong Gyalpo, Drubthob Rikey Jadrel. Currently, the nunnery is home to about 60 nuns.
After the whirlwind tour of these places without a break , we had to do the most important part of the day, FOOD!!!! And what better than some local Bhutanese food. We went to a restaurant called as “Ama” on the same street of our hotel as ordered Thupka, kewa datshi, Ema datshi, Thai rice, Chicken chilly, Veg crispy, Veg fried rice. (To know more about food click here..) All this for an astonishing N.U 900. That was the best part of Bhutan, It doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket when it comes to food. We spent the rest of the evening wandering on the streets of thimphu.
While GK and lalla were at their usual “loving” antics and a couple of us decided to hit a local hangout spot called vivacity and then back to the hotel as we had to be early for a long yet exciting, exhilarating, extravagant day of exploring waiting for us tomorrow.
Next day morning we had a walking tour of the city and had fun meeting new people there. Then I went to watch a competition on the archery field. Archery is Bhutan’s national sport and is played all year round. 2 painted targets 30cm large and 120cm high are placed at each end. The bows and arrows are made of special kind of bamboo, the target is 120 metre away. Team members encourage their archer on the other side of the field. They stand really close from the target. Each team usually consist of 11 members. The first team to reach 33 points wins the match. The method of scoring is complicated as if an arrow lands within an arrow’s length of the target even without hitting it, it also counts. Every time an archer hits the target his team members will perform a kind of victory dance on the field. It was very entertaining as all players were wearing the Gho, the national costume.
We almost killed the day just by exploring the city by walk and getting familiar with the buses, culture and meeting new people and also paid our visit to Postoffice at last we went to the weekend market. We were in Thimphu for 5 days and every day we used to discover new things about this lovely city.
TIPS from my perspective:
- Please make sure you carry your passport/original voter Id, driving license, two passport size photographs along with you to apply for a permit.
- I would suggest to take a hotel near Clock tower square.
- National Folk Heritage Museum is open from Mon to Friday 10:30am to 4:30 pm Saturday: 10:30am to 1pm and on Sunday 11:30am to 3:30pm. Entrance fee is 150N.u
- Don’t miss Buddha dordenma, Zoo & National Memorial Chorten.
- If you want to experience nightlife of Thimphu, I would suggest you to go Vivo city.