Beautiful Bhutan!

Bhutan …. Absolutely peaceful and damn beautiful!

Buddha Dordenma


My loving Hubby – Mr Chirag Shah surprised me with a trip to Bhutan!


But there was a catch … We were going backpack … So, no luxury aspirations … Just enveloping the blanket of nature …

Day 1 – 6th Feb 2020

On 6th February 2020, we commenced our journey. 


[Just a week before, Chirag had booked our flight tickets – Mumbai-Bagdogra (appx. Rs 12,000/-)]


Dot 4 am, we left for the Mumbai Airport. After 45 minutes, we checked in our luggage and waited at Gate No. 49 to take off on the Spicejet Flight.


It was a long wait, where I had a happy wiff of the newly launched books at the Crossword Store and also took a tiny nap. Chirag was wide awake and took a nice tour exploring other stores.


We boarded our flight at 7.40 am. At 8.25 am, we left the Mumbai skies. The Spicejet Magazine was quite interesting. I just loved reading about various places right from South India to Rajasthan and Deepika Padukone’s frank interview.


Almost at about 10.50 am, we landed on Bagdogra Airport. When we went to the luggage belt, Chirag saw someone carrying a trekking bag just like mine. The belt, too, didn’t show up our bags for quite a while.


Tension rose … We hoped our baggage was not taken away by someone else or exchanged! We regretted not sticking labels on them.


Thankfully, five minutes later, we saw our bags on the belt and soon took them and left.


Once out of the gate, numerous autorickshaw and cab drivers fluttered around us.


Currently, our main destination was Jaigaon – the last village near the Indian–Bhutan Border. A cab would have taken us directly to Jaigaon for Rs 3000/-. The journey would have taken 4/5 hours.


However, we took an autorickshaw to a nearby place – Silliguri Station (a 20-minutes drive from Bagdogra Airport). The driver charged us Rs 300/-.


The journey from Bagdogra Airport to Silliguri Station was a little rough. Twice, I was almost thrown out of the autorickshaw by the rough driving of the autorickshaw driver. The route, too, was a little unclean. 


Chirag bought our train tickets (Rs 120/- for both) to Hasimara Station. Around 12.35pm, we took the Rajendra Nagar Terminal – Kamakhya Capital Express and sat in the General Compartment.


Further, the train to Hasimara was a little smelly. Howerever, we enjoyed the chatpata Jhalmudi (Bhel) for just Rs 20/-. It was a bit spicy yet tasty. There were vendors who kept serving Hot Masala Chana, different types of teas, masala tea, coffee, water bottles, popcorn, Singhana (Samosas) and Baalam (peanuts).

Jhalmudi (Bhel)
Hot Masala Chana


A few locals in the train guided us for our trip, too.


[From July 2020, Bhutan is going to charge Rs 1200/- per day as permit fees for Indian Tourists. Currently, it’s Free. So, if you are interested to visit this Carbon Negative place, do so soon.]


At around 3.45pm, we reached Hasimara Station. We crossed the bridge and went to the opposite end. We had to walk for 5/10 mins. Once again, a bunch of autorickshaw drivers came forward. We sat in one of the autorickshaws.

Usually, per person, they charge Rs 40. It’s a huge autorickshaw that seats 8 people. As we were running short of time, we paid him Rs 100/- instead of Rs 80/- and headed to Jaigaon.


It was almost a half-an-hour drive. The driver took us to the Gate through which we entered Bhutan.


[It was mandatory to wear masks. Just outside the Gate, numerous vendors were selling them. Chirag quickly took two of them for us.]


The moment we entered Bhutan, they examined us with a machine to check whether we were affected by the Coronavirus or not. Also, we had to fill in forms sharing our details and information regarding our trip.


Our backs were hurting as we were carrying three heavy trekking bags. Nevertheless, we went ahead with enthusiasm.


[4 days back, we had booked a Hotel in Phuentsholing Hotel Phuentsholing].

Hotel Phuentsholing
Hotel Phuentsholing


Promptly, a Bhutan Guide approached us and offered to take us to our Hotel. We told him to give us a fair rate for our entire trip, because we were covering 5/6 places. He would tell us the next day about it. As such, per day, he charged Rs 3000/-.


We went to our Hotel, quickly refreshened and headed to the Market. There were a few restaurants and cafes, apart from the usual stores and supermarkets.


We strolled around for a while and finally settled in a cafe – Kizom Café.

Kizom Café
Kizom Café
Kizom Café


I had Cheese Sandwich, while Chirag ordered for Margarita Pizza. Sandwich was nice but the Pizza was ok. We had clarified regarding the breads containing any eggs. Thankfully, they were eggless.


I liked the cafe. It was serene with a lovely and quiet ambience. A perfect place for a romantic couple or a group of besties.


I visited the Phuentsholing Monastery – Zangtopelri. Indeed it had a beautiful vibe to it.

Phuentsholing Monastery – Zangtopelri


From the Supermarket, we bought milk and a few chocolates. It was quite big and housed almost all products.


We were damn tired. So, we rushed to our hotel room. Chirag soon slept, while I wrote about today’s journey.


The Hotel’s Caretaker warned us against Agents. He said, he would guide us next morning regarding permits for Thimpu and Paro.

Day 2 – 7th Feb 2020

By 9.15 am, next day, we left for the Permit Office. We should have actually taken our luggage to save time. Anyway, as we entered the Permit Office, there were hardly any people filling up the forms.


An Agent named Kaarma helped us sort out all our Documents and fill up the Forms. We had the Orginals and Photocopies of our Passports and Voter Id Cards. He took us upstairs in the building. I was taken aback to see quite a crowd … All waiting to go to Thimpu.


Kaarma stood in the queue and after a while, asked us to join in. The Officer took our index finger prints and clicked our photographs. Also, he put up the Permit Stamps on our Passports and gave us our Official Permit Documents.


Next, we took a local sim for Rs 500/-. And Kaarma charged Rs 200/- per person for his guidance. If you go on your own, the Officers don’t charge a penny.


A beautiful lady – Rinzin Dema approached us. She was the Local Tour Guide who offered to take us to Thimpu and the other places in Bhutan. Her charges were Rs 3000/- per day. Also, the Guide whom we had met yesterday was waiting for us at the Permit Office.

We discussed with both the Guides. They agreed for Rs 2500/-.

Luckily, we met a newly married couple heading for Thimpu. They joined us and finally, we went ahead with Rinzin Dema to Thimpu for Rs 2000/-. We started at 12pm.


It was amazing to meet Mr Gaurav Singh and Mrs Shipra Singh. A sweet, friendly and an adventurous couple. Just like us, they, too ,were doing a backpack trip. They, too, had got their clothes and bags from Decathlon.

Our Cool Buddies – Shipra and Gaurav
Our Tour Guide – Rinzin Dema


Rinzin Dema, too, guided us well. Once, we stopped at a tiny market and bought snacks, popcorn and their local cow cheese. I couldn’t eat the cheese more than a bite. It had a sour and a weird taste. Our next stop was at a Restaurant.

Restaurant on the way to Thimpu


There we had Ema Datsi, Kewa Datsi, Butter Tea and Dal-Rice. Ema means chilly and Kewa means potatoe. They both are cooked with a butter gravy with onions. And then chillies or the potatoes are added. Butter Tea was slightly bland, but after adding some salt, it tasted nice.


Finally by 5.30 pm, we reached Thimpu.

Just before we entered Thimpu

Our Hotel – Hotel New Yardroling, though, a little far from the market was amazing. It was damn cold, so the people quickly gave us tea and placed us near the heaters.

Hotel New Yardroling
Hotel New Yardroling
Hotel New Yardroling


Our friends, too, booked a room at the same hotel. Chirag guided them to upgrade their rooms as they were a honeymoon couple. Just for Rs 1000/- we got amazing rooms. We planned to stay here till 9th Feb 2020. So, total 3 days.


We relaxed for a while in our rooms and then booked a local taxi for the main market. It cost us Rs 100/-. It was interesting. There were shops selling their local products and costumes. Handicraft items were so beautiful. Numerous restaurants blinked around us.


Gaurav suggested having Momos at the Zombala 2 Restaurant, so we headed there.

Zombala 2 Restaurant

En route, we came across a little Bookshop. It housed numerous books by National and International Writers.

Thimpu Bookshop


At Zombala 2 Restaurant, we ordered 1 Veg Fried Rice, 1 Fried Cheese Momo, 1 Peanut Masala, 1 Schezwan Noodles, 1 Mushroom Veg Soup and 1 Veg Manchow Soup. The food was quite tasty. The bill came to Rs 750/-.


We discussed about our families, careers, choices, food and planned for our next destination.


Finally, we went back to our hotel – Hotel New Yardroling for Rs 100/-. By 10.30 pm, we were off to bed, hoping to explore Thimpu more.


Here in Bhutan, their King is worshipped like a God. They truly love and respect him. He, too, takes good care of his subjects and his country. Bhutan is the cleanest place on Earth.


Instead of staying in a palace, he stays in a normal house just like his people.


Now, they are going to charge extra Rs 1200/- per Indian, because a year back, an Indian Tourist tried to destroy Bhutan’s Monument. It really angered the King.


Due to one Indian person’s wrong action, now the entire nation will have to pay the price. See what reputation we have in foreign countries. It’s too sad. Can’t we even have any basic sense of how to live and behave in other nations? Why do we keep things messy?

Day 3 – 8th Feb 2020


We had a lazy morning. By 10.30 am, we left from our hotel. We made sure to wear our sunglasses. It was sunny and windy. Of course, the three layers of jackets, tracks and caps were on.


We took a cab and planned to go to the Market. Yet, we wanted to explore the Thimpu City. So, we asked our cab driver. He suggested a few places. We requested him to take us everywhere for a fair price. We fixed on Rs 1000/- for the entire day.


First, we went to Buddha Dordema.


Buddha Dordema
Our Cab Driver

It was just magnificient! The huge statue of Buddha just mesmerized us. The golden statues of the Angels smiled at us. Inside, we saw the pictures of all the previous Bhutanese Kings, the Royal Family and their Religious Art.

Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wanchuck and Jetsun Pema Wangchuck – The Current King and Queen of Bhutan

Our Cab Driver and Guide informed us that the current King’s Father, during his reign was the most handsome man in the entire world!

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck with his Father – His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk


When I went to offer my prayers, I was asked to remove my cap by a Monk. There after, he poured some holy water from their holy flask on my right palm and asked me to drink it.


After a while, we went to the Main Market to have lunch. We entered the Ama Restaurant. It was the worst food we ever had! Chirag and I, hardly ate anything. And we paid Rs 1000/-. Mix Veg was bad and their Plain and Red Rice were not cooked properly.


Then we went to the Takin Reserve. Yes, the greenery was great. We saw a few Takins and Stags. That’s it. Not worth spending Rs 300/- each for it. Because, within 15 minutes, we were back in our cab.

The Takin Reserve
Takin


Then, our Cab Driver took us to the Nunnery. There, we saw a few lady lamas and prayed to the statue of the highest lama. We donated Nu. 100 there. It is advisable to do so … To give some donation.

The Nunnery

Later we went to the Tashichho Dzong. Wow! Splendid! The King lived in a small house. We saw the Ministry areas and offices.

Tashichho Dzong

Our Cab Driver took us to the Sabzi Bazaar. There, they had the branch of The Momo Corner. Chirag and I were famished. Finally, we stuffed ourselves with Veg Fried Rice and Veg Fried Cheese Momos. Just amazing! Chirag paid Rs 300/-. Worth it!

The Sabzi Bazaar


I got a chance to roam around the entire Sabzi Bazaar. It was huge and absolutely clean. Uptil now, I hadn’t seen any insects or mosquitoes so far. A clean and well maintained country.


From there, we headed to the Garden with the standing statue of Buddha. It was alright. We clicked a few pictures and went back to our hotel.


By 5pm, we were back in our rooms. After some refreshments, at 7pm, we went back to the Market looking for some nice cafes. We found one – Coffee Culture.

Coffee Culture
Coffee Culture

A few Bhutanese college girls were kind enough to show us the way. Bhutanese Youth is a huge fan of Bollywood Stars. Their favourites are Salmaan Khan and Katrina Kaif. The kids are fascinated to come to Mumbai, too.

Bhutanese Kids


We had 1 Veg Cheese Sandwich, 1 Chocolate Mousse and 1 Garlic Bread. Everything was tasty, but they shut down by 8pm.


Later,we went to the Mojo Park to enquire. It was alright. The live band was going to start at 9.30 pm. It was only 8pm. So, we roamed around the Market. I went to the Bookstore and bought a book on the Bhutanese language.


We had our dinner at Zombala 1 Restaurant. Again Veg Fried Rice. After dinner, we went to Mojo Park and relaxed. By 11 pm, we were back to our rooms.


Chirag jumped on to his bed and was soon off to sleep. I, too, after noting today’s adventure slept peacefully in -1 Degree.

Day 4 – 9th Feb 2020

We slept like logs. By 1pm, we left for the Market. We had lunch at Zomzola 2 Restaurant.

We ordered for Peanut Masala, Hot Chocolate, Veg Sizzler and Veg Fried Cheese Momos. The Hot Chocolate was awesome!

Peanut Masala at Zombala 2 Restaurant


We happened to read about Bhutan’s Family Tree, History and the enlightening speeches of the Current King.


Next, we went to the National Memorial Chortem. From Zomzola 2 Restaurant, we took a left and kept walking for almost half-an-hour. On the way, we saw Le Meridian, several authentic Handicraft Shops and local shops.

National Memorial Chortem


The entry fee per person was Rs 500/-. Too costly! Rs 100/- or Rs 150/- would have been fine. So, we had a look at it from outside and left to go to an amazing Live Museum – – Simply Bhutan.

The Live Museum


Simply Bhutan is a must visit for any Tourist. The entry fee was Rs 300/-. We were warmly welcomed by our Guide – Mr Tashi. It was a fun and an equally informative Tour with him. He loved Bollywood for sure as he kept uttering certain dialogues from our Hindi Movies.

Tashi – The Guide at Simply Bhutan


We were offered their local wine – Ara, showed their home constructions, old age kitchen, the instruments used to make noodles and Butter Tea, their religious tiny symbols, their God – Buddha and their National Sport – Archery.

Homemade Chemical Free Bhutanese Wine
Buddha Statue at Simply Bhutan

I tried my hand at Archery along with Chirag, Gaurav and Shipra. After quite a few turns, I managed to hit the target. The local guides at Simply Bhutan sang a song for me, celebrating my victory! It was so sweet! Shipra and I danced along, too!

Thereafter, we met their famous Foot ArtistMr Pema. He was specially abled, painted, carved and did Archery with his foot!

Mr Pema – The Foot Artist
Mr Pema’s Art


Later, we were offered their special Butter Tea (Suja) along with some tiny puffed rice.

Also, beautiful Bhutanese ladies performed their traditional dance for us and we joined them after a while. Just a splendid experience!


Once out of Simply Bhutan, we roamed about for a while. We had some snacks at Coffee Culture (an ambient Café), had dinner at The Momo Corner at the Sabzi Bazaar and returned back to our hotel.


By 8pm, we were back.


We packed our bags. Also, Sushma, the Hotel Manager gave us Permit Forms and informed us to reach the Permit Office of Thimpu by 8.30 am, as it’s always too crowded.


We called it a night.

Day 5 – 10th Feb 2020


By 9.30 am, we left for the Permit Office. We were granted Permit for just 3 days. We would have to come back to Thimpu to extend our stay.


We called up Rinzin but she was busy. So, she recommended her good friend – Sonam Dorjee as our Tour Guide. Per day, he charged us Rs 2500/-.

We explored the Handicraft Market beside the Permit Office.

Our Tour Guide – Sonam Dorjee


It was interesting to watch Bhutanese Cultural Artifacts – Magnets, Purses, Bags, Oil Diffussers, Hand Painted Stones, etc.


Sonam Dorjee took us to Punakha. Midway, we stopped at a Restaurant. The ambiance was great and the food was nice. It was just opposite the Dochula Pass or the Druk Wangyal Chortens.

Dochula Pass

It was built by the Eldest Mother QueenAshi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk in the memory of the brave soldiers who had sacrificed their lives in a War.

View from Dochula Pass


By 2.45 pm we left Dochula Pass and reached the Punakha Dzong by 4.15 pm. It was about to close, yet a Bhutanese Guide took us around. 

Punakha Dzong

The Punakha Dzong, also known as Pungthang Dewa Chhenbi Phodrang (the Palace of great Happiness or Bliss) was the oldest Dzong and the Administrative Centre of Punakha District in Punakha, Bhutan.


A massive statue of Buddha along with his reincarnations faced us! We bowed down and patiently heard the Dzong’s History.


The Punakha Dzong was initially the Capital of Bhutan. All Religious Ceremonies and Events happened here. Even the Current King’s Marriage took place here.


While the Guide was explaining us, an old Indian man disrupted his conversion. We were already short of time. Some of us need to become good listeners instead of just blabbering away. It really angered the Guide. We had to apologise on his behalf.


Just beside the Dzong, they had the Suspension Bridge. It was quite long and worth the walk. The clear water underneath it, just made you sway away happily on the Bridge.

At The Suspension Bridge


Our Tour Guide – Sonam Dorjee was patiently waiting for us outside the Dzong. He, then, led us to his friend’s HomestayChimi Lhakhang Village, Punakha owned Mr Sonam and Mrs Dago – a lovely and friendly couple. They had a cute son named Pola. He became good friends with Chirag.

Pola and Doga
Chirag and Pola

It was a long walk under the dark skies. Thank God we had tiny torches. It was tiring, but the moment the Host took us to our rooms, I was spellbound. They were tiny rooms, but beautifully Traditional!


Their living room was antique, decorated with the pictures of all their Kings and even their traditional items.

Mr Sonam


Again, here we had a plate of Veg Fried Rice. Though, they were tasty home-cooked rice.


They charged us Rs 1500/- per room and Rs 350/- per head for dinner.

Chirag, Gaurav and Shipra, too, were happy and loved the rooms.


We saw numerous books on Bhutan and Bhutanese Culture. The Host chatted with us and enlightened us about their culture.


The Bhutanese people follow the Matriarchal system. Here, the son leaves his house and settles with his wife and her family. The daughter owns the property.

They don’t celebrate their Marriages. It’s a quiet affair. They just need their parents’ and the Government’s approval.

The Tourist Guides and Cab Drivers have to compulsorily wear their Traditional Costumes. 


The Homestays are not allowed to keep Wifi facility or tall beds. Everything has to be traditional. Even their houses are made with the interlocking system, instead of using nails.


The House that we were staying, was 118 years old!


I was just amazed at their traditional beauty. With a warm and happy heart, I went to bed.

Day 6 – 11th Feb 2020

Hot water was awaiting us. Had a great Hot Bath in the common bathroom. When you are naturally freezing, hot water feels like a boon!


After a nice breakfast of Toast and Butter along with lip-smacking Butter Tea, Chirag and I headed to the Temple of Phallus.

Lam Drukpa Kuenley


Bhutanese people believe that the Divine MadmanLam Drukpa Kuenley – was the God of Fertility. He blessed couples with children.

Just outside the Temple of Phallus


On the way, both of us explored the numerous, but costly Handicraft Stores.

Chirag was more interested to explore them. So, I continued my journey towards the temple.


It was quite a hike for me, but regular backpack travellers would feel it like hop-skip-and-jump!


I paid Rs 500/- for the Entry Ticket.


The Temple GuideMs Sonam, beautifully explained to me the History of the Tibetan Monk who changed the lives of the Bhutanese people.

Ms Sonam – The Temple Guide


I lighted a Butter Lamp and prayed there, peacefully.


Our Tour Guide – Sonam Dorjee was awaiting us.


After clearing our bills at the Homestay, by 11.30 am, we left for Phobjhika.

En route, we encountered a few Yaks! Also, the lady who took care of them, sold shawls made of Yak Wool.

Chirag captured some cool pictures while going to Phopjhika.


Midway by 1.30 pm, we had lunch at a Restaurant. Again Fried Rice. But this time, I added some Mango pickle to it. And trust me, it tasted yum! Hot Veg Fried Rice at a Chilled Restaurant!

But before that we had stopped at a Café. The coffee was horrible but the view was just Wow!

Chirag, Shipra and Gaurav sipping the tasteless coffee!


 


Thereafter, we went to the oldest Monastery made in 15th Century. We turned all the prayer wheels out there and asked for the Buddha’s blessings. The main door was shut as renovation was going on. So, we couldn’t go inside.

The Oldest Monastery (15th Century)


Then, we went to Black Necked Crane Park. There, just as we entered, we saw a Crane named Kaarma. He was injured. Thus, he was kept in a wide cage.

Strangely, quite a few mirrors were kept around him. I guess, he assumed that there were other cranes beside him in the cage, so, he wouldn’t feel left out.

 
As Gaurav rightly said that birds if left alone, went into depression and soon die.

Here, they take great care of their birds and animals. Also, we were shown a Documentary regarding these cranes. It was quite informative to watch how the people of Phobjhika are developing yet conserving nature.

I was obliged to met two of their officials. They liked that Tourists like us visited the Crane Park.

Mr Sonam Jamtsho
Ms Sonam Wangmo

By 5 pm, we reached our Yangka Homestay. Our Host – Mr Yangka was an old Uncle who invited us to his magnificent home. Sonam Dorjee had once stayed here and vouched for it.


The Host made some tea for us, while we sat in his kitchen-cum-living room. It had their natural heater. We had some snacks, theplas and chunda brought by us and shared them with everyone. Our Host didn’t understand English, so, thankfully, Sonam Dorjee translated our conversations.


We had a great time. Discussed, did some masti, watched a bit of TV and simply relaxed ourselves.

Our Host prepared a tasty dinner of Beans Datsi, Gobi Ki Sabzi and Potatoe, Carrot Sabzi along with Red Rice. It was spicy but just delicious!


By 10pm, we were off to bed with a warm heater in our room.


Inspite of that, in the middle of the night, I got shivers. If I covered myself with the blankets, I couldn’t breathe. If I came out of them, the chills wouldn’t leave me.


Chirag woke up hearing my shivering. He gave me a few sips of Doctor’s Brandy to counter my chills. It took me a while to settle and sleep again. I felt sad that because of me, his sleep was disturbed. However, Chirag was extremely caring and slept, only once I went off to sleep.

Day 7 – 12th Feb 2020


We had a long day! Bidding adieu to our Host – Mr Yangka, we left with our Tour Guide – Sonam Dorjee at 9 am.

We reached Thimpu by 1.45 pm. Midway, our Tour Guide – Sonam Dorjee submitted our Original Permit Documents at the Checkpost. He shouldn’t have done it. We had asked him not to do so, but he said, there’s nothing to worry.


When we reached the Permit Office at Thimpu, they cancelled our Permit to go to Haa Valley and Chelela Pass.

Earlier, we were permitted to go there, then, why cancel now? But we were helpless and proceeded to Paro.


We had lunch at Sabzi Bazaar’s – The Momo Corner – Veg Fried Rice and Veg Fried Cheese Momos.


By 4.30 pm, we had reached Paro. On the way, we had booked our Hotel – Hotel Himalayan Tashi Phuntshok. We were served nice Hot Masala Chai. It was too cold, so I just gulped it down.


We were awestruck to find beautiful rooms for just Rs 900/- per room. They were the best rooms, we had encountered so far.


We refreshened ourselves and thought of trying their in-house Restaurant. We ordered 1 Hot Chocolate and 1 Tomato Soup. The Soup was bad but the Hot Chocolate was good.

There was a long runway towards the main gate. Unfortunately, there were no lights around us. Sadly, there were no street slights to guide us, too. We used our personal torch and walked for about 10 minutes. Then, we got a cab from the main road.


We headed to the Market. The local taxis charged Rs 150/- to Rs 200/- for one time journey.


Once at the Market, we searched for The Book Cafe. It’s the Best Book Café in the entire Bhutan.

I gifted the owner, a copy of my First Novel – The Mystery Crackers: A Chest’s Tale. She was sweet enough to accept it.

At The Book Café – Paro, Bhutan


My friend – Shipra, suggested that I should write a special message for my readers on the front page of the novel. I thought for a while and wrote something creative. Thanks Shipra!


There after, we visited The Mountain Café. Quite famous for it’s Indian food, it’s a huge attraction for Indian Tourists. Since quite a few days, we were having just Veg Fried Rice and Momos. We missed our Indian food.


We tried Pav Bhaiji, Palak Paneer with Plain Rice and Veg Cheese Pizza. Palak Paneer and Pav Bhaiji were excellent. They seemed to serve good Pasta, too. However, the Plain Rice wasn’t cooked enough and the Pizza was horrible. Their pastries were also ok. It cost us almost Rs 900/-.


By 9 pm, all the shops and Cafés were closed. So, we went to our Hotel and relaxed. Next day, we had planned to go to the Tiger’s Nest. We had booked a local Taxi for 7.30 am. So, all of us slept early.

Day 8 – 13th Feb 2020


Ready, by 7.45 am, we left for The Tiger’s Nest, also known as Paro Taktsang.

The Tiger’s Nest – Paro Taktsang

The Taxi Driver charged Rs 400/- for one time journey. In a few minutes, we reached the point from where we would start our climb. We paid Rs 1000/- per person.


If you plan to go just halfway, you don’t need to pay, otherwise you need a proper Entry Ticket. The Ticket Counter closes after 1 pm.

 
Usually, it is better to start early to avoid the scorching heat of the sun. The regular hikers can easily make it to the top within 2 hours. However, beginners like me would surely take time.


Before commencing, Shipra and I took the Walking Sticks and paid Rent – Rs 50/- per stick. The Walking Sticks really helped us.


Also, there were quite a few locals who sold their Bhutanese Handicraft.


We started at 8.30 am. It was the toughest journey of my life! I used to halt at regular intervals to catch my breath. At times, I felt, why did I even think of this steep climb!


However, Chirag, Gaurav, Shipra and a few fellow travellers encouraged me to go further. Also, I wanted to test my body’s capacity. So, slowly and steadily, I climbed the tricky trail.


It was fun meeting other Tourists. Most of them were from India – Delhi, Pune, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai. I had amazing conversations with each of them. It’s interesting meeting different people from different walks of life.


Finally at 12pm, I reached The Niger’s Nest. Chirag, Gaurav and Shipra were waiting for me. We were only allowed wallets, rest we were supposed to keep in the locker. The lockers were safe.


There was a local Guide, who explained to us about The Tiger’s Nest’s History, important Deties, Historical Events, etc.

Lord Padmasambhava had transformed his Wife into a Tigress. He had rode on her back and come to this Mountain. That’s why it is called The Tiger’s Nest.


Our Guide explained, when one heartily makes a wish in front of Lord Padmasambhava, it comes true. Also, one doesn’t come here on their own. It’s because, Lord Padmasambhava calls them there to seek his blessings. They also have a Statue of Lord Padmasambhava, which had once spoken.


High up in the Mountains, this Monastery had it’s exhiburent aura of its own. It was peaceful and serene.


Midway, we found a Cafeteria which served Snacks in the morning and Lunch in the afternoon. It was ok.


By 3.30 pm, I finished my trail and was back to the Taxi Stand. As usual, Chirag, Gaurav and Shipra had made it way faster than me.

I had preferred to go slow and climbed down slower. If I had rushed up, I wouldn’t have breathed normally. While returning, I slipped thrice and once fell. Thankfully,a fellow Tourist helped me up. Make sure to wear sturdy shoes with a strong grip.


On the way, Chirag and I became friends with a young couple – Dr Anisha and Dr Rishabh Gehani. Dr Anisha was a Radiologist, while Dr Rishabh was an Orthopedic Surgeon from Kolkata. They had come to Bhutan to celebrate their First Anniversary.


They were planning for the Hot Stone Bath. We joined them, too.


Gaurav had searched a nice Restaurant in the Market that served good Indian food. We ordered 1 Aloo Mutter, 1 Thali, 1 Mutter Paneer and 5 Rotis. The food was nice. The bill amounted to Rs 900/-.


It was too windy outside. Also, we wanted to try some pastries. We entered a Cafe. However, it didn’t serve any eggless pastries. Meanwhile, our new friends – Dr Rishabh and Dr Anisha met us at The Mountain Café. Together, we went to a cottage for the Hot Stone Bath.

Each couple was given a small wooden room. Almost for an hour, we had immersed our body pains in the hot water. It was worth it!

You need to inform them 4/5 hours prior to keep it ready for you. Before you start your climb to The Tiger’s Nest, you should book your Hot Stone Bath.


After the tough climb, you would be waiting to do it. They make special herbal water, wherein they immerse preheated stones full of natural minerals. It is believed that the stones have healing powers. They cure you of your back pain, muscle pain, joint pains and injures.


All of us felt slightly dizzy, while doing it but once it was done, our body pains had almost vanished.


We stopped at a Café – Park 76. The food was ok. We had ordered 1 Manchow Soup and 1 Veg Fried Rice.

As we were tired, we rushed back to our hotel. Chirag was fast asleep by 8.30 pm, while I wrote about today’s adventure.

Day 9 – 14th Feb 2020

Valentine’s Day!

However, our Valentine’s Day was absorbed by scenic mountains and twinkling rivers from Paro to Phuentsholing.


By 12 pm, we were ready. We thought we would have an early lunch but no where, could we get it. Finally, we went to The Take Away Corner beside the HotelNivarana Inn. It was quite close to Café Park 76.


We ordered for 3 Butter Chapatis, 1 Plain Rice, 2 Mutter Panner Vegs (Quantity was less), 6 Papads, 2 Big Containers of Curd, 1 Buck Wheat Khulla and 1 Aloo Paratha. It cost us around Rs 900/-.


The food was excellent! I didn’t like the Buck Wheat Khulla, though. After several days, we got our proper Indian taste. Chirag made Buttermilk and Sweet Lassi using his special Electronic Mini Blender.


After lunch, we explored a few Handicraft shops near The Mountain Café. Tshering – another Tour Guide suggested by Rinzin came to pick us. She was taking us back to Phuentsholing from Paro. We had decided on Rs 2500/-. But she charged us extra Rs 500/- just to take us to The National Museum.

The National Museum at Paro
View from The National Museum


The entry ticket to The National Museum was Rs 100/- per head for Indians. It was quite cold inside. Thank God, we had our jackets on!

 
The tiny tour inside was quite informative. A few Documentries were going on to shed a brighter light on their Culture, Way of Living, Flora and Fauna, the Kings and their rules.


Exactly at 2.30 pm, we left from Paro. By 7 pm, we had reached Phuentsholing. Huge Mountains, the blue sky and the deep valleys left us spellbound!

However, the toughest part of the journey arrived during twilight. Fog! For quite a while our route was enveloped by the blanket of thick fog. Hats off to Tshering for driving cautiously, lest we would have hurt ourselves.

Once again, we booked our rooms at Hotel Phuentsholing. After refreshning, we roamed around the market.


We had dinner at The Asian Kitchen which was quite close to the Kizom Café. The food was awesome. The only problem was their extremely slow service.

The Asian Kitchen at Phuentsholing


We had ordered 1 Kashmiri Dum Aloo, 1 Panner Butter Masala, 3 Butter Chapatis, 1 Plain Rice, 3 Fresh Lime Sodas and 1 Peanut Masala. The Bill Amount was Rs 1000/-.


After buying a few things from the Super Market, we headed to our Hotel. All of us were damn tired.


Gaurav and Shipra were leaving for Benaras, their hometown. So, they had to catch an early train from Hasimara (half-an-hour from Jaigaon – Indian Border) to Silliguri. From there were going to go to another station – New Jalpaipuri which would take them to Benaras. It was going to be quite long journey for them.


We bid them a sad adieu. It was great fun to share our Bhutan journey with them. We were going to miss them for sure.


We retired off early, too.

Day 10 – 15th Feb 2020


After a good sleep, we checked out by 12 pm. We walked down to the Phuentsholing Border and crossed over to Jaigaon


It was sad to see no check point asking for our verification in Jaigaon. Our Security isn’t great here. Anyone can enter easily.


From Jaigaon, we took an autorickshaw to Hasimara Station. He charged us Rs 130/-.

By 1.15 pm, we had reached Hasimara.
Chirag bought tickets for Silliguri Station for Rs 120/- (for both). It was a long wait.

Again, I had their Chatpata Bhel – Jhalmudi. We boarded our train to Silliguri at about 2.45 pm.


The train was damn slow and stopped at various stations. Also, in between it took long breaks. We passed through a forest area, where some of the passengers were lucky enough to spot an elephant.


Indian Railways really needs to upgrade the Railway Toilets. They were the worst stinking toilets, I have ever come across. No, proper water. Also, us Indian Citizens, we too need to be hygienic and keep our environment and surroundings clean.


Finally at 8 pm, our train halted at Silliguri.


Our next destination was Nepal.


We went to the nearby bus-stop. They asked us to wait outside the main gate.

Outside, a local said that now we will get only the last bus to Kakarbitta. Another local advised us to stay back at a hotel, because the Indian-Nepal Border would be closed by the time we reached there. We wouldn’t even get good accomodation there.


So, Chirag booked a hotel – Mittal Gardens. For a night, it was alright.


It was a drastic change … From extreme cold to extreme hot. Yet, I was excited to explore yet another country – Nepal after the Beautiful Bhutan!

Bhutan Tips:

  1. Ngultrum/Rupee:

Bhutan’s Currency is Ngultrum.

1 Ngultrum = 1 Rupee

They easily accept our Indian Rupees, except Rs 2000/-. Thus, mostly we spent our Indian Rupees, but occasionally even used their Ngultrums.

2. Weather:

Bhutan weather was mostly cold and windy.

Phuentsholing: 5 Degrees

Thimpu: – 2 Degrees

Punakha: – 4 Degrees

Phobjhika: – 5 Degrees

3. Backpack:

Bags:

Chirag used the 85 ltrs Trekking Bag, while I took the 60 ltrs one. Both bags had multiple pockets to store our extra stuff. We carried 2 more bags – 1 foldable, the other one full of snacks.

Snacks:

We took Biscuits, Dryfruits, Nuts, Daily Milk Cadbury, Pulse Candies, Pringles, Ready to Make Bhel, Soulful Ragi Bites, Theplas and Chunda. En route, we used to buy fresh Oranges and Bananas. We took 2 Water Bottles, but one can do with Bisleri Bottles, too.

Shoes:

I used Puma, while Chirag used Sketchers. However, any Trekking Shoes, even from Decathlon are fine. Just make sure, they have a good grip. Also, carry a pair of extra slippers. It was too cold to put your foot down.

Heatpads:

Try and keep a small electric heatpad. You never know, when will it come handy.

Clothes:

As we were going backpack, we took in limited clothes. Everyday, we used to wear 3 layers, at times 4. We would just change the inner layer everyday. Wherever we got got good and reasonable laundry service, we would give our clothes for laundry. They charged us Nu 100/- per kg.

Pouches:

Both of us had a sling pouch bought from Decathlon.

Jackets:

As I said, you will need minimum 3 layers. First – The inner layer; Second – The Base Layer (Thermals/T-Shirts and Tracks); Third – Jackets and Thick Track Pants/Jeans; Fourth – Extra Jacket and Track Pant.

Mostly, we used Jackets and T-Shirts bought from Decathlon. However, Chirag wore some bought from Puma.

We always used to look out for good sales and then buy our stuff (else it would get too costly), rather than borrowing from friends or relatives. If we can afford a good backpack trip, we should be able to afford the necessary equipment, too.

Decathlon has stores all over India. Im Mumbai, the biggest and the best store is at Thane. You will find the best deals there.

Also, if you have bought something from one Decathlon Store and then plan not to use it, you can either exchange or return it in any other Decathlon store, I guess within a week.

Down Jackets are probably the best ones to use, while going to any colder regions.

If you go to Decathlon, there are numerous Mountaineering students who woulf guide you thoroughly.

I had a special soft shawl gifted by my Ankita Bhabhi. It kept me warm even in Punakha (- 4 Degrees).

4. Bhutan Rules:

Bhutan is a Carbon Negative Country. Fresh Air Smells Funny. That’s true of Bhutan. You actually feel alive breathing in the fresh air!

They are very strict about their rules. Otherwise, there are huge fines for rule breaking.

No one litters anywhere.

One has to cross the road using the Zebra Crossing only.

One has to come out from the backseat of the car from the left side only.

No Honking allowed.

Everbody follows the queue.

Dirt or garbage has to be in the dustbin and not lying around.

They recycle water and use biodegradable plastic.

They have a great King, whom they worship like their God!

5. Iteniery:

Day 1:

Mumbai to Bagdogra – Flight.

Bagdogra to Silliguri – Autorickshaw (20 minutes).

Silliguri to Hasimara – Train (3.5 hrs).

Hasimara to Jaigaon – Autorickshaw (0.5 hr).

Cross Bhutan Border – Reach Phuentsholing (1 min).

Stay at Hotel Phuentsholing.

Explore the Phuentsholing Market.

Have dinner at The Asian Kitchen.

Day 2:

Check out – Hotel Phuentsholing.

Go to Permit Office (Close to the Border Gate).

Get Permit Documents (Don’t pay any Agents) and Sim Card.

Book a Cab to Thimpu.

Local Tour Guides:

Rinzin Dema: (+975) 17692542

Sonam Dorjee: (+975) 17434748

Nima: (+975) 77813001

Tshering: (+975) 17690303

Reach Thimpu (5 hrs) – Hotel New Yardroling.

Explore Thimpu Market.

Do Bargain. The local cab drivers will take you for Nu 100/- per group or Nu 30/- per person.)

Day 3:

Thimpu Sightseeing and Market Day.

Buddha Dordema.

Thimpu Dzong (It’s closed on Saturday and Sunday).

Lady Lama Institute.

Buddha Garden.

Day 4:

Explore Thimpu.

Simply Bhutan.

National Memorial Chorten.

Handicraft Market near Permit Office.

Day 5:

Permit Office – Permit for Punakha and Phobjhika (Keep your Permit Documents only with you. At every checkpost, personally show your Permit Documents and take them back with you).

Thimpu to Punakha (2.5 hrs).

En route – Dochula Pass.

Punakha Dzong.

Suspension Bridge.

Homestay – Chime Lhakhang Village.

Day 6:

Temple of Phallus.

Punakha to Phobjhika (1.5 hrs).

Phobjhika Dzong.

Gangte Valley.

Black Neck Crane Institute.

Homestay – Yangka.

Day 7:

Phobjhika to Thimpu via Punakha (5 hrs).

Thimpu Permit Office – Permit for Paro.

Thimpu to Paro (1 hr).

Stay at Hotel Himalayan Tashi.

Explore Paro Market.

The Book Café and The Mountain Café.

Day 8:

Early Morning – The Tiger’s Nest.

Afternoon – The Hot Stone Bath (Prebook).

Evening – Relaxing at the Cafés.

Day 9:

Roaming around the Paro Market.

The National Museum.

Paro to Phuentsholing (6 hrs).

Relaxing at Café.

Day 10:

Phuentsholing to Jaigaon Border Crossing.

Jaigaon to Hasimara – Autorickshaw (0.5 hr).

Hasimara to Silliguri – Train (5 hrs).

Stay at Silliguri – Hotel Mittal Gardens.

The Mystery Crackers: A Chest’s Tale