Bhutan …. Absolutely peaceful and damn beautiful!
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).
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
En route, we came across a little Bookshop. It housed numerous books by National and International Writers.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Later we went to the Tashichho Dzong. Wow! Splendid! The King lived in a small house. We saw the Ministry areas and offices.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Artist – Mr Pema. He was specially abled, painted, carved and did Archery with his foot!
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.
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.
It was built by the Eldest Mother Queen – Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk in the memory of the brave soldiers who had sacrificed their lives in a War.
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.
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.
Our Tour Guide – Sonam Dorjee was patiently waiting for us outside the Dzong. He, then, led us to his friend’s Homestay – Chimi 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.
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.
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.
Bhutanese people believe that the Divine Madman – Lam Drukpa Kuenley – was the God of Fertility. He blessed couples with children.
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 Guide – Ms Sonam, beautifully explained to me the History of the Tibetan Monk who changed the lives of the Bhutanese people.
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!
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.
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.
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.