I spent 10 days of absolute bliss in Bhutan exploring Thimphu, Wangdue, Punakha, Haa and Paro. If budget traveling and trekking is what you like, here is why you should visit Bhutan – ‘The Land of the Thunder Dragon’.
Bhutan is open to tourism throughout the year. The winters though are quite severe and not ideal for a visit. I traveled to Bhutan in November – not too cold, not too warm – best weather conditions in my opinion.
If you’re an Indian, all you need is a government issued identity proof to enter Bhutan. No VISA required.
Bhutan is a 45 minute flight from Kolkata. You can also travel by road but flying saves you plenty of time and effort. Landing at the airport in Paro (Bhutan’s only international airport) is the best landing you’ll probably experience. Skilled pilots glide the aircraft through mountains to finally touchdown the runway. Pure exhilaration!
Bhutan loves India. That smile on people’s faces when you tell them you’ve come from India is priceless. For the Bhutanese, Indians are the best tourists who visit their country.
Currency tendered is the Bhutanese Ngultrum. The Indian Rupee, which is equivalent, can also be used throughout Bhutan.
Being the only country in the world that is “Carbon Negative”, you are always breathing fresh air. No matter where you are in Bhutan, you’re either on a mountain or you’re surrounded by mountains.
Dzonghka is the national language but the Bhutanese are well versed in Hindi and English as well. It is very easy to start conversations with the people who are very friendly and always willing to help and make your stay in their country more comfortable.
The people of Bhutan make excellent portraits. Ask them politely for a photograph and they’ll oblige.
You can choose to stay in hotels and resorts but is staying in traditional Bhutanese houses are way better. Opt for homestays if possible. There is so much you can learn about their culture by simply spending time with the people. And traditional food can only be best prepared at home stays. If you’re traveling to Haa Valley, stay the night at Ugyen homestay.
Archery is Bhutan’s national sport and they take it very seriously. Almost all men play the sport with world class equipment (the bow and arrow). There are open and indoor arenas where you can try out ‘beginner level archery’.
Food here is spicy by default. If you’re not a person who is fond of spicy food, make sure you mention the same when you place your order at restaurants. And if you are fond of spicy food, ask for ‘Ema Datshi’ i.e. ‘Chilly-cheese’, you’ll love it. Except for fish, all types of meat are easily available. Yak milk and yak cheese is something you must try.
Buddhism is predominantly practised and the country is flooded with Buddhist monasteries and temples. Every one of these temples are beautifully painted with teachings and have huge statues (over 20 feet) of deities crafted to perfection.
Dzong architecture is a distinctive type of fortress architecture which surrounds temples, administrative offices and monk residences. Every dzong in Bhutan is massive and fascinating but the best one is the Punakha Dzong. Visiting this dzong has to be on your Bhutan itinerary.
Trekking trails here are in plenty and almost every trek has a monastery at the top. The view from the top of every trek in Bhutan is nothing but stunning, which makes the climbs even more worth it. Treks to the Chagri Monastery (Thimphu) and Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten Monastery (Punakha) are quite challenging. One trek that you must try out is to the Taktsang Monastery in Paro. Difficult trail but worth the effort. It’s the best trek I’ve ever done. You wouldn’t have visited Bhutan if you haven’t trekked Taktsang. The monks at the monasteries, both younger and older ones, are chilled out. If you need any spiritual advice, don’t hesitate to ask. 🙂
There are places in Bhutan which you need a permit to visit, for example: dzongs, certain monasteries, temples etc. This permit is only issued at government offices. Your tour guide/driver should be able to get you this permit with your passport as an identity proof.
What you should definitely do after treks and long walks is a hot stone bath. You have to sit in a tub filled with water, medicinal herbs and hot iron stones. One hour in the tub and all the aches are healed. For a hot stone bath in Paro, contact Sonam Farm House – 176316636/17610772/17533316
Getting a SIM card is quite easy. Tashi Telecom has ’30 day tourist SIM cards’ (available in local shops) that have decent call and data rates. Yes, most hotels have WiFi.
P.s. Do not be alarmed by phallus paintings on walls of houses around Bhutan. They’re intentionally painted to keep out evil and negative energy. Phallus artifacts and souvenirs can also be purchased if you fancy them.
If you’re planning to travel to Bhutan and need someone to schedule and plan your trip, contact John Giri from Dragon Villa Tours on +975 77 23 66 33. While we didn’t ask for a tour guide, he arranged for all our accommodation, travel and permits in Bhutan.
I’ve written a few blog posts on my Bhutan trip (links mentioned below). Do have a read. You may get a fair idea of what you can do and expect from the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
Here is a short and really cool video on my Bhutan trip.
Tashi Delek Bhutan!