Bitten by the wanderlust more so than before, I had started frequently traveling, escaping to the destinations as feasible by my number of leaves (I was working full-time then, as a software developer), clubbing weekends, long holidays, etc. since 2014. So it was time for me to experiment traveling farther, away from my country India, and move out of my comfort zone so I decided to Travel to Bhutan.
Travel to Bhutan
Why Travel to Bhutan?
I had to start somewhere. So I thought, what better than visiting my neighbouring country? So I chose to travel to Bhutan for these reasons.
- No visa is required (Citizens of India, Maldives and Bangladesh need no visa or entry fees to travel in Bhutan and are the only nationals that have the permit for independent travel. More information on this at the end.)
- Easier to convince my parents (yes, you see, I was traveling outside my country, alone!)
- Bhutan is not expensive
I don't have to explicitly mention that the beauty of Bhutan that I saw in pictures online had already captivated me. And that's what naturally convinced me to travel here in the first place!
Thimpu & Paro
I had set out on my solo trip to Bhutan, which was for about 2.5 weeks, and I came by road to the border town of Phuentsholing. After getting the permit to travel in the cities of Paro and Thimpu (Indians need to get extended permit for visiting the rest of Bhutan, which can be obtained in Thimpu). My first stop was in Paro. After taking a public bus to half the distance, I had hitchhiked at night with a Bhutanese couple, returning from their work to their home in Paro.
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Tiger's Nest Monastery
I woke up the next day and was mesmerized by the landscape that I saw. A row of mountains stood tall, some of their peaks covered by the clouds that added to their elegance – a river quietly meandered by my guest house, the fields in front of the neighbouring homes were filled with flowers coloured red, pink and yellow. People had quickly begun their routine, hustling on the roads. After taking a stroll in the cold morning, I set out for the trek to the Tiger's Nest monastery, one of the most revered monasteries and the icon of pride of Bhutan.
Although slightly tiring, it was worth the climb, and I was blessed with the lush panoramic view of the town. I spent the next few days in Paro visiting other attractions including the Dzongs, trying their local food along with chilies that were so hot, taking very long walks in the evenings, relaxing reading my books and even doing some writing.
The Capital City of Bhutan: Thimpu
I then travelled to Thimpu, a unique capital city. It's hard to miss the stark contrast of the city starting to become Cosmopolitan, as compared to the rest of Bhutan. Did you know? Thimpu is the only capital city in a country in the world that has no traffic signal! Yes, there is just one junction on the main street, and you can always see a traffic police regulating the traffic using hand signals. It's a pleasure to explore Thimpu, which is a city that blends the urban life with the traditional ways of Bhutan.
Travel to Central Bhutan
After obtaining the additional permit in Thimpu, I began my travel to the central regions of Bhutan. Due to the lack of time, I had to hire a taxi to reach, and it was a different experience. The driver shared interesting stories on the culture, politics and the people of Bhutan.
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The first stop was Chelela Pass, the highest motor-able road in Bhutan. At an elevation of over 3500 meters, I was shivering, absorbing the breathtaking view of the valleys, which stretched as far as my eye could behold in the horizon. Next stop was Dochula Pass, which has a shrine constructed in memory of the Bhutanese soldiers. You can view the Himalayan range of mountains, with many peaks of the hills visible from a viewpoint here.
The Former Capital of Punakha
Next, I headed to Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan and the place of the confluence of the two rivers – Ma Chu and Po Chu. It's a quaint town that offers a quiet vacation. Wangdue, located close to Punakha is also a city that attracts travelers. I spent a few days in Phobjikha or Gangtey, hiking through its valleys, staying with the locals in a homestay. From there, it was a serene traveling in Bumthang, the prettiest of all the towns in Bhutan. I did some more hikes here, ditching the vehicles for better, and spent the cold nights sipping the Tea.
I came home from Bhutan feeling rejuvenated, more experienced and with a lot of memorable experiences. I had successfully embarked a solo journey to a faraway country, and it became one of the best travel experiences. I stepped out of my cosy zone many times. I realised the importance of being happy. (The Bhutanese are a bunch of happy people, with a healthy, optimistic attitude about life!) It made me try things that I hadn't tried before – food or stay or experiences and gave me a better perspective of bigger things in life.
How to plan to Travel to Bhutan
Here is a practical guide on all that you need to plan your travel to Bhutan.
Visa & Costs for Travel to Bhutan
As stated earlier, except the nationals of India, Maldives and Bangladesh, all other travelers need a valid visa to enter Bhutan.
You need to obtain the visa through a recognized tour operator along with booking a tour. It costs 40 US dollars. To stay away from the scams, it’s better to book with any of the tour operator listed on their tourism website.
As for booking a tour, there is a ‘minimum daily package,’ which is a fixed cost that’s also mandatory for all the travelers arriving with visa. It simply means that you can’t travel/backpack independently but have to book any tour and hire a guide compulsorily. I’m sharing the updated details of the package as displayed on Bhutan’s tourism website for your reference here:
The minimum daily package covers the following services.
- A minimum of 3-star accommodation (4 & 5 stars may require an additional premium).
- All meals
- A licensed Bhutanese tour guide for the extent of your stay
- All internal transport (excluding internal flights)
- Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours
The daily Bhutan package also includes:
- All internal taxes and charges
- A sustainable tourism Royalty of $65. This Royalty goes towards free education, free healthcare, and poverty alleviation, along with the building of infrastructure.
The minimum daily package for tourists travelling in a group of 3 persons or more is as follows:
USD $200 per person per night for the months of January, February, June, July, August, and December.
USD $250 per person per night for the months of March, April, May, September, October, and November.
These rates are applicable per tourist per night halt in Bhutan.
Reaching Thimpu: Flights connect major cities of the world to Thimpu, although direct flights are very expensive. The best and the cheapest way is to fly from India or any neighboring countries.
Indians can reach and enter Bhutan by road. I have shared the complete details on ways to enter Bhutan and the process of obtaining a permit for Indians on my blog.
Traveling in Bhutan: If you are eligible to travel independently, then this applies to you. Except for Paro, Thimpu, Punakha and Haa valley in the western Bhutan, the connectivity within the rest of the country is not that great. The public transportation facilities are limited. While there are frequent buses to Paro and Punakha from Thimpu, there are a few scheduled buses to Bumthang, Mongar, Gelephu and other eastern towns. It takes 10 to 12 hours to travel from Thimpu to central regions by Bus.
If you are traveling in groups, cabs are the best way to travel around in Bhutan. Make sure to agree on a price before you begin traveling.
I’m not a follower of fixed itineraries, but the usual circuit followed by the travelers is this:
5 days to 1 week: If you have up to a week’s time in Bhutan, you should prefer visit western Bhutan. Places are well connected and close by, which allows you to explore more and cuts down the journey time. Paro, Punakha, Thimpu and Haa Valley can easily be done in a week.
8 to 15 days: Including the places that I mentioned above, most of the places in Central Bhutan can be explored in 15 days. Of all the places in that region, Bumthang needs a few extra days, and it’s also the prettiest of all!
Overall, 12 to 14 days are ideally needed to travel in Bhutan, to make it to most of the destinations comfortably.
Most of Bhutan is covered with snow between the end of December until March. April is the season when the flowers bloom, especially the famous rhododendrons. If you want to witness any of the local festivals and get a glimpse of the rich Bhutanese culture, and also weather wise, you should visit Bhutan between the end of September to December.
The local cuisine is excellent although spicy and needs to be tried at least once. If you are calorie-conscious, too much of cheese may not be for you. There is western/continental food available in most of the restaurants. It’s not hard to find Indian food as well. Also, Thimpu and Paro have some good cafes.