12th February : Day 12 : Paro To Hasimara :
Well, we had to accept the truth that our long planned trip was now about to complete. We really enjoyed each and every moment we spent here in Bhutan but now we have to go back to same old boring life again.
With no excitement left in us, we started for our return journey at around 8:30 AM. But Tshering was not there, she left for Thimphu where she used to work. Surprisingly we all were sitting silently, even Raj didn’t even uttered a single word.
At around 11 o’clock we reached Hotel Damview near Dam Chu where we stopped for lunch while coming back. I’m still not sure why I asked Raj to stop there suddenly, though none of us were hungry or had plan to have anything.
After around 5 minutes we started again for Jaigaon. This time Raj tried to do all the funny things he used to do and said to me that “khabhi aap log akele aiyeye, gasa trek pe jayenge” (Sometime you guys come alone without these elder people, we’ll go for a trek to Gasa). We smiled and for the last time, we had lots of fun that we were going to miss.
Finally we reached Jaigaon at around 12:40 PM. First we went to BK to appreciate for the service he provided and we also had to exchange the Bhutanese Ngultrum that we had left. BK was really happy and asked me to recommend him if someone plans to have a trip to Bhutan.
Raj told us to have our lunch and he’ll come back within half an hour after getting freshen up and having lunch. He had another rented room at Jaigaon. So we went to Maa Annapurna Hotel to have our lunch. Aha…a complete Bengali lunch after 12 long days reminded me of home. The food at Maa Annapurna was much better than that of Hotel Tripti where we had lunch when we came here on 1st Febuary. The rates are also much lower than that of Hotel Tripti. But to our bad luck we couldn’t manage a seat here that day.
Finally Raj drove us to Hasimara Railway Station and dedicated us the Nepali song he used to play and we really liked the tune of it. With tears in our eyes we bid goodbye to him. We asked him to stay for some more time, but he replied “aap log the isliye me hospital se bhag ke aya tha”. (I ran away from hospital due to you guys only). We realised that not only he became like a family member to us, but we also mattered a lot to him. After all when you have a companion of your age, your partner in crimes (Haha…smoking at various palces) for 12 long days, you are bound to develop a bonding that you are always going to remember.
Now it’s time to summarize my experiences about Bhutan.
Getting There : Most of the Indians choose to enter via land border, Phuentsholing, which is connected with Jaigaon in West Bengal, nearest Railway Station being Hasimara. Another land border, Samdrup Jonkhar is connected in Assam, though it’s used rarely.
You may also choose to fly directly at Paro Airport which is operated only from Kolkata Airport in India. You might also like to fly directly at Bagdogra Airport and enter via land border of Phuentsholing.
Though Passport and Visa is not required for Indians but you’ll need an Entry Permit to make an entry to Bhutan, which can be pre-collected from Kolkata Bhutan Consulate or else it’ll be issued at Phuentsholing Immigration Office / Phuentsholing Gate when you’ll cross the border. Remember that the above mentioned permit is valid only for Thimphu and Paro and valid for 7 days.
Documents you’d require for Entry Permits are, Original Passport or Voter’s ID Card, One Passport Size Photograph, Photocopy of Passport or Voter’s ID Card and Application Form duly completed and signed off. If you are applying for permission at Kolkata Bhutan Consulate and you don’t have Passport, remember that you’ll have to submit another supporting document such as PAN Card, Driving Licence, Aadhar Card or Ration Card along with Voter ID Card.
If you do not have either of the Passport or Voter ID Card, then you have to apply for Identification Slip at Indian Consulate in Phuentsholing. There you have to produce any two documents from Ration Card, PAN Card, Driving License and Aadhar Card along with passport size photo. Once you acquire the Identification Slip from Indian Consulate you may approach the Immigration Office for Entry Permit.
If you are planning to visit any place other than Thimphu and Paro or extend your stay for more than 7 days, you’ll have to aquire Restricted Area Permit from Thimphu Immigration office.
Remember that, your entry and exit border check post must be same. But if you plan it otherwise, remember to mention it to the Consulate Officers. All your permits will be collected on your exit.
Though I have tried my best to compile the information one would ever need to plan a trip to Bhutan at Planning A Trip To Bhutan – For Indians, still if you need to know anything else, let me know in comments, I’ll be more than glad to help you out.
You can also refer Tourism Council of Bhutan for all the information you need.
UPDATE : As per recent communications with various sources in Bhutan, I came to know that, with immediate effect they have closed Phuentsholing Immigration Office on Saturday & Sunday. From now on they will only issue permits from Monday to Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. So any tourists reaching Phuentsholing on Saturday or Sunday will have to wait till Monday.
Tour Opeators : It’s not mandatory for Indians to travel through TCB approved agents, so you can plan the trip on your own. Otherwise if you feel to go via Tour Operator check out TCB for approved list of Tour Operators.
Generally Tour Operators on Bhutan side charges a bit more but you’ll have an amazing experience with them as they provide a full time Guide with you and take care of everything end to end.
But if you are Budget traveller like us, you may contact Tour operators based on Jaigaon. There are multiple operators in Jaigaon, but I mainly communicated with BK Tour & Travels and Maruti Tour & Travels. Finally I choose BK Tour & Travels over Maruti Tour & Travels due to his reputation.
Transport : You may choose to travel completely on your own via Bus. Most of them are Coaster Bus. Your one point stop for all the information required regarding Bus is RSTA. You can get the fares and schedule there.
But remember that, though the buses to Thimphu and Paro are regular and runs at multiple intervals, but buses to further places are rare and runs twice or thrice weekly.
You may also choose to hire shared taxi or exclusive vehicle. Charges for exclusive vehicles in Bhutan side are more than that of Indian side. So I’d recommend to contact BK Tour & Travels if you are interested in hiring exclusive vehicle.
Shopping : You’ll come across a lots of Handicraft and authentic Souvenir shops at Thimphu and Paro. You’ll also get convenience stores like Eight 11 (Similar to Big Bazaar) for your daily needs in Thimphu and Paro.
Food : Let me keep it straight, if you are used to have Roti / Rice along with Dal, Sabzi or Non veg items like Egg and Chicken, you’ll have no issues at all. At Thimphu and Paro, you’ll have a wide range of choice including Fish, but at other remote areas options will be very basic. You won’t find chicken at all places so be prepared for that if you can’t live without chicken.
Though I have seen, you’ll easily get noodles at various joints in Thimphu and Paro, but it’s hard to get the same in other remote places beyond that.
And remember that Beef and Pork is very common in Bhutan and make sure exactly what items are used while ordering dishes like Mixed Fried Rice, Mixed Noodles, Momo etc. At India they generally use Chicken, Prawn and Egg in Mixed Fried Rice or Mixed Noodles, but in Bhutan it’s very common to use Chicken, Pork and Beef on such dishes.
Remember that, nowhere you’ll be served dishes instantly, as they will prepare the same after taking your order. So be ready to wait for atleast 20 minutes after placing order. At remote places, you’ll have to order your dinner by around 6 – 7 o’clock, as in most of the cases I have seen they go to market to bring the items after placing your order. Though this might be due to off season and we being the only guests in hotel. This might not be same if you are visiting on high season.
Make sure to try out Ema Datshi (Chilly Curry prepared in cheese), Kewa Datshi (Potato Curry prepared in cheese), Shamu Datshi (Mushroom Curry prepared in cheese) while in Bhutan.
Restaurants : I’d recommend Hotel Tandin (Indian Cuisine), Hotel Ghasel (Indian Veg. Cuisine), Bhutan Kitchen (Bhutanese Cuisine), Rice Bowl (Chinese Cuisin) at Thimphu. Hotel Sonam Trophel (Bengali Dishes) is a must try at Paro. At other remote places, you won’t have any options other than having your dinner at Hotel only.
Hotels : Well, let me specify that, all the hotels and restaurants have bar section. So don’t hesitate, it’s very common in Bhutan. All the hotels are equipped with Geysar and Room Heaters. But some hotels charges extra for room heater though. Well, another thing that I noticed consistently throughout Bhutan is that, Double Bed Rooms means two Single Beds. Though if you are not fat enough, one single bed would be enough for you else you always have option to join yourself or you can ask hotel staff to do so.
WiFi : Most of the hotels have WiFi, but at some hotels it’s chargable.
Tobacco : Consumption of Tobacco is strictly banned in Bhutan in Public Places. But you are allowed to smoke in your room or common passage in Hotels. But selling of Tobacco is strictly banned in Bhutan and have consequences if caught. So if you are a smoker, you’ll have to bring it yourselves and have to pay 100% import tax for the same. Though smoking is prohibited in public but if one wants to smoke he can do so privately in a way escaping the common eye.
Though Tobacco is restricted in Bhutan, but all of them keeps chewing Doma (rotten Supari / rotten Areca nut) and Pan (Betel Leaf). As soon as you’ll enter Bhutan, you’ll come across a smell which is of Doma. Though you’d get acquainted with it later.
Currency : Bhutanese Currency popularly known as Ngultrum or Nu. in short is on par with Indian Currency and Indian Currency is widely accepted in Bhutan. Though TCB strictly mentions that bills 500/- and 1000/- are not allowed, but in practise, they accepts all kinds of bills in Thimphu and Paro. Beyong that, in remote places we came upon various instances where they don’t accept Indian Currency.
The Good :
Bhutan is a country, where growth is not measured by GDP, instead they have implemented an unique concept Gross National Happiness (GNH). Our tour was a completely cultural tour as we wanted to experience the unique culture and traditions of Bhutan. You may plan for Trekking Activities or can plan to attend a Tshechu. (Tshechu means Festival in Dzongkha).
The Bad :
Well, you cannot compare countries just like that, but somewhere we felt, being a completely cultural tour, it was getting monotonous at some point of times, as the only thing we were visiting are Dzong’s and various Monasteries.
The main thing that I didn’t liked is their implementation of Minimum Daily Package which completely restricted backpackers. Being a budget traveler myself, I couldn’t support this. Though luckily we Indians don’t have such restrictions.
BK Tour & Travels : +91-9593837520 (India), +975-17601325 (Bhutan). email@example.com
Hotel Zey Zang, Thimphu : +975-17601658 / +975-17714622. You can find my Review here.
Hotel Phunsum, Paro : +975-272670 / +975-77290274. firstname.lastname@example.org
Hotel Dragon, Paro : +975-8272174 / +975-17762628 / +975-17320473. email@example.com
Hotel Sonam Trophel, Paro : +975-08274444 / +975-17604434. firstname.lastname@example.org
Raj Lama (WB-06C-1474) : +91-7602568237 (India) / +97517410750 (Bhutan)
Mr. Bhadra Man Subba : +975-17670742. (Who drove us till Trongsa from Bumthang).
Sonam Norbu (The Guide) : +975-17924986 (Who helped us entering Tiger’s Nest and explained the details).
The various trip reports from Trip Advisor Forums helped me a lot understanding various things. But due to different set of rules for Foreigner’s and Indians, Trip Advisor failed to provide end to end information that I needed to plan the tour on my own.
Then I came across India Mike Forums. And I must say, if you are an Indian and planning for Bhutan the Our Bhutan Trip – a senior citizen’s effort to backpack! by Ashish Da deserves to be a bookmark on your browser. This one is a gem of all the threads in Crossing the Border Forum. Without this I’d not have been able to plan this trip so wonderfully.
But as I had plan for travelling to more remote places the above Trip Report failed to provide necessary information that I needed. Infact very less people travel beyond Thimphu, Paro and Punakha. Thus very less information exists in Internet for those places. But again, Our Bhutan Trip – a senior citizen’s effort to backpack! proved to be a gem where Mr. Mehpra had posted a Trip Report on which he travelled almost end to end of Bhutan. So don’t skip the post and go to the end, instead take your time to go through all the posts. Most of your question will be answered even before asking.
I’d recommend to subscribe Bhutan Updates if you want to keep track of the live updates in Tourism Sector of Bhutan.
Trip Reports :
Planning A Trip To Bhutan – For Indians