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Bhutan Travel Guide

Bhutan Travel Guide

Bhutan is a tiny little country located at the North-Eastern ridges of the mighty Himalaya. Bhutan is embraced with a magical spell of Buddhism that significantly clasps on to their culture and tradition. Also known as the “land of thunder dragon”, Bhutan shares its international boundary with powerful countries like China, India and Nepal. Thimphu is the main town of the country and serves as a capital to it.

The tiny little hamlet of Bhutan is acknowledged for its breathtaking landscape, the dzongs (monasteries), architectural style and its culture. Situated at a varied altitude of 650ft to 23000ft the climatic conditions and the vegetation of the country varies according to the altitude. To our good fate, most of the tourist destinations of Bhutan lies at a higher altitude with cool climate thus providing relief from the hot and humid climate of the plains.

 

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Bhutan was isolated from other parts of the world until the beginning of the 21st century. The country has started to develop in recent years under the regime of the present king Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk since 2006. It is the first and the only country to introduce the concept of GNH (Gross National Happiness) instead of GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The government of the country prefers to maintain happiness throughout the country and thus values the concept of GNH.

The country has enough historical and cultural values. Being a serene country nestled in the ridges of the Himalaya with an amazing landscape and values Bhutan allures travellers from throughout the world. Going through this article will guide you with every little detail of the country at a go.

 

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Itinerary

The most common ways to enter the Land of Thunder Dragon is either by crossing the land border at Phuntsholing, which shares the border with the state of West Bengal in India or by flying to Paro. It generally takes around 5-7 days to accomplish the primary circuit of Bhutan.

One can follow any of the two itineraries depending on the point through which you are planning to enter the country.

Itenary 1:
Day 1: Reach Phuntesholing, halt at Phuentsholing
Day 2: Phuentsholing to Thimphu, halt at Thimpu
Day 3: Thimphu Sightseeing, halt at Thimphu
Day 4: Thimphu to Punakha, Punakha Sightseeing, halt at Punakha
Day 5: Punakha to Paro, Paro Sightseeing, halt at Paro
Day 6: Hike to Taktsang Monastery, halt at Paro
Day 7: Paro to Phuntesholing, departure

Itenary 2:
Day 1: Arrive at Paro Airport, Paro to Thimphu, halt at Thimphu
Day 2: Thimphu Sightseeing, halt at Thimphu
Day 3: Thimphu to Punakha, Punakha Sightseeing, halt at Punakha
Day 4: Punakha to Paro, Paro Sightseeing, halt at Paro
Day 5: Hike to Taktsang Monastery, halt at Paro
Day 6: Departure

Depending on the number of days you can afford, you may also choose to explore further towards the east such as Phobjikha / Gangtey, Trongsa, Bumthang, Mongar, Luthnse, Trashigang etc.

How To Reach

The most common ways to enter Bhutan is either by crossing the land border at Phuntsholing, which shares the border with the state of West Bengal in India or by flying to Paro.

 

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Below are some of the ways, if you are planning to cross the land border through Phuentsholing.

  • If you are travelling from Kolkata then board the Kanchankanya Express that runs daily from Sealdah railway station. You need to reserve your booking till Hasimara. From Hasimara you can travel to Jaigaon (the Indian side of the border), by a shared cab or you can opt for a private vehicle too.
  • If you are travelling from any other part of India, reserve a train to NJP (New Jalpaiguri Junction). From NJP board the Kanchankanya Express / other local trains to Hasimara. You can also travel directly to Jaigaon (the Indian side of the border) by a shared cab / buses that leave from NJP / Siliguri. Depending on your budget you may also choose to hire a private cab.
  • If you prefer convenience, then you may also choose to fly to Bagdogra Airport (in Siliguri) and then hire a private cab / shared cab / bus (as per your budget) to reach Jaigaon (the Indian side of the border).

Other than Jaigaon – Phuentsholing border, there are various other borders which connect Bhutan with the state of West Bengal and Assam in India. However Jaigaon – Phuentsholing border is most commonly used due to its convenience.

You may also choose to fly to Paro, the only international airport in Bhutan. DrukAir and Bhutan Airlines are only the two airlines that operate flight services in Bhutan.

How To Get Around In Bhutan

Now as you have a concrete idea on how to reach Bhutan let me guide you now on how to travel around Bhutan.

The most common way of moving around the various towns are by Buses or Shared Cabs which operate on specific routes. However, for sightseeing, you should consider hiring a private vehicle instead. In most of the cases, sightseeing points are scattered throughout the town and not all of them are connected by shared means of transport.

If you are planning to start from Phuentsholing, you may opt for the bus services that are run by various companies among which the best are Meto, Dhug and Khorlo or you can hire a shared vehicle to Thimphu or Paro depending on your plan. Both the buses and shared cabs depart from the RSTA bus stand at Phuntsholing. You may also choose to hire a private vehicle for the whole journey or till Thimphu or Paro if budget permits.

 

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If you are landing at Paro Airport, then you can either opt for buses, taxis or shared cabs to move to Thimphu. Shared cabs or taxis are available from outside the airport. Besides these two you always have the option of hiring a private vehicle.

From Thimphu or Paro you will get both buses as well as shared cab services to the other town you are travelling to. While you are travelling to Punakha you will find the same options either from Thimphu or Paro. However, it would be better if you hire a taxi or a shared vehicle. Along with these two options you always have the option of hiring a private vehicle for the journey.

However, as buses or shared cabs ply on a fixed route, it’s not a convenient option for doing Sightseeing. So to explore the sightseeing points one needs to hire a private vehicle.

Entry Permit & Inner Line Permit

The tourism sector of Bhutan is restricted and is entirely operated by the Tourism Council Of Bhutan (TCB). This means you cannot explore Bhutan on your own and must follow the guidelines set by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB). Notwithstanding it, citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives are exempted from such regulations.

Any India, Bangladesh or Maldives Citizen is referred to as a regional tourist in Bhutan. Residing in India one can travel to the country without any kind of rules or regulations set by the TCB. Even regional tourists are exempted from requiring any sort of visas to explore the tiny hamlet of Buddhism.

 

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However, regional tourists need to apply for an Entry Permit as you cross the international border. Entry Permit is only valid for visiting the towns of Thimphu and Paro. Entry Permit can be applied both at Phuentsholing land border and at Paro Airport.

Other than Thimphu and Paro, if you wish to visit any other destinations then you need to apply for an Inner Line Permit (ILP) from the Immigration Office at Thimphu. Also, if you wish to extend your stay beyond the period allowed in your Entry Permit, you need to visit Immigration Office at Thimphu in order to get an Extension Permit.

All these permits come free of cost and you are not required to pay a single penny for applying the same.

Regarding documentation, for adults above the age of 18 years, Passport and Voter ID cards are the only acceptable documents for Entry Permit and ILP in Bhutan. For anyone below 18 years of age, a Birth Certificate in English is only acceptable for the same.

Along with the above-mentioned documents one needs to submit duly filled up Entry Permit Form along with 2 passport size coloured photographs, hotel booking confirmation receipt for your entire stay, whole itinerary drafted in a blank paper at the Immigration Office.

 

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If you are out of luck and don’t have a Passport / Voter Id Card (for adults) or Birth Certificate in English (for children), then first you need to visit the Indian Consulate at Phuentsholing to apply for Identification Slip. For applying Identification Slip at Indian Consulate you need to provide a copy of your passport size photo along with any two of the documents from PAN Card / Driving License / Aadhar Card / Ration Card. Once you receive the slip from Indian Consulate then you can proceed forward at the Immigration Office for your permit.

Please note the timings of the Immigration offices of Bhutan:

The Phuentsholing Immigration office works from 9 AM to 5 PM on weekdays. It is closed on Saturdays, Sundays and any Government holidays.

Thimphu Immigration office works from Monday to Friday and remains closed on other days and calendar holidays. Operational hours are from 9 AM to 5 PM.

Irrespective of the above, the Immigration office at Paro is operational every day including weekends and holidays. So, it would be a wise decision to directly fly to Paro if you are arriving on any of the weekends or holidays.

 

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In recent times the Online Permit System has been commenced by the Government of Bhutan. However, the system is not open to the public and is only accessible by local tour operators of Bhutan. So if you’re not flying to Paro and planning to cross the land border on a weekend or holiday then you can opt for this system. Withstanding the rules and regulations of TCB the tour operators need to follow some guidelines due to which your tour budget will increase if you follow this particular online system. Besides, it won’t be a good option if you are planning to travel on a budget.

For people residing in countries other than India, Bangladesh and Maldives the system is different with a distinctive set of rules and regulations.

For more details on permits and procedures, please follow:

Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit the pristine country of Bhutan is during the months of September – December when the air remains clean and fresh with blue sunny skies. However, the weather is colder during these months. You can also visit Bhutan during the months of March – May. The weather during these months remains dry and pleasant with Rohdrodrendons blooming throughout the country splashing the land with colours.

If you want to experience snowfall in this little country of Buddhism then it advisable to visit it during the months of January and February as in these two months the temperature drops to its lowest giving a high possibility of snowfall.

 

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Bhutan faces monsoon during the months of June – August and so to avoid any accidental mishaps it’s better not to visit the serene land during these three months.

Currency

Ngultrum often referred to as Nu or BTN, in short, is the currency of Bhutan which is on par with Indian Currency.

However, Indians visiting Bhutan must note that denominations of Rs. 500/- and Rs. 2000/- are not accepted in Bhutan. So you must carry cash either in lower denominations or exchange your currency to Nu. at the border or through exchange centres in Bhutan.

Bhutan clinging to its tradition and culture, ATM’s are hard to find and usage of plastic money is not so common here except in some high-end hotels and restaurants. Although Thimphu being the hub for tourists has few ATM’s scattered throughout the town and you may spot a few at Paro too. However, most of them are often out of cash. Luckily if you do find cash, please remember that there is always a huge fee associated with International Withdrawal. Please note that most of the Indian Debit Cards do not work in Bhutan and Nepal. Check the back of your card for such instructions.

Indians flying to Bagdogra or crossing through Jaigaon – Phuentsholing border must remember that ATM’s at Bagdogra or Jaigaon (West Bengal, Indian side) being catering to thousands of tourists every day are also out of cash almost throughout the day.

So considering all the situations, it’s best to carry cash from your hometown.

Tradition and Culture

The land of Thunder Dragon, Bhutan, is full of traditional and cultural values. Any form of traditions and cultures are highly valued in Bhutan. And what’s better is, the government along with the people of the country has a high level of determination to preserve their unique tradition and culture. This is the reason that while you are at Bhutan you will find their tradition and culture in almost every corner of the land. The tradition and culture of Bhutan mainly lies with their religion, architecture, dress, festivals and foods.

 

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Most of the Bhutan peoples follow Buddhism as their religion as an outcome of it the culture of Bhutan is inveigled by sacred values of Buddhism. The people very much believe in their deities and gods and give high value to their religion. One can find enough Monasteries, Chortens, Stupas and Lakhangas in this pristine land. Throughout the country, you will find five coloured (blue, green, yellow, white and red) flags which they consider to be sacred. All the Dzongkhag (districts) of the country have their own Dzong which is an exclusive combination of a monastery and a fortress.

The land of Bhutan stands apart from other countries mainly due to its style of architecture. All buildings in the country are built in a unique architectural form. Their style of architecture includes convoluted wooden works, earthen walls and sloped roofs. Bhutanese architectural style has no use of nails. One can find different types of wall paintings in the buildings which demonstrates Bhutanese tradition and culture.

 

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In Bhutanese culture, the birth of a child is festively celebrated. It is one of those countries which does not discriminate between the birth of a girl or a boy. Outsiders are not allowed to visit the baby before the purification ritual that is celebrated 3 days after the birth. A local lama names the baby which is a combination of two traditional names where the second name usually indicates the gender.

In Bhutan marriage is not a big deal and thus it is kept most simple. The marriages are performed in local Dzongs under the blessing of Lord Buddha and other religious deities. Marrying your own cousin is quite common in Bhutan. However, the present generation being educated try to refrain from it. In most parts of the country after marriage, the groom goes to the bride’s house instead of the commonly practised other way.

 

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Deaths in Bhutan means passing from one life to the another, i.e, a rebirth of one’s soul. Relatives and close persons come to attend the cremation ceremony with simple foods and souvenirs. After the death of a person, flags are erected in high hills in the memory of the deceased.

The traditional dress of Bhutan is Gho and Kira. Gho is worn by Bhutanese men and Kira by women. Gho is a robe up to the knee which is tied by a belt. Kira is a wrapper type dress up to the ankle worn with a short jacket. Both these dresses are made out of cotton, wool or silk. The culture of the country mandates to wear traditional dresses when one visits the Dzongs, government offices or attends any special occasions. According to Bhutanese tradition, both men and women need to carry a scarf while they visit the Dzongs or administrative centres. Scarf of the men are called Kabney and that of the women are called Rachu. Thus, utmost care needs to be adhered to in terms of clothing, while visiting Dzongs and Monasteries.

 

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Music and dance form an integral part of the Bhutanese festival. Any kind of special events like Tschechus, king’s birthday or so are celebrated by performing dance and music. Chham (masked) dance is the national form of dance in Bhutan. Other forms of their local dance are Joenpa Legso, Pa Cham, Drametse Nga Cham, Zhungdra. At the time of dance one person plays symbal, a local instrument, which adds melody and also helps to keep a track of the time.

 

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Tshechu is the prime festival of Bhutan. Every Dzongkhag (district) of the country celebrates Tshechu at a different time of the year. The festival falls on a lunar month and is celebrated for 3-5 days. The festival is held in a dzong where the monks enact the life of Guru Rinpoche in a form of dance by wearing animal masks and silk robes. On the last day of Tschechu, a silk thongrel is unfurled. Witnessing the same believes to drench away the sin of one’s life.

 

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Bhutan follows the rule of simplicity which is even reflected on their cuisine. Traditional foods of Bhutan are prepared in earthen pots. While having food people sit crossed-legged on the floor and have food by hand. They refrain from using any cutlery sets. Foods are served by the women of the family on the basis of elder to the younger. Datshi (curry) serves as the traditional food amongst which Ema Datshi is the most famous one. Ara, local wine made from fermented rice serves as the common drink for the residents of Bhutan.

 

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Places To Visit

The land with its high traditional and cultural values lures tourists from all over the world. One makes a tour to Bhutan to explore its rich value of culture and tradition. Be it the capital city or any remote destinations you will find culture and tradition in every corner of the country. Almost all the Dzongkhags of Bhutan are more or less of historical importance. Bhutan has quite a lot to offer. All of them have their unique beauty and landscape. However, the mainstream places of Bhutan are Thimphu, Paro and Punakha.

Thimphu

Thimphu is the kingdom’s capital and largest town of Bhutan located in the Western Interior of the country. It is also one of the most modern cities in Bhutan. The city is situated at an elevation of 7656ft. Being the capital it serves as the hub spot for government and administrative offices and buildings. Besides it also serves as the main centre for all kinds of commercial and religious activities.

Being the modern city Thimphu houses opulent restaurants, hotels, clubhouses, shopping centres and internet cafes. It is one of the cities in Bhutan where one will get plenty of ATMs and currency exchange centres.

 

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Serving as the capital city of Bhutan, Thimphu has a considerable number of places to visit. Let’s get to know the places around Thimphu that are considered as the best sightseeing places in the city.

Tashichho Dzong: Tashichho Dzong aka the most important monastery of Bhutan is located 2kms away from the main town of Thimphu on the right bank of Wangchu River. Constructed in 1641 it has gone through multiple renovations after that. However, the first and the original dzong was built in 1216 which was totally destroyed by fire. Along with the central secretariat office of the current government, the Dzong also serves as the most important landmark of Thimphu.

 

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As one enters the Dzong a soothing sight is provided by the beautifully maintained rose garden located at the entrance. The Dzong is constructed in traditional architecture with a resplendent golden roof. Most of the governmental and administrative activities are controlled from the Dzong. It also holds the throne of the King along with the seats of several high ranked officers.

The Dzong is beautifully decorated with red and golden lights during the evening which gives a stunning view to it. It takes almost an hour to take the complete tour of the Dzong. Being one of the oldest one it probes a deep insight into the past of the country.

One must be fully attired, i.e. they should wear something that covers their leg and hand till ankle and elbow respectively. Casual tees, t-shirts, shorts or skirts are not allowed inside the Dzong. Foots must be covered with socks. This is common throughout all the Dzongs of Bhutan. Photography is prohibited inside the dzong however one can capture the stunning outside views and the lit-up Dzong from outside.

 

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Tashichho Dzong is open on Monday to Friday from 5:30 PM to 6:00 PM and from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Saturday and Sundays. One needs to pay an amount of BTN 500 to enter the Dzong. This fee is revised to BTN 250 for the students and free for children below 5 years. Here one must note a point, one needs to pay a fee to visit most of the tourist places in Bhutan. Unlike many other countries, this fee is used by the Bhutan Government to maintain the cultural and traditional values of the country. In a sentence, the amount of fee collected from a tourist is finely used by the country’s government for the welfare of its people.

Clock Tower: Clock Tower is located just at heart and centre of Thimphu. There is a big pillar-like structure that holds four clocks facing all the four directions. Sitting arrangements are made around the clock tower where the local residents of the city and even the tourists spend time with their friends or relatives. The place also offers an exquisite view of the city’s sunset. There are few food joints and souvenir shops located just behind the clock tower. A small playground by the tower serves as a good spot for the children to play. And if you are lucky then you may also catch a glimpse of a live concert that sometimes goes on near the clock tower.

 

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Changlimithang Stadium: Changlimithang Stadium is one of the world’s highest stadiums situated at an elevation of 7546ft. The stadium was built on the battlefield ground of 1885 and is recognised as the national stadium of Bhutan. Presently the stadium has two synthetic operational fields and can hold 15000 spectators at a time. National archery matches are conducted at the stadium from 21st February to 23rd February. It is open throughout the week from 8 AM to 6 PM.

National Textile Museum: National Textile Museum was built to conserve the traditional weaving style of Bhutan. One can get a glimpse of traditional Bhutanese clothes in this museum. Various ancient artefacts related to the textile industry of Bhutan are displayed in this museum. One can even find the dresses worn by the former kings and queens in the National Textile Museum. Textile is one of the most flourishing industries in Bhutan and thus the efforts of people working in this industry are diligently displayed over here.

 

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The National Textile Museum is open from 9 AM to 4 PM from Mondays to Saturdays. For SAARC countries the entry fee for adults is BTN 50 and for non-SAARC countries it is BTN 250 for adults.

National Library: Commenced in 1967, the National Library of Bhutan houses the ancient old Bhutanese and Tibetian manuscripts and texts. One can read about Bhutanese history in this tranquil place. In addition to all these, frames of historical importance and historical incidents of Bhutan hangs on the wall of the library. One can find various books on different topics in the National Library. The age-old photo frames on the inner walls of the library give the place an aesthetic view.

 

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During summers it is open from 9 AM to 5 PM from Monday to Friday and during the winters it is open from 9 AM to 4 PM from Monday to Friday.

Folk Heritage Museum: Folk Heritage Museum gives you an insight into the Bhutanese culture. The museum was constructed in 2001 and has a three-storeyed building. Built in the country’s own traditional style the Folk Museum preserves the traditional and cultural values of the country. What does not the museum exhibit! Starting from age-old tradition and culture, household objects, traditional utensils, tools used for farming, wooden floors, cuisines of Bhutan, hot stone baths, dominant trees of the country are all exhibited in the Folk Museum.

 

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In addition to the above valuables, the Folk Museum also probes deep into the rural lifestyle of the Bhutanese people. The museum has been set up in such an ambience that visitors can feel the actual essence of this little rich cultural and traditional land.

The folk museum is open from 10:00 AM to 4:30 PM from Tuesday to Friday and from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. The fee to enter this site is BTN 150.

Zilukha Nunnery: Zilukha Nunnery is also famous by the name of Drubthob Goemba. Like a monastery, a nunnery serves as the home to those nuns who have devoted their life in the way of spirituality. Presently the nunnery serves as a home for 60 nuns.

 

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The Zilukha Nunnery was found by Drubthob Chakzampa in the 15th century. There is a chorten in the courtyard of the building. The place is so peaceful that you could feel the peace within your soul. The nuns are friendly and upon speaking they enlighten you with their story of spirituality and their own way of lifestyle in it. One can even capture the view of glorious Tashichho Dzong from this place. The Zilukha Nunnery is open every day from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

Motithang Takin Preserve: Takin is the national animal of Bhutan. They are closely related to sheep but have a close resemblance to that of a goat. Motithang Takin Preserve is located at Motithang near the main city of Thimphu. Previously this was a zoo which was later transformed to a preserve by the king of Bhutan.

 

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Motithang Takin Preserve is generally used to preserve the takins. However, a walk through this exquisite site unveils many exotic animals and bird species who roam around freely over the area. The place is open from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM from Tuesday to Sunday with a fee of BTN 100.

Changangkha Lhakhang: Located at a distance of 1KM from the main town of Thimphu at Chang valley, Changangkha Lhakhang was formed in the 12th century. It is one of the traditional and ancient temples of Bhutan which is suspended in the form of a castle on the mountain ridges of Thimphu.

With large prayer wheels, this ancient temple of Thimphu has incredible Tibetian texts and fine interior murals. Changangkha Lhakhang is protected by Tamdrin, one of the deities of Buddhist mythology. Newborn babies are taken to this temple in Thimphu to give them a name as the locals believe this place to be a spiritual home for the children born in the Chang Valley.

 

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One can experience a picturesque view from the courtyard of Changangkha Lhakhang just after the sunrise which also seems to be the best time to visit the temple. One is not allowed to enter the place after the dusk sets in. Changangkha Lakhang is open everyday from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM.

Kuensel Phodrang: Kuensel Phodrang is well known amongst the tourists as Buddha Point. The place is built over the ruins of Kuensel Phodrang where a 51-meter tall gold plated statue of Lord Buddha is placed. Along with it, there are around 1,25,000 smaller statues that seem like a Dordenma. This 51 meters high Buddha statue is built over a three-storeyed building which serves as a meditation hall.

 

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The statue of Lord Buddha is illuminated during the night which provides a more breathtaking sight of the place. The locals believe that this 51 meter Buddha statue overlooks the valley of Thimphu and protects the city from any kind of mishaps. This statue is also recognised as one of the largest stupas in the world. Kuensel Phodrang or Buddha Point is open throughout the week from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM.

National Memorial Chorten: National Memorial Chorten commonly known as Thimphu Chorten was built to honour king Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the third king of Bhutan. It is one of the tallest chortens in the whole town of Thimphu. National Memorial Chorten attracts tourists by the essence of its traditional architecture. This Memorial Chorten of Thimphu provides an insight into the artwork, sculptures and wall carvings of Buddhism. The place is great to take a stroll around while you enjoy the aura of it.

 

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During summer the place is open from 5:30 AM to 6:30 PM from Monday to Friday and from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Saturdays and Sundays. During winter it is open every day from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The fee required to enter the National Memorial Chorten of Thimphu is BTN 500 for adults and BTN 250 for students.

Changlimithang Archery Ground: Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. In Thimphu archery is practised in Changlimithang Archery Ground. During the early hours of the morning, you can find archery enthusiasts practising the sport in this ground. Promoting the national sport of the country a visitor can also try their hand in archery with the help of professional experts in Changlimithang Archery Ground. National tournaments of archery are arranged on this ground. It is a great sight to see the professional shooters hitting the targeted bull eyed point from a distance of more than 100m.

 

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Changlimithang Archery Ground is open every day from 7:30 AM to 11:00 AM.

Simply Bhutan: Simply Bhutan is a living museum located near the Changangkha Lhakhang at Chang Valley. The museum displays the rich culture and tradition of Bhutan’s history. Here one can enjoy the traditional folk songs and dance while savouring over the delicious Bhutan cuisine. One can also try traditional clothes of Bhutan in this museum.

Besides being a living museum, Simply Bhutan is also a pictorial studio preserving the photos of the Bhutanese culture and tradition. The youths of the country are trained with various cultural and traditional programs as the future of the country lies in their hand. It also provides employment opportunities for the young generation of the country.

 

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If you like to practically experience the essence of Bhutan’s tradition and culture then Simply Bhutan is the perfect place for you. Starting from religion to lifestyle of the local people one can get every detail of it in this place.

Simply Bhutan is open on Monday to Saturday from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM and again from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM. The fee to enter the museum is BTN 200.

Thimphu Weekend Market: Thimphu Weekend Market is located near Changangkha Lhakhang by the banks of the Wangchu River. The market goes live on the weekends. However, the sellers start to set up their shops from Thursdays itself. While the market goes live the place gains a different vibe and looks colourful. This is the best place to buy souvenirs at a nominal rate. One can experience the happiness of Bhutanese people in this place and get an idea of why the government of Bhutan follows the concept of GNH (Gross National Happiness).

Being a weekend market the place is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 7:00 AM to 8:00 PM.

8 Eleven Stores: Like Spencers and BigBazar in our country 8 Eleven is a shopping hub located just at the centre of Thimphu. It is a one-stop solution for all grocery products at wholesale rates. During the evening you can just pay a visit to the shop to find out about local grocery products of Bhutan. If you need you can buy any grocery item from the store. Besides grocery products the store also sells local hard drinks the best of which are Zumzin – a local peach wine, Takin – a local red wine, K5 – a local brand of Whisky and Druk 11000 – the local beer.

The store is open every day from 9 AM to 9 PM.

Paro

Paro is an eye-soothing valley located by the confluence of Paro Chu and Wang Chu at an altitude of 7480ft. Chu in Bhutanese dialect connotes the river. It’s the most fertile valley in the whole of Bhutan and is the best place to cultivate rice. The only international airport of Bhutan is located at Paro. The crystalline Paro chhu meandering downwards to the valley adds to the beauty of the town.

 

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Paro town is formed in a grid-like structure with traditional architected houses which forms a unique distinctive feature of the town. Paro holds 155 monasteries and temples that date back to the 14th century. Taktsang Monastery widely known as Tiger’s Nest that is situated at a high cliff above the rhododendron and oak forests adds to the charm to the town. Paro has great historical importance for the peoples residing in Bhutan

 

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Paro being a town of historical importance has quite a number of places to visit. Let’s take a tour through them.

Rinpung Dzong: Rinpung Dzong commonly known as Paro Dzong is located at the heart of Paro Valley. Situated at an upper area Paro Dzong offers a panoramic view of the Paro valley and Paro Chu. Paro Dzong was constructed in the 15th century by Drung Drung Gya. Like all other Dzongs of Bhutan, it also serves as a home for the monks and is one of the administrative offices of the town.

 

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Beholding a spiritual environment Paro Dzong is one of the best examples of the traditional architecture of Bhutan. The dzong illustrates the life of Buddha in the form of portraits. The dzong is lit up during the evening which presents a dazzling image of the same.

The Festival Ground of Paro is located just beside the Paro Dzong which adds more glamour to the later. The annual festival Tschechu takes place at this ground every year. The ground is vibrant and as alluring as that of the Paro Dzong.

 

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Paro Dzong, as well as the Festival Ground, is open every day from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. BTN 500 for adults and BTN 250 for students is required as a fee to enter the dzong.

Birds Eye View of Paro Airport: Quite common like all other countries, none is allowed to enter the International Airport of Paro without a ticket. However, being an open airport amidst the mountains there is a bird’s-eye viewpoint from where one can view the whole of the Paro Airport. The viewpoint offers an exquisite view of the airport along with the colourful view of the Paro valley.

Kyichu Lhakhang: Kyichu Lakhang is located at Lanago Gewog of Paro valley. Built-in the 7th century, it is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan. The locals believe that Kichhu Lakhnag was completely built within a night forming a miracle itself.

Kyichu Lakhang holds one of the finest sculptures and paintings of the Buddhist gurus. Several Buddhists monks including Guru Rinpoche have blessed the temple and its spinning wheel. One gets to know many facts and information about the ancient history of Bhutan from this temple. Another attraction of Kichu Lhakhang is two orange trees located at the courtyard of the Lhakhang which is fruitful throughout the year whatever be the season is.

 

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Kyichu Lakhang is open from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM and again from 1:00 AM to 5:00 PM on all days of the week. Adults need to pay BTN 500 to enter the temple whereas students need to pay BTN 250.

Taktsang Monastery: One of the most prominent attractions of Paro as well as Bhutan is Taktsang Monastery. Widely known as Tiger’s Nest, this monastery is situated above a steep cliff of 2950ft. As there are no motorable roads to Taktsang Monastery and one needs to hike for 5-6 hours to reach the point, the monastery is considered as one of the architectural marvels of the country.

According to the national peoples of Bhutan, there is a legend associated with Taktsang Monastery. In the 17th century, Guru Padmasambhava introduced the religion of Buddhism in Bhutan. While on his way back to Tibet he was riding on the back of a tigress, when he discovered this cave at this point where he continuously meditated for 3 months before proceeding to Tibet. From then on the place received its name of Tiger’s Nest.

 

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There are no motorable roads to this monastery so one needs to take a hike for 7kms and then climb 700 stairs to reach the monastery. The hike to these places is categorised as moderate to difficult. Not withholding it, your determination can help you to achieve the hike.

It is advisable to start early and to buy a walking stick available at the base, which will support you to make your climb a bit easier. Ponies are available from the base till the midpoint of the hike but it won’t be a good idea to hire a pony as because of the steep and curvy road they bump a lot which will make the trail difficult and tiring for you. Moreover, it can cause severe back pain. So considering all the facts walking is the best option. At the midpoint of the trail one would find a small cafeteria where one can have food. However, it is advisable that you carry a water bottle and some dry foods with you. Also, consider carrying chocolates as it helps to boost your energy.

The construction of Tiger’s Nest or Taktsang Monastery is itself a mystery till date. As none have the idea of how the monastery was constructed at such a steep cliff and at such a height and even when there is no such road to it. It is believed to be one of those sites in the whole of Bhutan which has been blessed by Guru Rinpoche, who is often referred to as Second Buddha.

Taktsang Monastery is open from 8:00 AM to 1:00 PM and again from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM. The fee required to enter the monastery is BTN 1000 for adults and BTN 500 for the students.

National Museum of Bhutan: The National Museum of Bhutan holds pride for the country. It is located just near Paro Dzong. The museum has six floors which narrate six different stories of the country’s past. One can find Bhutanese artefacts, wall paintings, art pieces and animal masks that form the culture of the country. Previously the National Museum was a watchtower against the armies of Tibet which in the year of 1968 was converted to this museum. All historical objects of Bhutan are conserved in this museum. At this place, the past of Bhutan meets its present.

 

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The National Museum is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM during the summers and from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM during the winters. An entry fee of BTN 10 is required for Bhutan citizens. BTN 25 is required for SAARC nationals, BTN 150 for Non-SAARC nationals. No amount is needed for monks, nuns and children below the age of 10 years.

Tachog Lhakhang Bridge: Tacho Lhakhang bridge is commonly known as Iron Chain Bridge constructed over the Paro Chu. Crossing the bridge helps to reach Paro Dzong. The bridge is 600 years old and was constructed in the 1300s. Tacho Lhakhang is the first-ever bridge to be built in the nation of Bhutan and is made out of woods and irons. One can get a sight of the dramatic landscape of Paro Valley and the blue Paro chu flowing through the valley from this bridge.

Chelela Pass: Chelela Pass is one of the most distinctive places in Paro. Situated at an altitude of 13000 ft, it is the highest motorable road in Bhutan. The beautiful mountainous landscape of Paro can be sighted from this pass. The most sacred mountain of Bhutan, Mt. Jomolhari situated at an elevation of 22000ft is visible from Chelela Pass.

 

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The road to Chelela Pass is covered with various floras and faunas of Bhutan. The road passes between the green rhododendron forests. White poppies that are not found in any other places throughout the world are found on the slopes of Chela Pass. One can even find some roadside springs, frozen waterfalls, takins grazing on the forests on their way to Chelela Pass. If you are visiting the pass during the winter you will find the road covered with white layers of snow. With all its stunning features the pass is quite famous and encounters thousands of visitors throughout the year.

Haa Valley: Haa valley is a picturesque hamlet located at South-Western Paro. The valley is located at an altitude of 8760ft. The valley is adorned with beautiful mountain peaks and alpine forests. People in love with nature can visit the Haa valley to experience the pristine soul of nature. Known as the hidden jewel of Bhutan, Haa valley has the perfect land for rice cultivation. The valley has a presence of Military camps and is very close to the border of Tibet.

 

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The valley was opened for tourists in the year 2002. Haa Valley can be covered from Paro within a day along with Chelela Pass. One needs to hire a car to reach Haa from Paro. The journey takes around 2.5 hours and offers you an amazing view of the tranquil nature. However, if one wishes to spend a day in the valley of nature and experience a farm stay then they can opt for a night halt at Haa valley.

 

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While in Haa Valley, one can visit the Haa Dzong and the twin temples known by the name of Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black temple) that are located just at the heart of the town.

Namgay Artisanal Brewery: Namgay Artisanal Brewery was founded by Dorji Gyeltshen, a local entrepreneur of Paro. Here one can find different flavoured beers that are made from local products. Apart from apple cider, six other variants of beer are found in this brewery. By name, they go as craft beers, milk stout, pilsners, red rice lagers, wheat beer and pale and dark ales.

Punakha

Punakha is the old capital town of Bhutan. Located at an altitude of 5000ft the town is situated in the West-Central part of Bhutan. The town served as seat to the government of Bhutan till 1955 and has also experienced the hosting of the first national assembly in 1953. Being the old capital the town has an inextricable link with the history of Bhutan. Punakha served as the capital of the country from 1637 to 1907.

 

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The dzong of Punakha is the second-largest and second oldest dzong of Bhutan. Besides, it is also one of the majestic architectural formations of the country. The town of Punakha also witnessed the marriage of the present king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck to Jetsun Pema that was held in the year 2011 at the dzong. The town is invaded by two rivers, Mo Chu and Po Chu that merges near the dzong of the town.

As Punakha is situated at a lower elevation than that of Thimphu and Paro it faces hot summers and moderate winters. From Punakha, one can view the planned town of Wangdue which looks amazing during the nights. With its beguiling view, Punakha is worth paying a visit.

 

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One must not miss some of the places that are worth visiting in Punakha. Let’s take a look through them.

Punakha Dzong: Punakha Dzong is one of the famous dzongs in Bhutan. It is the second-largest as well as the second oldest dzong of the country. Punakha Dzong is located at the confluence of Po Chu and Mo Chu. The dzong was built by Namgyal who was prophesied by Guru Padmasambhava. The dzong was formed in 1637 and it has six towers surrounding the same. One needs to enter the dzong by crossing the wooden bridge that is built over the Mo Chu. It is the only way to enter the second largest Dzong of Bhutan.

 

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On a clear sunny day, the dzong looks stunning as the clear water of Po Chu and Mo Chu dazzles on the whitewashed walls of it. By the set of darkness, Punakha Dzong is beautifully lit up with golden lights that add a different glamour to its natural beauty.

Unlike all other dzongs of Bhutan, Punakha Dzong has three courtyards instead of two. The first courtyard of the dzong is used for administrative functions and holds a white stupa and a huge bodhi tree. The second courtyard is used as a resident for the monks and lamas. The third courtyard where publics are not allowed contains the remains of the Namgyal. The sixth storey is used as a watchtower and is one of the most prominent features of the dzong.

 

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Punakha Dzong served as the seat of the central government till 1955 and is also the witness of the first national assembly that was formed in 1953. In the year 2011, it also witnessed the marriage of the present king, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Yungchuk to Jetsun Pema, the present queen. The dzong has great cultural value for the nationals of Bhutan as it houses the sacred relics of Tibetian Buddhism.

Punakha Dzong remains open from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM in the months of March to September. During the months of October to February, it remains open from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM. The entry fee to the dzong is BTN 500 and for students, it is BTN 250.

Chimi Lhakhang: Chimi Lhakhang is located a bit outside of the town. It is an hour drive to Chimi Lhakhang from the main town of Punakha. After the drive for one hour, one needs to hike a bit to the monastery. One requires the permit of Punakha to reach and enter the place as it is located nearby the Sopshakha villages of the town.

Chimi Lhakhang was constructed in the honour of the ‘Divine Madam’, the Drukpa Kunley. She perched the religion of Buddhism in a different tone of sexuality and humour. The monastery is built upon a hillock that resembles that of a breast. All the walls of the Lhakhang have been decorated with the phallic symbol.

 

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This monastery is well known for the worship of Phallus. It is known as a fertility temple where couples coms to receive blessings from the wooden penis that is 10inch long. The wooden penis is tapped on the shoulder of the couples to boon them with a blessing. Chimi Lakhgang gives a sight of another version of the culture of Bhutan. The place is open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

Punakha Suspension Bridge: Punakha Suspension Bridge is one of the oldest and largest suspension bridges of Bhutan. It is the second-largest suspension bridge constructed over Mo Chu and Po Chu. The bridge is 180m long connecting the Punakha valley with the Punakha dzong. Punakha Suspension Bridge is one of the architectural wonders of the country. The prayer flags tied to the bridge give a different charm to it. Though the bridge is sturdy still it shakes while the strong wind gusts pass through it.

 

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Dochula Pass: Dochula Pass is an incredible mountain pass situated on Thimphu-Punakha highway. The pass was built in commemoration to the Bhutanese soldiers who left their life in a military operation for the sake of their country. The distinctive feature of Dochula Pass is the 108 chortens, also known as a stupa, that are built in the memory of those soldiers. Along with the chortens the place, as well as the hill, is magnificently decorated by the five coloured (red, blue, green, yellow and white) flags of Buddhist culture.

 

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While you are on your way to Dochula Pass you will get a stupendous view of the snow-capped mountains of the country along with its natural vegetation. The pass is located at an altitude of 10300ft and is very close to the highest peak of Bhutan, Mt. Masanggang. A visit to the place will fill your soul with peace and serenity.

The total of 108 chortens are built in three layers with the first layer having 45 chortens, the second layer having 36 chortens and the third layer having 27 chortens. All the chortens were built by following the religious process strictly.

Being situated at a high altitude throughout the year Dochula Pass remains under the blanket of snow. The pass is well accessible by road from Thimphu and Punakha. However, most of the time this road is covered by a haze which makes it difficult to spot the awe-striking beauty of the place.

 

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In a jest, one can now well understand that Bhutan is a country rather a kingdom which rigorously believes in its religion, culture and tradition. The country holds some of the most spectacular views of the mountains and natural landscapes. Following the concept of GNH Bhutan houses some of the happiest people of the world. So, to explore this land of happiness along with its beautiful landscape and culture and tradition one needs to set their foot forward and travel to this wonderful land of Buddhism.

About Author

Born and brought up in Kolkata I met Krishnandu in 2012. We fell in love and got married in 2016 and travelled to Bhutan for our honeymoon. We travelled throughout that year to various places and that is when I developed my passion for travelling. After our dream trip to Ladakh in 2018, I started noting down my travel experiences on a random basis. Krishnandu then urged me to pen down travel blogs. So I finally started scripting informative travel blogs that would help you to gain precise information about a destination.

5 Comments

  • Stanley
    June 7, 2020 at 12:13 PM

    Hi,

    Great post and thank you very much for introducing and giving us so much information on Bhutan.
    I need some clarification. You wrote that travelling Thimphu and Paro alone will not need the inner line permit and the other permits are free and I can enter from India. If I am not a citizen or resident of India, Bangladesh and Maldives, can I still enter in this manner and travel on my own without any guide ? It has been my dream to visit Bhutan but its high cost of joining a tour has put me off.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Krishnandu Sarkar
      June 7, 2020 at 12:23 PM

      Hi Stanley, Thanks a lot and I’m glad that you liked it 🙂

      Only citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives are allowed to travel freely on their own to Bhutan.

      Remaining everyone (including NRIs) needs to book their through authorized tour operators of Bhutan in advance and must pay Minimum Daily Tariff (which is $250 per head per day on peak season and $200 per head per day on lean season) in order to travel Bhutan. This is only if you are travelling in a group of 3. If you are travelling Solo, then you need to add a surcharge of $40 per head per day and if you are a couple then $30 per head per day.

      Along with the above you need to add $40 per head for Visa fee.

      Minimum Daily Tariff includes 3* Hotel for your entire stay, a private vehicle along with a driver at your disposal, a full-time guide for your entire tour, all major meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) etc. So you don’t have to spend a single penny other than the Minimum Daily Tariff unless you are into some luxury or personal expenses.

      However, yes I understand the point, that this Minimum Daily Tariff puts off any budget tourists. Unfortunately, that’s how Bhutan Tourism Council have decided to keep their tourism.

      You may check more details at Planning A Trip To Bhutan

      Reply
  • Stella Wilson
    July 16, 2020 at 10:25 AM

    Wonderful blog. Very detialed and informative article on bhutan. It’ll help me a lot for planning a trip. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Reply
  • Suparna Acharya
    July 16, 2020 at 10:54 AM

    Thank You. I’m glad that you liked it 🙂

    Reply
  • […] watchtower, one can catch a 360-degree view of the Singalila Range along with the Chola range of Bhutan, a part of Gangtok, West Bengal plains, Nathu La Pass of East Sikkim and Darjeeling town of West […]

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