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Entering Bhutan – The Land of Thunder Dragon

Bhutan Gate

This part of Trip Report is being continued from Planning A Trip To Bhutan – For Indians

For your reference again, here’s the itinerary that we are following :

1st Feb : Day 1 : Hasimara – P/Soling via Jaigon
2nd Feb : Day 2 : P/Soling – Thimphu
3rd Feb : Day 3 : Thimphu SS
4th Feb : Day 4 : Thimphu – Phobjika via Punakha
5th Feb : Day 5 : Phobjika – Bumthang via Trongsa
6th Feb : Day 6 : Bumthang SS
7th Feb : Day 7 : Bumthang – Punakha via Wangdue
8th Feb : Day 8 : Punakha – Thimphu
9th Feb : Day 9 : Thimphu – Paro SS
10th Feb : Day 10 : Paro – Day Trip To Haa
11th Feb : Day 11 : Paro – Hike to Tiger’s Nest
12th Feb : Day 12 : Paro – Hasimara via P/Soling & Jaigaon

Trip To Bhutan Series :
Part 1: Planning A Trip To Bhutan – For Indians
Part 2: Entering Bhutan – The Land of Thunder Dragon
Part 3: Capital of Bhutan – Thimphu In & Around
Part 4: Journey To Phobjika via Dochula
Part 5: The Most Historic Dzongkhag – Bumthang
Part 6: The Old Capital – Punakha
Part 7: Exploring Paro, Haa and Chele La Pass
Part 8: Hike to Tiger’s Nest – Paro Taktsang
Part 9: Tashi Delek Bhutan – The Himalayan Kingdom

31st January 2016 : Board Train :
Generally on Sunday’s I sleep till 10 or 11 o’clock but today I was so excited that I woke up earlier. Finally the day has come to begin our journey. All the packing were already completed. We had reservations up to Hasimara (HSA) on 13149 – Kanchankanya Express, which leaves from Sealdah (SDAH) at 8:30. I was so excited that I got too restless, as when the time would come and when we’ll leave for Sealdah.

Gradually the time passing by and finally at around 6:15 PM, I unlocked my mobile and booked an Uber. It hardly took 5 minutes to arrive. We quickly loaded our luggage and left for Sealdah. As it was Sunday, the roads were clear from any kind of traffic, so it took us exactly 41 minutes to reach Sealdah.

I and my cousin went for a smoke, as we have to wait until the train is announced and arrives at platform. Suddenly I noticed her mom and dad who came to see us off. Finally the train arrived at 8:00 PM and people started rushing towards their compartments. Ours was S3, so we had to walk towards the end of the platform.

Exactly at 8:30 PM, train blew the whistle and left. As usual I grabbed the window seat and kept staring outside and saw stations passed by. I quickly called B.K. to inform that we have left for Hasimara and he assured that the driver will be waiting for us at Hasimara to pick us up and shared his contact details. After having our dinner at around 10 o’clock we went to sleep just to awake at the dawn of North Bengal.

1st February 2016 : Day 1 : Hasimara to Phuentsholing via Jaigaon. O/N at Phuentsholing :
I didn’t want to miss the enjoyment of the majestic journey from New Jalpaiguri (NJP) to New Mal Jn. (NMZ), so I woke up and grabbed window seat again, so that I don’t miss the shots, as soon as the train crossed New Jalpaiguri (NJP). The journey through Tea Garden and Caves of Dooars cannot be explained in words.

NJP to NMZ

NJP To NMZ

Bagrakot Railway Station

Bagrakot Railway Station

  • Way To NMZ

Scheduled time to reach Hasimara is 10:25 but I traveled by Kanchankanya many times and I knew that it would miss the scheduled time. And as usual it was late by 30 minutes. As the train departed from Dalgaon (DLO), I called up Raj (our driver) to inform the same, he said that he is already waiting for us at Hasimara.

At around 11 o’clock we reached Hasimara. Raj was waiting outside the station with his shining white Innova. He loaded the luggage on top and we started for Jaigaon.

Way To Hasimara

Way To Hasimara

On the way he told us that “kal Thimphu me baraf gira tha, upar to bahut thand hai” (Yesterday Thimphu experienced snowfall, it’s too much cold up there). Well, to tell you the truth we were already ready for it. I already did my homework about the average temperature in the month of January & February and we brought necessary warm clothes. We have immerse experience of travelling in Himalayas and hill stations so we are well versed with it.

He also told us, that he’s still not sure whether he’ll go with us, as BK has not confirmed anything to him yet. So it might be that some other driver will take us forward. It took us exactly 25 minutes to reach Jaigaon. BK’s office is on 1st Floor of the building at Link Road just 2 minutes walking distance from the Bhutan Gate.

B.K. welcomed us warmly as soon as he noticed us. He was about to send Raj to Phuentsholing Immigration Office which is just across the Bhutan Gate to get the permits ready, but we informed him that we are already done with the permits from Kolkata Bhutan Consulate. He was very happy to hear that and asked me the new address of Kolkata Bhutan Consulate as it got shifted from Dum Dum and he was not aware of the new address. We had to pay him the remaining 80% before starting of our tour, so we asked him about the ATM and he showed us the way to SBI and ICICI ATM which was nearby on the road to right hand side of the Bhutan Gate. It was just 3 minutes walking distance from his office and Bhutan Gate.

Bhutan Gate

Bhutan Gate

There was a long queue at the SBI ATM, I believe this was because of Jaigaon being the prime spot and that also near Bhutan Gate. I was very afraid that whether this ATM would have adequate cash as almost everyone was doing multiple transaction, ofcourse due to withdrawal limit on their ATM cum Debit Card. Finally our turn came. We knew it’d take us a lot of time too, as with SBI Debit Card we can’t withdraw more than 10k at once. But just to try our luck we tried a transaction of 40k and it failed and then we tried for 20k and surprisingly it worked. We withdrew all cash that we had to pay to BK and we needed for our fooding and other expenses. At one point of time the security guard came in to check if we need any help, but I just explained him that we are unable to withdraw more than 20k at once and thus it’s taking a bit of time.

Finally after withdrawing all our required cash, we went to BK and paid him the remaining 80%. At TCB and various Trip Reports I read that Indian Currency is widely accepted in Bhutan. Though TCB strictly mentions that notes (bills) of Rs. 500/- and Rs. 1000/- is not accepted but from various Trip Reports you’d know that it’s widely accepted across Thimphu and Paro. So I was very much sure that we will be smoothly able to do transactions with Indian Currency. But as we had plans to go to much remote places further than Thimphu and Paro, BK suggested us to exchange, as they might not accept Indian Currency there. BK told us that he’ll exchange any Bhutanese Currency (known as Ngultrum or Nu. in short) that will be left with us while returning. It sounded good so we exchanged our currency with Nu. Just to let you know, Bhutanese Currency is on par with Indian Currency if you are not already aware of it.

Welcome To Bhutan

It was 1:30 PM by then, so BK suggested us to have our lunch at Maa Annapurna Hotel, just opposite his office and told us that we’ll get great Bengali Cuisine there. Till then Raj will go and make the permits from RSTA for his car as his was WB registered car. It might be when we went to ATM he had confirmed Raj only to take us further for our trip. Maa Annapurna was houseful so we went to Tripti Hotel just beside Maa Annapurna. I’d say food was average and they are very slow. So be ready to wait for 15 – 20 minutes before they come to you for taking your order and another 15 minutes to serve you. For Veg. Thali one would have to pay Rs. 60/- and extra for Egg, Fish (Starts from Rs. 80/-) or Chicken (Rs. 80/-).

After having our lunch, I went near the Gate to click some photos and then Raj drove us through the gate, crossing the border. Ahh an International Honeymoon (Ahh…Sorry again, Familymoon 😛 ). This is not the first time I’m crossing the border. Before this one, I had traveled to Nepal when I was kid 😛

Bhutan Gate From Phuentsholing Side

Bhutan Gate From Phuentsholing Side

The border town on India side is Jaigaon whereas the border town on Bhutan side is Phuentsholing. Samdrup Jonkhar is another border town which is connected with Assam. But Phuentsholing is used mostly to enter and exit Bhutan via land border. As soon as you cross the border and enter Bhutan, you’ll notice the change in architecture of buildings. In Bhutan it’s mandatory to follow this architecture (I don’t know what it’s called) for all buildings. Almost all the buildings have a photo of King and Queen’s hanged at the top of door. We drove past Phuentsholing Immigration Office and took the left road and after few minutes we reached to our shelter for the day, Hotel Shelgoen.

Hotel Shelgoen

This was our first stay in Bhutan. As we entered the Hotel, we noticed that the reception is well designed with unique architectural design that you can see across Bhutan along with various photos of King and Queen hanged on the wall. Other than the photos there were two clock, one for Indian Time (IST) and another for Bhutan Time (BTT). Bhutan Standard Time (BTT) is 30 minutes ahead to that of Indian Standard Time (IST) and +6:00 Hours to that of GMT. The young lady in reception asked us whether we are guests of BK, we nodded. She handed over the check in form which I started filling up.

At all the hotels we opted for 2 rooms, One Double Bed Room for two of us and another Double Bed Room with an extra mattress for my mom, dad, aunt and cousin. Raj told us to be ready tomorrow by 9AM and left. After filling up the form she handed over the keys to another lady who guided us to our rooms and two other ladies carried our luggage to our room. After getting freshen up, we left to explore the town.

Phuentsholing Immigration Office

Phuentsholing Immigration Office

The very first task was to get a SIM Card as we’ll be in Bhutan for 12 days and will be out of contact with our family members for around 2 weeks. I noticed that, we were still getting Vodafone signal on our mobile. I remembered that Raj told us, we’ll get signal in Phuentsholing as long as we are near the Gate. BK offered us SIM Card when we were there for Rs. 250/- and said we’d get talk time of Rs. 100/-. But while planning for Bhutan, I checked out the website of Tashi Cell and Bhutan Telecom. Tashi Cell offers SIM Card for Nu. 200/- with talk time of Nu. 200/- and Bhutan Telecom offers it for Nu. 100/- with talk time of Nu. 100/-. So it was clear to me that BK was asking for more price and thus we denied for the same.

Tashi Cell and Bhutan Telecom are two mobile operators in Bhutan. Tashi Cell is private whereas Bhutan Telecom is government and oldest. The shopkeeper told us that Tashi Cell is better and thus we got 2 Tashi Cell Tourist SIM Cards one for my dad and another for me for Nu. 210/- with talk time of Nu. 200/. He informed us that, Tourist SIM Cards are valid for 1 month. You’ll just have to provide photocopy of your Entry Permit to get the SIM Cards. I asked for 3G packs but the shopkeeper informed us that, packs are not valid for Tourist SIM Cards. One can only recharge Top Up’s on Tourist SIM Cards. Though nothing like this was mentioned on the site of both Tashi Cell and Bhutan Telecom. Anyway, I decided to recharge a top up of Nu. 500/- as I plan to surf internet. But later throughout my trip I noticed that most citizens prefer Bhutan Telecom. But I also noticed that both Tashi Cell and Bhutan Telecom offers great service.

Bhutan Gate At Night

Bhutan Gate At Night

Later in the evening we tried looking for shops where we can get Tea which is very common in India but not in Bhutan. Thus we decided to go back to Indian side to have Tea. Just beside the Bhutan Gate, there’s one entry gate and exit gate which is used for persons walking in and walking out. After having Tea at Jaigaon, we wanted to taste authentic Bhutanese momo. Though momo’s was available there at Jaigaon but still we kind of wanted to have it in Bhutan as we wanted to taste authentic Bhutanese momo and thus we entered again to Bhutan.

After walking around the streets in Phuentsholing for around half an hour, we didn’t managed to find a single joint where we can have Chicken Momo. Most of them had Veg, Beef and Pork Momo. We didn’t wanted to have Veg Momo and latter two our parents didn’t allowed us to have. Finally nearby our hotel we came across a small restaurant where shopkeeper finally nodded when we asked for Chicken Momo. We had a plate of Chicken Momo and Chicken Thukpa.

Chicken Momo

Generally shops and hotels close by 10:00 PM and thus at around 8:30 PM, we went to a nearby restaurant, K. D. Choden Restaurant & Bar, to have our dinner. Though our hotel had restaurant, but still we decided to try it outside. After walking around the streets for few hours, we became sure that all the hotels have restaurant and bar. Infact hard drinks are very common in Bhutan, all the restaurant and hotels and even stationary shops have bar section.

K. D. Choden Restaurant & Bar

While planning for my trip to Bhutan, I came across various Trip Reports which suggests to try Ema Datshi, a authentic Bhutanese Cuisine. So we decided to have Red Rice, Jha Chu and Ema Datshi. But unfortunately Red Rice was not available so they served us normal rice. Jha Chu is kind of dal that we had and Ema Datshi is famous Bhutanese food. Ema is a kind of Chilly that you can find in Bhutan and Datshi means curry.

RIce, Jha Chu, Ema Datshi

After having our dinner while returning to our hotel, we bought whisky and beer for the night. Indian brands are not available, so we went for Bhutanese Brands, K5 (Whisky) and Druk 11000 (Beer).

After returning to hotel, we thought of rearranging our winter clothes as that would be needed tomorrow while moving up to Thimphu. As Raj had already informed us the same while coming to Jaigaon. The dinner was too early for us as we have dinner at around 10:30 or 11:00 PM when at home. We knew it’d be like this only as this rule is pretty much same at all hill stations. So rest of the night we enjoyed our Beer and Whiskey along with Bhutanese Chips that we got before going to sleep 🙂

Hotel Shelgoen :

Shelgoen Hotel Business Card

  • Hotel Shelgoen

Tariff : Rs. 1100 x 2 (rooms) x 1 (night) = 2200 + 300 (extra mattress) = 2500/-
I really liked the hotel. The ambience was very nice. The rooms were very spacious and washrooms are that of like 3* hotels and very spacious too. Provided two shampoo and two soaps and two towels with 24×7 Geyser. Room heater is not needed as it never gets that much cold here. Blankets were provided as usual.

The next part of my trip report is continued at Capital of Bhutan – Thimphu In & Around

Trip To Bhutan Series :
Part 1: Planning A Trip To Bhutan – For Indians
Part 2: Entering Bhutan – The Land of Thunder Dragon
Part 3: Capital of Bhutan – Thimphu In & Around
Part 4: Journey To Phobjika via Dochula
Part 5: The Most Historic Dzongkhag – Bumthang
Part 6: The Old Capital – Punakha
Part 7: Exploring Paro, Haa and Chele La Pass
Part 8: Hike to Tiger’s Nest – Paro Taktsang
Part 9: Tashi Delek Bhutan – The Himalayan Kingdom

About Author

Hi, I'm born and bought up in Kolkata in the midst of what bongs are best known for - Eating, Sleeping and Travelling. A developer by profession and a traveller by passion. As I was facing a lack of budget-friendly information on the internet while planning my travel, I started drafting my travel experiences here to help you all having a pocket-friendly smooth travel experience.

27 Comments

  • […] Continuation from my previous post regarding Entering Bhutan – The Land of Thunder Dragon […]

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  • […] Read my next post about crossing the border at Entering Bhutan – The Land of Thunder Dragon […]

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  • […] Entering Bhutan – The Land of Thunder Dragon […]

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  • Anonymous
    November 12, 2016 at 4:58 PM

    4.5

    Reply
  • Anonymous
    June 3, 2017 at 1:45 PM
  • Deepthi KJ
    June 3, 2017 at 1:48 PM

    Hi krishnandu .. read your posts regarding bhutan.. they are really helpful. Could you please tell me how much did bk travellers charge you for the entire trip. And also did his package includes boarding, loadging, food, guide and vehicle?
    Looking forward for your reply. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Krishnandu Sarkar
      June 3, 2017 at 5:19 PM

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

      Please check this post for the cost details. It was 71600/- including vehicle and hotel.

      We didn’t opted for specialized Guide which is not mandatory for Indians. So you may hire one if you are really interested in knowing Culture, Buddishm, Paintings etc. deeply. It’d cost you around Rs. 1500/- per day for Guide. Otherwise the driver would double up as a basic primary Guide. But he won’t be able to help you in case you want to know things in minute detail. In that case consider hiring a specialized Guide seperately.

      Fooding was not included, as we didn’t opted for packaged tour.

      Reply
  • Deepthi
    June 5, 2017 at 12:38 PM

    thank you for the information Krishnandu.. will BK travellers do booking in hotels which we opt for? or is it a fixed package?
    I read somewhere that you had booked from India. did u pay for the rooms on the spot or did online payment. we actually want to stay in hotels less than 1000 per night (double bedroom) and spend the remaining on bigger vehicle and guide. what is your opinion?

    Reply
    • Krishnandu Sarkar
      June 5, 2017 at 2:06 PM

      Hi Deepthi, It’s not a fixed package, so you may choose hotels as per your preference and budget.

      No, you have to pay BK. 20% advance (online) and remaining 80% at Jaigaon before starting the tour (in cash). If you want to pay this 80% vai Bank Transfer too, then he’ll charge some percentage as service charge (due to his taxations 😛 )

      Well, you might not get rooms below 1000/-. The basic budget rooms are around 1100/- – 1500/- depending on the location. We being budget travellers we opted for rooms at that budget only. But this is something very personal and is upto you to decide!!

      Reply
  • Akhil Gangan
    November 23, 2017 at 10:23 PM

    Hi krishnandu.. Nice and informative one. greatly appreciate the work you have taken. Even though it covers almost full i still have some doubts it will be of great help if you could clear the same.

    1) How you paid the hotel amount. was that online. i remember you mentioning you have prebooked the hotels. If some percentage how much and how did?
    2) Heard Bhutan is going to change tourist policies from January 2018. a SDF of RS 500 per day to be levied from everyone .(for Indians too) and all tours to be in accordance with Bhutan tour operators. Have you got any info regarding the same?
    3) One should submit hotel booking reciepts for entire trip plan for the issuance of permit.?
    if you can clear any/all it will be of great help. As i planned it on month of march 2018. If SDF to be implemented i thought of rescheduling it to December this year.

    Reply
    • Krishnandu Sarkar
      November 25, 2017 at 10:35 AM

      Hi Akhil,
      Thanks and I’m glad that you liked it 🙂

      1. Well no advance was given, I paid everything on spot. They never asked for advance to secure the booking. However this won’t work now, as Hotel Booking has been made mandatory in order to gain Entry Permit. Though the rule is to book all the hotels throughout your trip, but practically if you come across a good Immigration Officer, he might let you go with just one Hotel Booking i.e. at Thimphu / Paro wherever you are proceeding to from P/Soling. But that depends on luck. Rule is to produce all the hotel booking reciepts made on hotel’s letter head.

      2. What’s SDF? I haven’t heard anything such yet. Though I’ll visit again this December, I’ll try to know if anything such is being coming up next year.

      3. Yes. Hotel Booking permit is necessary for throughout the trip. Please check the answer for #1 and highlighed update sections at Planning A Trip To Bhutan – For Indians for latest updates

      Reply
  • Ankit
    December 13, 2017 at 2:03 PM

    Hi

    Very informative posts – it has helped me a lot in planning my trip to Bhutan. Just one quick question:

    We are reaching Phuentsholing on Sunday night, so naturally we will get our entry permit done on Monday. My doubt is that – Is it possible to spend a night in a Phuentsholing hotel without the permit?

    Reply
    • Krishnandu Sarkar
      December 13, 2017 at 9:44 PM

      Hi Ankit, Yes. You can spend the night in P/Soling and also roam around P/Soling without any permits. Permits are only checked at the checkpoints towards the Thimphu – Paro highway.

      Reply
  • AVIJEET
    March 19, 2018 at 2:27 PM

    Hi Krishnandu,
    Loved your blog 🙂 .
    I want to know how much time does it take to get the permit in the Kolkata Counsulate in Dumdum . My travel date in 19th April and i will be reaching Kolkata on 9th April .

    Reply
  • debendra suar
    August 3, 2018 at 11:17 AM

    Thanks a lot for such a valuable tips for all of us. It is of a great help to those who want to visit Bhutan. You have written a very nice article on your visit to Bhutan with such a detailed portrayal of the entire journey and in simple language, it is very nice. I salute you for such article. Hope others with also get help from your article. Thanks again, Debendra, 09437758028

    Reply
  • Mridula Bose
    August 29, 2018 at 6:44 PM

    Hi Krishnandu Dark at
    Its really very informative as well as narrative story of Bhutan.It will really help lot of people like us who are travel freak

    Reply
    • Krishnandu Sarkar
      August 29, 2018 at 9:12 PM

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

      Reply
  • body
    February 24, 2019 at 8:01 AM

    Have fun with the rest of the year. You’re performing a dazzling job.

    Reply
  • Nitesh kumar
    August 21, 2019 at 1:47 AM

    Wao what an amazing article. Feeling lucky that I went through your blog. THANK YOU soooo much for giving so many important infos , which can’t be found anywhere else.
    I am planning for 4 days bhutan trip with total of 13 in group including kids, in december 2019. What should be the cheapest & best options for us.
    Please reply.

    lots of love & appreciation for ur blog

    Reply
    • Krishnandu Sarkar
      August 21, 2019 at 10:12 AM

      Hi Nitesh, Thanks a lot and I’m glad that you find my blog helpful 🙂

      How are you planning to enter Bhutan? Via Road through P/Soling? If yes then 4 days would be too short, as you’d need to spend 2N at P/Soling while entering and exiting from Bhutan.

      If you are planning ex Paro, then it’s fine.

      Also please keep in mind that Dec would be cold. So carry proper warm clothes.

      I have already provided budget hotel and vehicle details. You can find the contact details at Tashi Delek Bhutan – The Himalayan Kingdom

      Do you want to know anything specific?

      Reply
  • Ajay Salvi
    December 2, 2019 at 12:05 PM

    AirBNB booking is valid for visa in Bhutan?

    Reply
  • […] Trip Reports : Entering Bhutan – The Land of Thunder Dragon […]

    Reply
  • DEBASHIS MUKHOPADHYAY
    February 6, 2020 at 8:27 AM

    It’s fine to see details provided by you. Is it possible anyway to take permits in advance anywhere from Kolkata? I’m planning to make my trip from 01.05.20 to 09.50.20(return) via Cooch Beha, Buxa Reserve Forest to Bhutan. Can itinerary be done for stay and tour with reasonable rate?

    Please help me sharing itinerary at the below email address with special tips for Bhutan.

    Reply
    • Krishnandu Sarkar
      February 6, 2020 at 10:05 PM

      Hi Debashish, I’m glad that you found the blog helpful 🙂

      Unfortunately, there’s no way to get the permits in advance from Kolkata or anywhere else. To get a permit in advance, only option is onlne permit, which is not available publicly. You need to book the whole tour through TCB authorized Bhutanese Tour Operators for that.

      I’m not a tour operator so I cannot offer you packages. You can go through this whole series to get an idea on how you can plan the trip on your own within your budget. I have already shared budget tips like travelling on shared cab / bus or hiring a private vehicle with indicative rates which can help you choose a solution depending on your budget.

      Regarding the itinerary, I’ll definitely help you out. However I see that you are starting on 1st May. So if you reach P/Soling on 1st May by afternoon or evening, you might not be able to get the permit. And next 2 days being weekennd, permit office will be closed. So first consider fixing your dates and then I can surely help you out drafting an itinerary.

      Reply

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