Pre-FI, Vivek avoided traveling as it added to his workload (Research, ticket booking, hotel booking – All this added more items to his already exploding to-do list!!!) but now it is altogether a different ball game. We now spend countless hours researching the new destination and try to learn as much as possible about it.
If you have read our sabbatical post, you already know that we are planning a Bhutan trip in the month of Oct 2016. In our post-FI life, we prefer slow travel but this Bhutan trip is an exception as it is with Vivek’s parents and we don’t think they will enjoy our style of slow travel 🙂 but we have tried to keep the trip a little laid back. Research is complete, itinerary is complete, the only thing left is booking and the actual trip 🙂
Special treatment for Indians 🙂
Very few countries give special privilege to Indians and Bhutan is one of those countries 🙂 If you want to visit Bhutan as a non-Indian, you will have to go through an agent and Bhutan government has made it mandatory for the agents to charge USD 250 per day per person (this amount includes taxi, lodging and food) but this rule doesn’t apply to Indians (and few other country citizens) – Indians just need a visa which they get on arrival and don’t have to worry about any agents, mandatory charges etc. For exact details, please refer to this wonderful blog.
Visiting in October… Is it a right decision? – We still don’t know whether we took the right decision…. Time will tell!
Earlier we were thinking of visiting Bhutan in the month of September but one of our acquaintance, who is a localite of Bhutan, warned that September can be rainy, if possible we should visit in October. Possible??? We have all the flexibility 🙂 If that’s what he suggests, that’s what we are going to do – We will visit in October.
In October, Bhutan also holds its 2nd largest festival in terms of number of visitors – Thimphu festival (Largest being Paro festival which happens in March). This was both a deterrent and a motivation for us to visit Bhutan in October. Deterrent because hotel, taxi etc. are going to be way way way expensive and it is also going to be crowded. Motivation primarily because Koshika and Vivek’s father want to see the festival. Wife overpowered the husband and we are visiting Bhutan in October!!!
Traveling options for us – Take direct flight from Delhi to Paro or take a flight to Bagdogra and then travel to Thimphu by road (~7 hours drive)
This is another thing that was discussed at length. For Vivek, it was time Vs cost dilemma – Flight cost to Paro for 4 adults + 1 child would be ~INR 50k whereas flight cost to Bagdogra would be INR 25k + 4k for the taxi to travel from Bagdogra to Thimphu. Hence a cost saving of INR 20k (USD 333) one way. When this dilemma was brought to Koshika, for her, it was not a time Vs cost dilemma but whether to see the view of Himalayas or not 🙂 . We read that while traveling from Delhi to Paro by flight, you get to see an unimaginable view of Himalayas and how can we miss that 🙂 So we decided a middle path – While going we are taking a direct flight to Paro and our return is via Bagdogra.
Best blogs to refer!
Vivek did an in-depth research and referred to countless blogs- Almost all the good looking blogs available on Google 🙂 Below are the most useful ones:
WheelsOnOurFeet (Flavour: Went through an agent. Hence followed agent’s itinerary and agent’s hotel recommendations)
- Positive: Very detailed and comprehensive
- Negative: They did this trip through an agent. Hence, the research details to finalize the itinerary is missing.
Krishnandu Sarkar (Flavour: Did thorough research to shortlist hotels and to come up with the itinerary)
- Positive: He did this trip on budget. So his blog gives a good value for money hotel options
- Negative: None that we can think of!
Travel and stories (Flavour: Highlights hidden gems of Bhutan)
- Positive: Very different from the above two blogs and very well written. We liked all the places/activities and have included all in our itinerary in the must-do category.
- Negative: She has highlighted very few places – Should have covered more 🙂
We liked all the 3 blogs so much that we have included them in our blog reader (Feedly) feed and these blogs are going to be our go-to source while doing research on any new place!!
Time spent in the research and in coming up with the final itinerary: ~60 hours (We didn’t time ourselves but approx. these are the number of hours we think we must have spent on research)
Now, without further ado, here is the final itinerary (Yellow represents must-visit and pink represents critical information). All the hotels have been shortlisted after extensive research and we think that they are the best value for money hotels (That’s what is expected out of a frugal family, Right?)
We will do another post on Bhutan after our Bhutan trip which will include details of our expenses, so stay tuned 🙂
Day 1 – Flight lands in Paro @ 1:10 p.m.; Leave for Thimphu (65 kms; 1.5 hours drive) in the evening; Night stay in Thimphu; Hotel Shantideva
- Rinpung Dzong – Main administrative office and monastery in Paro
- National Museum of Bhutan – Open all days from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Kichu Lhakhang – Temple
- Weekend market (Thu – Sun)
- Food options:
- Hotel Sonam Trophel (Serves both Indian and Bhutanese food)
- Riverside cafe – “Little cafe serving only coffee, teas and home baked cakes by the river. Even though they did not have any riverfront seating, they happily allowed us to take their portable chairs up to the river promenade where they served us the yummiest peach cake in the Bhutan. This cafe is located just behind Hotel Peljorling (opposite mobile tower).” Excerpt from the blog Travel and stories.
Day 2 – Leave for Punakha in the morning (71 kms; 3 hours drive); Night stay in Punakha; Hotel Punatshangchuu Cottages in Wangdue or Wangdue Eco Lodge
- Permit Extension – Permit not issued on Sat, Sun & Govt. holidays
- Enroute: Dochula Pass (45 mins drive from Punakha) 2 restaurants at the pass which are very clean. Most beautiful pass in the country.
- Punakha Dzong – Very beautiful. 2 hours tour time
- Suspension bridge
- Chimi Lakhang – It is common to find mythical penises painted on walls or wooden replicas planted at the door
- Khamsum Yulay Namgyal Chorten – Hike. 45 mins one way
Day 3 – Leave for Bumthang in the morning (200 kms; 9 hours); Night stay in Bumthang; Chumey nature resort
- Enroute: Stop @ Pele La – Customary Chorten (Stupa) and long colourful flags covering the hilltops
- Enroute: Stop @ Chendebji Chorten (30mins drive from Pele La) – A famous Stupa (20mins stop over)
- Lunch @ Chendebji Resort
- Enroute: Trongsa valley (Can also have lunch @ Hotel Norling. Preference will be for Chendebji)
- Enroute: Stop @ Yutong La – Marked by a Chorten and the flags
- Enroute: Stop @ Chume valley – Walk through the village
Day 4 – Night stay in Bumthang
- Sight-seeing in Bumthang; It is a small town – Try to walk as much as possible
- Jambay Lhakhang – Temple
- Kurje Lhakhang (15 mins walk from Jambay temple) – Temple
- Tamshing Lakhang (20 mins walk from Kurje Lhakhang) – Temple
- Lhodrak Kharchhu Monastery – We can walk down from here to Bumthang market
- Jakar Dzong
- Parar and Tamshing – Villages thatcan be reached through suspension bridge
- Mountain biking
Shopping: Either Main market or Thokmed Yeshey Handicrafts & Yathra Production Centre (30mins before reaching Bumthang – Has a very good collection)
Day 5 – Leave for Gangtey in the morning (3 hours drive); Night stay in Gangtey; Hotel – Dewachen Hotel
- Enroute: Stop @ Trongsa Dzong – Largest in Bhutan; The locals are most proud of this Dzong
- Tower of Trongsa Royal Heritage Museum – (Nu. 200, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday closed)
- Phobjikha valley – In October, black-necked cranes from Tibet fly down to this valley. Trek through the valley for an hour or so
- Gangte Goemba in Phobjikha valley
Day 6 – Night stay in Gangtey
We imagine that our stay in Gangtey is going to be laid back. We will take lots of rest and will mostly focus on interacting with locals – Will cover few sightseeing places on Day 5 and few on Day 6
Day 7 – Leave for Thimphu in the morning (6.5 hours drive); Night stay in Thimphu; Hotel – Namseling
Do an early morning walk in Gangtey and then leave for Thimphu
Day 8 – Night stay in Thimphu
We are staying in Thimphu for 2.5 days. All the local sightseeing will be spread across these 2.5 days.
- Festival day 1 and local sightseeing
- National Memorial Chorten – Memorial for the 3rd king of Bhutan, huge Tibetan styled stupa. Car needed to travel as it is quite far
- Buddha point – Giant-sized Buddha statue
- Trashichhoe Dzong (Fortress of Glorious Religion) – Massive structure, seat of power, houses the throne room of the king, parliament is visible from here (15 mins drive; 1 hour tour)
- Institute for Zorig Chusum – Art & crafts school, you can see students in the class. Shop – Prices are fixed. Closed on Sat, Sun & Govt holidays (30 mins tour)
- National Library of Bhutan – Houses largest book in the world (2 mins walk; 10 mins tour)
- Bhutan Post Office Headquarters – The museum tells the story of Bhutan’s progress and development through the evolution of communications and postal system in the country. You can get personalized Bhutanese postage stamps with your photo on them. You can also bring along your favorite photo to put on the stamps and put these stamps on your postcard to send to your family and friends
- Phelchey Toenkhyim or the Folk Heritage Museum – Gives a peek at the rural life of Bhutanese – How people live and pray, what do they grow in their gardens (2 mins walk; 20 mins tour; Nu. 30 per person)
- National Museum of Textiles– Houses dresses of royals in Bhutan (10 mins tour; Nu. 50 per person, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m., Sunday closed)
- Weekend market/Farmers market– Open only on Fri, Sat & Sun
- Changlimithang Archery Ground – Archery is the national sport of Bhutan
- Bhutan Takin Preserve in Motithang – Takins (Goat antelopes – Their national animal) can be found here
- Tashi Tagay Drayang, Thimphu (Dance Bar)– “Eventually we found this drayang called Tashi Tagay on lane opposite Taj Tashi. The owner runs this drayang as a charity helping out these girls from remote villages in Bhutan to be able to earn a living in the city of Thimphu One song or one dance is for Nu. 100. It is on the 2nd floor.” Excerpt from the blog Travel and Stories
- The only traffic light of Bhutan – We have read that the policeman at the light literally dances while controlling the traffic. Will share a video after our trip.
- Jungshi handmade paper factory (Closed on Saturday, Sunday & Govt. Holiday), uses traditional methods to produce the authentic Bhutanese paper known as Deh-sho
- Only if time is left
- Tango Monastery – After lunch, drive for about 30 minutes to the base camp of Tango Monastery and hike up to the Monastery. The walk up to the Monastery is through the forest filled with Rhododendron flower trees which are in full bloom during April month. Tango Monastery is the center for higher studies for monks. The view from Tango Monastery is breathtakingly beautiful. You will experience complete peace and serenity in this area.
- Tango – Beautiful Buddhist temple which was recently converted into Buddhist college. 15 kms from city center (You will have to go by car)
- Food options:
- Chula, behind Taj Tashi serves good Indian food
- Bhutan Kitchen for Bhutanese food
- Rice bowl for chinese food
- Ambient Cafe on Norzin Lam – It’s located on first floor of a building overlooking the main Thimphu town street called Norzin Lam
- Folk Heritage Museum’s restaurant – “Authentic & Organic Bhutanese Food in Thimphu. The restaurant is privately owned by this cheerful and friendly lady who also happens to be Bhutan’s first woman ex-police officer. It offers a fixed menu in two options at their respective fixed prices of 250 Nu or 450 Nu. Even 250 Nu option covers all the courses and there is ample serving of food. Its advisable to book a table there in advance at +975 17600736 (10 am to 10 pm)” Excerpt from the blog Travel and stories
Day 9 – Night stay in Thimphu
- Festival day 2 and local sightseeing
Day 10 – Leave for Haa in the afternoon (4 hours drive); Night stay in Haa Valley;Night stay in Homestay (Haa)
- Festival day 3 and Thimphu local sightseeing
- Chele La, Chela Pass (On our way to Haa) – Highest motorable road in Bhutan.There is a prayer wheel, a small altar, a round wooden table with an umbrella and an electric substation. There are prayer flags and poles – lots and lots of them all over the adjacent hills.
Day 11 – Haa Valley; Night stay in Homestay (Haa)
- Black dove temple (Lhakhang Nagpo)
- White dove temple (Lhakhang Karpo)
- Herbal hot stone bath in Homestay
- Traditional sport in Homestay
Day 12 – Leave for Paro (2 hours drive); Night stay in Paro; Hotel Nivaana
- Taktsang Monastry, Tiger’s Nest – Most popular and most photographed site in Bhutan. Trek is a combine of hill and stairs. Horses are available at the cost of Nu. 700. If booked in advance, you can get some discount. Photography not allowed. Bags/mobile phones will have to be deposited. Does not allow caps. It may be difficult to do this with kid. 1 hour lunch break at 1 p.m. Open: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.Closed on Tuesday
Day 13 – Travel to Bagdogra Airport (6 -7 hours drive)
Food Items That We Should Try (Note that we are vegetarians so have shortlisted only the veg options)
- Shamu Datshi (Mushroom curry prepared in cheese)
- Imrat Datshi – National dish. Made of chilli and cheese
- Red rice – Has more fiber than white rice
- Kokka (a special type of noodles)
- Jha Chu (Dal)
- Kewa Datshi (Potato curry)
- Ara (Local wine)
- White honey
- Buckwheat pan cake
- Bear – Druk
- Po Cha (Butter tea)
Items That Can Be Bought
- Kira – Dress for Bhutanese women. Machine made costs Nu. 850. Hand-made ones are very expensive
- Yak-bone jewellery – We found links on Google that claim that the jewellery is prepared from the bones of Yak that have died naturally but we will prefer to play safe. We don’t have any intentions to buy the jewellery.
- Gho – Man dress
- Phallus Paintings on Houses – “These paintings on walls or small wooden cut outs hung by the door is actually a sacred symbol to ward off evil eye. Only place where this sacred symbol of fertility and warding off evil eye could be found in ‘urban’ centres like Thimphu and Paro were inside tourist gift shops as souvenir in form of key chains etc” Excerpt from the blog Travel and stories
Things to keep in mind
- Inform hotels in advance that you will eat Bhutanese food otherwise you will end up getting only Indian food in most of the places
- Carry an umbrella as it rains often in Bhutan
- There is a possibility that INR may not be accepted in Bumthang as it is very remote. When in the end, you will try to convert Bhutan currency to INR, you will not get full INR. They will pay you less. Hence have limited Bhutan currency
- Few places may not accept Rs. 500 and Rs.1000 currency notes
- For tourists, when you enter Dzongs you should wear full pants and shirts with collars or full sleeves. The easiest option is to always carry a jacket and just wear it when needed
- Keep a lot of food with you – You may not get food on way
- Any kind of medical treatment is free for tourists and citizens – We read this somewhere, not sure if this is correct or not
- If you are anywhere near their national flag, you should remove your caps or hats
- Every Tuesday is Pedestrian Day and no private vehicles are allowed on road and people are encouraged to walk or use bicycle. In small towns, all taxis are allowed and in big cities like Thimphu and Paro, taxis are allowed based on their registration number. Taxis with odd and even registration numbers are allowed on alternate Tuesdays
- Take motion-sickness tablets
- Do a mini bus ride to get a feel of local Bhutan
- On the flight, sit on the left hand side to have the best view of the Himalayas
Phone Connection Details
- Buy a SIM as it will be easy to coordinate with driver and hotel
- 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/- (As on March 2016)
- Will have to submit the photocopy of your permit
- Citizens prefer Bhutan telecom
Documents required for permit
- Photocopy and original passport
- 2 passport size photos
- Permit is free of cost