This country is the closest to my heart. It’s where I started backpacking. Bhutan taught me how it is 100% OK to not have an itinerary and just take each day as it comes.
Also, it’s a country laden with the most majestic mountains ever seen. It did not take me even 30 seconds to completely & irrevocably fall in love with Bhutan.
Let’s start with ‘How to get there’?
I booked my tickets to Bagdogra (Siliguri, India), the day I decided to go and boarded my flight the next day. You see, I was slated to go to Bali, but as luck would have it. A volcanic eruption was looming on the Balinese soil and had to cancel that trip.
Not the one to be bogged down, I glided my way into Bhutan. And it’s been my best decision, till date.
Stop 1: Bagdogra.
After landing in Bagdogra, I took a cab to reach till Jaigaon (4 hour drive). Now there’s a catch, Jaigaon touches the Bhutan gate. And just on the other side of the gate, there’s Phuentsholing, the border town in southern Bhutan.
It’s unreal, if you may ask! Since the gate is standing tall, on an everyday busy street, casually.
Since Bhutan has visa on arrivals or also known as visit permits, you need to get your permit from Phuentsholing to enter Thimphu/Paro. I would advise to get your permit online, in advance.
Once you reach Paro/Thimphu, you need to get your permits for every other city you want to go to (Punakha, Bhumthang etc) from the respective permit offices.
You can sense the difference, just by a mere gate. Jaigaon is filthy, dirty, crowded and rowdy. But as soon as I crossed the gate, there was discipline, cleanliness and kindness in the air.
The visa permit office is open, till 3PM; hence you need get your permits before that, or then wait until next day & go through the process again. Since, I reached Jaigaon by 8PM, had to stay back until the next day.
Traveler’s tip: If you’re a female solo traveler, or just a group of girls traveling, don’t stay back in Jaigaon. Cross the gate and stay for the night in Phuentsholing until you get your permits.
The hotel rent is comparatively higher than Jaigaon, but it’s safer.
After successfully acquiring my permits, commenced on my journey to Thimphu. I shared my ride with 2 very beautiful women from Nagaland, India. The journey from Phuentsholing to Thimphu (approx 4 hours) was nothing less than captivating.
I stayed at Hotel Ghasel (3 star hotel in the city center). This place needs a special shout-out. One of the most helpful hotel owners I’ve come across. He told us all about Bhutan, its history, the culture, unexplored places. Even helped, find a stay in Paro (my next destination).
In fact, we got the chance to hang out with a Bhutanese official from the Parliament. How cool is that! Chilling with a Bhutanese minister. These moments is what makes travel worthwhile. Always.
Here’s a list of 10 must-do things in the capital city, Thimphu:
- Tashiccho Dzong: It was my first time, inside a Dzong. Also known as monastery, a distinctive fortress that can be found in almost all the cities of Bhutan. And yet, every Dzong has its own peculiarity.
What’s so special about this one?
a. It houses the throne room and the offices of the present king (Namgyel Wangchuck).
b. It also hosts one of the biggest Tshechu festival, every year. (Have elaborated about it in my latter points).
Interesting fact: unlike other countries that love their democracy, the citizens of Bhutan feel otherwise. They love their king so much, that they aren’t comfortable with the voting system. Astonishing right?
In fact, they speak so highly of their king that their devotion is infectious.
So, don’t be surprised, if you see huge photo frames of the king, queen & the prince (they look adorable btw) in every local’s house/café/restaurant/office/bank etc. it’s out of sheer love & respect.
2. Buddha Dordenma: this is one of the most iconic Buddha statues in Bhutan. It is peaceful, & massive. The sight is unforgettable.
3. The shopping street: the main street of Thimphu city has innumerable stores that you can shop from. Mind you, do not underestimate the fashion quotient of Bhutanese people. The women are so beautiful, I couldn’t staring.
Traveller’s tip: entire Bhutan, does NOT have traffic signals. Yeah, people drive cars with utter discipline and zero honking. Go figure!
There are 2 types of attire:
a. Traditional attire: everyone needs to wear the national dresses Gho (for men) and Kira (for women) while they are working for any government offices.
Gho (for men) is a knee length robe-like cloth adorned with a belt & worn with knee length socks.
Kira is worn by women, which is an apron like dress.
Trust me; it’s one of the most beautiful national attires I have ever seen. (Ranges between 2.5k-3K)
These attires were made compulsory and introduced in order to inculcate a sense of community and national pride from within.
If you’re in the mood to wear it, just rent it for a day. (To save money on purchasing)
b. Western attire: just like everyone else around the globe does. And lo behold, they are quite trendy.
4. Mojo park: This is one of the happening bars of Thimphu. Mostly, they have a live band performing at night. While Mojo Park is well known, there are a lot of local bars at every corner of the street.
Traveller’s tip: Bhutanese people love karaoke. Especially serenading to Bollywood songs. Make sure you get that experience.
5. Tshechu festival: it’s religious festival that happens in almost all the districts. But the biggest one happens in Thimphu (Tashichho Dzong) & Paro Dzong. The focal point of this festival is the traditional ‘Cham’ dances. There are elaborate costumes, masks, swords and the works. I felt like I was transported in the Samurai era.
While the Dzong has the traditional prayers and performances happening, the entire street of Thimphu comes alive. There are various stalls of clothes, accessories, food put up for those 3 days.
It’s something you should definitely experience. I was blessed to witness it.
6. The Tango monastery: a little far from the main city, it’s situated on a hill-top. As it’s rightly said: No Pain, No Gain. The climb was tough, but it was surreal. You could club this with Cherri monastery. But that’s tougher to climb.
7. Docula pass: this is the place where I saw clouds. Literally. Also, you get the mind-numbing view of the Himalayas. It was so chilly, but it had me glued to the ground. It has around 108 memorial stupas.
This comes on your way to Punakha. (Small city in Bhutan)
8. Punakha dzong: technically, the city of Punakha is known for its Dzong.
What’s so special?
It’s built by/overlooking the beautiful river. If I have to be a little biased? This was my most favourite Dzong in the entire country. Also, the woodwork and the architecture are splendid.
It was drizzling while I visited, so that gave a mesmerising effect.
Traveller’s tip: you could get hire a car for a round trip to Punakha (3.5k approx). It covers the Docula pass, Dzong, Suspension bridge & the little town of Chimi Lhakhang.
9. Suspension bridge: by time I got the chance to visit the Suspension bridge, it started to rain heavily. Since I detest rains, I contemplated, if I should go or no. The roads got murkier. But since I suffer from solid FOMO, I pushed myself.
God dammit, it was the best decision.
Traveller’s tip: if you love camping, Punakha is a great place to camp under the moon lit sky.
10. Chimi Lhakhang: oh the abundant penises I saw. Yeah, you read that right. This small little town in the Punakha district is known for its Fertility Temple. Legend has it, if you’re trying to conceive, you should come here to seek blessings.
Drupka Kenly, the yogi (of Chimi Lhakhang), was the one that actively encouraged the use of phallus symbols (penis) in paintings and carvings in the monastery. You will see a couple of souvenir shops selling phallus key chains and stuff. (Quite expensive though).
Traveller’s tip: don’t be shocked when you see a lot of ‘phallus’ painted on every wall of the house. It’s considered sacred.
Boy, do I love Bhutan! I have so many more stories to share of this amazing country. Like always, it will have to wait until next time.
Ciao for now!