Bhutan, one of the neighbouring countries of India lying towards the eastern part of the Himalayas is all about its beautiful valleys, high mountains, twisted roads, rich cultural heritage, religion, tradition and royalty. Many Indian states like West Bengal, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim borders India and Bhutan. It is also called “The Land of the Thunder Dragons”. As I have been to Bhutan just a few days ago, I realised there is something more about this beautiful country, the folktales, the various stories related to their religion, their religious leader, their beliefs and customs are so unique and different. It is a beautiful paradise which everyone should visit at least once in their life. But before you start planning your trip to Bhutan there are some important things that you must know and for which I am writing this post today. So let’s begin the 20 things you need to know before planning a trip to Bhutan also called “The Last Shangri-la”.
20 Things to know as an Indian before planning your Bhutan Itinerary
1. Entry to Bhutan
There are two ways one can enter Bhutan, one is via airways that is you can land at Paro International Airport and get your immigration done from there. Another entry point is through Phuentsholing which is accessible from West Bengal border town Jaigaon. For tourists coming from West Bengal and Northeastern states that is the best way to enter if you want to save some extra money of your air tickets.
2. Immigration Formalities
If you are entering Bhutan via Phuentsholing the bordering town between India and Bhutan, the Immigration office there works from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday and 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm is a lunch break. If there is no rush it may take about half an hour to complete the formalities. All you need to do is fill up a form. Prepare a brief itinerary about your stay there. After filling up your form, submit it and then they will send you upstairs for scanning. They will generate your permit within some time. You don’t need a visa to enter Bhutan, all thanks to the close foreign and trade policy relation between Bhutan and India.
For foreign nationals, it is mandatory to book a recognised tourist agent/ guide to enter Bhutan. Also, they need to pay beforehand and that payment is inclusive of some important services.
3. Documents required
You need either your passport or voter’s id card. Also, you require a passport size photograph of each member of your group. You can carry other important documents through these two are most important.
4. Entry via Paro Airport
It remains open through the whole week. Entering Bhutan on weekends is possible only if you are flying to Paro. If you are entering via Paro, get the first night of your hotel booking done before you land.
5. Hotel Bookings
For Indian tourists, it is mandatory to show a hotel booking document/receipt of your first-night stay in Bhutan. So book your hotel ahead before entering Bhutan, at least the first day. Take this seriously.
6. Entry permit
The entry permit you will receive in Phuentsholing will limit your entry only to Thimpu and Paro for 7 days. For visiting Punakha, Chele la Pass, Haa Valley, Bumthang valley, and other places you can get your extended permit from Thimpu Immigration office. It is located in the main town near Crafts market.
7. Entry via rail route
To enter Phuentsholing, the nearby railway station is Hasimara or Alipurduar also New Jalpaiguri Railway Station. For people from Northeast, it is best to get down as Hasimara the station which comes after Alipurduar. You can get a cab which will charge you Rs.500 (bargain they shall ask you more). It will take just forty minutes if there is no traffic to reach Jaigaon and then enter Phuentsholing.
8. Best trains to book your tickets
The best train to travel from Guwahati is the Ranchi-Kamakhya The Capital Express. It departs from Kamakhya platform at 5 am in the morning and reaches Hasimara at around 10 am. I have found this is the best train to travel. If you are coming from other parts of India than get a train that reaches Hasimara/ Alipurduar/ NJP early morning as that will save your time in the permit office and you can reach your destination the same day.
9. Entry via airways
There are just two direct flights to and from Paro, one is the Druk Airways and the Bhutan airlines. If you couldn’t manage a ticket in either of the flight than you may get a ticket and reach Bagdogra airport and get a cab/taxi and reach Phuentsholing. Try to book your tickets earlier as I have heard tickets get sold very fast as there are just two flights to reach Paro.
10. Getting a local Sim
As soon as you enter Phuentsholing your Indian network will stop working. After getting your permit you can take a local sim card from the shops in Phuentsholing. All you will need is the permit photocopy and one passport size photo. It shall get activated instantly. Then you can get your recharge done. Wi-fi is available in most of the hotels and high-end restaurants in Thimpu and Paro. Even the homestays in the outskirts have wi-fi facility.
11. Cab/Taxi to reach Thimpu
If you have fixed a travel agent than getting to Thimpu is not a problem. Its also not a problem if you are not travelling via a travel agent. You can travel on your own. You shall find lots of cab or taxi drivers outside the permit office in Phuentsholing and some of them might approach you if you need any help in getting your permit done. They are very well mannered, you can take their help. Also, you can get a cab/taxi to reach either Thimpu or Paro. They generally charge between Rs. 2500-3000. Try to bargain, show you are not willing to pay that much.
12. Peak seasons/best time to travel in Bhutan.
Our cab driver told us from March to May and again from September to November is the best time to visit Bhutan. The remaining months are not much frequented by tourists either due to monsoons or excessive cold. During these seasons you will find Bhutan beautiful with various kinds of flowers blooming here and there and yes, you will come across beautiful and various kinds of rhododendrons as you go in the higher altitude during the springtime.
13. Perks of travelling during peak season
There are many things that might be quite rough in your pocket if you are travelling during the peak seasons. You will find the rates of the hotels much higher than what is real it should be. We visited in the second week of May and some of the hotel guys told us in off -season the prices would be almost half. Cabs and taxi charges are higher, etc. If you don’t have your hotel booked than there might be a problem in finding a good hotel in the main town area if you want to stay there. You shall get lots of resorts/homestays on the outskirts of the town.
14. Weather in Bhutan
The weather in Bhutan is very pleasant during the months mentioned as peak season. But still, rain is unpredictable. Like my sister-in-law travelled just a week ahead of us in the first week of May and they got rainfall here and there. Just next week we visited May 9th, 2018 to May 14th and sun was shining brightly on us. We didn’t get any rainfall. But it is advisable to carry a raincoat/umbrella with you.
15. Clothes to be packed
There is always a chill wind going on in Bhutan since its elevation. Carry light woollen clothes with you, a shawl may be which you can wrap if you feel cold. If it rains it gets colder as I am told so you can carry one heavy woollen garment as per your need. If you are planning to hike to The Tiger’s Nest Monastery, carry your hiking clothes, also some warm clothes as it gets colder as you go up in the altitude. I am sure seasoned hikers must be well acquainted with these. Pack comfortable hiking shoes. If you have kids with you, pack heavy woollens for them as the chill wind may affect their health.
16. Entry fees in the Monasteries
So entry into some of the Monasteries is not free but is very expensive. So to enter the main monasteries in Thimpu you need to get your tickets Rs.500 each. Also to enter the premises of The Tiger’s Nest Monastery you need to get your tickets, Rs. 500 per tourist. It’s quite expensive, isn’t it?
17. Cash in Bhutan
For Indian tourists, it is advisable to carry extra cash with you as I am not that sure about the reliability of the ATMs there. If you have an international card than its fine. Still, most of the small cafes, shops, and the stalls in the craft market doesn’t accept a card. Also if you have booked your cab/taxi for sightseeing in and around then you need to pay him in cash. You need not change your currency, you can use the Indian Currency. Just to avoid trouble make sure you spend all the Bhutanese currency there itself as it won’t work on our part.
18. Food in Bhutan
Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food is available in Bhutan. Beef and Pork are more popular than chicken though all three are available. Most of the restaurants/ hotels serve Indian food. Try eating out in the small cafe, you will love the feel, people are very hospitable there and also save some money. As I have found food is quite expensive. The local food is Ema Datsi, which is lots of cheese and other ingredients, sun-dried version of both beef (Shakam paa) and pork are available, ask them about the preparation before ordering anything. These are generally available when there is a ban on meat due to religious reasons.
19. Dress code for the monasteries
When you are visiting the monasteries you must be properly dressed. The Bhutanese people are very traditional and they love their culture and it is our duty to respect that. It is advised to avoid wearing short clothes. You need to remove your sunglasses/ hats when entering the monasteries. Do not make much noise. Only then you can enjoy the calmness and peaceful atmosphere.
20. Do not litter.
Bhutan is very clean, they try to keep their surroundings clean, so as responsible travellers and tourists it is our duty to maintain that. Also, there are public toilets everywhere, as open urination/defecation is fineable that reaches unto Nu 100 in Bhutan. There is a ban on Tobacco/smoking in Bhutan so try to maintain that in public.
That was all about some of the most basic and important things you need to know as an Indian traveller before planning your trip to Bhutan.
Some of the points are useful for tourists coming from other nations. I am sure it will guide your trip, it will give you proper assistance. For more details, you can mail me, say a Hi! or simply put down your thoughts as comments on the comment section below. Also do not keep these tips limited to you, hit the share buttons. There are lots of upcoming posts about Bhutan. Stay tuned and keep reading my blog. You can subscribe to receive exclusive emails about latest posts and updates.