Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Budget Trip to Bhutan

We (My wife and I) travelled to Bhutan during Apr 21 to Apr 28, 2014 from Hyderabad, India. The place had fascinated me ever since I heard about it from my two classmates in Philippines. The place has many unique things to its credit.
1. A place still ruled by the king and the queen and has democracy
2. A landlocked country
3. Beautiful clean places with its own unique culture of clothes, food, games, traditions and beliefs
4. A unique ecosystem of plants and animals
among other things.

I will give a brief of the plan followed by details to help you plan your trip.
Hyderabad --> Bagdogra --> Phuentsholing --> Thimphu --> Paro --> Phuentsholing --> Bagdogra --> Hyderabad

Day 1: Early morning flight from Hyd to Kolkata, Stopover for 2 hrs at Kolkata, Connecting Flight from Kolkatta to Bagdogra. Reach Bagdogra by afternoon, take a prepaid taxi to Phuentsholing and stay at Hotel Sinchula (http://www.tripadvisor.in/Hotel_Review-g469428-d456013-Reviews-Hotel_Sinchula-Phuntsholing_Chukha_District.html).
Day 2: Get immigration formalities done, get a prepaid sim card, take a bus to Thimphu. Saw Buddha statue at night and night view of Thimphu from near Buddha statue. Stayed in Peaceful Resort (http://www.tripadvisor.in/Hotel_Review-g293845-d1943683-Reviews-Peaceful_Resort-Thimphu_Thimphu_District.html) for the night.
Day 3: Saw the Takin preserve, roamed around Thimphu market (meant for tourists), Bought souvenirs, went to Choki Traditional Art School, Saw Thimphu Dzong (from outside), Visited the local football stadium and stayed at Peaceful resort.
Day 4: Travelled by taxi to Paro, enroute visited Tachogang temple (on a hill after crossing Paro river), Checked into Rema resort in Paro (http://www.tripadvisor.in/Hotel_Review-g321541-d2166460-Reviews-Rema_Resort-Paro_Paro_District.html), Visited the Paro musuem, the Paro Dzong, did archery for an hour and rested at Rema resort for the night.
Day 5: Trekking Tiger's nest (Paro Taktsang), booked bus tickets for travel next day to Phuentsholing .
Day 6: Travelled to Phuentsholing, took Bhutanese bus from Phuentsholing to Siliguri and stayed at Sevoke Valley Residency (http://www.tripadvisor.in/Hotel_Review-g659786-d4606812-Reviews-Sevoke_Valley_Recidency-Siliguri_West_Bengal.html) in Siliguri, West Bengal.
Day 7: Auto from hotel to Bagdogra airport and afternoon flight Bagdogra-Kolkata-Hyderabad with a layover at Kolkata. Reached home in Hyderabad at night.

The detailed plan of the above with associated costs, distances, mode of travel, review of places is hereunder:
Day 1: Reached Bagdogra at around 1 pm and took a prepaid taxi at a prepaid taxi stand to Phuentsholing. Enroute the driver stopped for lunch at a restaurant. The cost of the prepaid taxi was Rs.2,263 for an Indica. You can get Indicas and Innovas from the prepaid taxi stand with payment and receipt.

We reached Phuentsholing around 7 pm.
You know you are entering Bhutan when you see the welcome board:


We put our stuff at Hotel Sinchula and though we could have ordered food in the hotel, we walked back to India for dinner as we wanted to explore the border area. The hotel is 5-10 min walk from the border. We had dinner at a vegetarian hotel (tried their unique delicious Bhutanese dish called Kewa Datshi - A dish made of Potatoes, Cheese and chillies, Photo below)
There are restaurants around in the Indian side and food should not be a problem. They serve both Indian and Bhutanese dishes on both sides of the border.
Dzong next to Hotel Sinchula:
Night stay at Hotel Sinchula.

Day 2: We started at around 9 am for and went to the immigration centre after having breakfast. We filled up the application forms for visitor visa along with the 2 photographs and passport and submitted it. We had to wait for about 45 min to get our application processed along with our photo taken and get the permit. (You are only allowed to travel to some distance in Phuentsholing without the permit)
With the permit to enter Bhutan, we photocopied a couple of copies of the permit. We bought ourselves a local sim card (http://www.tashicell.com/prepaid-mobile for latest call rates) from the Tashi complex which is the office of Tashi (a popular mobile service provider) and is 5 min walk from the immigration office.
There is a park with a Dzong nearby which can be checked out if time permits.

We comfortably checked out of Hotel Sinchula (check out time is 12 pm or so) and took a cab to Phuentsholing bus stop (around a km away. We paid Rs.50 for taxi). We bought bus tickets to Thimphu (Rs.230 per head) and it took close to 6 hrs to reach thimphu. We reached Thimphu bus station around 6.15 pm. We took a taxi to take us to Peaceful resort (Taxi fare Rs.100 after bargaining. 5 km distance. Rs.20/km seems to be fair although they demand more). My friend came to the hotel and picked us up for dinner. Post dinner, we went to see a big Buddha statue in Thimphu and the night view of Thimphu from the same hilltop. It is advisable to see the Buddha statue during the day although the night view of the city from the hilltop is mesmerizing.


Day 3: My friend picked us up at the hotel and we visited the Takin preserve which is very close to the peaceful resort. The takins were unfortunately a little far away that day from the enclosure boundary and we didnt get a very good look at them. They are very lazy. After that we went to the tourist area with lots of souvenirs/handcrafts for tourists to buy. We then went to the Thimphu main post office where we bought a souvenir of the Taktsang monastry magnet which is the cheapest here (Rs.500). One can also get their photo taken in the post office and get custom stamps made with your photo at this place. Unlike in India where your customised stamp has a photo alongside the regular stamp, here your photo is the main part of the stamp. A set of 4 stamps can be done for around Rs.350. Later, we took leave of our friend and we had hired the same taxi of the previous night for the rest of the day (Rs.800 post negotiation). We went to Choki Traditional Art School (it is north of Thimphu and the route can be a little back breaking as there is no proper road in the last few kilometers). The entrance of the school is mesmerizing with the large art work:
Embroidery of Goddess White Tara being made. It takes close to 4 months to get this embroidery from start to finish.
 Wood carving being done at one of the classrooms.

En route you will crossing the Thimphu chu (Thimphu river) and you can get a few good photographs along the river front.
We saw the Thimphu Dzong in the evening and were late for the ceremony which starts at 4.30 pm or so. We later went to the nearby football stadium and went back to our hotel.

Day 4: We checked out of the hotel (Peaceful Resort) and travelled to Paro with the same taxi driver (Rs.2000 for the entire day). On the way, we visited Tamchogang temple. It is temple on top of a hill which can be reached after crossing the Paro river. There are 2 parallel river crossings - one metallic thrilling one and another less thrilling one.


The drive from Thimphu to Paro is around 1.5 hr excluding the small trek and river crossing to Tamchogang temple. We arrived at Rema resort which is 1.5-2km from central Paro and is situated alongside Paro river at around 1 pm. The view from the resort is good, but the service is the worst ever. We had lunch (with bugs in it - one of the many reasons for poor service of this hotel) and visited the Paro museum and Paro Dzong. The Paro museum has an entrance fees of Rs.50 for an Indian couple or so. The museum has a wide variety of things - masks used for festivities, stuffed animals (especially lots of birds) specific to Bhutan area, mineral samples with a small area on geology, Pottery, how to make buttered tea, etc. It is an interesting museum to see. Cameras and mobiles need to be submitted at the entrance.
Paro Dzong is situated along the Paro river and has a breathtaking panaromic view of the entire Paro valley.



Dzongs were once military areas but are now administrative areas of Buddhist temples and have paintings/sculptures and Buddha Statue/other gods inside.
Inside Paro Dzong:




We later went to an archery range in Paro and did archery. One side of this range has professionals and the other side is free for amateurs to try archery (Rs.100 per head/hr). 

We booked a driver with the help of the reception at the hotel for a hotel pick up and drop to the base of Taktsang monastry for the next day.

Day 5: It takes about 45 min to reach the base of the monastery from Paro (Taxi charge of Rs.700 for pick up and drop). There are two options: trekking or hiring a horse and trekking only the last part. We trekked the whole way. We were slow and it took us about 3 hrs to reach to the top. Almost 1 hr looking around and resting and about 2 hrs on the way down.
Photo of monastery from base. The little while thing in the mountain in the below photo is the monastery.

The real size is revealed as you get close to it.
There is a restaurant in the middle of the way to eat, but it is quite expensive at Rs.450 per head for a vegetarian buffet.
On the way back to the hotel, we bought bus tickets for the next day from Paro to Phuentsholing (Rs.220 per head) as there are only 2 morning buses daily. One is at 8.00 am which we took. Another costlier alternative is to hire a sharing taxi which can charge around Rs.600-Rs.800 per head (dont remember the exact figure) or hire a full cab for Rs.3200 or so.
We reached Phuentsholing bus station at 1 pm and booked the Bhutan bus to Siliguri from Phuentsholing for Rs.132 per head (yes, it is that cheap). The Bhutan bus is faster and reaches Siliguri in 3.5 hrs or so compared to Indian buses which start from Jaigoan (Indian side of Phuentsholing) and take over 5-6 hrs to reach Siliguri. Another costlier alternative is to hire prepaid taxis to Siliguri or Bagdogra. We had enquired on day 2 we while leaving Phuentsholing to Thimphu and they said the bus to Siliguri would start at 2pm. It was supposed to be a tight schedule from Paro but the departure bus timing (not sure if the time was revised) was 3 pm from Phuentsholing. We reached Siliguri at around 7 pm (post a tyre change enroute) and took a share auto to reach Sevoke Valley Residency hotel.

Day 7: Checked out of the hotel at around 12 pm, caught an auto (Rs.300) to Bagdogra airport and caught flight back to Hyderabad with layover at Kolkatta.

Some interesting things discovered about Bhutan:
There is only one traffic junction in Bhutan which is there in Thimphu. This is yet to have an automated traffic signal and there is a traffic police directing traffic at this one junction.
Television was introduced in Bhutan only in 1999.
Although notes above Rs.100 are forbidden to be taken or used in Bhutan, people arent against it as it helps them trade more easily with Indians across the border.
Indian currency works easily in Bhutan as the people want more of Indian currency and it costs the people to get Indian currency for buying things.
Archery is their national sport.
Terracotta Buddhist Vortive miniature stupas can be found a plenty in mountain crevices.

The culture of Buddhism does not allow killing of animals. But, the modernisation of the country is expanding non-vegetarianism.

The various key costs of our trip are as follows:
Flight                  - 26248
Road transport   -   8933
Food and drinks -   3200 (We did pack in quite a lot of ready to eat items for the journey)
Hotel           - 15065 (Hotel Sinchula: Rs.1240 (1 Night); Peaceful resort: Rs.8385 (2 N); Rema Resort: Rs.3780 (Paid for 1 Night although stayed here for 2 nights as the service was so bad I demanded refund of 1 night and I got it); Sevoke Valley Residency: Rs.1610 (1 N); Remaining tips)
Misc                           -  1247
Gift/items/Souveneirs-  3478
Total                          - 58171 (door to door from Hyd)

Hope this information helps all of you to make your own travel plans to visit and enjoy beautiful Bhutan.
If this post has helped you ease your mind on travelling to Bhutan, identify places to visit and has saved you money (which I am sure it would), I kindly request your help in enabling us to travel to unique interesting places and put up more such posts by donating a part of your travel savings to our travel fund.

The bank account details are as follows:
Account holder's name: Ajit Jagannathan
Bank name: HDFC Bank
Account Number: 17531870000451
IFSC Code: HDFC0001753
SWIFT Code: HDFCINBBBNG

You can contact me at ajitjagan@gmail.com for further details for visiting Bhutan.
Cheers.

P.S: Updated on 1 Apr 2016:
A good post on travel to Bhutan is mentioned in the below link which I have not covered.
http://blog.byond.travel/index.php/cocks-kings-an-honest-travel-companys-guide-to-bhutan/byond/

A brave thing to do

The bride hunt is one of the bravest of things I can see many Indian guys in arranged marriage do.
Consider this: "A guy who doesnt sucessfully engage in checking out girls in all free public places goes to check out girls in their houses and that too in front of their parents..."