A Trip to the Land of Thunder Dragon, Bhutan

Thimphu city view - Trip to Bhutan

Every person in this world plans something unique for his birthday and tries hard to make the day memorable. For me, nothing could have been better than traveling to celebrate my day. So, I planned a trip to Bhutan with my college friends to celebrate my 24th birthday. Also, it was my first international trip so the excitement level was at its top. 😀

We planned to travel in August end and booked the flights in July to get a bit cheaper tickets. We also booked a few hotels in advance so that we could get the permits with ease because hotel booking vouchers are required to get the permits.

Stuff to pack - Trip to Bhutan
Stuff to pack – Trip to Bhutan

Now, as our departure date started coming closer, we started packing and arranging other important stuff.

  • Day 1: Fly from Delhi to Bagdogra. Travel to Alipurdwar
  • Day 2: Jeep Safari at Buxa Tiger reserve. Travel to Jaigaon.
  • Day 3: Enter Phuentsholing in Bhutan. Get permits and travel to Thimphu
  • Day 4: Sightseeing in Thimphu. Travel to Punakha
  • Day 5: Travel to Phobjikha Valley, back to Punakha and Travel to Paro
  • Day 6: Trek to Tigers Nest
  • Day 7: Travel to Chele La pass and back to Paro
  • Day 8: Travel from Paro to Phuentsholing and then to Siliguri
  • Day 9: Fly from Bagdogra to Delhi

Day 1: Fly from Delhi to Bagdogra. Travel to Alipurdwar

We were a group of five, out of which two were coming from Hyderabad and Pune and the rest three (including me) were coming from Delhi. We reached the airport a bit early because we wanted the window seats on the left side as I had heard from someone that one can see Mount Everest and other Himalayan peaks while flying from Delhi to Bagdogra or Guwahati. Our flight took off and the journey started.

It took us 2 hours and we reached Bagdogra Airport in West Bengal. Though we couldn’t get a view of Everest but Kanchenjunga was clearly visible. At the airport, we met Ashish, who came from Hyderabad and was waiting for us there since 12 PM. Now, we four were at the airport waiting for the fifth person of our group, Rahul who was supposed to reach at 1 pm but his flight got delayed. Our train was scheduled at 7:30 pm from New Jalpaiguri and it was already 5:45 pm and we were still at the airport. Neither were we shocked nor were we scared of losing the train because we knew that as we 5 were together, crazy incidents were destined to happen and we were also quite sure about Indian Railways and knew that the train would definitely be delayed.

View from the flight - Trip to Bhutan
View from the flight – Trip to Bhutan

Finally, Rahul arrived at the airport, and we rushed out to catch a taxi to the New Jalpaiguri railway station. After bargaining with some taxi walas, we finally booked one and were headed towards the railway station. The taxi driver was also somewhat wicked. He showed us his rash driving skills and drove too fast because we had told him that we won’t tip him if we missed our train. We reached the station after a very thrilling drive and found just what we were sure of. The train was late by 15 minutes. Haha! Thank You Indian Railways 😀

At 7:45 pm, the train arrived at the station and we boarded it. Now, we were to spend the next 3 hours on the train as we had no other option, we started playing UNO and playing cards. We also did the recce of the complete train and did some pranks too. We reached Alipurdwar at 10:30 pm and after searching for a few minutes, found a decent hotel, had dinner and slept.

Day 2: Jeep Safari at Buxa Tiger reserve. Travel to Jaigaon.

We woke up and got ready for the Jeep Safari at Buxa tiger reserve. The weather was humid and there had been no electricity since midnight. So we also had a small fight with the hotel owner because he didn’t turn on the generator and we just wanted to leave that place. Then, we inquired from taxi walas and they told us they would charge around ₹600 for dropping us at the Rajabhaktawa gate (forest entry gate). So, we chose to travel by auto-rickshaw instead as it was cheaper. We turned on our Bluetooth speaker and enjoyed the journey. After reaching the gate, we hired a taxi to Jayanti gate which costed us ₹1200. Jayanti gate was the starting point of the safari and as soon as we reached there, we completed all the formalities, met our guide and hopped on the green gypsy.

We crossed the gate and entered the dense forest having tall trees on both sides of the track. Our guide told us that the forest was home to various animals such as leopard, tiger, deer, and biason. However, the entire region was especially famous for housing elephants. Though we didn’t see many animals, except a deer and an elephant, we did enjoy the safari. The forest was beautiful and raw.

Safari at Buxa Tiger Reserve - Trip to Bhutan
Safari at Buxa Tiger Reserve – Trip to Bhutan

After finishing the safari, we boarded the taxi and it dropped us at the outer gate. Now we had to reach Jaigaon and the day was about to be set. There were no autos/taxis available directly to Jaigaon. So, without further delay, we hired an auto up to Kalchini and decided to take another auto to our destination, Jaigaon.

Forest of Buxa Tiger Reserve - Trip to Bhutan
Forest of Buxa Tiger Reserve – Trip to Bhutan
The group - Trip to Bhutan
The group – Trip to Bhutan

Then began our autorickshaw journey and after 5 minutes of the drive, the driver suddenly asked us to focus on the road and the surroundings. We asked him “why?” to which he replied that as we were traveling through the dense forest, there was a much higher possibility that we would come across an animal. We further asked him, “what will happen if a leopard or an elephant comes?”. The type of answer he gave was quite funny but it thrilled us and also made us alert. He said “agar leopard aa gya toh woh humara kya kar lega, hum gaadi chadha dega aur agar haathi aa gya toh hum uska kya kar lega, hum gaadi chod ke bhaag jaayega” (if a leopard comes then what can he do to us? We would continue driving and if an elephant comes, what can we do to him? We would leave the autorickshaw here and run away).

The driver also told us a few forest stories also and we thoroughly enjoyed the journey. After reaching Kalchini, we took another auto rickshaw and continued our drive towards Jaigaon (the town nearest to Bhutan border). It was an hour long journey to Jaigaon and there was no more forest. So, we thought we can travel with ease but how can things go normally with us? It started raining and it was not just a drizzle, it rather started raining cats and dogs. We could hardly see a thing outside. Somehow, the auto wala managed to drive and we finally reached Jaigaon. We checked-in into the hotel and went out for dinner.

Jaigaon is a small town situated at the bottom of a hill and is known as the border town for Bhutan. From there, one can cross the Indo-Bhutan border on his feet. There is a gate called Bhutan gate through which one can reach Phuentsholing, a town in Bhutan. We roamed around for a while and after having dinner, we relaxed in our rooms.

Day 3: Enter Phuentsholing in Bhutan. Get permits and travel to Thimphu

After 2 days of travel in India, now we were going to enter Bhutan. We got ready by 8 am, checked out of the hotel, and started walking towards the Bhutan gate, hardly 500 meters from there. We went through the frisking center and finally, we were standing on the land of Thunder Dragon. We then walked for a few meters and proceeded towards the immigration office to get the permits.

Bhutan Gate at Jaigaon - Trip to Bhutan
Bhutan Gate at Jaigaon – Trip to Bhutan

At the gate, we met some people asking if we needed a taxi. We negotiated with them and booked a taxi for 6 days for ₹20k. The package included the sightseeing of Phobjikha Valley and Chele La and we considered it a fair deal.

Our driver took all our passports and we went inside the office for the ID and fingerprint verification. Finally, our passports got stamped and being the first stamps on our passports, we were excited as hell. It took us around an hour to complete the formalities and then we started our drive towards the capital of Bhutan.

While traveling towards Thimphu - Trip to Bhutan
While traveling towards Thimphu – Trip to Bhutan

Thimphu is around 160 km from Phuentsholing and mountains accompanied us throughout the drive. It was not only scenic like any other mountain drive but was also comfortable unlike many of them. We took a halt at a village called Gedu to have our lunch and after that, we continued our drive and reached Thimphu by 6 in the evening. The city looked lively and beautiful at the time and the weather was also quite pleasant.

We kept our luggage in the rooms and got out to roam on the streets and have dinner. The receptionist of the hotel informed us beforehand that in Bhutan, most of the shops and restaurants get closed by 9 pm, except for a few clubs. So, he advised us against getting late and we followed his suggestions. As the following two days were going to be longer because they included more travel, we slept a little earlier.

Streets of Bhutan - Trip to Bhutan
Streets of Bhutan – Trip to Bhutan

Day 4: Sightseeing in Thimphu. Travel to Punakha

We got ready and went down for breakfast. We started our day with sightseeing in Thimphu. As every country’s capital comes with a list of places to visit, we shortlisted the best ones as per our interests. First, we went to the immigration office and applied for the permit of Phobjikha Valley and Punakha. Then, we visited the Buddha point which is a Buddhist temple situated on a hill on the outskirts of Thimphu. As the temple was situated atop a hill, we had to climb around 100 stairs to reach the main temple premises.

Buddha Point in Thimphu - Trip to Bhutan
Buddha Point in Thimphu – Trip to Bhutan
Buddha Point - Trip to Bhutan
Buddha Point – Trip to Bhutan

There was a colossal statue of Lord Buddha resting on the roof of the temple. The temple was alluring from inside as well due to the colorful textures and paintings. The view of the surroundings was also mesmerizing and the entire town of Thimphu was visible.

After spending some time there, we proceeded towards another Buddhist temple and then had lunch. Now, we had previously planned to visit the National Zoo but we changed our plan at the last moment because we were informed that there were no red pandas. So, instead we visited the Bhutan king palace. It was huge and the architecture was great. I can say that it is one of the best buildings of Bhutan.

We then began our journey towards Punakha. Amidst the way, we crossed one of the high passes of Bhutan, viz, Dochu la. We halted at the pass for some photos and had hot chocolate at the only cafe situated there. Then, we continued our journey and reached Punakha by 8 pm. The place was cold as compared to Thimphu. We had our dinner and then went out for a night walk.

View of Thimphu City - Trip to Bhutan
View of Thimphu City – Trip to Bhutan

Note:

The complete trip was planned by me including the flights, travel, hotels, itinerary, etc. It was not a big task for me as I am already from the travel field. But it can be a big thing for other people. In case you do not have the time or want to go through the hassle of planning every detail of your tour to Bhutan, you can have a Bhutanese travel agency like BookMyTour do it for you. They seem to offer package tours to Bhutan that includes tour vehicles, a tour guide, all food, accommodations, and also the permits. Since Indian tourists do not have to pay the expensive $250 per day fee, make sure to negotiate and also ask the specifics of what all are included in the package.

Read Part 2 : Trip to Bhutan – The Land of Thunder Dragon

About

An engineer and a travel blogger. Loves trekking and doing bike road trips. Burger lover (want to try every burger in the world). Clinomaniac. Sports fanatic. Likes technology but not a technology addict.

8 Comments

  • Shivani Jha January 15, 2019 at 9:42 pm Reply

    Awesome!!

    • Manu Khandelwal January 19, 2019 at 12:05 am Reply

      Thank you Shivani 🙂

  • hitokirihoshi January 21, 2019 at 6:19 pm Reply

    I feel your excitement knowing this is your first out of the country trip. I don’t much about Bhutan and definitely your post gives me tips/ clues what to expect. i wish to see mt. everest also, not through hiking but airplane window hehehe.

    • Manu Khandelwal February 5, 2019 at 12:18 am Reply

      Thanks a lot for reading. You must visit Bhutan. Beautiful place on earth.

  • Sonam from Bhutan January 23, 2019 at 11:38 am Reply

    Thanks for sharing this travelogue. Hope you enjoyed your trip to my country. Good that you added Phobjikha to your itinerary, I think every tourist should visit that place.

    • Manu Khandelwal February 5, 2019 at 12:19 am Reply

      Thanks for reading Sonam. Yes, I enjoyed a lot on my trip to Bhutan and Phobjikha was the best place as per me. 🙂

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