Bhutan – the fabled Himalayan Kingdom sandwiched between India to the South and Tibet to the North is a small nation, unique in several ways. It is the only country in the world that measures development in terms of Gross National Happiness(GNH) instead of GDP. A nation ruled by Kings who have pledged to keep a minimum of 60% of the country under forest cover for all time! As of now over 70% of Bhutan is under pristine forest cover and is a carbon-negative country.
If you are not taken by their verdant natural richness, their ancient monasteries and formidable dzongs (fortresses) will take your breath away. The Tiger Nest Monastery, clings to a cliff-side surrounded by majestic mountains and emerald green valleys. Buddhism is the main religion practised here and monasteries and monks wield much power. The cities are beautiful with intricately decorated buildings which accentuate the local culture and traditions. Most of the locals wear their colourful national dress- gho or kira. Cities have no traffic lights yet there is no chaos. Food is laced with red chilli and Cheese again their National dish (Ema Datshi). Life is slow here yet fulfilling.
Our Tour starts from the warm plains of Siliguri at the airhead Bagdogra. We drive into Bhutan through the Phuentsholing border and visit the valleys of Thimpu, Punakha, Phojikha and Paro. The tour is a mix of culture, adventure, tradition, and some surprise! The culmination of our trip is the 5 hr round hike to Paro Taktsang, before driving back to the plains of India.
For people from the big cities, Bhutan is like travelling back in time when lands were still greener, things simpler and life richer. Bhutan is a breath of fresh air, a model country, a peaceful Shangri-La. A country that exemplifies what it is to live in harmony with our natural surroundings.
Day 01: Fly to Bagdogra. Drive to Phuentsoling
Day 02: Drive to Thimpu. Sightseeing
Day 03: Thimpu Sightseeing
Day 04: Drive to Phobjikha
Day 05: @ Phobjikha – Day Hikes
Day 06: Drive to Punakha
Day 07: Drive to Paro
Day 08: Hike to Taktsang Monastery. Evening free
Day 09: Drive to Phuentsoling
Day 10: Drive Phuentsoling to Bagdogra. Depart
INR 64500 + 5% GST
Day 01: Fly to Bagdogra. Drive to Phuentsholing
Bagdogra is the airhead to mountain regions of Darjeeling, Sikkim and Bhutan. From the airport, the Indian Border town of Jaigaon is just about 5 hrs away. Across the border is the Phuentsholing the gateway to Bhutan. We wait for all guests to arrive and assemble at the airport. Once everybody has landed we get into our vehicles and start our 5 hr drive to the Border. It is a scenic road where we cross many Tea Gardens, wildlife Sanctuaries and rivers. Depending on the hour we reach, we could be staying on either side of the border. We have dinner and retire to bed.
Driving Time: 5-6 hrs, 165 Km
Overnight Phuentsholing, Meals: D
Day 02: Drive to Thimpu(2334m) Sightseeing
It is only in the morning that you realize that you are in a new country. Everything looks much different. The intricately designed Bhutan Gate is a pleasure to watch. Traffic is more organized. First thing we need to do would be to get entry permits into Bhutan. It can take a few hours at the Regional Immigration Office at Phuentsholing depending on the rush of the day. Once the permits are issued we head out to the capital city of Thimpu. As we start our journey we leave the plains of India and start climbing on the Himalayan roads of Bhutan. Welcome to the Kingdom of Bhutan
The drive is wonderful with awesome views of Valleys and mountains. We stop for lunch or a late snack at Dantak Canteen maintained by the BRO(Border Roads Organization) and serving lip smacking food. We continue our drive towards Thimpu. On the way we drive past the bridge over River Wangchu, which is the diversion to Paro. We reach Thimpu late evening and settle into our Hotels. Dinner and retire.
Driving Time: 6 hrs, 180 Km
Overnight Thimpu, Meals: BD
Day 03: Thimpu Sightseeing
Thimpu is a small capital town….maybe the only capital without any street lights. Yet, there is almost perfect order on the road and everything seems peaceful. It is difficult to cover a whole city in a day, yet we try to show you the main attractions. Some of the places that will be covered include
Memorial Chorten: This white stupa with spires of gold, was built in honor of the the third king of the country, His Majesty Jiqme Dorji Wangchuck. It is different from the other structures since it does not enshrine human remains. It is located on Doeboom Lam in the southern-central part of the city.
Centenary Farmers’ Market (open from Thu-Sun only): Most of the Thimphu’s population and many valley dwellers converge on the bustling weekend market, held by the side of Wangchu River. A wide range of foodstuffs and local arts and crafts are sold at the market, which runs from Friday afternoon till Sunday evening. A visit to the market provides great photo opportunities, as well as the chance to mingle with local people.
Tashichhodzong, “the fortress of the glorious religion”. This is the center of government and religion, site of the monarch’s throne room and seat of the Je Khenpo or Chief Abbot. Built in 1641 by the political and religious unifier of Bhutan, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, it was reconstructed in the 1960s in traditional Bhutanese manner, without nails or architectural plans. Yet another place for photographer’s delight.
Evening you are free to roam around the market in Thimpu
Driving Time: 2-3 hrs
Overnight Thimpu, Meals: BD
Day 04: Drive to Phobjikha/Gangtey (3000m)
We make an early start and head to the famed Buddha Point which overlooks the whole Thimpu Valley.
Buddha Dordenma: Located on the hill top of city is one of the wonders and the largest statue in the country. The site has a 54 m tall sitting Buddha made of bronze gilded in gold, surrounded by Tara statues. It is a great place to visit in the morning.
From here we head to Gangtey in Phobjikha Valley. We cross the famous Dochu La Pass(3100m) with 108 Chortens. At Dochula, in the clear spring sky, you can enjoy the panoramic view of the Himalayan Mountain ranges. We will also visit Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (monastery) which was built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck (the Queen Mother of Bhutan).
We then head towards Phobjikha Valley. Visit the monastery at Gangtey before heading to our homestay at the Farm. Enjoy some local home cooked delicacies here.
Driving Time: 135 Kms, 6 hrs
Overnight Gangtey, Meals: BD
Day 05: Sightseeing @ Phobjikha – Day Hikes
We spend the day taking a Day Hike into Phobjikha Valley. Phobjikha valley is part of the beautiful Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (formerly known as Black Mountains National Park), one of Bhutan’s most important nature sanctuaries. Each winter it is home to a flock of 300 rare and endangered black-necked cranes. The surrounding hills and mountains are home to nomadic shepherds and yak-herders. This is one of the most remote and untouched regions in Bhutan.
This is a great place to enjoy serenity and get a deep insight into the lives of rural Bhutanese. Also checkout some Archery, the national sport of Bhutan. Locals participate in the competitions with gusto and it is an occasion for song and dance and much merriment. In the evening, option of trying out Tokha Menchhu…a traditional form of soaking in Hot Healing Water. Big special stones from the river bed are heated in a wood fire until they are red and thrown into a wooden tub pre-filled with water. Once the water heats up to the desired temperature, we sit in the tub and warm ourselves. Supposed to have amazing health benefits esp after a good hike.
Hiking Time: 3-4 hrs
Overnight Gangtey, Meals: BLD
Day 06: Drive to Punakha (1242m)
We start early morning and drive to Punakha. On the way we visit Chimi Lakhang – The temple of the divine madman revered in Bhutan. He is supposed to have been a quirky saint who had his own way of preaching by breaking tradition. It is famously known for its fertility shrine, where one can receive a special fertility blessing.It is pretty shocking to see the phallus symbol painted everywhere and colourful phallus models being sold all around the temple. Infact you will also be blessed by the main priest who holds a wooden phallus in his hand. 🙂
We head to our hotel in Punakha and have lunch. Post that, we visit the famed Punakha Dzong, the second oldest and second largest Dzong in Bhutan. The Dzong is located at the confluence of the Pho Chhu (father) and Mo Chhu (mother) rivers in the Punakha–Wangdue valley.
Punakha is a small town with one main street. Evening visit the local Karaoke Cafe for some fun singing.
Driving Time: 78 Km, 3 Hrs
Overnight Punakha, Meals: BD
Day 07: Drive to Paro (2200m)
In the morning, if it is a weekend we go checkout the colourful local vegetable market. It is a riot of colours with people selling all kinds of wares. A great place for photography too. After Breakfast, we head to Paro over the Dochu La again. At Chunzom(confluence of Pachu- the river flowing through Paro valley & Wangchu –the river flowing through Thimphu valley), we take right and cross the bridge over Wangchu and drive to Paro. Paro is the airhead of Bhutan and the main town is a big Valley surrounded by mountains. It has a very vibrant market, mostly selling traditional handicrafts of Bhutan.
We head to the traditional Cantilever Rimpung Bridge which is oldest bridge in Bhutan to visit Paro dzong. Paro Rinpung Dzong (fortress), built in 1645 to defend the valley against Tibetan invaders. The Dzong is now being used as an administration center and school for monks. From the Dzong you will walk back down to Rimpung Bridge.
Then visit National Museum, housed in the Ta Dzong (watchtower). Here is an intriguing collection of artefacts which provide you with a wonderful insight to the rich culture and heritage of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
In the evening explore Paro town on your own.
Driving Time: 120 Km, 5 Hrs
Overnight Paro, Meals: BD
Day 08: Hike to Taktsang Monastery(3120m). Evening free
After breakfast, drive for about 20 minutes to the base of Taktsang Monastery and then hike up to Taktsang, also known as ‘Tiger’s Nest’. The walk up to the viewpoint will take about 1 – 1 ½ hrs depending on your fitness and from View Point you will enjoy a spectacular view of the monastery clinging to the side of the cliff. Take photos with great view of Taktsang behind you.
Then walk further up to the monastery which will take about 1 hour. After visiting the monastery, walk downhill back to the road on the way stop for lunch at the view point cafeteria and then walk further downhill to the road point.
Next visit Kichu temple, one of the 108 temples built in the 7th century by the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo.
Evening at leisure.
Hiking Time: 4-5 hrs
Overnight Paro, Meals: BD
Day 09: Drive to Phuentsholing
We make our way back to the Border town of Phentsholing. Evening is spent shopping for souvenirs or catching dinner at a traditional Bhutanese Restaurant.
Driving Time: 160 Km, 4.5 Hrs
Overnight Phuentsoling, Meals: BD
Day 10: Drive Phuentsholing to Bagdogra. Depart
Our Last day. We make an early start and drive into India, towards Bagdogra Airport. We reach the airport in with some time to spare before our flights. Trip ends.
Driving Time: 165 Km, 5 Hrs