The simple yet mesmerising beauty of Bhutan has an infectious charm to it. The land of breathtaking locales, salubrious air, majestic monasteries and some of the happiest people in the world, it acts like a balm of peace on battered, worn-out souls. It is no surprise then that Bhutan is on the radar of many a travel lover. Given its proximity to India and friendly bilateral relations between the two countries, travelling to the land of Thunder Dragon is fairly hassle-free for Indians. Here is an in-depth travel guide for Bhutan to help you plan a smooth, well-ordered trip:
Top Tourist Attractions in Bhutan for Your Itinerary
A Bhutan Tourist Permit allows you access to the regions of Thimphu, Punakha and Paro. The Phuentsholing region can be accessed without a permit too. These four areas make up for a large part of the country, with an exception to certain protected areas kept off-limits for tourists for sake of environmental conservation. Here are the top attractions in Bhutan you must add to your itinerary to soak in the true spirit of this Himalayan Kingdom steeped in magic and mystery:
Buddha Dordenma Statue, Thimphu
The 169-feet tall Buddha statue built on the foothills of Thimpu is an iconic attraction that can be spotted from anywhere in the capital city of Bhutan. The towering gold and bronze structure is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bhutan. The assortment of thousands of smaller gold and bronze Buddha statues surrounding this colossal Buddha Dordenma Statue and the pristine environs of the Kuensel Phodrang Nature Park add to the mystic appeal of this destination.
Tiger’s Nest, Paro
The Taktsang Monastery, popularly known as Tiger’s Nest, that almost hangs by the edge of a cliff is one of most striking imageries of the beauty of Bhutan. The scared monastery dedicated to Guru Rinpoche emerging from the breathtakingly beautiful mountainous landscape is a sight to behold. Besides being a popular tourist attraction in Bhutan, it is also a place of pilgrimage for the locals. You have to make a moderately difficult trek to reach this monastery. The intricate ancient structure and the panoramic view of the majestic mountains and the Paro valley are every bit worth the sweat and toil it takes to reach this destination.
Phobjikha Valley, Phobjikha
Phobjikha, a small town situated in central Bhutan, is flanked by mountains and sprawling valleys, making it a haven of natural beauty. The place is popular for its passes and hiking trails traversing through lush green landscapes. You can sign up for organised day tours and excursions or go it alone to discover the town and its surrounding woods. Phobjikha Valley is also known for its population of rare migratory birds such as the black-necked cranes.
Motithang Takin Preserve, Thimphu
This zoo-cum-preserve located in Motithang district of Thimphu is the best place to discover the rich flora and fauna of Bhutan. The Motithang Takin Preserve is home to the famous Takin species, which is the national animal of Bhutan. Nature lovers describe visiting this preserves as one of the best experiences of travelling in Bhutan. The Motithang Takin Preserve is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 9 am to 4 pm. The entry fee is Rs 10 for locals, Rs 30 for citizens of SAARC nations and Rs 50 for foreigners.
National Museum Of Bhutan, Paro
The National Museum of Bhutan situated about the Rinpung Dzong in Paro was built in 1968 and is dedicated to promoting the famous native art forms. From ancient statues to contemporary paintings, the museum houses more than 3,000 unique masterpieces of art that offer a glimpse into the 1,500-year-old cultural heritage of this kingdom nation. The museum is open through the week from 9 am to 5 pm.
Tashichho Dzong, Thimphu
The ancient Buddhist monasteries are an integral part of Bhutan’s ethos and identity. While there are myriad monasteries across the length and breadth of the country, each unique in character and equally beautiful, if there is one monastery you must visit it is the Tashichho Dzong. Situated on the northern side of Thimphu, this monastery is a fortress on the banks of the Wang Chu River. The monastery not only served as the summer capital of the kingdom in ancient times but also the seat of Druk Desi or Dharma Raja. Your trip to Bhutan isn’t complete without a tour of the Tashichho Dzong.
Chomolhari, the land of snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes and splendid landscapes, is one of the most popular treks in Bhutan. It is also one of the most arduous you can undertake in the country but the view from the top is every bit worth the days of a laborious climb it takes to scale the altitude of nearly 5,000 metres. The trek can take anywhere between a week to 15 days, and it is one of the key attractions for adventure enthusiasts visiting Bhutan. However, considering the difficulty of this trek, it is not advisable for beginners.
Having figured out things to do on your Bhutan trip, the next important aspect of your trip planning is to decide the best way to get there. In this travel guide for Bhutan, we cover the top options available for Indian tourists:
By Air: Flights, of course, are the preferred mode of travel for urban tourists who want to cover more ground in less time. Bhutan has decent air connectivity from all prominent Indian cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Gaya, Guwahati and Bagdogra. The air route is serviced by Drukair and Bhutan Airlines and you fly into Paro, which is the country’s only international airport. Drukair Airlines often offers special discounted fares to Indian travellers, so reaching them out on email is a worth a shot.
By Rail: If you are travelling on a budget, a train journey can work out to be the most cost-effective way to reach Bhutan. There are trains to Hairmara from Jaigaon, an Indian border town, as well as New Jalpaiguri, Kolkata, Delhi, Kanpur and Ranchi. Train journeys are often quite time-consuming but the affordability more than makes up for it.
By Road: For those embarking on an experiential trip, there is nothing quite like travelling to and across Bhutan by road. Nothing brings out the beauty of these picturesque landscapes quite like traversing through the meandering roads cutting through lush mountains and valleys. Travellers from India can enter Bhutan via Jaigaon in West Bengal, which is just 4.3 km from Phuentsholing, the border town in Bhutan’s territory. The route is serviced by private cabs. Taxi service for Phuentsholing is also available at Bagdogra airport and New Jalpaiguri railway station.
You can start exploring accommodation options once your itinerary is finalised. Since the Bhutanese economy thrives on tourism, there is no dearth of accommodation options across the country. From luxury resorts to mid-range and budget hotels, hostels and homestays, the place has got it all. An average hotel room will cost you around Rs 2,500 in the peak tourist season and anywhere between Rs 1,000 and 1,500 during offseason. If you are booking hotels online, make sure you double check their reviews and ratings, as landing in a sub-standard property fraught with bugs and mosquitoes is a very real possibility.
Bhutan Tourist Permit for Indian Travellers
While travellers from India do not need a visa to enter Bhutan, they do require a tourist permit. The permit for citizens of SAARC nations is issued at the immigration office in Phuentsholing or the Paro International Airport. Since you’ll be getting your tourist permit on arrival, you need to carry a few documents – a fully filled out permit for, a copy of your passport or voter ID, copy of hotel booking details (it is mandatory to have at least one booking in Thimphu or Paro), travel itinerary printed or written on a A4 sheet, a passport size photo and a letter of undertaking in case you are travelling solo.
Ngultrum (Ng), the currency of Bhutan is exactly equivalent of the Indian currency, which means one Indian rupee equals 1 Ng. Besides, the Indian rupee is a legal tender across the country, so you don’t have to worry about the hassles of currency exchange when travelling to Bhutan.
Bhutan holds many a rich delight in its folds for food lovers. The cuisine is dominated by rice, meat and locally grown vegetable and most native dishes have a distinct hint of fieriness. Momos are a Bhutanese favourite and you can find many delicious variations of these Tibetan-styled dumplings in the country. Ema Datshi, identified as the national dish of Bhutan, made from a mix of chillies and locally made Datshi cheese is another luscious delicacy worth trying. Phaksha Paa, a spicy pork dish, minced chicken preparation Jasha Maru, and Goep or tripe are some of the other popular must-try native delicacies of Bhutan.