Bhutan Diaries # 1: Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon

DSC04179Curiosity about this once hermit kingdom which has been deliberately slow in opening its doors to outsiders is one of the reasons we choose to visit Bhutan. Being a neighbor to India, it’s a country that rarely features in the news. This Buddhist kingdom is known as Druk Yul (“Land of the Thunder Dragon”) in Dzongkha, the official language of Bhutan. If you visit Bhutan, you will get to experience the natural charm of the first country where Gross National Happiness is deemed more important than Gross National Product.It is one of the few Asian countries that has never been colonized, and has  picturesque landscapes ranging from the Indian plains to the breathtaking Himalayan range.

On entering Phuntsholing in the plains, one gets the feeling of being in a Buddhist gated community which is well laid out, clean (gets cleaner as you go further inside Bhutan) and orderly in contrast to the Indian bordering town of Jaigaon. Here, vehicles stop at pedestrian crossings and refrain from mindless honking!

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Entering Phuntsholing

Vehicles enter through this painted gateway from Jaigaon (West Bengal, India) into Phuntsholing.On one side are two small gates, for people to walk  between the two countries and all gates close at 10.00pm (9.30pm IST). Just remember, that Bhutan is half an hour ahead of Indian Standard Time!

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Inside Phuntsholing

Walking around we spotted the first giant prayer wheel. The locals as they pass by take a break to turn the prayer wheel, walking around a couple of times.

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Being Indians we didn’t need a visa to enter Bhutan but had to get a permit at Phuntsholing to travel up further to the capital city of Thimphu and to the town of Paro.

With the exception of visitors from India, Bangladesh and Maldives, other foreign nationals  I heard are required to pay a minimum of $250 per day and have to go through a tour operator to  process a visa to visit Bhutan.

 

This was our one week itinerary: Phuntsholing – Thimphu – Punakha – Paro – Phuntsholing

Stay tuned for more tales from the Land of the Thunder Dragon

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Useful information you could do with if you plan on traveling to Bhutan:

Getting there: We took a flight to Bagdogra and then a Prepaid cab to get to Phuntsholing (3.5 – 4 hours). You could also fly into Paro, the only international airport in the country but flight fares are quite expensive.

Permits: Indians need to get a permit processed (no fee charged) at the Immigration office in Phuntsholing which lets you travel to Thimphu and Paro for 7 days. If you’d like to stay longer you could extend this permit at Thimphu. Documents you will need for the permit: 2 photocopies of either your passport or voter ID and 1 passport size photo. Keep the original document with you. Most hotels in Phuntsholing have the permit application form. The office opens at 9.00am so make sure your there by 8.45.It took us about an hour to get our permits.

Connectivity: Once you have a permit you can buy a `tourist sim’ to have a local number during your stay in Bhutan. Most hotels are WiFi enabled.

Money: Indian currency is accepted including Rs.500 and Rs.1000 Rupee notes. There are ATM’s at Phuntsholing, Thimphu and Paro which dispense Bhutanese currency (Ngultrum). Though, we found that at times the machines can be a bit moody and choose not to dispense cash!

 

 

 

Next: Bhutan Diaries #2

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