Unique culture and lifestyle of Bhutan was very interesting to read in blogs which made me to suggest the place for a trip on Diwali holidays. What!! International trip!!! Are you kidding!!! This was the first response from the buddies. I shared few pics of Bhutan and informed the most crucial thing.. It’s economical to travel any stay in Bhutan. There was few travelers who had done the voyage with very less budget. Once dates and place was agreed, It was my responsibility to have an itinerary. Initial plan was to travel by train from Bangalore to Kolkata and from Kolkata to Hasimara in train. Thanks to all the great travelogues. We booked the train tickets from Bangalore to Kolkata in Durronto Express. Even it was before two months, tickets where on waiting list. Air fares where to high because of Diwali holidays. Two weeks before the planned travel date, excitement made our mind week. We lost confidence in Railways even though tickets would have confirmed. Luckily for some strange reason air fare had gone down. This plan would take a day less with a little hike in ticket compared to train ticket. It was Wednesday, 26th Day of October when we boarded from Bangalore to Kolkata. I can’t proceed this without mentioning the passport hungama that happened. I was told by my friend that, even if we don’t need a visa, we would need to take an entry permit from the border city and we would need an ID card the same. I was so insane that I kept the passport back in room and took the DL and reached airport. It was impossible to get into Bhutan without passport or voter id for Indians. I had one hour for my check in. Only option was to ask someone to get the passport to airport. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for my friend who was at room, had to drive like to a rocket in Bangalore Traffic to get the passport on time. We where late by few minutes and the whole crew was waiting for us. It was a nice feeling when the entire crew is waiting for us to take of the flight.
We had our train from Kolkata to Hasimara, which is the closest railway station to Indo-Bhutan Border City – Phuentsholing. Our train was from Sealdah Station in Kolkata. I had been told by friend that it is one of the busiest station in Kolkata which connects Kolkata to Eastern part of the country. Station architecture was something new for me. A different kind of station where you feel that train is inside the station rather the train passing through the station. Journey from Sealdah Station, Kolkata to Hasimara took 14 hours.
|View from Train journey to Hasimara|
Hasimara Station to Jaigon – Border City is 20-30 minutes’ drive by road. We got down in the wrong side of the Station where you will find only Cars which is very expensive compared to 35Rs per head auto on the other side of the platform. You could see vast Tea plantations on the both side of the road during this travel in Auto for 20 minutes. Its plain land which is different from the Tea plantation that you will see in hill station sin southern part of the country. Once you get down at Border, you could a see glimpse of the Bhutan. A giant gate which is the first thing you will see in Bhutan.
Few steps by feet and you are in a different country. You could feel the difference between two countries in seconds. All of a sudden, you won’t hear the honks of the vehicle nor the rushing people. Nobody even walks fast. Cool and calm people. We headed to the Immigration Office for the entry permit and it was lunch break from 1:00PM to 2:00PM but it was 12:30 and that made me to recollect that Bhutan has a time difference of 30Mins from IST. We had time an hour for the Office to open and we walked in the quite streets of Phuentsholing with plans of Shopping. Surprisingly all the shops except restaurants were closed which forced us to have lunch on time. From the restaurant guy we got to know that all shops will close for lunch break during these hours. Lot people would have been so healthy in India if we had a custom like this. Like Someone said When in Rome, eat like a local, we wanted to have Bhutanese cuisine, so we moved to Bhutanese restaurant. Since the Bhutanese chef was on leave, we had to live with Chinese dishes. We have a week left in this county, so we were happy to go with whatever available. We headed to Immigration Office to get the Entry permit. While we were waiting for the Permit, a person came to us and politely enquired about our plan and offered his taxi. After bargaining for few minutes, we decided to go with him. More than the price it was his politeness which made us to go in his taxi. We started from Phuentsholing by 3:00PM and was expecting to reach Thimphu before 8PM. Its 5 hours of journey from Phuentsholing to Thimphu through hilly terrain which would have been taken maximum two hours in a highway. It was getting colder and colder when we were ascending up the hills. We had a couple of Puke stops to get relieved from the motion sickness. On halfway we stopped warm our self with hot cup of Tea and having a hot Tea in the cold wind was awesome. We had universal food, Maggi from there too which was tasting too good. May be first time I felt that hot maggi is soo yummy.
We reached Thimphu and managed to check in to a hotel at 10:30PM and all the restaurants were closed and luckily we found a small restaurant in the basement of our hotel which was about to close. We managed to get food from there and we fall asleep fast, may be because temperature was below 10.
I followed a tourist guide who was explaining about the chorten to his clients. He started about the Giant Prayers wheels which was rotated by everyone who pass by. He was saying that the Giant wheel has the bhudist preaching’s illustrated and rolled to get a giant wheel. When rotated, considered as reading the inscription on papers inside and believed to be a good deed which clears the mind. He explained about the history of Chorten, which was built by second queen in memory of her son, third king of Bhutan who passed away in early age. We moved to have breakfast and then moved to Buddha point. Buddha point is on a hill-top where a giant Buddha statue has been mounted, which is biggest in Bhutan. We could drive till the gate and could walk inside the temple where Buddha is mounted on the top.
|Budha Statue at Bhudha Point|
|Angels around Buddha at Bhudha Point|
We were still feeling so cold even the sun was shining directly above the head. We could take some good photos of the angels placed around the temple. There was some work going on for the preparation of the first international peace conference which is going to happen late this year. We spend an hour and descended the hill. It was 12:45 when we reached down and moved towards national library.
|Bhutan General Post Office|
Few collected the Bhutan flags from there which we could tie on doors and bikes. We could see the Buddha’s face of Buddha statue located in Buddha point from almost all places in the Thimphu city. Next was Simtoka Dzong built in 1629 is considered to be the oldest Dzong in Thimphu. We could visit inside the Dzong where monks where performing their prayers. We curiously watched it for a while and walked around. I could see varieties of fruits, few which I have never seen or known in my life presented as an offering. I was wondering what will happen to these fruits after a day since all the fruits looked soo fresh. We stopped at mini Buddha statue on the way to Paro and clicked few photos and headed to Paro aiming Paro by 7.
|Mini Bhudha on the way to Paro|
Driver said that Paro is small town compared to Thimphu so it’s better to reach Paro before late night since it’s difficult to get food and hotel at late nights. Few kilometres from before Paro, we stopped at a Dzong which is on the bank of a river. There was a two hanging bridge across the river, a new one and an century old Iron made bridge. It is believed that the Saint who build the Dzong and bridge was a specialist in casting iron and the iron never rusted even after centuries. We reached Paro by 8 and checked in to a hotel and moved out for dinner. We have read a lot about Karaoke bars in Bhutan and we wanted to experience one so we checked with driver to find a good one. After dinner we went a karaoke bar which was a different experience. There was a big screen projected where lyrics are displayed and people where singing. They had a leaflet. Kind of restaurant menu which is having English, Hindi and Bhutanese song with a song code. Each table would get a chance to select the song and when the turn comes, the guy will come and ask for the song code and will play music and give the microphone to the table. We spend an hour there and went back to hotel around 11 and it was freezing cold. That was the end of the Day 2 in Bhutan.
Paro was colder that Thimphu and was around 7degree at nights. We started early morning around 7:30AM with plans to have breakfast on the way. We passed the Paro Airport, which is the smallest I have ever seen. Airport is located in the valleys on Paro mountains and very few pilots in the world are allowed to land in this runway. We stopped at Paro view-point where we could get the glimpse of Paro Airport and Paro city.
|Paro Bird View Point|
As soon as we stopped we could see a flight landing and was few feet above our head and was one of the best view of a plane I ever had. It was slightly tilted like in the war movies and then it slowly landed in the runway which as small as double a football ground. We clicked few photos and headed to Chele La Pass, which is the highest motorable road in Bhutan.
Picture says it all
We couldn’t have breakfast whole way till we reached top point. There was an uncle in a truck who was serving snacks and Maggi and we ended up having the breakfast from his truck. Even though it was bit expensive, Hot Tea with Pakoda at 13000ft was an awesome feel. We could see a lot of prayer flags which is kept by Bhutanese in memory of their deceased. We could see stunning views of the sacred mountain Jomolhari and Jichu Drake from here. That was my first sight to Himalayas. Mount Jomolhari was covered with snow and was looking like the mountain is wearing a snow cap.
Mighty Himalays. Jomolhari with Snow Cap
We spent few minutes there and returned to Paro by afternoon. There was a small stream of water where we stopped to feel the water. We couldn’t feel the water much because the first moment itself our hands was frozen and couldn’t feel anything else. We drove down to Paro Valley and had Bhutanese Lunch – Thukpa, Bathup, Ema Datshi and kewa datshi. Bhutanese Tea and Momos where the must for every meal, whether breakfast, lunch or dinner. After heavy lunch we moved to Watch tower and national museum.
Watch tower built in 1649
Watch tower which was built-in 1649 is one of the oldest building in Bhutan. Watch tower was converted to National Museum in 1968. This is located on top of the Rinpung Dzong which is the Administrative office of Paro. Then we walked down to Rinpung Dzong and walked inside the Dzong to view the paintings and art works on the wall.
Paintings in walls of the Dzong depicted the history of Bhutan, Beliefs of Bhutanese people and history of Bhutan.
One of the many paintings in the Dzong Walls
The architecture used here was Indo-Nepal-Bhutan similar to all other places in Bhutan. This is mainly because Buddha was associated with India and Nepal too which reflected the architecture of Bhutan. We walked down the Dzong to reach Paro main road where we had to cross the Paro River via wooden cantilever bridge which is the oldest bridge in Bhutan.
Oldest Bridge in Bhutan
It was 6 by the team we reached Paro. It was shopping time, to be precise Window Shopping. Bhutanese Antique shops occupied both sides of the road for a mile. There was few antiques for sale which costed above 20Lakhs and was said to be hundreds of years of old. We managed not buy anything from these shops except few Laughing Buddha and Buddha statues. All these we had comfort sightseeing in Air Conditioned Car and we are going to have the most difficult day tomorrow where we have to go for a full day Trek, so we went to bed little early. That was the end of Day 3 in Bhutan.
Tiger Nest was the most awaited day of the trip as it require hiking of 5 miles one side. We started around 7 in the morning and reached the foot hill and bought few walking sticks and when we started it was around 7:45AM. We didn’t have breakfast or anything to have on the way. We have read in many blogs that there is a café halfway and we had plans to have food from there. There was Horses which we can hire and will carry you till the half way and will cost 600Rs. We decided to walk as it was a nice climate and we had experience in hiking. It was very steep ascend till the cafeteria and we were hungry too. We could see a lot of fellow hikers who are around 60’s and 70’s walking in higher pace that us who are in twenties. We managed to reach the cafeteria in 3hours which is time usually people take to reach the Tiger Nest. I don’t know what feeling I had when I realised that the café has only Tea and nothing else to eat at that time and they serve meals only at 12. We had Tea and Biscuits from the Café and continued the hiking.
|Tea which we lived on 10miles hike|
We reached the Photo Point by 12 and we would need an hour more to reach the final point and Tea Nest closes by 12:45 and opens only 2PM. We slowed down, it’s funny to say slow down further more.
We could see all or fellow hikers returning when we were ascending. We met an aunty and uncle from Bangalore, while ascending and we again met them and we are still yet to reach and they were returning. They casually asked how are we doing and I couldn’t resist myself from saying that skipping the breakfast was a mistake. They offered a pack of nuts which I didn’t refuse and was the best snacks I ever had. We could enter inside the Dzong only by 2 and we hardly spend 20 minutes inside the Dzong and we returned by 2:30PM. There was a beautiful waterfall just before Dzong where I managed to wash my feet and I was feeling numbness for few minutes.
|Water fall at 10240ft|
We were damn hungry that we had only aim, Café on the way back. We could manage to reach café in an hour and biggest disappointment was they had closed lunch few minutes before we entered and we had to live with Tea and Biscuits. It was dark when we reached the foothill and one or two groups where behind left to reach. We were exhausted after 10miles of hike without food. We jumped into City Hotel in Paro and had our last dinner in Bhutan and moved to our room. That was the end of Day 4. We started to Phuntsholing by 8 and reached Phuntsholing by 12:30PM and had lunch from there. We couldn’t enjoy the view of drive while going up since it was night but on return we could have the stunning view of Bhutan forests, valleys and waterfalls.
|View on way back to Phuntsholing|
When I thought about the Momos it was around 20 plates that we had in last five days. We did few shopping again and walked out of Bhutan around 3:00PM from Bhutan. We could feel the Incredible India after a gate where a group of people celebrating Holi on the roads and when you turn back you can see the empty streets of Bhutan. We had train from Hasimara to Kolkata and Flight from Kolkata to Bangalore next day. That was an end of 7 day trip from Bangalore to Bangalore. A memorable one.