Monday, October 28, 2013

Bhutan - The Land of the Thunder Dragon

Bhutan - a mystical land, having more than 60% forest cover, a nation still following its old age tradition seemed a great choice among the chaotic indian destinations available.

Foreign travel was out, owing to the devaluation of the rupee and steep air fares.  Having decided on the destination, we started exploring options on what, where and how.
Very little is known or written about the country.

Thanks to a popular travel forum, we took the courage and decided to take the plunge.  

Planning the Journey:

The most economical option of travel on a mid-budget was choosing a low cost carrier to fly out from Mumbai to Bagdogra (the nearest airport).
The second leg of the journey involved a 4.5 hrs train ride from New Jalpaiguri Railway Station to Hasimara (the nearest train point).
The final leg was a short taxi ride from Hasimara to Jaigaon (the Indian Side border town) and entering the Bhutan Gate in to Phuentsholing (the border town of bhutan).

We got there around 10.00 pm and settled down for the night in one of the many hotels, the town offers.

For Indian Nationals, a passport or a Voter's ID Card is sufficient to process a Permit to enter Bhutan.

The next morning, we visited the Immigration Office, filled up a simple form, provided a copy of a passport and a photograph and got our permit issued in 30 minutes. The entire process was painless and no fees were charged.

We sourced a local Sim Card from Tashi Cell, again a simple process - fill up the form, provide a photo, copy of your passport and permit.
We paid INR200 for full talktime and a validity of One Month.  The Sim was activated withing minutes.

Indian Rupees are welcome and freely exchangeable 1:1 ratio.  Bhutan depends heavily on Imports (mostly from India), hence the currency high in demand.

The most comfortable ride on a public transport is the 'Toyota Coaster Bus'.  It's a 21 seater bus and a great way to reach Paro or Thimpu.  The journey takes approx 6 hrs with two Immigration check point stops and a meal/bathroom break enroute.

The mode is highly popular and seats fill up quickly, so its better to book it in advance.  There are only 2 buses to Paro in the morning, however frequency to Thimpu is much more, almost on an hourly basis till 3.00 pm.
The route offers a most scenic ride among steep climbs, hair pin bends, testing the skills of the driver to the limit.
Try not to get stuck with the last row, the seats 13 and beyond tend to be uncomfortable.
If you suffer road sickness, this option is not for you.  
You may want to avoid a heavy meal at the start of this journey.  The temperature falls drastically with the climb, and you should gear up with a warm sweater or a jacket, make sure to hand carry it, as rest of  your stuff is hauled on the roof.

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