Bhutan – A Landlocked Kingdom in the Eastern Himalayas
Bhutan is the land where Buddhism and happiness blends in to give you the best flavor of life. To the land of the Thunder dragon, known as the Druk in Bhutanese, is where we are going. Bhutan is an experience, an experience that has to be felt. A Kingdom that discovered multiple ways to activate the mantra “Om Mani Padme Hum” along with its awe-inspiring monasteries and Tiger’s nest perched on the side of a mountain overlooking the Paro valley. Adorned by the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan with its energy and positive vibes will transform you spiritually and psychologically.
Bhutan is a Kingdom with traditional values, spiritual at heart and with democracy running through her veins. This Himalayan Kingdom is ruled by the Wangchuk family. His Highness Jigme Wangchuk is the present King and a democratically elected Prime Minister heads the country, the present Prime Minister is Mr. Tshering Tobgay.
Camera: Pictures were shot on a Canon
How to Reach:
International Tourist: Will need a Tour package to Bhutan tourism facilitators. Will need Visa and a tour guide. Please contact your local tour agent.
Indian Tourist: Can Reach Bagdogra Via a Flight or Train and take a taxi to Phuentsholing. There is no need of a permit to stay in Phuentsholing but to go any further requires a permit and can be easily availed from the permit office at the border. You will need an Indian Govt ID and Photographs. In case you are not carrying your photographs you can get them at studios around the border.
Druk Airways is a Govt. run airlines, please find the link to the official site below,
Also a flight to Paro will be a great idea keeping in mind the spectacular view during landing to the Paro airport.
Best Season to visit
Good season to visit will September, October and November since the weather is cold and snowfall has not yet begun.
We reached Bagdogra in West Bengal by 12 PM after a 4 hours flight and canceled our plan to stay in Darjeeling and Gangtok because of the thrill and excitement to step into the Land of the Thunder Dragon. We booked a cab at the taxi center in Bagdogra airport. Since we were hungry we stopped at a small Bengali food place and they just had two dishes to offer, Chicken with rice or Fish with rice both prepared Bengali style. I picked the Chicken with rice, Yummy in my tummy I had to order another plate. We were soon done with lunch. Rushed to Bhutan at the earliest.
The route from Bagdogra to Phuentsholing is a journey of 2 to 3 hours costing you about INR 2000, could cost lesser if it’s a sharing taxi.This route has a lot to offer especially if you have not traveled across Indian Villages.
The Indo-Bhutanese border is a super busy place with trucks, buses, cars and anything that moves can be found there. It was about 4 PM that we got to the India-Bhutan border. We were left with two options, one spend the night in the Indian side of the border which offers cheaper accommodation or walk towards the Bhutanese border and settle in Phuentsholing since Indians do not need permit to stay there. We decided to stay in Phuentsholing since this trip was all about the Thunder Dragon, living with the Druk.
Phuentsholing holds Bhutan’s maximum population and has good number of Indians and Nepalese. We stayed in Hotel Druk a 3 star Hotel and the best available here. Since we were tired due to the journey we went out for dinner, had some beers and went to bed wanting to wake up early morning to catch a cab to Thimphu, the fun capital of Bhutan.
Bhutan day 1: Phuentsholing to Thimphu
Phuentsholing to Thimphu is is about 145 Kms taking up to 5 hours but due to the mountain roads it will take some time. The visibility is low during the winters. It be a little troublesome to breath at times. One of the reasons to choose the land route is its sheer scenic beauty and feel that one would want to indulge in.
Bhutan day 2: Tsechu festival Thimphu
Thimphu is the fun capital of Bhutan. Thunder dragon here is young, happening and lots of fun. Thimphu is surrounded by mountains and greenery every where. September in Bhutan is festival season. This is when the Tsechu festival is celebrated. I had called up Colorful Bhutan Travels in Thimphu to assist me during the festival. A travel expert could be of great help during the festival to explain various traditional Buddhist stories that are expressed through dance. Watching the dance without understanding the story behind it would be a great loss. I found Colorful Bhutan on facebook and I am happy that I did.
Hence there are lots of pop up markets and the streets are only for pedestrians. We took a cab to the Monastery where the festival happens ever year. Tsechu festival gives you an insight to Bhutanese Buddhism, culture, traditions and stories in Buddhism. This festival is an opportunity to enjoy photography as well.
Bhutan has very little traffic due to the absence of private buses and rickshaws. Buses have to be booked in advance and the other option is hiring a cab, this could cost you up to 2000 Indian Rupee a day ( around 30$ a day), this cost is cut down by Europeans by hiring a minibus. Most of the Tourist except for Indians plan a trip with the local tour agent.
Thimphu has very young crowd, young parents, happy people and Bhutan is a country with gender equality. Women here drive taxis, work in hotels and also lift heavy bags up the stairs for their clients. The crime rate is zero making this land Locked Kingdom a paradise for Moon lovers. Lying down watching the clear sky with millions of sparkling stars is a treat to the soul. Its pollution free environment is an experience that would remind you what world was before huge factories destroyed the air we breathe.
Thimphu has amazing eateries. The cows here are grass fed hence milk and milk products will definitely give you a lactose high . Cream that melts in your mouth wrapped in fresh bread roll and morning tea surrounded by nature gives your day a fantastic start. Thimphu also has a very popular and the only beer in Bhutan “The Druk” named after the Thunder dragon. Beer is available in every store and is served with Bhutanese snacks. Wai wai is also very popular here, though cooked a little differently. Wai wai is always half cooked in Bhutan unless you request for a full cooked bowl of wai wai.
Cheese filled curries are also a treat for your taste buds especially if you like spicy food. Ema Datshi is a Bhutanese dish to try. Served with rice and medium spicy. It has cheese and mushroom with Bhutanese chili, a brilliant combination of cheesy and spicy. First day in Thimphu was about strolling around, taking a bite of all fresh food and snacks, beer, music, night market and enjoying the cold breeze of September.
Bhutanese people are welcoming, extremely friendly and lovable. They greet every other person with a beautiful smile and heart warming hospitality. Kids here are the happiest and satisfied with Buddhist lifestyle that upholds non-material values.
Tsechu is a whole day festival and has lot happening around. we spent the of the day walking around, eating snacks, clicking pictures and making friends.
Bhutan day 3: Dochula pass, Buddha Statue and Day market
Arranged a taxi early in the morning post breakfast. Plan for the day was Dochula pass, Buddha Statue and Day market and night party. My driver was an automobile engineer who worked as a part time taxi driver, this is quite common here in Bhutan, every job is treated with respect and dignity. Also there are many women taxi drivers here, driving at all hours.
My taxi arrived and I had my camera on and lit the first Cigarette of the day , though smoking is illegal in Bhutan and the sale of tobacco products have been banned, tourist can carry about 200 sticks.
This road to Dochula pass is the road that leads you to Punakha as well, another mind blowing location which had to be canceled due to work in progress. We reached Dochula pass in about an hour. Dochula pass is located in the Himalayan range and this is where you get to see Mt Gangkar Puensum, the mountain that separates Bhutan from China. Patience is the key to witness this giant, Gangkar hides between the clouds and it might take hours to show and just seconds hide away. Dochula pass also has 108 Stupas, the largest number of stupas built in Bhutan. These stupas were built by the queen mother of the Wangchuk Dynasty.
The Big Buddha
We headed towards the Biggest Buddha statue of Bhutan. Please find the pictures below to do more justice to the gigantic 169 ft tall Buddha statue that was built fulfilling the prediction made by Gurus, believed to bring peace and happiness to the whole world.
Next stop was the market. This market has Bhutanese, Nepali and Tibetan people selling adorable products and antiques.
Post shopping I took a power nap and was all set for the Night party.
Thimphu has amazing night life. With parties going up to 3AM to 5AM. Most of the party people here are very young hence the music is also more of EDM, house etc. You get to dance your heart out to amazing tunes and mostly getting there before 12 AM is not a good idea. Its post midnight that the crowd pours in. After couple of shots and some on the house I headed back to my hotel for an extremely thrilling activity that was to follow the next morning “Trek to the Taktsang – Tiger Nest”
Bhutan day 4: Paro – “Trek to the Taktsang – Tiger Nest”
Tiger nest is the name of the cliff hung monastery where Guru Padmasambhava flew up on a Tiger as per Buddhist mythology. This is a sacred place of worship of the Himalayan Buddhist. Tiger nest is around 10,000 ft above sea level. Climbing tiger nest is quite challenging to physically fit person as well. But is definitely doable.
Shops in Taktsang
There are tiny shops that sell stick’s that can be of helping your trek up Taktsang and trust me it’s a good idea to pick one. There are two ways to conquer this humongous mountain and reach the Tiger nest and attain spiritual tranquility. Climbing Taktsang is going to make you feel like you’re Kung Fu Panda (part 1) if you know what I mean.
One option to make this trek easier is to hire a horse or a pony that will take you half way around 7000 ft. Though the horse ride is for sure going to make your trek easy, it puts you at a risk a fall. If the horse falls down during its upward journey it will most probably land on you causing injury. Though this is not something that will happen since these horses have been taking those difficult and dangerous mountain terrain from when they are a pony.
I had a feel that the horse ride could kill my love and thirst for a trek to Taktsang hence I decided to walk. Walking up 10000 ft above sea level for the first time in my life. Picked a stick, actually two and was on my way to meet the Tiger nest. One tip I could give away is to walk criss cross rather than straight up, this reduces the effort of climbing.
This trek made me feel like I had no stamina at all since there were men and women in their 60s climbing up effortlessly and superhuman Buddhist monks just run up the mountain with water and supplies for visitors as kung-fu masters in Chinese movies would fly in the air effortlessly.
Lunch at Taktsang
Sitting on rocks, walking zig-zag hoping to reduce the effort and again resting we reached a hotel that was almost below 3000ft to Tiger nest. We had lunch, again authentic Bhutanese dishes and took rest listening to some music and selfies. Post Lunch the trek resumed and we finally reached the Tiger nest. Yes we conquered this giant mountain with great difficulty. There were Kung-fu followers taking pictures and also showing some moves, though they are not residents of the monastery. The view of Tiger nest immediately calms your mind. The monastery perched on the Paro valley is a sight that needs no camera to capture.
The feel of mountain born water that oozes out from the rocks going down your throat quenching the thirst of your body while your ears catch the winding horn of the Buddhist monks singing “Om Mani Padme Hum” and colorful prayer flag that run towards all the corners of the monastery assures the tranquility that you have been craving for.
Since cameras and phones are not allowed into the monastery we could not take more pictures of the monastery. Also do keep in mind that tee shirts with wording, pictures on it and round neck is not allowed here and in many other monasterys. Women should cover themselves well before entering the monastery.
One important location inside the monastery is a small cave that most tourist miss. This cave is where Guru Padmasambhava had meditated while he was in Taktsang. The trek up took us 4 hours and coming down took another 2 Hours.
”Om Mani Peme Hum”
His Highness Dalai lama has defined “Om Mani Padme Hum” as : Progressing from an impure state of Body, Mind and Speech to a pure state of Body, Mind and Speech. With my soul experiencing a spiritual awakening I left Tiger nest with satisfaction and happiness that cities with modern amenities could never do. Missing this trek could have left Bhutan journey incomplete with my heart and soul untouched by the magical spiritual caress of Taktsang.
Paro’s nightlife is more of Karaoke bars with people singing, dancing and are always happy to share their joy and beers with you. They love Bollywood and are updated with the latest tracks as well. English is also an all time favorite of Bhutanese. You can hear classic English numbers played almost everywhere from streets to restaurants.
Bhutan day 5 : Haa Valley
After all the partying, trekking, eating and sleeping we headed to Haa. The valley of peace where Himalayan clouds touch the ground bringing chilled breeze and fresh air rejuvenating every cell of your body. Haa is where you find apples everywhere, river so clear that every pebble shows, Woolly yaks and yak milk products are in every store.
Home stay in Haa Valley – Bhutan
Though resorts are available we decided to stay in a traditional Bhutanese house for the authentic experience.
We were welcomed with a warm cup of Chai, traditional milk tea here has more water and less milk since they drink about a liter of tea every day.
This family was a part of the family that rules the Haa valley. The head of the family had home stays and also grew yaks for business in deeper Himalayas. His daughter was our translator since they could not speak English or Hindi. But his daughter now in Class 6 spoke good English. The quality of education is good in Bhutan and they also go to India and other countries for higher education .
Evenings in Haa
Clouds come down the mountain by about 5 PM sending cold breeze across this silent valley. Temperature drops below minus making it a perfect place to cuddle underneath a blanket. We kept our room locked with both the heaters on. The night sky here is breathtaking we spent hours looking out through the window. During November and December this valley is not accessible due to snowfall. It is during this season that Yaks and sometimes mountain dogs come down the mountains to visit the valley.
Though I would like to stay here for maybe the rest of my life but can I ?
I have to continue my journey. Packing everything we picked up from Bhutan to go back home was painful. Took a flight back, which is a good idea while returning keeping in mind the view of the Paro airport.
Bhutan the land of the Thunder dragon that knows nothing but love, peace and nature. Our story ends here for now untill our next visit to Eastern Bhutan.