Off the Beaten Track

Hi,

How was the weekend for everyone? For people who don’t know, I’m from Assam. So, this year during my winter break, my parents (after a lot of mishaps) planned a trip to Bhutan. Bhutan: neighboring country, beautiful and winter time, my brother and I jumped at the chance of going somewhere new. We immediately started packing our bags and were a little worried due to the low temperatures, (Assam does not have really low temperatures). Btw, this post is really long as I have a lot to share with everyone, so brace yourselves.

Reaching Bhutan
We took a train from Assam to Alipur Dwar and our trip began from there. We had pre-booked cabs to take us from Alipur Dwar to Phuentsholing (the Bhutan-India border). In Phuentsholing, we had to take our Bhutan passes. The documents you need to get the passes are: Voter ID cards and passport size photographs. For children, you’ll need a school id, their birth certificate (important) and passport size photographs. Without birth certificate, getting the permit is really difficult. There’s also the airlines which is named: Drukair to Paro. If you do have the option of flying, I’ll suggest you do that as the road journey is really tiring but if you want to treat your eyes to the beautiful view of sun, the clouds and the valley, then choose car.


View on the way to Thimphu
Once the passes are ready, you can leave Phuentsholing to Thimphu or Paro. We hit Thimphu first. The journey to Thimphu is 165 km approximately. It took us around 7 hours to get there. People who suffer from motion sickness, please carry your medications and take them before you start the climb and do keep bags in your car (you’ll need them).

Once you reach Thimphu, rest for the day and eat well. There’s a stop in between the way which has refreshments and washrooms, it’ll be a good break from the journey. When we reached Thimphu, we were really exhausted, so we just had a light meal and called it a night.

Thimphu
We stayed for 2 days and 3 nights in a hotel named ‘The White Tara’. The first morning we went sightseeing. We started with the Thimphu Chorten Dzong, which is a place of worship and you’ll see everyone here, from children aged 2-3 years old to old men and women. They pray in a beautiful manner and the Dzong is filled with what they call prayer wheels. This Dzong had one of the largest prayer wheels we saw during our entire trip. After that we drove to Buddha Dordenma, where you’ve the biggest Buddha statue. The area is still under construction but you can see the statue itself. The statue is so huge that it can be seen from anywhere in the town. They have beautiful sculptures and paintings on the walls which depict the history of Bhutan. So, next on our list was the Changangkha Lhakhang. It’s a beautiful old temple where the new-borns are taken to be named. You’ve to climb a few stairs to get there but it is completely worth it. All the Dzongs in Bhutan contain prayer wheels but these were the most beautiful ones.


Budhha Statue
Thimphu also has great handicraft shops and local shops if you’re interested in shopping. The handicraft shops have something called ‘The Singing Bowl’. It is really expensive but you can ask the locals in the shop to play it for you because the sound the instrument has is so beautiful, you’ll always remember it.  This was Christmas Eve for us and so we asked the hotel staff to make arrangements for us to go to a club. They were really helpful and got us entries to one of the clubs. The club was decent, nothing too fancy or too shabby. They played a few Hindi songs there (including kala chasma). When we were about to leave, we encountered a few locals outside the club and they were singing old Hindi songs, our parents were amused and quickly joined them. What a great night!

The next day was a drive to Dochula pass and Punakha. You’ll need a permit from Thimphu which hardly takes 10 minutes. Dochula pass has breathtaking view of the Himalayan mountain range and has beautiful small 108 stupas. The view is gorgeous so don’t forget to click pictures here. Leave for Punakha after Dochula Pass. There are two good restaurants in Punakha, pre-order your meal and then go ahead with the sightseeing. Visit the beautiful Punakha Dzong. The interiors of the temple was breathtakingly beautiful. There’s a river around the Dzong which offers great rafting experience. It may have been a little expensive but it was certainly a great experience. The stream carries a variety of species which you can see while rafting, including baby seals. Also, look out for the golden fishes from the bridge of the Punakha Dzong. After this, we were starving and ate the meal they had prepared for us. We left for Thimphu and called it a night. The next morning we drove to Paro and it’s only 50 km drive. 


Dochula pass stupas

Paro

We stayed at Metta resort and spa and it was a lovely hotel. We visited Kichu Lakhang which is a beautiful temple and it has two orange trees which bloom throughout the year. This day I was sick so I was a bummer to the entire group. We went a little local shopping after that. The town is surrounded by streams and is really beautiful.

The next morning we went to Chelela pass. This is the highest road pass in Bhutan at 3988 metres, however, that might be slightly over exaggerated by nearly 200 metres. Nevertheless, the views are just stunning of Mt Jhomolharu as well as Paro valley on one side and Haa valley on the other side. It is cold and really windy (hold on to your hats). You may not find snow but will find ice (frozen streams) along the way. We did not visit Haa Valley (Bhutan-China border) as we didn’t have sufficient time, but if you do, perm has to be taken from Thimphu. There are thousands of prayer flags on Chelela and it is a beautiful spot for photographs, in fact, if you do plan to go to Bhutan, take your cameras and have them ready at all points. We also visited the National Museum which holds the entire history and culture of Bhutan. You can hire guides and learn a lot about Bhutan. There’s also the famous Tiger’s Nest. We did not go there as it requires trekking and few members in our group were not cut out for it. You must trek there if you’re cut out for it. It is approximately 4-hour trek one way and the dzong itself lies on a cliff.

Chelela Pass

Food

The food in Bhutan is average. You have small local restaurants and big ones as well. Paro is filled with cafes which smell of freshly brewed coffee and if you’re a coffee lover like I’m, you can go weak in the knees. They have amazing cheese momos and Chinese cuisine. We tried a restaurant in Paro (can’t seem to remember the name) which had great food, including thukpa which is a Tibetan noodle soup. This was one of the best
food we had eaten in Bhutan.The local cuisine is something called Ema Datsi, which is a combination of green chillies and cheese, and you got to try it once. The restaurant culture is really different there than that in India, and it is a great experience to explore these little things.

Some other tips

Indian network providers do not work there. You can purchase the Tashicell sim from Bhutan. The hotels have Wi-Fi, so you can stay connected to the world. Indian currency is almost accepted everywhere. However, you can get the Bhutan currency as souvenirs. The entire country is beautiful and the people are generous. 

The children called me 'The girl with the camera' and then posed :)

During the winter time, the temperatures are really low. It usually ranges from 3-13 degrees in December and there is even snowfall during late January and February. Due to the low temperatures, the days start early and the nights end early. The breakfast is usually served till 9 AM-10AM and dinner till 9PM. Everyone there is really punctual, so please comply. Another tip, if you do go in winters, drink only warm water, not even water at room temperature (that’s how I got sick).

It’s a safe country and a must visit destination if you don’t want to splurge much and do want a vacation, a perfect destination for a road trip. I hope you do enjoy on your trip there and if you’d like to ask me something in specific, do leave it in the comments section and I’ll get back to you. Also, there are more pictures available, do check them out!

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