Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bhutan, How, What, Where, etc!

Getting there: 
- By Road: Entry and Exit at Phuentsholing (Phuntsholing) bordering Jaigaon in West Bengal.  Get to New Alipurduar (Station Code: NOQ) by rail and take a taxi to the border (2 hrs drive) for around Rs 600 - Rs 800.  Call Mr. Jagan at 9842455691 to book his taxi.  Very few train options to Hashimara which is very close to Jaigaon.  Or Take a taxi from Darjeeling/Gangtok for Rs 3000- Rs 3500.  Samdhrup Jhongkar is a not a feasible option to exit Bhutan (into Assam), takes 4 days to get there from Thimpu. 

- By Air: Fly to Paro from Calcutta or Kathmandu by Druk air.  More info available at their website.  Recently read that they are contemplating reducing airfares to increase the air traffic.

Visas and permits:
Indians and Nepalese do not need a visa to enter Bhutan.  All they need is a copy (front and back) of one of the following IDs to get permits.
- National Passport
- Voter ID Card

Absolutely No PAN Card, No Driving License or any other forms of ID are accepted.  Be sure to carry a few passport size photographs with you.  

Email Karma Samphel (Asst. Immigration Officer) at if you want some specific information.  Be sure to take permits for each and every Dzongkha (District) that you plan to visit.  Takes around 2 to 3 hrs to get the permit at Phuentsholing.  Permits for the Dzongs of Punakha, Wangdi and Paro have to be taken in Thimpu.  Permit at the border is given only for the Dzongkha not the Dzongs.

All non-Indians and non-Nepalese need to book their travel through one of the Govt approved agencies.  They would have to pay $200 per day and everything is taken care of.  

Travel within Bhutan:
Travel in Bhutan is easy but on the expensive side.  Taxis are easy to get at the designated taxi stands.  Consider fares reasonable if they are:

Phuentsholing to Thimpu:  Rs 400 per person or Rs 1600 - Rs 1800 for a Maruti WagonR or van.  Takes 6 hours on the winding mountainous roads.  Expected to come down to 4 hrs after the two lane road construction to be completed this summer.  Try to do a daytime journey to enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Tour Thimpu: Rs 600 for a Maruti WagonR or van.  Day trip.

Thimpu to Punakha and Wangdiphodrong: Rs 1000 to 1200 for a Maruti WagonR or van.  Takes around 2 to 2.5 hrs to get there.  Day trip.

Thimpu to Paro: Rs 150 to 200 per person or Rs 800 for a Maruti WagonR or van.  Takes around 1 hour to get there. Day trip.  Try hiking/trekking to Tigers Nest roughly 6 Kms from Paro.
Places to Stay:
I strongly suggest making Thimpu your base.  Thimpu has good hotels and restuarants.  Make day trips and get back to Thimpu for dinner.  A few hotels;

Hotel Druk - Decent but pricey.  Ph:322966

Hotel NT -  Ph:323458

Hotel Tandin - Worth the price but do not expect hot water all the time or great decor.  Plain and Simple.  Ph: 323380, 323381

Hotel Pedling - Ph:325714

R Penjor Restaurant & Lodge - Ph: 325578, Email:

There are a lot of other hotels on the main street, , Norzin Lam in Thimpu.  Go check them out before you check in.  

Places to eat:
A bunch of restuarants to choose from on the main street.  One we liked and enjoyed eating at was Penjor Restaurant.  Its owned by a sweet young lady who doesn't mind sitting and chatting with you.   

Ngultrum, and Rupees are accepted as well.  1 Ngultrum = 1 Rupee.  Do not carry a lot of 500 or 1000 Rupee notes.  Only major businesses accept such large denominations due to fear of fake currency.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Bhutan, The Land of The Thunder Dragon

Note: If you want to skip my travelogue and are interested in just the important travel details click here.

Bhutan, the land of thunder dragon, here we come, I was saying to myself as we took the taxi early in the morning at around 4:30 AM in Darjeeling.  It was tough getting up in the cold, and the fact that I slept for 3 hrs only didnt help. We had booked the taxi, a Chevy Tavera for 3000Rs.  The taxi costs are considerably high in the hills mainly because of the bad roads.  These roads can kill your back, bumpy swinging rides are fun only on roller coasters.  Our destination was Jaigaon, a dusty border town on Indo-Bhutanese border in West Bengal.  The drive was pretty scenic with the beautiful Rongit river giving you some company along the numerous curves in the hills.  The town on the other side of Jaigaon in Bhutan is Phuentsholing.  Phuentsholing is the only entry point into Bhutan by road.  As for exit by road it can be done from Phuentsholing as well as Samdrup Jhongkar (into Assam) but its not even worth a try to exit via Samdrup Jhongkar as getting to the town takes approximately four days from Thimpu, capital of Bhutan.

We reached Jaigaon at around 10:30 am.  All along the plains I was wondering where are the mountains, Bhutan is a land of mountains?  You reach Jaigaon and still no mountains, but wait! reach the border and lo behold the mountains appear on the horizon and do look inviting very unlike Jaigaon.  The taxi-wallah dropped us at some random location and told us here you go, this is the border and we were like what? Where? are you kidding me? You get down, look around and there... you see an arch almost lost in the ordinariness of Jaigaon.  Thats the gate into the land of thunder dragon? you ask yourself.  Check it out in the first photograph.  After paying for the taxi, we lugged our bags along as we walked through the side gate for pedestrians.  Suddenly a man in a grey kho (Bhutanese traditional dress for men) jumped us by appearing out of nowhere.  He asked us for our identification, looked at our Indian passports and asked for our reason to enter Bhutan.  When we replied tourism, he seemed satisfied and directed us to the immigration building located a few hundred meters away.  Indian nationals do not require a visa to enter Bhutan, but require permits to enter each and every district.  The acceptable forms of identification to get a permit to enter Bhutan are 

1) Indian Passport
2) Indian Voter ID Card

Keep in mind, absolutely no Pan Card, no Driving License and any other form of identification.  A lot of websites, personal blogs will tell you that a Indian driving license is accepted by Bhutanese immigration officials.  I am telling you from personal experience its NOT accepted.  Also do not forget to take a few passport size photographs and paper copies of the ID you are carrying.    

Phuentsholing didnt look any different from Jaigaon except for the people, their dressing style and the exterior of the buildings.  As we walked to the building we couldn't help but notice the Bharat Petroleum petrol bunk on the way.  The immigration building looked so similar to our Govt. offices, you might not be amused.  There was a security guard in a kho sitting outside on a stool.  He was not the friendly type that you would expect to come across in Bhutan, rudely questioned our business in Hindi and gave us a few forms to fill.  A lot of Bhutanese speak Hindi, especially in Phuentsholing and Thimpu.  The form asks you your origin, address, occupation, form of identification and the places you plan to visit.  We filled in Thimpu, Paro and Punakha as these were the places everyone suggested on web.  

After we filled the forms the guard let only one of us in and ordered to leave the bags by the doorway.  I  proceeded to the first counter where the lady asked me where I am from and why I am visiting Bhutan.  One of my friends had provided Indian driving license as ID which we were told was not acceptable.  We were advised to get the license copy attested at the Indian House (consulate) located a bit away.  The officer at the Indian House refused to attest both drivers license and PAN Card while a copy of ration card all in Tamil was acceptable and attested.  Thank modern day technology for being able to get a copy of ration card from Chennai in a few minutes.  Without that ration card there would be not Bhutan trip and no blog about it.       

So we were back at the immigration office at 12:30 pm happy that we can finally get going and be the tourists we wanted to be.  We were also extra happy that we made it before 1:00 pm when the Bhutanese babus take their lunch break.  But wait, didnt your mom tell you that Bhutan is half hour ahead of India?  Damn you!!  We waited for a bloody hour outside the office since we weren't allowed inside by our 'friendly' guard, went in at 2:00 pm, submitted our forms and had to wait for another frustrating 2 hours to get the permits.  We got permits for Thimpu and Paro only.  The polite immigration officer was kind enough to look through the yellow pages and give me a couple of phone numbers for hotels in Thimpu.  Went ahead and booked the Druk hotel for Rs 3800 per night.  At around 4:30 pm we were off to Thimpu in a Maruti WagonR after haggling and settling for Rs2000.  It didnt strike me until   

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chalo India


Its a matter of 2 days now... somehow get past these and I will be on a flight to India, home sweet home.  The last time I was there, I had both bitter and sweet experiences.  The irritations I had back then are still going to be there.... roads have gone from bad to worse, and so has the traffic.  I was young back then, loaded with some bloated passion thinking I can change the world and getting frustrated when I was helpless.  Now I am older and wiser.... the funda is "Accept a few realities in India, adjust a little here, lot there and you are bound to be happy".  

I will be traveling for 3 weeks out of my 5 weeks vacation while I am in India.  The plan is to cover a few parts of Tamil Nadu, places around Mysore and a lot of places in the North East.  Its going to be both interesting and tough.  Right now trying to find information about each place is taking up a lot of my time as you have to go to hajjaar websites to get the info you require.  During my travels I plan on keeping a travel diary noting the ways to reach a place, time it takes to get there, hotels to stay, transport to get around, and of course places to visit.    

Chalo India! Wish me luck.