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Bhutan: Immigration and then en route to Thimpu

Our first day of the trip included procuring the permits and then proceeding to Thimpu, the capital city. The drive to Thimpu was slated to take about 5-6 hrs. It was therefore vital that our permits got processed in decent time so that we could commence our journey at least post lunch. To the question, "how long can it take for the permits to be processed?" we were given a similar response from everyone to whom we posed the query.

It really depends on the number of people for the given day. It could take as less as 2 hours or sometimes even the entire day, we were told. Our travel operator from Mumbai had forewarned us that we adjust our trip schedule to let this crucial step fall somewhere mid-week. The office is closed on weekends and hence Fridays and Mondays see a maximum footfall, so it's best to plan for the remaining days of the week, we were told.

So, we chose the first suitable day, Tuesday and planned our itinerary around it. The immigration office opens around nine in the morning but we were advised to queue up outside the office as early as 8 or 8:30 at the max. Now, the days begin very early in Bhutan. They are also officially half hour ahead of India time. It being summer, the dawn breaks as early as 4:30 am, while the sunrise happens around 5:45 am or so, even 6 am seems like 8 am in the morning. Breakfast at the hotels is served between 7-9 am. Yes, that early!

We had no trouble aligning our bodies to the new clock time. Also, perhaps to the clean surrounding and fresh air, throughout the trip and despite our active schedule, we were neither troubled by fatigue or lethargy nor had the urge to sleep in late. So, we were up and smiling at dawn, showered, dressed, at the breakfast counter by 7:30 and out of the hotel by 8 am.

Documents required to process permits:

  • Copies of valid passports or voter IDs 
  • Students are allowed to submit their school ID as proofs in lieu of passport
  • One passport sized photograph for adults and two photographs for kids

These were duly passed on to the said agent who's supposed to fill the required forms and submit these at the office the previous evening supposedly for a faster process the next day. However, by the time we checked in on Monday evening, the office was closed, so it remained to be seen how we were to be impacted.

We were really hoping for a smooth and quick process and were a bit shocked to see a fair amount of crowd already present at 8 am. Big groups of Indian tourists travelling with package tours were milling about, their group head carrying the tour flag and the members all wearing identical caps. That was when we realized that Bhutan is no longer a rare choice. We were later informed that this year alone saw about 2 lakh Indian tourists on Bhutan soils. We could only shudder to imagine the crowd at the popular hill stations if this was the state of a supposedly low-profile country. It seems some entry tax for Indians was recently waived off and hence the huge influx. On a side note, I really don't think this is a good idea, given how pristine the country is and what a lot of tourists can do to a place like that.

All permits are processed through agents who queue up on behalf of their customers. The customers, mostly Indians like us, group themselves at various points in the backyard and front yard of the office curious about the whole process and butting in every now and then to enquire with the respective agent about the length and manner of the procedure involved. In short, the place outside this office resembled a chaotic meeting place. We killed time clicking bad pictures of each other, walking up to the agent, checking to see if the queue was really moving, stopping the kids (and failing) from being a nuisance, entertaining them in turns, going back to the agent who quipped back a bit annoyed that it might another 1-2 hours ( we were already waiting there for a good one hour).

Since our hotel (Hotel Druk) was literally a jump away from the office, the sister and I decided to cool off our heels there (and more importantly give the kids a downtime because they were really all over the place). As luck would have it, as soon as our asses touched the cool beds of the hotel room, we were summoned to come right away to the office as our turn was just a few minutes away. So much for the 1-2 hour estimate by the agent. Surely, he was taking his revenge! But, of course, the bigger picture was that the work was to get over quickly, so we rushed out like mature adults, kids in tow.


This and the pic right below are of Hotel Druk


A temple we visited the previous evening

We were to get our biometrics done inside the office. It seems once your fingerprints are logged in, you can enter Bhutan anytime in future without any further official procedures. The process was over fairly quickly and smoothly. Although we were told to carry our original proofs, these were not demanded by the officers.

We were told that the permit papers will take yet another 2 hours to be processed and would be handed over to the agent/ tour driver who will in return deliver them to us at our hotel. We felt a bit out of control here as there were two people with whom we interacted, one of them waited in the queue and the other furnishing general information. And, this driver with whom we were to travel for the rest of the trip was still unknown to us at that point. It seemed too laissez-faire to just wait at the hotel not knowing who will get us the documents and whom to contact if something went wrong. We felt we were given only need-based information. A few worried calls to our operator in Mumbai later, we were reassured that one of the agents we met at the office will positively reach out to us with the necessary permits and that our tour driver would meet us later.

Bhutan, we were to later learn and experience first-hand, is a very trust-based society and citizens abide by the law and do not cheat.

It was nearly noon and by the time we finished with our lunch (Indian food and quite tasty, I must add), our permits were at the door, soon followed by our very sweet driver for the rest of our trip. The extremely beautiful sights (and a dip in temperature as we ascended higher altitudes) all along our journey up and down the hilly, winding lanes made up for the rather longish (and thankfully the only one amongst all) drive time.

_______

Hope you're enjoying reading the travelogue as much as I'm enjoying writing it. If you want specific queries to be answered, feel free to reach out. Next on the blog is Thimpu. Stay tuned!

Comments

  1. Yes, I am. Looking forward to read more. A couple of years ago I missed a chance to visit Bhutan so I am hoping your posts will give me details so that I can start planning.
    The permits seem to a process but good to follow one and plan ahead.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you'd find what you're looking for, Parul. We enjoyed the trip immensely. Do reach out if you need to know anything and I'll try to help you :)

      Delete
  2. That's an insightful post, Uma. Bhutan is on our wish list and your experience will certainly help when we plan our trip. Looking forward to more from Bhutan, from you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Shilpa. Do stay with me on this travelogue. I'm trying my best to put it out in a manner that will be useful for fellow travellers.

      Delete

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