Bhutan: stepping into the neighbourhood paradise

I have always wanted to travel far and wide within India and, of course, outside. Well, who does not want to travel to picturesque foreign locales? Destinations like Europe or the US are probably on every traveller's wishlist but how many of us lust after Sri Lanka or Bhutan, our immediate neighbours? To be honest, even after covering the former five years ago and returning with a delightful experience, I never revised my bucket list to push Bhutan towards the top. How sad, yes! I'm, however, extremely glad that providence brought up this underrated destination in our conversation early this year and the sister and I decided to club our summer holiday plans to this beautiful country.

By the time our plans firmed up, we were short of two months from our travel dates and that's when we realized it was too late to opt for direct flights into Bhutan. There are only two airlines-Bhutan Airlines and Druk Air- that operate out of India and that too only from Kolkatta or Delhi. The tickets get booked well in advance and we ran out of luck in this area, so we travelled by the next best option- by road. Also, cheaper and more popular.

Two flights took us to Bagdogra in West Bengal, the nearest airport to reach the likes of Bhutan, Sikkim or Darjeeling. Our van soon left behind the dusty town roads leading from the airport to cruise along the flat plains of lush green tea plantations of Jalpaiguri and Siliguri districts towards Phuentsholing, the border town of Bhutan. It took us nearly 5 hours that included a lunch break in between.

The pleasants sights ended at Jaigaon, a village town that marked the end of the Indian territory. After driving down a few chaotic lanes of Jaigaon, the vehicle abruptly turned to cross a huge, beautifully painted arch -the entry point to Bhutan. It was as though a page from a fantasy novel got turned to transport the readers into a whole new world. The arch literally separated the noisy and chaotic from the calm and organized.



On this side, we saw buildings that were similarly embellished with traditional paintings on the window frames and doorways, good roads with well-etched out zebra crossings where vehicles dutifully slowed down to allow pedestrians to cross, uniformly dressed men and women in their traditional clothing, smiling faces and in general a calming and pleasant environment. It seemed surreal to enter a different country by simply turning at the curve of a road.

Over the next eight days to Thimpu, Punakha and Paro (the three valleys we covered), we were to experience a culture that bloomed on our soil but soon left our shores to grow roots in the backdrop of an untouched, beautiful and bountiful Nature. While the modern day trappings of a developed country are yet to see light here, one cannot help but notice the Bhutanese's unmatched and collective effort to upkeep the environment and cultural background while trying to assimilate modernism and development.

Our hotel at Phuentsholing was right next to the immigration office where our permits into the country were to be processed the next morning. Different cities require different permits within Bhutan. So, while one permit sufficed for Thimpu and Paro, a separate one was required for Punakha. The immigration office itself is a smallish structure suggesting that the country has never experienced huge footfalls of tourist population in the past. However, going by the crowd we encountered outside the office and at all the sights within Bhutan, this might change very soon.

So, what to expect on a trip to Bhutan and how do you plan or what to pack and carry? Keep reading the travelogue and I will do my best to put it all down here.

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Have you been to this mesmerizing place? Do share your thoughts.


9 comments:

  1. So many of my friends have been to Bhutan in the past year that I am really tempted. Heard so many good things about Bhutan, its sights and its people. You are right, often we ignore our own neighbours while planning our travel trips. Look forward to reading more, Uma. Loved the pics you shared on FB.

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    1. You should visit, Rachna. You won't be disappointed. In fact the Dzong area in Punakha reminded my sister of parts of UK, so surely we have a paradise right next door. Thank you, Rachna. Will be posting the rest of the travelogue in parts.

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  2. Bhutan seems to be the place of choice for many travellers in my circle. Monika went last year and did the whole trip by road too! Something that the husband is proposing that we do next year :D Not sure how I feel about that yet.

    Looks like you had a lovely trip! The pictures on FB spoke of that.

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    1. Yes, Bhutan seems to be gaining popularity. Wow, a road trip all the way sounds adventurous. You never know, it might enjoy it, Shailaja.

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  3. A dear friend of mine has lived in Bhutan for a few years and she raves about it constantly. The natural beauty is to die for apparently. I'm not so good with heights so that kind of holds me back. But I like the idea of travelling by road.

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    1. Oh, she lived there? I'm not sure about living long term in places like these. Despite all the natural beauty, I feel life can get too simplistic. But, that's just me ;-) Road is good if you don't get squeamish with all the winding roads. You must try visiting the plains and maybe just one valley, Tulika.

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  4. I think a road trip would be the best. One can see much more than just flying. Isn't it?
    We are heading to the Himalayas this year via road and I am both excited and nervous about the journey. More to come!

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    1. Wow, a road trip to the Himalayas sounds perfect and exciting. Looking forward to hearing stories about it later :)

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  5. I am amazed by how clean and beautiful the place looks. The temples look enchanting. Wow, I would sure love to visit Thimpu. Thanks for taking us on this lovely tour.

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