Chilling in the Idyllic Mountains of Bhutan!

I’ve heard a lot of people tell me that Bhutan is a short vacation, you can’t spend more than 5 days there, it is likely to get boring…and I’m happy to say, they’re all wrong. If anything, I actually think I could have added another 10 days to an already 10 day long trip. The truth is, you can keep it short, if you like, but you can also make it as long as you like.

Bhutan ranks the highest in the happiness index on the world map. It’s easy to see why. From the moment you land, there’s this calm that envelopes you. There’s no negativity, only happy faces. In my 10 day trip, I lost my temper once, and for me, that an achievement. Yes, I know, that’s nothing to be proud of. 🙂

Colourful Temples of Bhutan

If you’re from India, Bangladesh or the Maldives, you don’t need a visa and you can choose to travel as you please. If you’re not, Bhutan mandates that you use a government authorized travel agent and that you have a guide with you at all times. If you’re not from the countries mentioned, you must pay USD 250 per day per person, and this includes accommodation, transport, food and entry fees. Even if you have a free pass in Bhutan (if you’re from one of the mentioned countries), I highly recommend you plan your travel with a travel agent and have a guide with you at all times. As you read ahead, you’ll see why.

Bhutan is a relatively cheap holiday, you can really splurge and still not be spending too much.

This was a family vacation for me, so we didn’t do much hiking, but the possibility of hiking in Bhutan for days on end is very real. This is a great place to be if you love hiking. Regardless of whether you’re hiking up in the mountains or not, you are going to be doing a LOT of walking. On all of the 10 days, we walked an average of 2 to 3 hours a day.

Bhutan is mostly hilly terrain and while most places are accessible by car, it’s greatest attraction, the Tiger’s Nest needs at least 2.5 hours of hiking and is only possible for those who are at least moderately fit. The only other way is to get an aerial view with a helicopter.

Most places in Bhutan involve climbing some amount of stairs, so I won’t say that it’s exactly wheelchair and elderly friendly, but it should be do-able for most.

Flights

Usually, I don’t spend much time on this section of the trip note, but in this case, it is a significant part of the trip. This is probably the only flight where you will see the Himalayas for most of the flight. Even when you’re in full flight, the Himalayas will stick up above the clouds, and you will see the Mt. Everest, the Kanchenjunga and other peaks.

View of the Himalayas from the flight

If you’re travelling from India, Paro (the only international airport in Bhutan) is connected via Delhi, Bagdogra, Gaya, Guwahati and Kolkata directly by Druk Air. Book your flights well in advance. Since this is the only carrier flying into Bhutan, flights tend to get booked early. Why are the flights so few? Well, Paro happens to be one of the most dangerous airports in terms of positioning. It is located in the middle of the valley and pilots must go around the mountain and make a quick turn to align themselves with the runway before they can land. Not every pilot is qualified. Period. The G-force you experience while landing is nothing I have ever experienced before.

I found the connection from Delhi the best in terms of timing, and decided to stay the night at the airport transit hotel. Piece of advice here, just DON’T. If you need to stay at Delhi, please stay over at a hotel in Aerocity. Access to the transit hotel is terrible and the money you spend is just not worth it.

Dochula Pass

Now, Druk Air does not allow web check in or mobile check in (yes I know, in this day and age it IS annoying!), so make sure you reach the check in counter at least 3 hours in advance to get your seats. While travelling to Bhutan, you want to be seated on the left of the aircraft, while facing the cockpit. Given the panoramic Himalayan views, this is one flight where extra money is warranted on a business class ticket. You won’t be disappointed. Please keep your camera handy!

Brochures

The official website is https://www.bhutan.travel/ You will get all the information you need from the website. A few hours on their page and you will know exactly what you want to do.

Visa

With the exception of visitors from India, Bangladesh and Maldives, all other visitors travelling to Bhutan need a visa. Indian, Bangladeshis andMaldivian nationals can obtain a permit at the port of entry on producing a valid passport with a minimum of 6 months validity (Indian nationals may also use their Voters Identity Card (VIC)).

All other tourists must obtain a visa clearance prior the travel to Bhutan.Visas are processed through an online system by your licensed Bhutanese tour operator directly or through a foreign travel agent. The visa fee is USD 40.    

Tiger’s Nest

Best time to visit

The best times to visit are March – May or September – November. During this time you’ll avoid the rain and you will avoid the harsh weather.

Essentials

This depends on the months you travel in. Regardless of when you travel however, please pack some warm clothes. Temperatures in Bhutan can vary significantly from place to place and it can get a tad bit windy and chilly. Also pack a really good pair of shoes. You’re going to be doing a lot of walking. Do not forget to pack your medicines, they’re hard to come by in Bhutan unless you visit a hospital. Drug stores keep very few medicines and something as simple as an upset stomach can escalate into a problem.

Currency

Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (Nu.) It is at par with the Indian rupee which is accepted everywhere in the country. All denominations were accepted when we travelled. Credit cards (other than American Express) are accepted in most places. Oh and by the way, Bhutanese currency has no coins! So if you’re a coin collector, well, too bad.

Getting around

Public transport is difficult if you’re thinking of buses. Taxis are available for hire. However, you’re better off hiring a car for your entire journey. You can fly between some destinations in Bhutan, but driving is the preferred option, that’s where you will get most of the sights and sounds of Bhutan. It really is quite lovely. The roads in and around Paro, Thimphu and Punakha are great for the most part. In other parts of Bhutan, while they are still under construction, they can be quite poor.

It is best that you have a driver and guide available to you at all times. Google maps is not the most dependable here, and you will need to have locals to help you out.

Chilling in Bhutan!

Where to stay

Options are aplenty but good options are few. For this particular trip, unlike what I normally do, all bookings were made in advance. Making last minute bookings for Bhutan is not a good idea. Most hotels and resorts are occupied and booked well in advance. Details of the places we booked are in the itinerary.

Bhutan also has the concept of farm stays or homestays. You can choose to use one of these options if you’re the adventurous type. It will definitely add to your Bhutan cultural experience. Speak to the tour operator you are using to get the best out of homestays.

Farm and homestays also offer hot stone baths. Do try one at a farm stay, they’re so much more authentic than the ones at the hotels.

What to eat and drink

Bhutanese Cuisine!

The Bhutanese love to spice up their food with red chilies, and add oodles of cheese. I’m Indian and enjoy hot food; despite that, I found the food in Bhutan exceptionally hot! Consider yourself warned. You will see red chilies being dried on practically every roof top in Bhutan, and now you know why.

Ema Datshi is their local favourite. This is basically chillies and cheese. Regardless of whether you’re open to chillies or not, give this a try. I loved it! Even though I was sweating afterward.

The next is Kewa Datshi, that’s potato and cheese. Milder, but very tasty. I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, “datshi” is cheese. J  

Lots of Indian options are available so don’t fret. Ask the chef to make the food in accordance with your palette and you will not be disappointed. I’ve listed out the restaurants we tried in the detailed itinerary. You can definitely try those.

Our fab guide, Sangham

The Bhutanese do have a few local wines. Alcohol is much much cheaper at a store than at a hotel. You should pick up what you want while you’re out and about.

While we’re talking about drinks, do try the butter tea! It is a concoction of butter and rice puffs and some people enjoy it a lot. I personally found it heavy, given all the butter, but the rest of the guys really loved it.

As far as water is concerned, it is better to have bottled water in Bhutan. Tap water is not the best option.

Cigarettes

While I don’t always have a separate entry for smoking in my blogs, this is important for those who cannot do without smoking. Smoking is banned in Bhutan! You will therefore not be able to buy cigarettes while on your trip. Please carry smokes from your own country. Check the limits before you travel. If you’re at a hotel, please smoke in the permitted areas. Do not smoke in public, you’re asking for trouble. Ask your guide if you’re unsure.

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