SJ Mobilità Travel Diaries

July 17, 2020

Why should you travel to Bhutan, the Happiest and Safest Country in the World?

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 5:25 pm

When the travel bug bit me, the first country that I visited for a vacation was Bhutan. I was in love with Bhutan from the time I read about it and later when I visited and experienced myself, the love was justified. The Royal family, their leaders and it’s people work together as one family to ensure that the country remains the happiest in the world. This is also the only Carbon Negative country in the world due to their various initiatives to save and retain their environment. My admiration grew multifold when I read about the current King (Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck) how he ensures to meet each person from the country during the tea break, to hear their concerns and find a solution to ensure every citizen in their country is taken care of. Bhutan people are lucky to have such a humble King, his family and his team whose only intention is to take care of his people. My love and prayers are with them.

Bhutan people are very warm and hospitable and I have never even heard anyone raising their voice or being hyper. I did have an experience where I was so annoyed when I got an used towel in a hotel but after looking at their smiling face with their apologies I just couldn’t say anything or stay angry with them. I just accepted the apology and returned. Till now I don’t know how did I act so cool at that situation as I knew how annoyed I was. That’s the impact of Bhutan and it just makes you one like them.

I get over paranoid while traveling cause I worry about women safety, this is the country which gave me 100% confidence that you have nothing to worry about. The people behave so responsibly and never take advantage of any situation. They try to help you out of their way. They are not just beautiful outside, they are amazing and beautiful inside too. That’s what sets them apart.

My apologies to the people of Bhutan, this is for the incident where Indian bikers had climbed on a memorial which was a worshipping place for Bhutanese. On behalf of India, my sincere apologies.

My request to every person who travels to this country – people in Bhutan are so warm, full of love and extremely hospitable. Don’t ever take advantage of them and try to hurt in anyway. Be respectful and if you are not sure just ask them, they would be happy to help. But please don’t hurt such beautiful people of Bhutan, instead learn from them to respect, love and welcome everyone with open arms and they ensure everyone has a safe, pleasant and memorable stay in Bhutan.

This would go on and on and I wouldn’t be able to stop writing about them…..So let me put a forceful full stop and discuss other things about Bhutan which I would like to write about.

About Bhutan:

Bhutan, officially known as the Kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country in South Asia. Thimphu is its capital and the largest city, while Phuntsholing is its financial center. It’s a land of snow capped mountains, deep, broad valleys with fertile rice paddies and orchards, tiny villages and bustling market towns. Yet the south is covered in jungle and more reminiscent of India than the Himalayas.

Bhutan is a thoroughly exotic country that stimulates all of the senses. Anyone who visits this Himalayan heaven marvels at its untouched natural beauty and unique culture. Bhutan is mainly Buddhist, as is evident from the many dzongs (monasteries), chortens (stupa’s) and prayer flags scattered all across the country. Bhutan opened to modern development only very recently and tourism is permitted only to the extent that it does not endanger the kingdom’s traditional culture and society. Therefore only a few thousand visitors visit the mountain kingdom every year. In Bhutan, “gross national happiness” takes precedence over economic considerations.

I had traveled to Bhutan few years back through Exotic Expeditions (EE). The entire credit goes to Santosh from EE for making this trip so beautiful and memorable. His contact details are as below..

Santosh Nair – +91 9986450370 – contact@exoticexpeditions.org

(www.exoticexpeditions.org)

Visa formalities:

Indian nationals intending to visit Bhutan are required to carry any of the two valid ‘Travel Documents’ (a) Valid Indian Passport having validity of minimum 6 months; and/or (b) Voter Identity Card, issued by the Election Commission of India. No Visa is required to visit Bhutan.

Indians coming to Bhutan by road are required to obtain an ‘Entry Permit’ on the basis of valid Travel Document from the Immigration Office of Royal Government of Bhutan at Phuentsholing, located on the Indo-Bhutan border opposite Jaigaon, West Bengal. Similarly, Indians coming by air must posses any one of the above mentioned Travel Document and get the Entry Permit at the Paro International Airport. The ‘entry permit’ allows an Indian tourist to visit Thimphu and Paro only.

However, any tourist going beyond Thimphu and Paro need to acquire a ‘special area permit’ from the RGoB Immigration Office at Thimphu on any working days (Monday to Friday).

Their application is one of the easiest visa application form and you can fill it up directly at the Immigration office (hardly you would take a minute) and wait for your biometrics taken and your approval permit is granted immediately. I don’t think any other country has such an easier and faster process.

Note: Immigration policies keeps getting changed, hence do check for the recent updates before you travel. For few nationalities it’s recommended to book through licensed operator in Bhutan only and they would take care of your permit as well. Always go through the right person, there is no short cuts for being compliant and ensuring you have a safe travel.

Travel Itinerary

Day 1 : We were a group of 13-15 for this trip. The group from Bangalore had booked an Air India flight before we booked, hence we had to book the same to make it easier for Santosh to pick us all together in Bagdogra. As usual after much delay from AI and we finally arrived in Bagdogra (West Bengal) in the afternoon. Santosh was waiting to receive us in 4 Innovas and we started our journey. From Bagdogra to Jaigaon (Indian side of the border), the roads were bumpy and in poor condition.

After a few hours of drive, we stopped for tea and snacks on the way before we hit the road again to reach Jaigoan. Finally late evening we reached Jaigoan and we could see Bhutan Gate lighted up so beautifully and it just felt like we were receiving a warm welcome. As we entered Phuntsholing, it was quieter and more orderly than Jaigaon which was bustling and loud. We reached the hotel at night and had a quick dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 2: After breakfast, we had to go to the immigration office in Phuntsholing as we needed the permit to go further which was walkable distance from the hotel. We reached, finished the process quickly. The staffs at the Immigration were so supportive and helpful that made the process even quicker. Then we left to explore the town as Santosh had to get permits for the drivers and vehicles which took a little longer.

So we returned and started walking around the street near the hotel. We entered the grocery shops and then we found the peach wine in Bhutan, we just couldn’t stop drinking as it was too good. We went around to visit Zangto Pelri Lhakhang, which is a Bhuddist temple in Phuntsholing. We had checked out of the hotel, loaded the luggage in the cars and started towards Thimphu (Capital of Bhutan) for the next 5 hours drive.

Since the weather was cold, we had to stop in multiple places for the Suja (butter tea) and then we also got to try Ema Datshi (Chilli & Cheese), Lom (turnip leaves), Momos, Chogo (dried yak cheese, more like rock which is an acquired taste) on our journey.

As we were reaching Thimbu, we wanted to stop for a tea break and it was so foggy and we couldn’t find many pitstops, there was just one house which had a light and when we entered there was a lady and her children. They got us some tea and we picked up some snacks from their little shop which was inside their house. I was shocked that the shop was part of their house, tea was made in their own kitchen, the little grocery shop was set up in their living room itself. I was surprised how could they allow strangers in their house late night  and the house was alone and only women. Also we found men who stopped there for a drink, they just had a shot and walked out so gracefully, also few stopped for tea and snacks.

This is what I love about them, the respect, love and how they take care of each other. Then I realized we were in Bhutan and I wouldn’t have experienced such a safe experience anywhere and I know now, and I convincingly can say Bhutan is the safest country in the world.

After such a wow experience we reached Thimbhu and then I find my suitcase was missing as somehow it got left behind in our previous hotel. So I had to rush to the shop to get the toiletries and other emergency items as it was too late, the shops just had 15 minutes to close and even though we couldn’t communicate due to language barrier, we still picked up and the staff were waiting for us to finish the shopping and they didn’t even show that they are in a hurry to shut the shop and they also helped us by getting us things not available in their shop from the neighboring shops and then had to borrow some clothes from Sur (Friend and now my partner). In the meantime Santosh was trying to figure out how did my suitcase went missing and he assured me nothing will go missing in Bhutan. As he said we later got to know that the suitcase was in the same hotel lobby, as all our luggage were together, this suitcase went behind a vase and got hidden, when we were all trying to load in the vehicles we just assumed all the luggage were taken and then later it got arranged to get back in Paro.

Then came to the room and we discover the dirty towel had been folded and kept and I was so annoyed, it happened for two of us and I had to give a piece of mind to the reception as it was late and only they were available and I had to confront them. I went and complained and there were only two teenagers who was there during the night shift. They started apologising with such a warm smile, I don’t remember how my annoyance disappeared and I accepted their apologies and got a fresh towel and returned to the room. So this is the impact that Bhutan has on you, as people in Bhutan are warm and patient and I have never heard anyone raising their voice and it makes you one like them.

Day 3 : After breakfast we explored the sights of Thimphu visiting the Buddha Dordenma – gigantic Buddha statue, which is world’s largest sitting Bhuddha, that overlooks the city. Then we visited Thimphu National Memorial Chorten, Clock tower square, and then headed to Motitang Takin Preserve to see the rare and unique national animal of Bhutan, the Takin. It’s a small place, so don’t except to see so many animals.

Just out of Thimphu, the road begins a steep, twisty climb to the Dochu La pass at 3,450 meters. We stopped on top of Dochu-La pass  for the breathtaking views of the eastern Himalayas, 108 memorial chortens or stupas known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens” which had been built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the eldest Queen Mother of the country. The top of the pass is visibly marked by a large Bhutanese chorten and prayer flags, an ideal place for photography and such a beautiful place. The road down from Dochu La into the Punakha Valley and on to Wangdi Phodrang goes on for some distance, descending 1,700 meters to the valley floor. We reached Punakha by late evening after 2.5 hrs drive and the hotel was such a beautiful place. Had a great dinner and got some rest.

Day 4 : After breakfast we visited Chimi Lhakhang, a fertility temple built in 1499 by lama Drukpa Kunley. A short but beautiful walk through the villages and fields takes you to Chimi Lakhang. This city will make you smile, because you would see everywhere the murals of phalluses and the facades are filled with the painting of gigantic phalluses with the spray of sperms which was interesting. You also have accessories with the same which you buy and even the restaurants had a wooden phallus at the entrance where we stopped for lunch, which was overlooking the field. Here again we had lost patience as the food was taking hours and hours to reach the table. Sometimes the main came and the side dish was missing. After 2-3 hours we had to rush out with whatever was given as we were getting late. So I had to go to the kitchen and tell them to hurry up. The only consolation here was beautiful overview of the field.

Later we visited Punakha Dzong, arguably the most beautiful Dzong in Bhutan located between two rivers and surrounded by jacaranda trees is a delight to watch. It just feels amazing to walk on that road and awesome place for picture perfect photographs as well.

Also we took a walk across the largest walking bridge in Bhutan. This suspension bridge is beautiful and set amidst the mountains and the flowing river beneath and we also had our snacks break on the other side of the bridge and returned back. After 4 hrs of drive we reached Paro by evening.

Day 5 : After breakfast we drove to the starting point and prepared for our hike to the legendary Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) – a magnificent monastery. You can hire a horse half way and then you can hike the remaining distance. Since we wanted to hike the whole way, we didn’t take the horse. Sur was hiking along with me and there was a horse which was coming down, I think it just felt of stretching the leg without any provocation and it kicked Sur on the thigh and by the time we realized what just happened horse went down as usual. Sur somehow managed to hike with his painful leg. It was a very relaxed trek and the monastery was so beautiful and had stunning views. Midway we stopped for lunch and we saw quite a few beautiful birds and then returned back by evening. Then headed to National Museum and went back to the hotel. There I got the good news that my suitcase had finally arrived intact.

Day 6 : After Breakfast we travelled for 3 hours to the beautiful Haa Valley . The drive to Haa valley crosses 3988m Chele-la pass, from where you have a superb views of Mount. Jhomolhari & Jichu Drakey. The quaint valley is enchanting with mountains and apple orchards. It’s like a small township, but a really charming place with traditional Bhutanese houses. We visited the 7th century Lhakhang Karpo (White temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo  (Black temple) at the foothills of a venerated three brotherly mountains known as Meri Puensum and then headed back to the homestay, which was a traditional Bhutanese house, it was run by an old couple and we had an amazing hospitality. We went around and everyone was inviting us to sit and spend time with them, was offered tea without even asking us. Mostly there were senior citizens. We just felt we were with the our own grandparents and felt home. After an delicious lunch, laughter, fun and talk we went to rest late night.

Day 7 : We woke up to the beautiful and stunning  apple orchards around. After breakfast we drove back to Siliguri (West Bengal) through the mountains of Bhutan and then got down to the plains of north Bengal. We just chilled and rested for the night.

Day 8 : After breakfast we were dropped at Bagdogra Airport to return home.

Our beautiful and memorable Bhutan trip ended, but every moment we spent there remains a life time experience. If you have already visited, you are lucky, if not make a plan as soon the Bhutan opens it’s borders after the Covid.

Praying for you and your family’s good health. This too shall pass and we will soon be back to traveling. Until then STAY SAFE…..

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