Updated: May 22, 2019
Hello friends, this blog is all about my trip to Bhutan and I wanted to share my experience. You may be planning a trip to Bhutan and this blog might help you.
I had visited Bhutan with my family in Nov 2018. This was my fifth international tour after Singapore, KualaLumpur, Bangkok & Dubai.
All these years, I have been planning my trips in India and abroad and always tried to avoid package tours and agents.
This means that I have to do extensive research and planning before my trips and try to ensure that everything is planned.
So I tried to do an extensive research about travelling to Bhutan and would like to share all the information that I have gathered.
How to Reach Bhutan
We can enter Bhutan via flight or by road. As per my knowledge there are only a few weekly flights from Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi etc to Paro airport in Bhutan which is operated by Druk airlines and Bhutan airlines and prices seem to be little high since flights are less. You can go to these sites to check availability and prices.
It would be a nice experience to land in Paro airport as it is situated between mountains and the plane has to fly between two mountains while landing and takeoff which can offer a great view unlike anything you might have seen before while landing or taking off at other airports.
If you choose to reach Bhutan by road from India then you have to reach the India-Bhutan border in Pheuntsholing/Jaigaon in West Bengal, India.
Nearest railway station is Hasimara [West Bengal] which is 20 Kms from Pheuntsholing [Bhutan]
Another option is Siliguri railway station [West Bengal] which is 160 Kms from Pheuntsholing [Bhutan]. You will get taxi and bus from Siliguri to Pheuntsholing.
Taxi may charge Rs 2500 on wards depending on the size of vehicle. Buses will be cheap but may be less comfortable and may take more time to reach.
You can also take a flight to Bagdogra airport near Siliguri and then take an airport prepaid taxi to Pheuntsholing.
I took a flight to Bagdogra from Pune via Kolkata and then took a prepaid taxi [Wagon R - Rs 2610] to Pheuntsholing.
Bhutan time is 30 minutes ahead of Indian time. Keep this in mind when you note office timings, bus timings etc in Bhutan.
Indian citizens do not require a Visa to enter Bhutan although an entry permit is required which is free of cost.
After reaching Pheuntsholing, you have to apply for the entry permit in the immigration office which is just 5 minutes walking distance from the Bhutan gate.
Office timing is from 9 Am to 5 Pm and in peak seasons you have to aim to reach this office as early as possible to increase your chances of getting the permit on the same day.
It is closed on Saturdays and Sundays. So Fridays and Mondays may have more rush compared to other days. So if possible its better to plan your trip in such a way that you reach Pheuntsholing between Tuesday and Thursday to avoid rush especially in peak seasons. I reached Pheuntsholing on a Monday afternoon in Nov 2018 and easily got my entry permit within 30 minutes. Indians don't require a permit to stay in Pheuntsholing since its a border town. Entry permit is required to go further inside Bhutan to places like Paro, Thimphu etc. Bhutan gate in Pheuntsholing closes at 9 Pm everyday and you cannot enter Pheuntsholing or come to Jaigaon[Indian side] until the gate opens in the morning.
The following documents are required for entry permit.
Arrange the documents in the same order as given below. You can ask your doubts in the comments section on the bottom of this page and I will try to reply asap.
1. An itenary or our trip
This should have a rough idea about which places we are going to visit in Bhutan along with dates. Its not necessary that we follow the same itenary date wise but just a formality to get permit. It can be either printed or can be written in a blank page. I have uploaded my trip itenary in word format here. You can download and just make changes as per your trip and take the printout. Download Itenary
2. Hotel Confirmation Vouchers
I did my hotel bookings for Pheuntsholing, Paro and Bhutan from MakeMyTrip and took the printout of the booking confirmation vouchers of MakeMyTrip.
I have read in many places that its good to have the booking confirmation in the Hotel's letter head as the immigration officials might insist for this.
So I contacted the Hotel reception in Paro and Thimphu via email and watsapp and asked them to give hotel booking confirmation in their letter head. They agreed and sent it on mail and I took the color print out of their confirmation. I have uploaded it here for your reference. So I have kept both the Hotel letter head confirmation and the MMT booking vouchers in the document set.
Only one set of above documents are required for all people travelling in your group and below set for each person travelling in the group.
3. Entry permit application form
Filled Entry permit application form along with passport size photo pasted on the top left side of the form (only 1 photo is required but keep 2-3 with you to be on safe side). You can download the entry permit application form, take print outs and fill it before reaching the immigration office so that you can save time there. In case you have any doubts while filling the forms just comment in the comment section on the bottom of this page and I will try to reply asap. You can also get these forms from the xerox and stationery shops near the immigration office. Sometimes they give the forms in the office itself but not sure if they do in peak season. Its always better to be prepared with the paper work so that you can directly go and stand in the queue where permit applications are checked and moved for further processing.
4. Passport or voter id card
One Photocopy of passport or voter id card is required to be attached. Do self attestation of these photocopies. Keep extra copies of passport and voter id card as it may be required while applying for a permit extension or a route permit.
After you submit the application on the ground floor you will be asked to go upstairs to the first floor where you will have to stand in another queue according to the order of receiving the application. When your turn comes your finger prints will be scanned and photo will be taken and permit will be issued. Since I was carrying a passport instead of a voter card the entry permit was immediately stamped on to my passport at this counter. But if you have given voter id card then you may have to wait at another counter where they will print the entry permit and give it to you. So if you have a passport better you carry that instead of a voter id card.
The entry permit is valid only for 7 days starting from the day of receiving the permit. And its only valid for traveling to Paro & Thimphu. In case you want to stay for more than 7 days and travel to places other than Paro and Thimphu like Haa, Dochula, Punakha, Bumthang etc then you have to apply for permit extension and route permit after reaching Thimphu. I will explain it later in this blog.
After getting the permit you can apply for a Bhutanese sim card in the first floor where there is a counter for this. Charges are 200 Nu [Rs 200] for which you get 1 Gb Data and 30 Minutes local talktime [I dont remember this exactly] with 30 days validity. It will be activated within few minutes. A Bhutanese sim card is necessary while travelling in Bhutan as you may have to call taxi drivers on several occasions. These sim cards are also available in small shops also.
Travelling and Sight Seeing in Bhutan
Day-1. Pheuntsholing to Paro
We had reached Pheuntsholing on a Monday afternoon. After checking in to our hotel we had lunch and then went to immigration office to apply for the entry permit. After getting the entry permit we went to the Pheuntsholing bus station which is just 10 minutes walking distance from the immigration office where you will get buses and taxis to Paro and Thimphu.
Taxis will take Rs 2500 onwards for a WagonR and depending on the size of the vehicle.
There are only a few buses in the morning and afternoon from Pheuntsholing to other places in Bhutan and tickets may get booked early. So we had booked the bus tickets for a coaster bus to Paro for next day morning [Rs 650 for 3 people].
Most people travel to Thimphu first and then come to Paro at the last stage of their stay in Bhutan to get acclimatized so that it would be easy for them to trek to Paro Tigers Nest.
But I went to Paro first since I had already done my hotel bookings. The journey from Pheuntsholing to Paro/Thimphu is scenic with the roads winding up on the hills and the clear skies of November offered a spectacular view of the surrounding mountain peaks and rivers. It takes around 5-6 hours to reach Paro from Pheuntsholing. The bus journey was comfortable. There is a stop in between at a small local restaurant on the way for having breakfast.
Note :- There are 2 immigration check posts on the way from Pheuntsholing to Paro/Thimphu. You have to show your entry permit at both the places. They will put an entry stamp with date on the permit. Remember to show the permits at these 2 checkpoints on your way back also. Just remind the bus driver to stop at immigration checkpoints even though they do stop.
We reached Paro at around 1.30 PM and checked in to our hotel [Hotel Paro] and had lunch.
In the evening we went out to explore Paro town and walked down the streets of Paro and reached Rinpung Dzong which was just 30 minutes walk from the town. It can be seen from the Paro town since its on an elevated area.
There were not many people here. From here we can get a good view of Paro town and the Paro river. After spending 1 hour here we went back to our hotel in Paro town.
On the way to Hotel Paro there was a small taxi stand with a petrol pump where you will get taxis to all places in Bhutan. We enquired about taxi to Tigers nest. Taxi's generally charge Rs 800-1000 [Wagon R] for a drop and pickup and after some bargaining one driver agreed to take us to and from Tigers nest for Rs 800.
Taxi drivers will come to your hotel in Paro and will drop you at the tigers nest parking lot. He will give his phone number so that you can call him once you complete your trek and come back. This is why I suggested to buy a sim card as soon as you reach Bhutan. One entire day should be kept aside for tigers nest trekking.
Day-2. Trek to Tigers Nest Monastery
The taxi driver dropped us at the Tigers nest [which is approx 15 Km from Paro town] at around 9 AM. Its good to start the trek as early as possible to avoid the sun while going up. Taxi dropped us at the parking lot. Take good sports shoes for this hike, and sufficient water, something to eat on the way chocolates, cake etc. Walking stick might help when you come back down, can get really cold on the way up so carry jackets. I don't want to scare you but watch your steps carefully and more carefully while coming back down. Walking sticks are available here for rent [Rs 50 per stick].
There is a Ticket counter in the parking lot from where we bought the tickets [Rs 500 per head]. The ticket is required for entry to the Tigers Nest monastery at the top and not for the trek. If you have elderly people or someone who does not plan to trek up to the top, then there is no need to take tickets as it will be wasted. We started at around 9 Am and half way through the trek there is cafeteria. From here we get nice views of the Tigers nest monastery. Here there is a small restaurant and snacks stalls where we can buy water and other items to eat but its costly [1 Liter water bottle for Rs 50]. This place also has a washroom on the back of the restaurant. I have recorded the entire trek from start to end and summarized it in this video so that you can get an idea about the various aspects of the trek viz the difficulty level and the scenery on offer.
Some people prefer to go till halfway up to the cafeteria and come back without proceeding to the Tigers nest monastery at the top. There is no need to buy tickets if you don't plan to enter the monastery.
We completed our trek and came back to the parking lot by 3.30 PM and did some souvenir shopping at the handicrafts market. Then we called our taxi driver and he came to pick us withing 15 minutes and dropped us at our hotel.
Below are the mobile numbers of our taxi driver. You can contact these drivers if required. Both are available in Watsapp also.
Ugyen Taxi Paro (+975-17732468) & Tenzing Taxi Paro (+975-17321577).
Since i had my camera with me so i didn't buy a walking stick so While coming back down a simple strategy that i used was to keep my body's center of gravity close to the ground by leaning backwards a little bit by folding my knees backward so that even if i fell or slipped i would fall on my back and since i had a backpack on my back so i would be safe falling backwards. but if we trip and fall towards our front then we will hit the ground on our nose and head which can be dangerous. this way i was also able to come down at a rapid pace.
Day-3. Paro Sight Seeing & travel to Thimphu
We hired a taxi [pickup and drop Rs 400] for going to the National Museum in Paro. We get a nice view of Paro city from here.
Paro to Thimphu – We booked a bus from Paro to Thimphu (Rs 165 For 3 people). You can ask anyone about the Paro Bus station and they will show you the place. The bus station is not far from the taxi station. There you can book bus tickets in advance. It takes around 2 hours to reach Thimphu from Paro. The bus journey was comfortable. From Thimphu bus station we got a taxi to our hotel for Rs 100. The taxi driver Namgay seemed to be reasonable and well behaved. So we decided to hire him for next day also. In Thimphu we stayed in Hotel Khamsum INN.
For dinner we went to a famous restaurant named Zombala 2 which was just 10-15 minutes walk from this hotel. Here we tried some local dishes.
Day-4. Thimphu Sight Seeing
We had breakfast in our hotel and then went to the immigration office in Thimphu to get our entry permit extension and route permit for Punakha [Dochula] . It was just 20-30 minutes walk from Hotel Khamsum Inn. We were ready with our forms and when the immigration office started at 9 AM we gave the forms and was told to come after 2 hours to take the permits. We waited there are got our permits within 1 hour. There is a xerox center just besides the office in case you need to take any photocopies.
Then we called the taxi driver Namgay who charged Rs 2000 for a days sightseeing in Thimphu. Places that we visited are Folk heritage museum, Changakha lakhang monsatery, Bhutan Takin preserve, Buddha Dordenma/Buddha point, Simtokha Dzong, Memorial Chorten & Taschichho Dzong.
Day-5. Thimphu to Punakha Sightseeing [via Dochula Pass] and back to Thimphu
Our driver Namgay took Rs 2500 for this trip. His driving was very comfortable. Neither too fast nor too slow. We visited Dochula Pass on the Way. In Punakha we visited Punakha Dzong, Punakha suspension bridge and Punakha river picnic/camping spot (where we were lucky that we got to see a helicopter land and takeoff in front of us).
Day-6. Thimphu Sight Seeing on foot
We visited simply Bhutan, Centenary farmers market, handicrafts market, Centenary park & clock tower square.
Please contact me on this telegram group for any doubts or tips. https://t.me/joinchat/Lsl6FkjAlAlUeZGsWcWq0g
Twitter :- @ashish8782
Below are the contacts which I have of Taxi Drivers and Agents in Bhutan.
Sangey Taxi Pheuntsholing
Namgey Thimphu Taxi
Penjor Aku Pamtsho Thimphu Taxi 2000
Ugyen Taxi Paro Tiger Nest
Tenzing Paro Taxi Tigers nest
Sonam Thimphu Taxi 2500
Avinash Bhutan Permit Agent
Avinash Pradhan Bhutan
Tshering Bhutan Pheuntsholing Guide Teacher
Ugyen Bhutan Hotel Guide Permit
More details coming soon ....