One word – Breathtaking!
Bhutan, the small land locked nation of monarchy, monasteries, cultural pride, fiercely guarded values, kings, deities and demons with a mere population of 8 lacs will appeal to you if you like quite naturally beautiful places and want to explore cities and towns with a glorious past.
It peacefully lays in the heart of himalayas. Himayalan smell creeps into the blood of a traveller in this ethereal country. Exemplary for preserving culture and heritage – it’s a complete cut off from the world and follows constitutional Monarchy.
Our search for a perfect peaceful summer honeymoon started in Mar 18 , almost 3 months after getting married . Sounds crazy?? Yeah it was, and so was our crazy desire to experience the country of happiness in this lifetime.
After much research, our hearts could not think of anything but Bhutan. Icing on the cake was the month of April , which is one of the best time to visit this beautiful country and escape the scorching heat of south India.
We chose to go with a tour operator and immediately got our package booked for 6 days 5 nights. We were to leave on 27th April from Hyderabad via train for Kolkata and catch a flight to Paro. One can also travel of its own as it is easily accessible by Air and road from india. Bhutan shares its borders with Tibet (on north & east) and India (bordering west, south and partly east). There is only one international airport i.e,Paro for which flights can be taken from New Delhi and kolkata. By road, it’s a five hour drive from Siliguri to reach jaigaon – the last town on India Bhutan border. The first town on other side is Pheuntsholing. From Pheuntsholing, it’s another 6 hour drive to the capital city , Thimpu.
Excited beyond clouds, reverse counting started for our dream place.
And then came the D day, 27th April! Our train departed from Hyderabad early morning at 5:00 AM. Coincidently , we both love train journeys. This train trip was going to be very special as we both were travelling towards east for the first time. Having spent a decent day in train with books , music , movie and snacks, we reached Kolkata at 10 in the morning . Sun seemed to be in its full wrath. The city of Joy was very humid with temperature reaching over 40 degrees. But we went on to visit howrah bridge, darshan at Dakhshineshwar Temple and Belur math. Believe me, it was just splendid.Kolkata is brimming with historical sites and other places to visit like Victoria Memorial and a ride in tramp.
Next morning was the day to The Land of Thunder Dragons. We reached airport early to grab the seats in left so that we can have a view of mount Everest. But sadly, they were gone. No worries, many good things were awaiting us!
The aircraft was unbeleivably shaking due to turbulence as it was passing over the cloudy mountains, chilling us to the spines. It was a two hour adventure before landing . We were mesmerised to see the natural beauty of Bhutan aiport which was sorrounded by mountains on all the sides. Weather was pleasent with average temperature of 15 degrees. You will have ample time to take pictures after you disembark at the airport. Don’t worry, security don’t seem to mind.
Note that you need permit to enter the country. In our case , it was arranged by our tour agency.
Bhutan has two circuits to offer – Western Bhutan or full Bhutan. West Bhutan is a good option from tourist point of view if you have less than a week, as it would cover Paro, Thimpu and Punakha- the two biggest town of Bhutan and an earlier capital. Full Bhutan is for those travellers who have more than 10 days in hand and want to explore the real Bhutan. Eastern Bhutan is one of the remotest and lesser known regions of the World which contains finest of the preserved countrysides.
We were to travel only across the western Bhutan. Here are some details of our itinerary:
Day 1- Arrive and sightseeing around in Thimphu (29th April).
Day 2- Thimphu sightseeing.
Day 3- Punakha sightseeing.
Day 4- Drive back to Paro and Sightseeing.
Day 5- Excursion to Tiger’s Nest in Paro.
Day 6 was the “see you again Bhutan” day.
At Paro aiport, our guide , Pema and Wangchuck, were there to pick us up and our trip started. The first stop on our way to hotel was Chuzom, confluence of Thimpu ( Wang Chu) and Paro (Pa Chhu) rivers. Three different style of stupas ; Tibetan , Nepalese and Bhutanese adorn this confluence .
We also stopped in between to taste the famous Yak cheese of Bhutan. It was a tasteless, but worth spending Rs.10.
It took us 3 hours to reach Thimpu from Paro. We were awestruck by the beauty of the capital city. The hotel had wooden floors and ceilings. Weather was cold and it was just awsm. The hotel room was facing the football stadium. After having spent sometime around Thimpu main Street and market area , we enjoyed football match till midnight from our hotel room lying in our cosy bed.
Next day we left early morning to explore more of the place. Though we could not cover all the places mentioned in the itinerary due to mismanagement by the tour guide , we were really mesmerized by each and every sight. Places we visited were :
– Buddha view point: The giant statue of lord Buddha is located high above the hill. It is built on top of a temple featuring a wide open terrace from where you can enjoy complete view of Thimphu City. A must see in Thimphu.
– Changangkha Lhakhang: This is the oldest temple in Thimphu built around the 13th century and it has great importance to the region because all children born in the area must go to the temple to be named and purified. A good piece of Bhutanese history. One of the best part of this temple was the view of kings palace.
– Motithang Takin preserve: Enclosure where national animal takin are kept.
– Simply Bhutan meuseum: This meuseum gives an insight in to the traditional daily life of Bhutanese people. You are welcomed here with local wine Ara, butter tea and folk dance. One can also experience archery here. Sadly, we missed it because of rain.
Other places which one should explore in Thimpu are Pangri Zampa pa monastery for astrology session, handmade paper mill, School of Arts and crafts where students learn 13 different arts used predominantly in Bhutan, National library , Zilukha Nunnery and drive pass by memorial chorten built in memory of the 3rd King.
Next morning we headed from Thimpu to the warm valley of Punakha via Dochula Pass (3100mts). 108 stupas built over the pass by queen mother in 2003 makes it the most beautiful pass in the country. When the weather permits one can enjoy a spectacular view of the highest mountains of Bhutan from this pass. We stayed there for about two hours and continued with our journey.
In a hour, we reached Punakha. The city was comparatively warm. It was fertile with rice paddies covering much of the area near the river. The mountains do not look very tall around here . There are a few villages here and there. Our first destination was Chimi Lhakhang Monastry , called as ” Temple of ferrility”. It is beautifully set on a hill top. We had to walk among the rice fields to reach it. It was around 1 hour walk through the village which gives rare glimpses into the daily life and lifestyle of the villagers. After we got on the top, it was so calm and peaceful. One can observe the rituals being performed by Buddhist monks and feel the purity of the place.
Next was Punakha Dzong, which is perhaps the mightiest and best looking of all the fortresses in Bhutan . It is built at the meeting point of two rivers (Mo Chu and Po Chu – meaning female river and male river). The Dzong showcase the finest example of the arts and crafts of Bhutan. It was such a marvellous place to visit, beyond imagination and description. It houses both administrative and religious functions. This is in essence what Bhutan is about, a religious state, waging ancient traditions while trying to cope with modern ideas and systems. The time spent in the rivers and the Dzong created tonnes of priceless movements of us.
Overnight we stayed in Punakha. Hotel seemed to be in complete isolation from rest of the world in between mountains . It was foggy and dark in the evening with few small houses and lights in the mountains which can be seen from our hotel window. Like Thimpu, hotel had wooden flooring and ceilings. We spent the night sleeping with windows open wishing the night to become longer than usual.
Early morning of the 4th day, we left for Paro. Fortunately or Unfortunately , 2nd May was a public holiday in Bhutan and hence it was not possible to visit the places specified in the itinerary. So, we decided to see Chele La pass instead. It is 1.5hrs drive from Paro through dense forests at a height of 3900 mts which makes it the highest motorable pass in the country. The majestic views from atop of this place is simply amazing, including show-capped giants such as that of the Jumolhari peak along with Paro and Haa Valley. The pass was covered with ice and it was freezing cold. A small shop there serves hot Maggie , momos and coffee. The experience was amazing. Thanks to the public holiday!! Later in the evening , we checked in to the Kichu resort situated on river bank. The ambience was awesome and so were the people.
The next and last day was the highlight of the trip- the hike to the legendary Takshang Lakhang, better known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
Tiger’s Nest Monastery is believed to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan, making it the most sacred monastery in the country. It clings to a cliff, 3120 meters above the sea level on the side of the upper Paro valley. It was a 4 hours hike. Horses are also available for 2/3rd of the track, but we chose to walk. It is certainly the most stunning and fascinating location in Bhutan. Also in the evening we saw cultural show of bhutan, kids practicing archery in the open ground.
The last day we got up very early in the morning to sit by the river recalling all the good days and finally say good bye to this heaven on earth.
It is hard to convey how special all our experiences were during our time in Bhutan. I’m already wondering how and when I can visit again!
There is so much of uniqueness in this hidden last Shangri-La :
– It measures it’s growth in terms of Gross National Happiness.
– Bhutan has no traffic lights.
– Their are no slaughter houses in Bhutan. They feed on imported meat.
– No newspaper on Sunday. Is’int that cool. Another secret to happy life.
– Village culture still dominate Bhutan.
– 70pc of land is covered with forests. It produce more oxygen than it consumes.
– Single dress for girls and boys,i.e, Gho and Kira. Every bhutani swears by its national dress.
Come to this country open minded , meet the people , learn about the Gross National Happiness as an alternative to traditional GDP, realise the true meaning of national self reliance , public and individual care for the total environment and honest governance on all levels. It sets an example for rest of the world.
It was exceptional, a must visit for every travel efficianado out there.