There are places, countries rather, our neighbours to be more precise, that are geographical marvels in themselves. Think mystical mountains, vast open green expanse, picturesque valleys, flowing rivers, a rich cultural heritage, mouthwatering food and lots and lots of architectural wonders; that’s Bhutan for you. Any attempt to describe the beauty and bounty of the country fails in comparison to the place itself. But for the benefit of travelling enthusiasts, we took it upon ourselves to present Bhutan in an affordable and viable way to experience its astounding environs.
The kingdom of Bhutan is a landlocked country nestled between India and Tibet and is located in the Eastern Himalayas. Guided by the philosophy of Gross Happiness Index as a mark of its prosperity it is one of the happiest countries in the world. Not to mention it is the only carbon negative country in the world; yes, it cleans more air than it pollutes! If this has not got you interested already, then we wonder what will?
Wait! There’s more!
- It is easily accessible by train, car or bus
- There is no Visa required, just proper permits and identity proof
- Bhutan accepts the Indian currency
- And, last but not the least, it can be planned as a budget holiday
How to Travel
The most preferred Jaigaon (India) / Phuentsholing (Bhutan) border is accessible from New Jalpaiguri Station and Siliguri by taxi, bus or train. Both Siliguri and New Jalpaiguri are in West Bengal and are best accessed via Kolkata.
There are regular trains plying between New Jalpaiguri and Hasimara which is a 3 hours journey. From Hasimara it’s a 30 minute drive to the border at Jaigaon/ Phuentsholing which can be reached in an Auto (Rs.120), Jeep (Rs. 50 per person) and Taxi (Rs.400)
The Bhutan government runs two scheduled bus trips from Siliguri to Phuentsholing every day at 7:30 AM and 1:30 PM.
Taxi rentals from Siliguri to Phuentsholing can cost between INR 2,500-3,000.
The cheapest way to travel from city to city within Bhutan is by Bus. Taxis are easily available for hire too and have a fixed rate.
There are hotels that can cater to every budget. From basic budget lodges to 5-star luxury resorts; it is not difficult to find a suitable accommodation in Bhutan. The hotel rates start from as low as Rs. 1800 onwards.
Places to visit
National Memorial Chorten:
A monument built as a memorial to the third Druk Gyalpo, the chorten is a significant place of religious worship in Thimpu. The large white structure which is crowned with a golden spire exudes the finesse of Buddhist architecture with its intricate sculptures and works of art that are sure to dazzle your eyes.
Located at the top of a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park, this 51.5 metres high statue of the Buddha overlooks the southern entrance to the Thimpu valley. One of the largest statues of Buddha in the world this bronze statue contains within it 125,000 smaller bronze Buddha statues. Not to mention, the Buddha Dordenma sits upon a large meditation hall.
Motithang Takin Preserve:
If you are curious about the mysterious national animal of Bhutan, the Takin, this wildlife reserve is where you need to go. Legend has it, that this mammal which has the face of a goat and the body of a cow way mystically created by a Buddhist yogi Drupa Kunley. Previously a zoo, it was converted into a forested habitat for the Takin by the king of Bhutan.
The residence of the members of the royal family except for the King, the Dechencholing Palace was built in 1953 by the third king of Bhutan, Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. The magnificent structure is scenically placed amidst plush gardens, ponds and trees and is an epitome of traditional Bhutanese architecture. It gives its visitors a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Royal family.
A mountain pass that provides 360 degrees view of the of the Himalayan mountain range. On a clear day, the pass presents a panoramic view of the snowcapped mountains along with the 108 chortens (memorial stupas of 108 soldiers) in the mountain pass. The Druk wabgyal Lhakhang Temple built in the honour of the fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuk located in the pass is a masterpiece of Bhutanese traditional architecture.
Located next to the banks of the River Wangchhu, the Tashichho Dzong has been the seat of the Bhutanese government since 1952. It currently houses the throne room, offices of the King, the secretariat and the ministries of home affairs and finance. It was built in 1641 by Zhabdrung in place Dho Ngon Dzong built by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa. Since then, it has been repaired and restored several times, till the second king of Bhutan developed it to its present structure in 1962.
Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s nest):
The most sought-after place in Bhutan, the Taktsang Monastery also known as the Tiger’s Nest is unbelievably situated at the edge of a cliff at an altitude of 3120 meters above sea level. This isolated monastery is only accessible through mountainous paths is an upward trek of about 2-3 hours. The monastery is built in the traditional style and stands tall with white structures with golden roofs. The four main temples of the monastery are inter-connected and the rich and baroque interiors of which are as mesmerizing as the view of the surrounding area from every temple complex.
The administrative seat of the district of Paro, the Dzong was built in 1644 under the orders of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Translating into “Heap of Jewels”, the Dzong served as a fortress against invasion from the North in the 17th and the 18th centuries. It is considered to be the finest example of Bhutanese architecture with its intricate woodwork and large beams slotted into each other without nails. This Dzong also hosts the Paro Tsechu i.e. the festival of masks.
Chele la Pass:
One of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan, the Chele La Pass is located an elevation of 13000 ft. above sea level. The pass provides a stunning view of the holy mountain Jomolhari and Jichu Drake. Depending upon the season, the drive to the pass may offer either lush green view of the surrounding forest cover or frozen rivers, waterfalls, snow and the famous Himalayan yaks.
It is the second oldest and the second largest Dzong in Bhutan.it is currently the administrative centre of Punakha district. Built at the confluence of the rivers Pho Chu and Mo Chhu, this Dzong served as the capital seat of the government till the 1950s. It also houses some Buddhist relics. It has the preserved relics of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who was the unifier of Bhutan. It also has the sacred relics of Ranjung Karsapani which is a self-created relic that miraculously emerged from the cremated remains of Tsangpa Gyarey, the founder of Drukpa school.
Khansum Yulley Namgyal Chorten:
A temple built by the Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuk dedicated to the well-being of the Kingdom and its people; it is a remarkable example of the authentic and ancient Buddhist architecture. The architecture of the four-storied temple is based on the holy scriptures rather than any engineering manuals. Located high up in a ridge the temple offers a panoramic view of the hillsides around it.
Majestically placed in a hillock, this temple was built in the year 1499 in the honour of Lama Drukpa Kunley who had subdued a demoness. The monastery phallus symbols in its paintings and carvings. The monastery still uses the original wooden phallus with a silver handle that is used to bless the visitors. Revered as the temple of fertility, women who want to bear children come to get blessings in the temple. Pregnant ladies come to select the future names of their babies from a collection of bamboo slips which either turn out to be Chimi or Kunley.
Punakha suspension bridge:
It is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan at 160-180 meters of length built over the river Po Chu. The bridge connects the villages of Punakha. Flanked by prayer flags, the bridge also gives a breathtaking view of the surrounding valleys, the river Po Chu and its surrounding farmlands.
Owing to the varied landscapes of Bhutan, there is much to do in terms of adventure activities. Rafting, Kayaking, Fishing, Trekking, Cycling, Biking, Rock climbing, Archery, Birdwatching, wildlife safari, Hot-spring therapy etc; there are lots to do in Bhutan once you are done soaking in its rich cultural heritage. Not to mention all the antique and local handicrafts shopping in the local markets.
It’s simply amazing, the wonders that this small country holds and to top it all, it happens to be our neighbour next door. Travelling to another country couldn’t get any easier than this that too at a cost that could be as much as that of a local trip.