Best way to reach Bhutan, the happiest country

While planning your itinerary, you can consider Bumthang only if you have spare time. It is not that different from Paro.

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Bhutan is the only country with a Happiness Index!  Tourists from all over the globe visit Bhutan for either cultural trips or trekking expeditions. Our trip was more of a cultural excursion. We visited Monasteries and Dzongs which are spread throughout the country. The experience of visiting these peaceful structures made our stay in Bhutan a spiritual sojourn.

This post will let you know how to reach Bhutan. Also, I have appended some recommendations and suggestions which you can consider during your trip.

So, go through the pointers and let me know your concerns or questions in the comments section.

If you are planning to go by road, continue reading.

1) Reach Kolkata

You will have to reach Kolkata in order to embark a train which will take you further towards Bhutan. If you are travelling from North India, you can consider reaching Delhi, Kanpur or Ranchi. In addition, there are direct flights from Kolkata to Paro (Bhutan). Hence, you will have more options from Kolkata to reach Bhutan.

2)  Reach Hasimara by Train

Hasimara is a small town in the Jalpaiguri District of West Bengal. The town is situated at a distance of 17 KMs from the Indo-Bhutan Border. In order to reach Hasimara, you will have to board a train from Kolkata. For North Indians, you can take a train from Delhi, Kanpur or Ranchi as mentioned earlier.

You can visit the Indian railway website to know about the timing, duration & time-table of the trains. We had boarded the Kanchankanya Express from Kolkata which reached Hasimara at 10:30 AM in the morning.

3)  Reach Jaigaon By Taxi/Bus

Jaigaon is the Indian town touching Indo-Bhutan Border. All the formalities to acquire permission, in order to enter Bhutan, will be carried out here at the immigration office. Every individual will have to acquire permission to enter Bhutan. You can take an Indian car in Bhutan, but you need a separate permit for the car.

When you get a permit for Bhutan, it will only cover Thimpu & Paro. In case you want to go to Bumthang or any other distant destinations, you need a separate permit.

You can take help of local tourist operators or do it yourself. Kindly note, you will have to provide a pre-decided itinerary to acquire the permit. In our case, we had taken help of a local tourist operator and he got all the essential permits quickly.

Documents you need to carry

To get your permit, you require either a Passport or Voter’s ID. Because of the friendly relations between India and Bhutan, you would not require Visa. In case you do not have a passport or Voter’s ID, please carry any other identity proof like driver’s license or Pan Card. You will have to visit the Indian immigration office and ask for the further procedure to acquire permit. They will provide you the assistance required.

Once you have executed the required formalities, you can enter Bhutan and proceed according to the itinerary. In our case, by the time we got permits, it was quite late. Hence, we had to stay in Jaigaon for a night.

Also read: 25 Places to visit in Bhutan

Are you planning for Bhutan? I have created an ideal itinerary for a week in Bhutan in association with friends at Triphobo. Have a look!

 Things to do in Jaigaon

Jaigaon is like an average Indian town with average infrastructure. In case you need to stay here for a day, I have added some recommendations which you can consider.

1) Have a scrumptious thali at Barsana Restaurant

Before you enter Bhutan, you can savor Indian food in Barsana Restaurant. The restaurant is clean and well maintained. You can choose from a variety of Indian dishes. The price range is not very high.

I would recommend the Veg Thali available here. It will provide you a sumptuous meal which you would not get in Bhutan.

2) Savour lip-smacking sweets at Sheetal Sweets & Snacks

Sheetal Sweets & Snacks can offer you a wide variety of delicious snacks and lip-smacking sweets. You can have Samosas, Pani Puri, Dhoklas etc in snacks. In sweets, you can taste Rasgullahs, Gulab Jamun, Ras – Malai and much more.

I would highly recommend this place as I simply loved the taste here.

3) Get a taste of Bhutan by visiting Phuntsholing

At night, you can visit the border town, Phuntsholing, in Bhutan. Simply walk through the streets and lookout for shops where you can purchase anything local. You do not need a permit to enter Phuntsholing. Just cross the gate and explore the Bhutanese town. However, the gates close at 9:30 PM. So, it is advisable to return before that. Apart from these, there is nothing in Jaigao worth recommending. Just stay in your room and get ready to battle the temperature difference you will face in Bhutan.

I hope you find this post helpful. Feel free to browse through my experiences and recommendations by reading articles mentioned below.

THINGS TO DO IN BHUTAN – 10 BEST PICKS

1) Visit the Buddha Statue (Thimpu)
Buddha is given quite prominence in Bhutan. Hence, I have included visiting Buddha Status as the top of all the things to do in Bhutan.
This stalwart statue of Buddha is majestic. It can be spotted from quite a distance.  Spotting the distant Buddha while roaming around in Thimpu city was our favourite time-pass activity.
2)  Get a bird’s eye view of Thimpu
While you ascend towards the grand Buddha Statue, peek sideways and you will discover a city nestled amidst gorgeous mountains. This is the Thimpu city and you will be surely stunned by the panoramic view the highway allows you to admire.
3) Meet the national animal of Bhutan (Thimpu)
Bhutan has a very interesting national animal. It is very different from the Indian National animal. The Indian National animal is a predator while Takin, Bhutanese National animal, feeds on grass. May be this is the secret behind Bhutan’s absolute peace & the amicable nature of the Bhutanese people. Meeting Takin can be an interesting experience among all the things to do in Bhutan.
Takin is a combination of a cow and a goat. Yes, the head is of a goat and body, of a cow. There is a small story behind Takin. The story connects the national animal with Bhutan culture. The story is as mentioned below.
“Once upon a time, there was a saint. His name was Lama Drukpa Kuenlay. But, he was popularly known as ‘Divine Madman’. The name was assigned to him because of his outrageous acts. He was known for his magical powers. One fine day, his devotees asked him to perform a miracle for them. The ‘Divine Madman’ agreed but asked for a whole cow and a goat to eat. Having devoured both, only bones of the animals remained.  He stuck the goat’s head on cow’s bones and uttered some magical words. To the devotees’ surprise, the animal rushed to the meadows and started grazing grass”
Believe it or not, the taxonomists have not been able to relate Takin to any other animal and provided a whole new category to the animal.
Look at the animal below and decide yourself whether the story is true or not. Meeting this animal surely tops the list of “Things to do in Bhutan”
4)  Explore the Handicrafts market (Thimpu)
Shoping can top all the things to do in Bhutan if you are into collecting souvenirs. You can shop off your list after visiting this handicrafts market in Thimpu. You will find a wide range of products that you can shop and take home. The price is affordable and you can strike a good bargain. In fact, the handicrafts market will provide you maximum options and best price for shopping local stuff. The rest of shops in the streets will charge you a higher fortune.
You will find a wide range of products here having impression of the King of Bhutan. Yes, Bhutanese people do love their king. You can check out a detailed image gallery of this market. This market is surely one of the best places to visit in Bhutan.
5)  Make a Bhutanese friend
 
The locals can give you the best narration of the local culture, ideology etc. All that you need to do in to pass a smile and start chatting with a Bhutanese guy/girl who can speak adequate English. The people of Bhutan love to talk to tourists, especially if they are Indians. They are quite fascinated with Bollywood and other wonders of India. I met this chap at the Handicrafts market and spent significant time learning about the secrets behind those smiling faces.
This experience was my favorite among things to do in Bhutan as I love meeting new & local people when I am visiting a destination.

6)  Treat yourself with Bhutanese cuisine

Are you a foodie? You will love this among all things to do in Bhutan.
Datshi is considered to be the national veg food in Bhutan. Datshi can be made in various forms. The most famous variety is Ema Datshi. Ema basically means chilli. Ema Datshi is made of chilli, pepper and cheese. We preferred to order Potato Datshi which replaced Chilli with Potato. If you do not savor their cuisine, you would surely miss a unique experience in Bhutan.

7)  Cross the cold river (Bumthang)

In Bhutan. every town has a river. In Bumthang, the river was located in vicinity of our hotel. Hence, we decided to take a stroll along the riverside in the evening. The river is not that deep. The water is so clear that you can see the rocks under the water. These rocks are quite uneven. Due to this, a 4 meter wide stream is formed in the river. There are rocks above the water level on both sides of the stream. We decided to cross the river by constructing a wooden bridge. However, the idea failed. The wooden bridge floated along with the river.
Finally, we decided to roll up our jeans and cross the cold water of the river by stepping into it. We crossed the river, subjecting our feet to numbness. The bare feet had to suffer more due to some of the pointed rocks. It was a nerve chilling experience. We returned back to the hotel and placed our feet facing the fire.
8)   Spend an early morning at a monastery (Bumthang)
Visiting monasteries can consist of all the things to do in Bhutan. There are many monasteries which can provide you unique and peaceful experiences.
Lhohdrak Kharchhu Monastery is situated on a hill overlooking the Bumthang town. After a small trek, you will reach peaceful premises of the monastery. The trek is not too long. It should not take more than half an hour.

When we reached the monastery, the ambiance was very peaceful. The monks were preparing for their regular morning ceremony. When the ceremony started, around 150 monks participated in it. The chants were so powerful that we were captivated by that. Some monks were playing this beautiful musical instrument, displayed in the image below. When I was taking this pic, I had actually felt the vibrations emanating from the instrument. The whole experience was so divine, a friend of mine was already inquiring how to become a monk.

9)  Ascend your way up to Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang Monastery, Paro)
 
A trip to Bhutan without visiting Tiger Monastery is Null and void. The trek to the tiger’s nest tops all the things to do and places to visit in Bhutan. The trek upwards would take 3 hrs and downwards, 1.5 hrs. The view from the monastery is spectacular!
0) Attend the traditional festivals (Paro)
We attended a traditional festival at Paro. This festival is known as tshechu. The tshechu is named after the district it is organized in.
Tshechu is basically a traditional festival which is organized annually across various dzongs. During Tshechu, the entire community gathers to witness a show of colourful events. The most popular event is the mask dance. Every mask dance has an interesting story behind it.
While planning your itinerary, you can consider Bumthang only if you have spare time. It is not that different from Paro. When we included Bumthang in our itinerary, we were told that Bumthang is known as mini Switzerland. Due to that, we had high expectations about the town. However, I was disappointed on reaching Bumthang as there were no snow clad mountains.
But, Bhutan is truly worth visiting at-least once in a lifetime. The above mentioned things to do in Bhutan are my top recommendations.