Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bhutan Trip. Part 1: Crossing the border

Bhutan is also known as the Land of the Thunder Dragon. It is not as well travelled as some other neighboring countries of India, and that is all the more reason for it's still pristine culture and beauty.

We made this trip in March beginning of this year, 2011. We were in Assam for a friend's wedding and took the opportunity to cross over the border for a visit to Bhutan. Though our visit to Assam was planned with an extra week to spend apart from the marriage, we were undecided about what to do once we arrive there. Exploring Assam was our first preference, but that looked difficult as there were some disturbances in that area. Bhutan was the only option left and so we began our cross border trip totally unplanned. In this post I'll take you through our experience till we crossed the border. Rest of the trip in subsequent posts.


From India to Bhutan:

  1. From Bangalore, our flight took us to a place called Bagdogra (near Darjeeling) in West Bengal, via Kolkatta.
  2. From Bagdogra, we took a cab to a place called Siliguri. Siliguri is a small city, again in West Bengal. We spent the rest of the day in Siliguri. We were right near the commercial center of the city, near the railway station and it was dirty (like similar places in many other cities).
  3. From Siliguri the next day we caught an early morning train to a place called Hasimara. Distance: ~160km. Travel time: ~3hrs. The train goes through forests, and we saw some wild elephants on the way.
  4. From Hasimara we took an auto rickshaw to Jaigaon. Distance: ~ 15km. Travel time: ~ 30 mins. Jaigaon is the border town. Across the border is the Bhutanese town Phuentsholing. A decorated gate separates the two cities.

Silhoutte of trees. From train enroute Hasimara.

Siliguri station.Auto rickshaw. Hasimara to Jaigaon.


Stay at Phuentsholing:

We crossed the border over, but to go further into Bhutan we needed to get passes against our Indian passports. Some places in Bhutan are accessible just with an Indian passport, but not all of them. We made a list of places to visit and got passes from the embassy office at Phuentsholing. That however took us two days, as the office was closed on weekends. We had to wait until Monday to get our passes.

But our stay at Phuentsholing was very enjoyable. There are many good hotels around. We experimented with Bhutanese cuisine. And there was plenty more to do, that you can discover in the pictures below.

School kids enjoying ice cream from a vendor.Blindfolded idols being sold in shops. 


Phuentsholing Monastery:

Phuentsholing has a pretty large monastery, right near the market place. The nice lawn in front of it serves as the meeting place of locals, and is nice place to just sit and observe people around.
Phuentsholing Monastery


Archery & Dart Throwing:

Archery is the national sport of Bhutan. And the Bhutanese people truly enjoy archery. The archery competition we saw was being held between two groups on two adjacent hills. They would, by turns, try and hit the target at the opponent's hill. And they sure were pretty good at it.

Dart throwing is also popular among the Bhutanese. Weekends are usually when they gather in local playgrounds for competitions. Their singing and dancing during the competition is nice to watch.



Local Attractions:

Phuentsholing has a crocodile breeding farm. I don't know what the crocodiles are used for, but the attendants claimed that they will ultimately be released back into the rivers. We saw some pretty huge crocodiles there. Near Phuentsholing is a monastery called the Kharbandi monastery. It is around 30 minutes by cab, and it is an easy walk downhill. One can have a nice view of the city below from the monastery. Fortunately the prayer room was open when we visited, and we visited inside the prayer hall. We were offered the holy water inside, which strangely tasted like alcohol!


Onwards to Thimpu:

On Monday, after getting our passes, we rolled our luggage to the local bus stop, and boarded a bus for Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan.

Only small buses run on the mountainous regions. The buses run packed, but luckily we got tickets in one of them.

Though the sign boards claimed them to be air conditioned, our bus didn't have any air conditioning. But it was not all that bad and the air outside was pretty fresh and cool. More on Thimpu, in the next post.


Posts in this series:

18 comments:

  1. Nice coverage of Bhutan Tanmay

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  2. I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Tanmay. Bhutan is on my ever growing list of places to visit and I don't know when I will. But your option of going by road sounds more exciting than just flying in.

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  3. beautiful narrative lucid simple informative and nice keep it up..

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  4. @Sudhagee Glad that you enjoyed the post. Going by road is definitely more exciting, though a bit tiring sometimes.

    @ Firoze, @Sourabh Thanks.

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  5. Bhutan is really a country less travelled compared to Nepal and the pics are wonderful. I especially liked the one with the schoolboys. Look a their joy!

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  6. I have never been beyond Calcutta. There's so much to see in the East.Bhutan is also on my must see list. let's see when? Nice post.Enjoyed.

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  7. @zephyr Yes. Bhutan I think definitely scores high in the "Happiness Index". Truly, people seemed to he happier and more contended in general!

    @salaamreaders I was lucky to get this chance to visit Bhutan. There are beautiful places everywhere. I've not been to north east India, and am very much longing to go there if I get a chance!

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  8. I never knew that one can visit places in Bhutan with Indian pass port. Then....I guess, you would have tried your hand in archery over there, am I right??? Do convey my wishes to the 'JUST MARRIED' Royal couple of Bhutan. Nice travelogue and I really enjoyed it.

    From: sriramnivas.wordpress.com

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  9. @sriramnivas Thanks. No, we didn't really get a chance to try archery ourselves. We however did get to handle some of the equipments of archery and dart throwing in some shops there.

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  10. Great Experience! I also plan to visit Bhutan someday.

    A great post!

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  11. Lovely narration. And good pictures add to the effectiveness.

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  12. @Aline @Ramakant Thanks.

    @Neeraj Good to know that you are planning for a Bhutan visit. I'm a bit stretched for time right now, but will post the subsequent parts of my travelogue soon where I'll share some more tips and helpful contacts. Thanks.

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  13. Hi Tanmay..your post is of real help for those planning to visit Bhutan. I am going in Mid April.
    Could you tell me if the Embassy Office from where I need to get the entry permit is open on Fridays? I will reach there on a Friday and I was wondering if I could get my permit by Saturday and leave for Thimphu. Any specific timings to submit and get the permission?

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    1. Hi Anirban. Yes, embassy offices are open on Fridays (weekdays). It opens around 9-10 in the morning. It's best to be early. You'll need to fill up a form, submit it along with your documents, wait a while till called, queue up to have your photo taken and permit issued. It took around an hour for us. The permit is a piece of stamped paper, so make a copy for safe keeping.

      Do post your experience for us to read! And have a great trip!

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  14. Thanks for the prompt reply..
    Will surely post about my trip to Bhutan.
    Cheers!

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Thank you. I'm all ears!