Surely, when you hear of Bhutan, the first word that comes to your mind is Happiness, because there is no other country in the world that measures Gross National Happiness. I have always wondered what a country full of happy people would be and the curiosity led me to plan a visit to the country at the first chance I got.
A trip planned with a heart full of expectation and wonderment. We first began our quest by identifying the places in Bhutan we wished to visit. This is one of my favorite parts of planning a travel- figuring out how to fit in the best experiences of a new country you plan to visit within the given time-frame. However, almost always I am left with a feeling that there is more to the places visited than what I have experienced, every time I leave a country. So after hours of browsing and mulling over distances and logistics, optimistically given our time availability of 8 days, we planned Thimpu, Punakha and Paro as the cities to cover in our first trip to Bhutan.
Landlocked from all sides by India and Tibet Autonomous region, accessing Bhutan is quite tricky. There is only one air strip in Paro predominantly operated by Druk Airlines with very limited connectivity. We decided the best means to enter Bhutan would be crossing by road through Phuentsholing which was a 4 hour drive from Bagdogra Airport. The flight and the 4 hour drive itself leads to 2 days gone in just travelling as the terrain of the roads are not quite suitable for travel during night time.
Most of the travel bookings in Bhutan however need to be done offline. While there are hotels that can be found through http://www.bhutanbookings.com, it is more common and encouraged by the Bhutan Government to hire a Travel Agent Operator/ Tour Operator for the end-to-end services right from Visa, Car and Hotel Bookings. While, I usually avoid taking guided tours as I believe it truly restricts the experience of a new country, given the restrictions in Bhutan, as an exception, we decided to take the plunge and go with a tour operator for this one. Thankfully we were not disappointed. We got a reference of a good tour Operator Bhutan INC through a friend and decided to make all our reservations through them.
Bhutanese are very favourable to Indian visitors and are open to Visas on Arrival. While Visas on Arrival, are seamless, it is better to ensure online approval before arrival just to avoid uncertainty. With the online approval, all you would need is a passport size photograph when you arrive in Bhutan. Also, ensure arrival on office Hours when the Visa Office Is open as they are closed on specific days in a week (You can get a clarity on this through any tour operator).
Things to keep in mind
- Indian currency of all denominations are very much acceptable in Bhutan with the only caveat being that the change they would provide always in Bhutanese currency. So make sure you use up your Bhutanese currency before you exit the country
- Given the proximity to the Indian Border, you would be getting connectivity on your Indian sims till Pheuntsholling after which you could choose to take a local sim. There is very limited internet connectivity across Bhutan and Wifi remains scarce with intermittent connectivity at hotels
- Language is not a constraint, almost all citizens in Bhutan are fluent with English and very very accommodating and helpful to Tourists
- Do remember to cross only in Zebra Crossings, the Police are very strict about that and can fine you if found violating that rule
- Vegetarian options can be easily found and the proximity to India also influences the cuisine as a lot of Indian breads and curries are commonly available across restaurants
Read on about a few experiences that one must have in Bhutan without fail:
Alas, my curiosity of visiting a happy country was fulfilled. No, it is not a country where everyone plasters a smile and walks around all day. It is a country whose citizens are content with what they have and live harmoniously meaning no harm to anyone else. Quoting a Bhutanese citizen “I go to sleep every day ensuring that I have done nothing wrong, and that peace of mind is worth more than any success I could ever achieve”. I left the country hoping to come back again soon and until then to remember the simplicity to that secret of happiness