Bhutan Trip by Ankita Malik

Ankita Malik goes on a solo trip to Bhutan and shares her fond memories of her seven days' sojourn to the happiest nation in the world...

At the beginning of 2016, my only resolution was to try and take solo trips and Bhutan just happened along the way. Planning a trip to the happiest country in the world was definitely an exciting thought. It was my second solo trip and to my surprise I met a lot of women who had left their regular chores and chose Bhutan as a rejuvenating destination.
From gross national happiness to uninhibited wisdom, a journey to Bhutan is a journey into a different reality. 

My Brief Itinerary
Day 1: Bagdogra airport arrival. Transfer to Phuentsholing (Bhutan border town).
Day 2: Roadtrip from Phuent to Thimpu.
Day 3: Hiking to Buddha Point in Thimpu, sightseeing around city
Day 4: Visit Dochula Pass. Drive down to Paro. Archery
Day 5: Visiting Villages and monasteries in Paro
Day 6: Trek to Tiger Nest Monastery
Day 7: Paro Dzong. Drive from Paro to Phuentsholing
Day 8: Fly back from Bagdogra
Hotel bookings were done prior — Phuent, Thimphu and Paro
Phuentsholing:  Park Hotel
Thimphu: Hotel Amodhara
Paro: The Nivanna Resort (Homestay) — There is a vegetable and fruit farm outside. Karma, the owner, is again a wonderful host. Anyone who stays there, automatically becomes friends with her.

Day One Fun

Upon my arrival at the Bagdogra airport, I took a cab to Phuentsholing – the Bhutan border town, 4.5 hours away from Bagdogra. Enroute, we passed through a beautiful stretch, flanked by tea plantations and national parks on both sides of the road. We reached the border by evening. The moment you step into Bhutan land, you immediately see how different the two towns on either side of the border are.

Traffic isn’t much in Bhutan. Thimphu is, in fact, the only capital city in the world which doesn’t have a traffic light. 

Day Two Diary

For Indians, getting into Bhutan is superbly easy. You can, literally, just walk in. Went to the permit office and got a VISA for 7 days. Foreigners need to pay a $250 per day fee to stay in Bhutan (this includes stay, food, guide charges etc. but is definitely costly). Perhaps, that is why you wouldn’t see many western tourists in the country. 

The drive to Thimpu is long, about six hours with stops including lunch. But it is very beautiful. We passed through the pretty mountainside with streams flowing by and stopped at waterfalls on the way. What better way to start a trip than to step into a fall! I took a stroll in Thimpu in the evening and went for a very nice dinner closer to the amphitheatre.

We also went to the market where they mostly sell art and crafts, but they were way too expensive. Then did some pub-hopping later in the night. 

The people take great pride in asserting that Bhutan is the first country in the world to have banned the sale of tobacco under its Tobacco Act of 2010, hence you can ensure clean and fresh air.

Day Three Treat

I went to Golden Buddha Point and meditated there. By then I’d made a lot of friends (Indians primarily). Post that we went to the post office to buy postcards. The fantastic thing here is that you can get yourself clicked, and get a customized stamp from the same place and send a postcard to your loved ones.
After this we went to the Memorial Stupa, Thimphu, also known as the Thimphu Chorten. It is popularly known as "The most visible religious landmark in Bhutan". The chorten is a large white structure with a golden spire crowning it and a smaller golden spire above the front porch. It is approached through a small garden and a gate decorated with three slate carvings.

Every place we went to in Bhutan, had women working. Be it at the front desk of the hotels we stayed in, the waiters at restaurants and cafes, the shop owners or flea markets. I read later that in Bhutan, women inherit properties and after marriage the men move into the wife’s house.

Day Four Files

After breakfast, we made our way to Dochula Pass, an hour from Thimpu. Here, we stopped at the pretty 108 Dochula Chortens, which was built on the orders of the Queen Mother, as a sign of respect for the soldiers who died fighting the insurgents in the 2003 war. The area is beautiful, overlooks some of the highest mountains of Bhutan, and is usually shrouded in mist, giving the entire place a surreal feel. Later, we headed to Paro. The route is beautiful, and as soon as you reach this village town, it’s almost as if you have been transported back in time. 

Bhutanese are generally very liberal consumers of alcohol. No wonder alcohol is so cheap and readily available in the innumerable bars of the town. Our last night in Phuent was one of the best with a lot of pub hopping and karaoke thrown in! We thoroughly enjoyed the Bhutanese songs and were amused to see their love for Bollywood and SRK.

Day Five High

We explored the village of Paro. For now Paro remains one of the best Bhutanese towns to explore on foot and is worth an hour or two's stroll at the end of a day of sightseeing. From there, we went to Kyichu Lhakhang, originally built in the 7th century. There is a belief that the two orange trees in the courtyard of Kyichu Lhakhang bear fruit throughout the year. We saw phallus paintings on the walls of local homes. Traditionally, symbols of an erect penis in Bhutan have been intended to drive away the evil eye and malicious gossip.
Next we sat beside the Paro revier aka Paro Chhu that flows through the Paro Valley and gazed at the sub-alpine and temperate forests found along its middle and lower reaches.

Food Finds

A typical Bhutanese meal consists of rice, a dish of Ema Datshi, the country’s favourite dish of chili and cheese, pork, beef curry or lentils. The core of Bhutanese cooking is rice – both white rice and nutty-flavoured red rice (eue chum).

Famous alcohol – Read Panda Beer, Druk Beer, K5 Whiskey, The Silver Jubilee, The peach wine, I find, is less sweet than you might expect and very refreshing when chilled (the Zumim brand isn’t bad). 
If you are sober enough to walk out on your own legs, say “Kadrinchhey” (thank you) and pay your bill. 

Day Six Fix

The Tiger's Nest Monastery is one of Bhutan’s most incredible sites, perched on the side of a sheer cliff 900m above the floor of Paro Valley. Bags, phones and cameras have to be deposited at the entrance, where your guide will register with the army. We climbed down into the original Tiger's Nest cave just above the chapel. The trail is well laid out  and does not take more than 2-2.5 hours one way to cover the 3.5 km distance while following the prayer flags. After descending down 450 steps, we saw the waterfall just before Tiger’s Nest. In the monsoons, the water flow is so high that you need to run across the bridge superfast to not get drenched completely.

PS - The monastery remains closed from 1-2 pm everyday so the priests can have lunch.

Day Seven Sayonara

After breakfast, we headed to Paro Dzong, sitting pretty on a hillock, looking over the entire town. The sixteenth century Dzong was once the centre of administration of all of Bhutan.

Finally we returned to the border town of Phuentsholing and it was a Saturday night!!

Ankita Malik is a Delhi based communications consultant and a globetrotter. 

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    I am really surprised to know your tremendous experience in Bhutan.The presenting way and capturing pictures are truly awesome.
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    Thanks for sharing this inspiring post.