The Traveller: Prologue ~ Bhutan Diaries


It did not took much time for us to decide the place for our next trip. A mystic happy country sharing borders with two economic giants, India and China, where ‘Gross National Happiness’ is a far more important measure than the ‘Gross Domestic Product’. Yes the place is a beautiful country called Bhutan.

Flag of Bhutan

I tried to read and gather as much information I could on Bhutan- information on important things such as permits, necessary documents, currency, weather and also not so important things such as  ‘how difficult is it to trek Tiger’s Nest’,’Do we need woolens in June’ etc.

 During my information hunt, I found one TED Talk given by the honorable Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay. What an amazing speech it was. I liked it as much I liked the speech when I first heard it almost a year back. I am sharing the link and insist anyone to listen to it. In the 19 minutes speech you will get a good idea about Bhutan ‘s culture,dress,values,constitution and carbon negativity.Yes Bhutan is a carbon negative, in fact a carbon sink. More than 70% of Bhutan is covered with trees that absorb a greater quantity of carbon dioxide than the country produces. We could actually feel the clean crisp air wherever we traveled.

Hanging Bridge and Monastery on the way to Paro from Thimpu

Previously obtaining a permit to travel to Bhutan was a cakewalk for Indians. But very recently due to the sudden influx of tourists in Bhutan rules have changed a little, so now its a little more difficult.
If you are planning to get a permit to Bhutan from the Bhutan Embassy in Kolkata then you have to apply two months before your travel date. But as per the lastest information I gathered they have stopped issue of permit from Kolkata Embassy. One now need to get the permits only at Phuentshoing if coming on road from West Bengal. For us, our plan was to obtain the permits at Phuentshoing. As per the new rules to obtain the default 7 day permit for Thimpu and Paro from Phuentshoing, you must have the following documents :

a) One Passport size photo
b) Photocopy of ID proof recognized by the Govt of India. Best to have photocopy of passport/voter       ID card/Driving Licence
c) Hotel booking/confirmation receipts for Thimpu and Paro
d) A copy of your itinerary

The permit issue does not take too long, for us it was less than an hour but it depends on the rush. Also bear in mind that on Saturday,Sunday and any other national holiday the permit office remains closed. So if someone arrives on a Saturday at Phuentshoing then that person cannot move ahead to Thimpu till Monday until his permits are issued. Also Bhutan has 22- 23 national holidays every year, so you need to take that in consideration while planning your trip. I will share the list of National Holidays in Bhutan for this year that is 2017 in a subsequent post, so that you can plan accordingly. I will give more details once I start my each day travel blog post.

All Indian currencies are accepted in Bhutan although tourists are advised not to bring any denomination note greater than 100 Rupees. We took all our money in 100 Rupee notes, except some 2000 and 500 notes. However 2000 and 500 notes were accepted everywhere. Bhutanese currency is Ngultrum (BTN) and the exchange value is same that of Indian Rupee. I think except one and five BTN notes rest have pictures of Bhutan’s Kings on one side and Dzongs on the other side. Wait…did I say dzongs? Dzongs are beautiful buildings meant for district and religious administration. So they are basically administrative offices and what I learnt from our local Bhutanese driver is that there are 20 districts in Bhutan and each have a dzong. The three most beautiful dzongs that we saw are the Punakha Dzong, the Thimpu Dzong and the Paro Dzong. They were amazing.

Once we crossed the Bhutan Gate and entered Phuentshoing, the first two things we noticed were – the cacophony suddenly vanishes. Jaigaon the last town on the Indian side is so overfilled with cars, shops, people, sound whereas Phuentshoing is so quiet and orderly. Also shops and availability wise its less. The other thing is the structure of the buildings changes. The buildings start looking identical and each and every looks so pretty. All the buildings are structured in traditional Bhutanese architecture and every house has intricate wooden windows and doors. All the commercial and government buildings have pictures of the handsome King and extremely beautiful Queen of Bhutan at least inside the building if also not outside. Also by talking with locals you can understand they highly love and admire their royal family.

Almost 80% of the people wear the traditional dress. The men wear a knee length baggy suit called ‘gho’ that has traditional prints paired with black knee length socks and shoes. The women wear ‘kira’ which is basically a long piece of colorful and traditional print cloth wrapped as a skirt accompanied with full sleeve loose blouse. I do not know if its only my observation or not, but women in Bhutan have flawless, radiant and beautiful skin regardless of age. Also people in Bhutan are one of the kindest and sincere people I have ever seen. I am in love with the Bhutanese.

Bhutanese women in traditional attire

A monk watching archery

And lastly how can I miss talking about Bhutanese food. The people really know food. We have never been dissatisfied even for once for any single dish that we had in some many of the restaurants in Bhutan. Some of the restaurants were out of the world but the rest were also very good. I will post about the restaurant details in a separate blog post. The national dish of Bhutan is ‘Ema Datsi’. Datsi means cheese and ema means chilli. So this dish has chilli and cheese. The dish is prepared with local yak cheese mixed with Amul cheese. However our favorite was ‘Kewa Datsi’ which is potato cheese. I will rate it 10 out of 10. Its so delicious. We also had ‘Shamu Datsi’ that is mushroom and cheese.
Pork is very popular followed by beef and chicken. We had really yummy pork ribs which tasted out of the world. We also had ‘Jasha Maru’ which is light chicken curry and also ‘Jasha Paa’ which is chicken cooked with spinach. My mouth is watering as I write, so I hope I do not need to provide any further details how great Bhutanese food tastes. Chicken momo is not very popular in Bhutan as it is in India. Instead fast food restaurants mostly keep vegetable or cheese momo. And by the way momo is considered a snack so not all restaurants will have it in their menu or offering. Also tea in Bhutan is very different from the tea in India. Bhutanese prefer butter tea or ‘Suja’ which tastes a little like creamy soup.

One of the tremendously good sizzlers
Ham wrapped in cheese with mushrooms

sticky rice and also jasmine tea

So I think thats a pretty good amount of information I managed to collect and share.Now some teasers before the next write-up.

Common people

Players in an archery tournament

Some posing on the way

Paro Dzong

Tiger’s Nest Monastery

Do not miss our our Travel vlog for Bhutan! I am sure you will love it.

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