Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Planning a trip to Bhutan??

Bhutan is one country which is recently opening up to tourism. When Pras and I decided to travel there, we did not find much information about things to do and places to visit. Ultimately, we were at the mercy of our tour guide and the taxi driver to take us places. Most of the websites and forums have information from non-Indians, which is really not helpful for an Indian travelling to Bhutan. Our trip turned out to be quite expensive since we were under informed. So here's a post on how to plan your trip to Bhutan.

Getting there :
By Air
There are flights from Delhi and Kolkatta. These are small ATR type flights which get filled during the season. The online site of Druk Air quotes all prices in dollars which is not an option for us Indians. To book the ticket, travel to Kolkatta or Delhi. Spend a day or two roaming around the place and try to book the tickets directly from the Druk Air counter at the airport. A round-trip flight via Kolkatta to Paro costs 12000 rupees(approx) per person. The tickets are more expensive via Delhi. You could book via a travel agent too and we got responses from different agents claiming different air fares. The flight is for about 2 hours.

By road
You can get to Paro via road through Bagdogra - the border town in India. There are regular buses that ply this route. It usually takes about an over night journey from Bagdogra.

Stay :
We had opted for a package which costed us 3300 rupees per person per day for stay at a 3-star hotel including all meals, sight seeing and taxi fare. Though the hotels claim to be 3-star, they barely make that mark compared to real 3-star hotels in India. We stayed at Hotel Pedling in Thimphu which was actually quite nice, except for the noisy discotheque open on weekends alone. In Punakha, we stayed at a resort which was beautiful - Meri Phensuem resort. In Paro, we were put up at the worst of all hotels for *3* nights - hotel sonam trophel.
One can book hotels online rather than go through a travel agent. Make sure to indicate that you are an Indian.

Food :
There are not many options for food in Bhutan. You do get Chinese and North Indian food everywhere. Traditional Bhutanese cuisine is limited to Ema Datsi with red rice and Pork Pa. Beef is basically imported from India as cows are considered sacred there. My advice would be to try and avoid the beef dishes. Ema Datsi is a mix of sauteed chillies (big variety which is used for making Bhajis in India) with cheese.  The chillies can be replaced with a variety of cooked veggies and pork but the basic taste remains the same.
We did try the Buttered tea which can be very well missed in my opinion.

Getting around :
As I mentioned that the taxi fare was included in the package. We were provided with a suave Hyundai Sante Fe to go sight seeing. The vehicle is fab but let me tell you that had we taken a taxi at will rather than having one at our beck and call, and too an SUV, we'd have saved precious money.

Things to do :
1. Visit the great Buddha statue being built by a Chinese company in Thimphu
2. Visit the Punakha Dzong
3. Travel to Chelela pass
4. Don't miss the hot stone bath - stones heated in a fire are used to heat up water in a tub.
5. Walk around the streets of Thimphu and Paro - they are really small and the walk is well worth it.
6. Watch an archery match  in Thimphu or Paro.
7. Visit the Swiss Bakery in Thimphu - don't miss the chocolate eclair
8. Take a walk amidst the rice fields and take in the fresh non-polluted air
9. Get a taste of Ara the local brew from rice
10. Bird watching on the way to Chelela pass
11. Visit the weekend market in Thimphu
12. Get a taste of Shambaala, a beef patty, in the local market in Thimphu

Getting a guide :
We had opted for a guide at rupees 500 per person per day. The guides are well trained and speak good english. However, do make sure you let them know what it is that you exactly like doing. Our guide took us to numerous temples and forts which did get boring and repetitive.

Places to visit :
Visit Thimphu, Punakha, Chelela Pass, Bumthang. Bumthang is considered the switzerland of Bhutan and is not to be missed.