I am trying my best in this planner to give as much information as possible. Hope this information comes in handy and is a ready reckoner. I know the difficulty involved in a major expedition like this and also the importance of tiny droplets of information. Especially when you talk of places like Bhutan, which continues to be a mystery locked in the mountains. If you are like me who wants to experience the real joy/uncertainties/challenges of travel and plan everything on your own, then surely this will be of some use to you.
I do not claim that this is The Bhutan Planner and you should depend solely on this.
The information shared here is from my experience and I am in no way marketing/publicizing the below information. Therefore take due consideration and it is at your discretion to use the information. I do not take any responsibility for the change in fares/tariffs/services or any consequences arising from them!!!!
Phew…….. In simple words, ‘be careful and have a safe ride’.
The information given here might be more useful or inclined towards the regional travelers and this is not done deliberately. The Royal Government of Bhutan and India share a cordial, friendly relationship which translates to ease of travel for us. Also the fact that most of the foreign travelers apart from India have to enter Bhutan via a recognized travel agent. The amount is also fixed by the government and there is very little that can be done under such circumstances. In a way, most of you can enjoy the country much more relaxed without any worries!
When I draft my plan for any expedition there are few things which I ought to know! Namely: Visa, Transportation, Currency, Accommodation, Weather, People, Places and last but not the least – FOOD. And I will restrict myself to these topics and give the info. Any suggestions/corrections is most welcome and appreciated.
As Indians we have the luxury of entering Bhutan with just a valid ID proof. Say, a voter’s ID card. If you have passport then your job becomes lot easier. The permit is issued at the entrance of the border town, Phuentsholing. As soon as you cross the border, on the right side you find Immigration Office. The officers are extremely polite and extend warm wishes when you meet them. You have to fill up the permit form (Permit Form_Bhutan) and attach your recent passport size photo on it. After duly filling in and submitting the form, you are called in for fingerprint scanning and photo.
Post submission it takes 20 – 30 minutes depending on the crowd to issue your permit. Remember you are supposed to mention the hotel/place where you intend to stay in Bhutan.
The permit issued is only for Thimphu. And once you reach Thimphu, you have to repeat the procedure for obtaining permit to visit restricted places like Punakha. In Thimphu, the Immigration Office is right opposite to the Handicraft market.
Passport/Voter’s ID card – Original & 2 sets of photocopies (Xerox)
Passport size photo – 02
There is no fees for permit and it is totally free.
You will need bike permit if you wish to ride inside Bhutan. This can be obtained from the RSTA (Road Safety and Transport Authority) which is located just 1 Km from the immigration office. You need to go to the first floor and produce all your original bike documents. A nominal fee of Ng.70/bike is charged for the permit. This bike permit along with your travel permit will be checked at the check-posts.
RC, Insurance, Emission Certificate, Road Tax receipt, Authorization Letter (from bike owner) & Driving License.
I saw one bus at Siliguri which had ‘Royal Government of Bhutan’ mentioned on it. So people who prefer to take bus, can check out for this one.
You can also try the New Alipurduar (NOQ) or Hasimara (HSA) railway stations which happens to be very close to the border town. When I checked for trains from Bangalore, there were two trains but you always end up on the waiting list. If you prefer to take train, then plan this trip well in advance.
Many airlines operate flights to Bagdogra and you can opt for this if you are short on leaves. There are regular flights to Paro (only airport to fly into Bhutan) from Bagdogra, Kolkata and Delhi. The visa is given at the airport.
BIKE —- yes, my mode of transportation! You can put your bikes onto the train and start your journey from Hasimara. And other option is to hire bikes from Siliguri and then start your journey from there to Phuentsholing.
There are a couple of bike rentals which you can use in Siiguri/Darjeeling.
1. Mr. Noel – firstname.lastname@example.org ; +91 97-33-168491
Rates: Rs. 2000/day and Rs. 10,000 as deposit (refundable!)
Fleet: RE350 & RE500
Service: **** (Good & Happy)
This guy is a thorough professional and knows the bolts & nuts of bike. Just make sure you confirm the rates and also the models. I was promised the newer models but ended up with the older ones (Part 1). But to my shock, it never broke down. Not even once! He provides you with the spare parts and if unused you got to return it and any damages if so, will be deducted from your deposit.
PS: Tell him my name and I am sure he will have a smile on his face !
2. Gautam Shrestha – +91 99330 70013
Rates: Rs. 1600/day and Rs. 20,000 as deposit
Fleet: RE350 & RE500
I cannot comment on the service and other aspects, but one thing is you need to collect the bikes from Darjeeling!
I suggest you know/learn some basic stuff about bike repair because of the terrains and non-availability of service/garage stations. Dur-dur-dur tak kuch nahi milega………………..
Local taxis can be availed at the border town, Phuentsholing to reach Thimphu. The going rates are Ng. 1600 – 2000.
Indian currency is pegged on par with Bhutan currency. i.e. 1 Re = 1 Ng. The Indian currency can be interchanged and exchanged freely without any hiccups. I remember many websites/blogs/articles mentioning about 500s & 1000s to be avoided. To be frank, I did not have any issues at all. But definitely it is cross-checked and doubly checked!
Make sure that you carry as much hard cash as possible. It is difficult to find ATMs in Bhutan and I did not find one during the whole stay! I never believe in having credit cards and personally do not have even a single card (BTW I am a Professor and I am not rich!). It is either debit or hard cash for me and if you are travelling alone, then have a mix of debit and hard cash.
Hotel Central Plaza Hotel New Vinayak Inn
Tariff: Rs. 1600 (3 bed) Rs. 1500 (3 bed)
Facilities: Good but worst Wi-Fi Excellent
Food: EXCELLENT (taste Chicken Cassa) Good but costly
Service: Good Good (no drinking water at night!)
Contact: 0353-2516119 +91-9832698197
Hotel Peljorling – this is right in front of Immigration Office
(I haven’t used this hotel but heard a lot on many forums).
Zangmo Hotel & Bar
Mobile: +975 17681020
(Excellent family and nominal rates. The rooms are not clean but when you are in tight spot (Part 2), think of this hotel).
Tariff: Rs. 1700 (3 bed)
Facilities: Good but charges Ng. 100/mobile for Wi-Fi!!!!
Contact: +975 2323380 ; Mobile +975 17600328
The weather is wonderful in Bhutan. I have always believed in seeing two faces of the coin! Be it my Leh Ride or Bhutan, I always like to go during the off-season/fag end of a season. The other obvious advantage being, crowd is less and the prices are slightly on lower side. One can visit Bhutan practically anytime and if you are on bike, then make sure you have good rain gear. I visited in the month of December (10th – 17th) and it was cold, sunny, rainy & snowy!!!!
March is actually the month when there is huge influx of travelers. All the prices and tariffs go skywards.
The people of Bhutan are very friendly and welcoming. As a traveler you feel at home and there is sense of security as you ride on those hilly terrains. At the various shops, bazar & restaurant people welcome you with a big smile and it is really comforting. You need not go for hard bargaining, as the rates are reasonable and people do not quote exorbitantly.
The Bhutanese take pride in their culture and are seen wearing the traditional dress Gho (men) & Kira (women). The ladies are very pretty and try to take your eyes off at the earliest! You do not want to get embarrassed, right?
Thimphu: King’s Memorial Chorten; Buddha Point; National Library & Painting School; Traschihondzong; The Zorig Chusum School of Traditional Arts
Punakha: Dochula Pass; Punakha Dzong; Chimi Lhakhang (The Divine Madman!) – Part 3
Paro: Tiger’s Nest; Paro Dzong
There is food for everybody! Yes, you get both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, though at most places noodles is famous and readily served. Try the national dish, Ema Datsi (cheese and chili) and the local Bhutanese tea Sujda with yak milk, which makes it salty, no matter how much sugar you add.
And for Indians, all the famous breakfast items are served starting from Puri Sabji to Toast. At times the non-veg is low on spicy level and one has to remind them about the same.
Please do try Chicken Cassa and Fish Fry at Siliguri, Hotel Central Plaza. Even now my mouth waters after hearing these two names!
General Points to Remember:
- Avoid smoking
- Follow traffic rules – speed limits, one-way
- Stop and pull over to the left when royal family members are approaching in a vehicle (the car with a red lantern on top)
- Carry sufficient warm clothes – thermals
- Have 5 – 9 problem at the back of your head and plan this ride —- (Part 1 & Part 2)
- Good riding gear – gloves, jackets, knee & elbow guards
- Make sure you fit Fog lamps to the bike and all your indicators are working
- Carry spare fuel can with at least 5 liters of petrol in it.
Note: For all the riders/travelers from Bengaluru who wish to partake this ride as I did then you can download this bangalore-to-bhutan_plan.pdf.
Feel free to comment/share/like/criticize…..