Read Part 2 – Bhutan Road Trip II (Planning)
Read Part 3 – Rema Resort Paro: the One With Picturesque Views
Read Part 4 – Cultural Delight: Bhutanese Festivals in Photos
We would never have thought that our road trip to Bhutan would be so full of surprises. In fact, when we were just planning the logistics, we weren’t too excited.
With the limited number of flights headed to the tiny little country to the government-controlled tourist industry, everything seemed like an unforeseen disappointment. As it turned out, upon reaching Thimphu, none of this mattered. We had a wonderful time during our travel to Bhutan and took back some precious memories.
What we were especially excited about was attending the religious festivals. From what we knew, several huge religious festivals are celebrated with much gusto at different points in time during the year. I had hoped my trip would coincide with one of these and am glad that my wish was granted! As is obvious, my Bhutanese adventure was everything we wanted and more!
It was a pleasure to sample a wide gamut of experiences in Bhutan as we were there for almost a week, which we think is ideal to explore Thimphu and Paro.
It would be best to stay in Thimphu, the capital city, for 2-3 days and spending the remaining days in Paro and Punakha. Explore the virgin forests, little villages, and the gorgeous monasteries in the entire world.
Day 1 – Fly into Bagdogra and drive to Jaigaon (India-Bhutan border)
Day 2 – Drive to Thimphu
Day 3 – Sightseeing in Thimphu
Day 4 – Explore the remaining attractions of the city. Visit Dochula Pass.
Day 5 – Drive down to Paro and uncover all the attractions. Eat at the cutesy cafes and explore the monasteries.
Day 6 – Hike the Paro Taktsang or Tiger’s nest. In the evening head back to Jaigaon.
Day 7 – Drive back to Bagdogra and fly back
The ones traveling from anywhere other than India, the same itinerary applies, just the day 1 and day 7 would mean flying directly to Paro and returning from Paro in DrukAir.
The gorgeous land of Bhutan
All the greens and solace made our hearts swell
The Bhutanese people and their hospitality – sunshine souls
We’d love for you to know about the things we loved the most about the country – the ones you shouldn’t miss doing during your travel to Bhutan.
Planning a road trip to Bhutan is a superb alternative for those who wish to save the otherwise high airfare charges that can dent the pocket.
Well, here’s how to travel to Bhutan for those who wish to fly directly. You can opt to fly in Druk Air which can take the cost of the trip to an unprecedented high. But those who enjoy long drives and scenic beauty (just like us) should definitely take the drive from Bagdogra to Jaigaon or Phuensholing (in the south is the gateway to Bhutan).
If taking the road trip route like us, write this day off as the long drive is going to leave you extremely tired. It is advisable to get sound sleep before starting your road trip in Bhutan the next day.
Stay: We reached Jaigaon at odd hours (10:30 pm), so we took accommodation in a budget hotel over there – Kasturi In (1500INR per night). The rooms were decent and even the food was not bad.
The gate marking India-Bhutan border
After taking the permit from the Regional Transport Office in Phuensholing, start straightaway for Thimphu.
Pick up a car at the Phuensholing (we had already booked ours through a friend who had visited Bhutan some time back) and get ready for a spectacular drive of your life. Cascading waterfalls, gorgeous bridges, highways laden with greenery, soaring cliffs and striking blue skies blend together for picture-perfect frames.
This day, you drive to Bhutan’s capital (Thimphu). Your first experience on the Bhutan highway is definitely going to be an interesting one. The twisting and twirling roads will take you into the mountains whilst giving you spectacular views of Phuensholing and plains bordering the region. You’ll notice the scenery and plantation changing with each turn.
Bhutan’s capital, also the most modern city, is an intriguing destination in the world. Retaining the small-world feel, the city is slowly becoming commercialized, with numerous internet cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs.
Stay: Drolema Residence – a neat and well-managed hotel located in the city center. Per night cost for staying in this hotel is 2000INR.
Prayer flags adorn the entire country – just beautiful to look at.
The first pitstop built to commemorate the 60th birthday of 4th king Wangchuck
Every now and then you need to stop to gaze at the gorgeous landscapes
Uncover all attractions of Thimphu during the day and enjoy the market scene in the evening. A picturesque drive through impressive paddy fields and pastures will make your drive memorable.
The Memorial Stupa, also called Thimphu Chorten is about 15 minutes drive from the city center. This whitewashed Tibetian-style chorten features stunning mandalas, statues, and a small shrine. Entry to this chorten is free. Parking is chargeable.
From there, head to the Buddha Point from where the panoramic view of Thimphu city can be seen. The Golden Buddha Doredenma is perched on the top of the mountain that is 2000m above sea level. Click as many pictures as you may want to and enjoy the peace of the country from this stunning point.
Sports lovers will find it worth their time to watch practice sessions of archery at the stadium, as did we. Harsh even tried his hands at the game, must add, the first attempt went pretty well. There’s a small playground in front of the archery stadium, where we spent some time looking at the way Bhutanese people enjoy their lives and spend their days. How we wish we could live the way they do! Ah! I was spellbound.
Thimphu city itself is the focal point of all activity: the streets are lined with cafes and lovely restaurants. We spent our night lazing and walking on the streets of the city, relishing a languorous dinner in the town (often heading to Hunger Strike Eatery for quick meals), while listening to great music, and devouring many cups of nicely made coffee.
Best part, we also managed to get a taste of Bhutanese nightlife, which is slowly developing. We were advised not to expect much as in India, the night parties are crazy and they wouldn’t match our taste. But obviously, we had to see it for ourselves.
After much thought and help from our hotel’s staff, we decided to give Club Ace a try. And definitely, it wasn’t as huge in scale but not bad either. (Expect to pay a small cover charge for entry; we paid 500 couple entry charge)
Stay: Again at Drolema Residence
Buddha Dordenma Statue in Thimphu
Statue of Dakini called Khandom in Dzongkha
Elephant bas-relief at the Buddha Dordenma, Thimphu
Elephant bas-relief at the Buddha Dordenma, Thimphu
Inside the National Chorten Memorial
Must visit the Changlimithang Stadium in Bhutan
Harsh trying his hands at archery at the Changlimithang Stadium
I was most excited about this day because I had heard a lot about festivals of Bhutan and the grandeur in which they are celebrated in the country. Luckily we were around in the country during the main festivals time.
Early morning we decided to go to the Dochula Pass (a half hour drive from Thimphu City) and thankfully we had arranged for our permit the day we arrived in Thimphu (the immigration office remains closed on weekends and during festivities).
It was a quick drive from the city, and definitely worth it! This mountain pass on the way to Punakha assures a stunning 360-degree view of Himalayan mountain range. The pass that is adorned with 108 shortens was commissioned by the eldest Queen Mother, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk. It is best to leave early morning as then you’ll have the rest of the day for sightseeing during Bhutan travel.
We spent most of our time there, enjoying the colorful celebrations, amidst a big fanfare. Usually, there is no entry fee, but for the festival, we paid 500 INR for couple entry (perhaps the entry fee was just for foreigners). Here, we got the chance to see some of the most amazing dances of the Himalayan region. The colors, vigor, and drama have surely become a part of our vivid memory.
Come back and enjoy the local market scene. If you still have time you can visit other Chagri Dorjeden – a Buddhist monastery built in the 16th century by 1st Zhabdrung Rinpoche.
Stay: Again at Drolema Residence
Dochula Pass – a prominent landmark
Chortens at the Dochula Pass
So it’s time to leave Thimphu and explore the next city, Paro. Take to the road again and start exploring the striking valley. Fortunately, there are many free things to be enjoyed in Paro. It’s about 90 minutes drive from Thimphu city, and the drive is simply serene and scenic.
Stop by the Paro Airport and take a few pictures as the bird’s eye view of this place is absolutely wonderful. Sadly we couldn’t stay there for long to see an airplane take off or land.
Spend rest of the day walking around the Paro market and I am sure you will love that. We had our lunch at the Champaca cafe and went straight to the hotel.
Cutsey cafe in Paro, Bhutan
Chic interiors of Cafe Champaca
Finally, we could find some burgers and sandwiches (with less chilly)
Luckily, there was a festival going on during our visit in the Paro Dzong, which was as beautiful as the one we saw in Thimphu. In fact, we got a chance to go inside a monk’s room inside the dzong, where we were treated to refreshing tea and biscuits. Ah! those memories…
From there, you can go to explore The National Museum of Bhutan and Kyichu Lhakhang. Kyichu Lhakhang is the oldest temple of Bhutan and you can find elderly pilgrims spinning the prayer wheels constantly. It’s sure a sight to behold during Bhutan travel!
If you are not tired, you can visit a few handicraft stores in the market and splurge on some nice souvenirs to take back home.
Stay: We slept at the Rema Resort and had fun clicking some nice pictures from there. You can read more about our stay at the resort during travel to Bhutan, here.
Birdseye view of Paro Airport
Hanging bridge enroute Paro dotted with prayer flags
The stunning view of Paro city – in love with those multicolored homes
Paro Festival and those colors
Couldn’t help sit and look at the wonderful views of Paro town
The National Museum of Bhutan – get to know the history and culture of the country
Kyichu Lhakhang in a gorgeous, peaceful setting
Inside the monk’s room at Paro Monastery
This was a long day not because we had a lot to do, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, that put us in a fix.
Paro Taktsang trek has to be the most difficult trek of my life as though we enjoyed trekking uphill a lot but getting down was hell crazy. It began to rain when we were getting down and trekking down the steep valley was a major challenge for us – so much that I slipped twice.
In fact, a lot of visitors had to face the same plight and this gave us a good lesson that we should always carry good hiking and rain gear no matter how good the weather condition is. You just cannot be sure about anything!
Even though we took longer time hiking downhill still it took us about 5 hours to complete the entire Tiger’s Nest trek.
Colorful pitstops when trekking to Takstang Monastery
More prayer flags (could hear chants when trekking uphill)
Paro Takstang Monastery hike
Dirty shoes, tired souls – found the perfect spot to relax a bit
So we got back from the trek and were taken to a nice cafe namely ‘My Kind of Place’ where we changed our clothes and had good coffee (was much needed).
After stretching our legs for a while, we made our way back to Phuensholing. The drive was way more scenic with all the cotton candy clouds now adorning the mountain passes. We were totally spellbound by the jaw-dropping 360° views of Bhutan. Again spend the night in Phuensholing.
I am running out of superlatives to describe my trip to Bhutan! The country delivered more than what I had expected of it.
My kind of eatery – MY KIND OF PLACE
Cool interiors of My Kind of Place
Great egg sandwiches at the restaurant
Cotton candy clouds dotting the Paro Valley Bhutan
A dreamy Bhutan road trip comes to an end
Truly the idea to venture on a road trip to Bhutan from India was so correct. And we are glad that we decided on doing this.
There is something to be said about the natural beauty that Bhutanese land is home to. Nestling in the Himalayas, virtually every nook and corner boasts of valley views and picturesque mountainsides.
It had already been decided that this is going to be an adventure-filled trip and thus, plans for trekking, biking and hiking were already in place. The surprise was that the virgin forests of Bhutan were supposedly full of exotic wildlife which we could get a glimpse of at numerous sanctuaries and wildlife parks.
We knew that it is a predominantly Buddhist society but the serenity and sense of peace that envelops the general way of life here was something we weren’t expecting.
Attending a Buddhist festival further opened our eyes to the wealth of traditions this Himalayan kingdom is home to. The local population preserves their native legacy of kind hospitality till this day and interacting with the English-speaking people there was an absolute pleasure.
Have you driven in the last great Himalayan kingdom? Let us know if you would change anything about our itinerary? Places you would not like to go or add? Comment below! Hopefully, you have comprehensive guide on how to travel to Bhutan now.
Here’s a Bhutan video for you to inspire the wanderlust:
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