My first visit to Bhutan was back in 2007, with a group tour organized by my friend Prateek Deo. The experience was SO soulful, enriching and unforgettable that i had decided i would return with someone dear to share such wonders with.
Finally in October of 2014, the time had come to revisit a place that had captured my spirit – and when i casually asked mom if she’d like to join me on a backpacking trip (no fixed plans, no hotel reservations and just good ole’ exploring like humans do), i was delighted that she said YES instantly!
All moms love planning, so i was grateful that she trusted me and let me show her around… my style of traveling.
The Route & (Rough) Plan
* We didn’t book anything in advance (not recommended) and flew in to Bagdogra for an onward journey to Phuentsholing by car (roughly 4-5 hours, Rs.2,500 on average)
* Mom has spondylitis, so i thought it would be best to break the journey and spend the first night in Phuentsholing, then proceed to Thimphu the next day.
* We’d be staying 1 night in Phuentsholing, 2 nights in Thimphu, 2 nights in Paro and 1 night in Siliguri – en route Bagdogra on our return journey.
* Since we had only 5 days, we decided to stick to Thimphu and Paro only… and also spend some time in Phuentsholing (highly underrated!)
The Bagdogra experience
This deserves a story of it’s own… It’s always amazing when unexpected stories emerge out of journeys!
Phuentsholing – Your window to Bhutan
We reached Phuentsholing in the evening, a bit past 7 pm. and checked in to Hotel Druk. One of the reasons i chose this hotel is the proximity to the Immigration Office we’d be visiting the next day for our permits (Indian travelers may stay in Phuentsholing for 1 night, without a entry permit – it’s best to get it the next day when you’re all fresh!).
The amazing thing about entering Bhutan by road is the stark difference you notice as soon as you cross the border. From slimy, smelly streets of Jaigaon (Indian border town) to the instantly spic-and-span colorful streets of Phuentsholing – it makes you wonder “what does it take, really? Just discipline? Respect?”!
Mom loved the idea of staying in Phuentsholing too. i call it a ‘window to Bhutan’ because it gives you a glimpse of what’s in store. Think of it as the important ‘base camp’ before getting to the summit! Also a good way to acclimatize yourself for the climb ahead, especially when visiting in the winters in low temperatures.
Hotel Druk had a fantastic buffet, very reasonably priced at Rs.800 per person. (oh, about money – The Rupee is widely accepted across Bhutan and has the same value as the Bhutanese Ngultrum. if you manage to get your hands on 1 Ngultrum coins, TREASURE them. they’re becoming collectors’ items!)
The next day, we woke up fresh and were pleasantly surprised to be SECOND in line for getting our Bhutan travel permit (Indians don’t need a visa, or even a passport to enter Bhutan up to 7 days. Just a proof of residency will suffice. Aadhaar is not valid, but a ration card, voter’s ID card and passport are accepted documents). In fact there weren’t a lot of people at the office that day, so i even helped one of the officers with his computer and earned my first Bhutanese smile and gratitude 🙂 needless to say, it was instapride for the momster.
She had not stepped out of the country in 2 decades, so it was a special feeling for mom to be holding the Bhutan travel permit. We grabbed a great American breakfast at the Kizom Cafe nearby, which overlooked a beautiful garden. Highly recommended for great coffee, food and most importantly… WiFi!
To be continued (onward journey to Thimphu & Paro)
Flights – We got an excellent deal on flights and landed up paying about 14K for Mumbai-Bagdogra return flights
Local Transport – Expect to pay an average of Rs.2,500 per day for renting a car with a driver (who may double up as a guide, but don’t rely on that).
Stay – We stayed in spartan hotels, except Phuentsholing where we stayed in the best hotel in town – Hotel Druk (Rs.3,500 onwards)
Food – Meals can range from Rs.200 per person to Rs.1,000+ per person, depending on what and where you eat. Alcohol extra. We averaged Rs.500 per meal for 2.
Leading an experimental life as a digital nomad, I started traveling in 2007 while choosing to shuttle between Goa and Mumbai as 'home'. An epic life-changing trip to South America an year later gave birth to this blog, Exotic Gringo.