This March a bunch of us undertook what we nicknamed a “Legacy Trip” to commemorate the successful completion of our B-school story. We called it that because the batch before us had undertaken the same trip and so had their seniors and their predecessors, you get the drift.
The Legacy trip involved two phases: Sikkim and Bhutan. I missed out on phase one due to a dear friend’s wedding (quarter life,you see). So after a cancelled Spicejet flight from Delhi to Bagdogra and paying a bomb to reschedule my ticket to an Indigo jetplane followed by a 6 hour drive to the border town of Phuentsholing, I was welcome by a board that said “Welcome to the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan.”
Now Phuentsholing has a gate that separates the Indian side from the Bhutanese side. The moment you cross the gate, your service provider starts charging you INR 7 for a call that you receive. You also notice that the air smells fresher and the roads look cleaner for people aren’t allowed to litter in Bhutan.
We checked into Hotel Sinchula and were served some inedible and expensive food for dinner because everything in Bhutan seems to shut by 8:30- 9 pm. The next day we made our way to the dingy immigration office. It is nearly impossible to get the formalities sorted unless you have a jack in the form of a travel agent. We had that sorted. Thus began our Bhutan adventure.
Bhutan looks like a dream. It is like everything you envision and imagine it to be with the meandering roads and the stunning gorges and sights to die for. The gorgeousness of the sun kissed skies and the patches of clouds literally knocking at your car window has to be experienced to be believed. The mountainside lined with all sorts of beautiful vegetation, the vivid prayer flags and the bridges over gently gushing rivulets all make it a journey to remember.
We made our way to Thimphu, the capital city and put up in the cosy Wangchuk Resort, a beautiful heritage property replete with wooden flooring et al. By now we had realised that eating out in Bhutan is an expensive deal, so we bought some bread, cheese and savouries from a friendly supermarket close by. We also bought local booze namely Misty Peak (attractive packaging, horrible taste), Druk Beer (cheap, good, strong beer) and wine coolers (reasonably good).
Sightseeing involved visiting the local market (artist huts) in the heart of Thimphu which had some interesting souvenirs such a phallus keychains, phallus decoration pieces,phallus postcards besides the usual magnets. Now, you’ll see a lot of penis graffiti all over Bhutan, on buildings, in shops. The phallus is considered a symbol of prosperity in the local culture which might get a little uncomfortable for our sensibilities.
Our next stop was the Folk Heritage Museum where we sampled some authentic Bhutanese food. Ema Datshi or chilli cheese was a winner for me and I hope to replicate it in my kitchen here.
While you must not miss out on the touristy places such as the Dzongs and the museums and the monasteries, it is worthwhile to take some time off and explore the city. Walk down the streets and admire the pink trees lining the roads; stumble upon cafes like the Ambient cafe which served one of the most delicious cheese cakes I’ve ever had; find yourself in the quaint Junction bookstore which alongside having a good collection of books also sheltered dogs, had a man strumming the guitar; and chill with friends at local pubs (open only on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) that serve alcohol at very cheap rates. You might also like to visit the main post office and get your picture printed on a stamp for 200 bucks and send postcards to people back home.
Our next stop was Paro. While Thimphu is atop a hill, Paro is a valley, so you see a stark difference in the topography. I found the drive alongside the runway fascinating and the fact that cars had to be stopped to allow the planes to take off and land. Paro is your quintessential laid back hill town which resonates with peace and calm. The people are ever smiling , just a reminder of why Bhutan is the highest ranked country in the happiness index. Paro is the basecamp to the now synonymous-with-Bhutan Tiger’s Nest trek. The scenic 3 hr trek to the Tiger’s Nest monastery atop a mountain is a must for every adventure seeker. It is breathtaking and will leave you breathless.
Food options in Paro are limited but it is a good idea to follow TripAdvisor ratings and choose restaurants. We opted for Sonam Trophel cafe (good Indian, Chinese and Bhutanese food), Explorers Cafe pizzeria, Yegyel’s cafe and it’s delectable Thai preparations and the coffee and desserts at Cafe Brioche.
Souvenir shopping is expensive in Bhutan and your bargaining prowess will be put to test.1 Bhutanese Ngultrum is equal to 1 INR and the prices aren’t exactly meant for shoestring budget travellers. I bought souvenirs from Taksang Base at the Tiger’s Nest which I found to be the most moderately priced.
Paro was the last leg of our trip. It was now time to bid adieu to the roaring mountains, the gushing streams, the exquisite vegetation and the lap of nature. The dream had ended, it was now time to get back to reality.
- It is advisable to get local simcards from the border town itself, they are cheap, easily available and have superb 3G connectivity in places unimaginable.
- Smoking is strictly prohibited in public places. Ask your driver or the hotel receptionist about places where you can light up.