Taking a break from routine by itself is refreshing. To top it, I was at a place which is filled with greenery, endless mountains, valleys, good food, relaxed people and no honking. Yes it is Bhutan! Why did they name this most calm place as land of thunder dragons I don’t understand. I spent ten days in this peaceful country and so there will be a series of blog coming up on Bhutan destinations. This however will be an overview of Bhutan.
Permit: A lot of people fly in and out of Paro. We drove into Bhutan from Siliguri. The drive was through Jaigoan, Phuentsoling and forth to Paro. Indians can get their permits done at Phuentsoling gate. You need to have voter id card or passport for proof, however I had aadhar card and that worked as well. Pan card does not hold good. Note that with this permit, you can only travel upto Paro and Thimpu. If you are driving to remote places, one needs to renew their permit at Thimpu. If your vehicle is from India, that will also require a permit. Permit offices usually close by 6pm and it is best to get it done in the morning to avoid rush. The rules for Indians are much more relaxed. If you are a foreigner traveling across Bhutan then a Bhutanese guide must accompany you throughout the trip..
Planning the trip: The usual itinerary of Bhutan includes, Paro one day, Thimpu two days, Punakha one day and end it with trek to Tigers nest. This works when you have five/ six days in hand. We drove further down to central Bhutan covering Trongsa and Bumthang valley. This needed nine days. In my upcoming blogs I will tell you why it is must do. There is only one road that cuts across Bhutan from west to east. If you have good two weeks, you can proceed further to east Bhutan and come out to join Guwahati. However the driver said the views are not as great as drive to Bumthang. Google maps does not account the time to ride in mountain terrains. Moreover the roads are under construction and you need to make room for road blocks during the drive. So plan well with someone who has been to Bhutan.
What to Eat: Their national dish which you can find in every menu and which every other site recommends is the Ema datshi which translates to chilly cheese. Extremely spicy but yummy with red rice. Then various other datshis like potato, pork, beef, chicken, spinach.. Usually had with red rice and some with noodles. To interpret the menu anything ending with, datshi means cheese, pa means fry/dry and maaru/rasa is curry. Momos with all kind of stuffing is must try. The butter salted tea, I was not a fan of it. They add cheese to buttermilk which was different. They don’t have desserts!! No wonder they are all in shape!
Remember, Bhutanese prepare food after you order, so you place the order wait for an hour and then get your food. Also the restaurants close by 9pm, so dinner planning typically starts by 7.30pm.. Druk 11000 seemed to be the favorite beer for everywhere I saw it being had and next was the red panda beer. The paan (doma pani), the addiction that prevails in Bhutan. The areca nut is raw and not dry like the Indian version is had along with beetle leaf and lime. It had a good taste but the smell and color will linger for a while. Be soft on it, I came back with the tooth cap in my hand 😛 Thukpa is more of Tibetan delicacy that you can find in some menus, it is a soupy dish with noodles in it. But I couldn’t find any good tasting thukpa so I decided to stick to Bhutanese cuisine.
Also read – Paro places to visit
What to buy: Souvenirs are very costly. I walked up and down several shops to find a decent prayer wheel within my budget. Bargaining would reduce around two to four hundred rupees.. The dresses are hand woven hence the work is costly. Bhutanese national dress Gho was the cheapest in Jaigoan.. Kira is more of wrap around and trendy to buy for woman.. Apart from that intricately woven shawl, belts, bags, sweaters, backpacks are available.
Paintings of various figurines, Buddhist lucky charms, replicas of eight symbols of luck are commonly found. Other most common one is the wooden phallus! It is believed to drive away evil and bring luck.. Hence from key chain to big size painted ones you can see phallus. Their national sport being archery and dart, you can see them also on sales. The cost of the souvenirs steadily increases from Phuentsoling to Thimpu. But there were few artifacts that I saw in Paro but could not find in Thimpu, so if you like it just buy it.
Even if you do not follow Buddhism, respect the religion and follow the guidelines. Dont’s: Bhutan is mostly Dzongs and Monasteries. While visiting the shrines, you cannot wear shorts, collared Tshirts are better, no slippers and no photographs. One guide told me few of the old temples need you to wear full sleeves. Though the touristy ones did not demand that, for safety I had a jacket with me throughout. King and Queen are not to be photographed. Monastery proceedings are not to be photographed. There might be chairs in front of monasteries or in home stays which will have silk robe on it, it is meant for Gurus so please do not sit on it. Smoking is illegal.
Bhutanese people are the friendliest. They are very approachable. In all the places I stopped so many guides to inquire about the paintings and figurines and they were all excited about explaining it to me. I was totally amused when I was asked, “are you Tamil?” like I have it written on my face 😀 One guy walked up and asked, “Yeppadi irukae?” and I was totally flat. Looks like they come down for education and medical treatments. It was wonderful to feel like home and to discover such friendly neighbors. It is absolutely safe to venture out alone.