Beautiful Punakha Dzong - Trip to Bhutan

Bhutan is a beautiful landlocked country settled amidst the mighty Himalayas. Also called the “Land of Thunder Dragon”, it is known for its preserved culture and natural treasures. Some of the amazing facts about this place include that the 70% of the area is still covered by forest, it is also the world’s first carbon-negative country and it is the only country to have the philosophy of Gross National Happiness. The country is home to a plethora of places having unparalleled natural beauty, ancient monasteries, and a different but amazing culture. Here is a complete Bhutan Travel Guide that will help you to plan your Trip to Bhutan

Places to visit in Bhutan

Phuentsholing:

Also known as the “Gateway to Bhutan”, Phuentsholing is a small town situated at the borders of India and Bhutan. People traveling by road from India stay for a night to obtain the permits for Bhutan. Places to visit in Phuentsholing include Crocodile Zoo, Zangto Pelri Lhakhang and the market.

Thimphu:

Capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan, Thimphu is the largest town, situated in the western part of Bhutan. The town is settled amidst the lush green hills. It is home to several lively streets having restaurants, cafes, clubs, etc. Places to visit in Thimphu include Tashichho Dzong, Memorial Chorten, Changangkha Lhakhang, Folk Heritage Museum, Simply Bhutan, Motithang Takin Reserve, Buddha Dordenma, Dechen Phodrang Monastery, and National Library of Bhutan.

Paro:

Paro is another famous town settled in a scenic valley. The place is known for its majestic beauty, vibrant markets, and paddy fields. Places to visit in Paro include National Bhutan Museum, Paro Dzong, Drukgyel Dzong, Kichu Lhakhang, etc.

Tiger’s Nest:

Also called Paro Taktsang, it is considered one of the wonders of Bhutan. Situated in the upper valley of Paro, Tiger’s Nest is a beautiful monastery settled on a sharp cliff. The architecture of the monastery is truly incredible. To visit this monastery, one has to do a trek of around 7 km (one way). It is believed that “Guru Padmasambhava” meditated here for 3 years and he visited here on a tiger and that is why the name of this place is “Tiger’s Nest”.

Punakha:

Punakha is a small town situated between two rivers named Pho Chu and Mo Chu. This beautiful town is known for the gorgeous Punakha Dzong and the suspension bridge which is the largest suspension bridge in the entire nation. Another famous place near Punakha is the Chimi Lhakhang, also known as the “Temple of Fertility”. Here people worship the “Phallus” and consider it as the sign of Prosperity and Luck.

Chele La:

Chele La is the highest motorable pass in Bhutan, situated at an altitude of around 3988 m above the sea level. The pass connects Paro Valley to Haa valley. People who wish to go to Haa valley, have to cross this pass. The pass offers magnificent views of the surroundings.

Chele La Pass - Highest Pass of Bhutan - Trip to Bhutan
Chele La Pass – Highest Pass of Bhutan – Trip to Bhutan

Dochu La:

Dochu La is another high altitude pass situated at an elevation of 3100 m. The pass is famous for 108 memorial chortens or stupas which are built on the pass. While traveling from Thimphu to Punakha, one has to cross this pass. During clear weather, the pass offers beautiful panoramic views of snow-capped towering peaks.

Haa Valley:

It is a small but beautiful valley situated 80 km from the town of Paro. Located close to the disputed Indo-China border, the valley is quite untouched. Haa valley is known for its offbeat natural beauty.

Phobjikha Valley:

Phobjikha Valley is considered one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan. Situated around 80 km from Punakha, the valley is famous for its vast grazing land and the lush greenery. During the spring season, the valley hosts thousands of Black Necked Cranes which is also one of the attractions.

Amazing view of Phobjikha Valley - Trip to Bhutan
Amazing view of Phobjikha Valley – Trip to Bhutan

Possible Itineraries – Bhutan Travel Guide

Itinerary 1:

Day 1: Arrival at Bagdogra. Transfer to Phuentsholing
Day 2: Phuentsholing to Thimphu
Day 3: Thimphu Sightseeing
Day 4: Thimphu to Punakha via Dochu La
Day 5: Punakha to Paro
Day 6: Tiger’s Nest Trek
Day 7: Paro Sightseeing
Day 8: Transfer to Bagdogra. Departure

Itinerary 2:

Day 1: Arrival at Bagdogra. Transfer to Phuentsholing
Day 2: Phuentsholing to Thimphu
Day 3: Thimphu sightseeing
Day 4: Thimphu to Paro and sightseeing
Day 5: Tiger’s Nest Trek
Day 6: Transfer to Bagdogra. Departure

Itinerary 3:

Day 1: Arrival at Paro Airport
Day 2: Paro to Punakha
Day 3: Punakha to Thimphu
Day 4: Thimphu Sightseeing
Day 5: Thimphu to Paro and sightseeing
Day 6: Departure from Paro.

Itinerary 4:

Day 1: Arrival at Bagdogra. Transfer to Phuentsholing
Day 2: Phuentsholing to Thimphu
Day 3: Thimphu Sightseeing
Day 4: Thimphu to Punakha via Dochu La
Day 5: Punakha to Phobjikha Valley
Day 6: Phobjikha Valley to Paro
Day 7: Tiger’s Nest Trek
Day 8: Paro Sightseeing
Day 9: Transfer to Bagdogra

These are the most common itineraries that people usually opt for though one can alter the itineraries according to the places or number of days.

Tiger's Nest Monastery - Trip to Bhutan
Tiger’s Nest Monastery – Trip to Bhutan

Best time to visit – Bhutan Travel Guide

The best time to visit Bhutan is during the spring and the post-monsoon season. March, April, and May are considered the peak season months during which most of the foreigners visit. The weather remains pleasant during these months. This is also the time when you get to see Black Necked Cranes on the land of Bhutan. Planning Bhutan in these 3 months would be a good idea but it will also be a bit expensive one. The hotel tariffs are at its peak during this time.

Another best time to visit Bhutan is October and November. During these 2 months, you will find lush greenery and pleasant weather with a clear sky. These months are not considered as peak season so one can get hotels at slightly lower tariffs.

Unlike 3-4 years back, now winters are also considered to travel and explore the Land of Thunder Dragon. If one wishes to experience snowfall then he can plan in the months of December or January. The temperature would be around -6 to -8 degrees so make sure you carry the clothing according to it. 

Longest Suspension Bridge of Bhutan - Punakha - Trip to Bhutan
Longest Suspension Bridge of Bhutan – Punakha – Trip to Bhutan

Where to eat

One can find Indian food in hotels at most of the places and Indian restaurants are available at all the major places such as Thimphu, Paro, Punakha, and Phuentsholing. There are some cool cafes which shouldn’t be missed like club ecstasy, mountain café, etc. Don’t forget to try the Red Panda Beer.

Other places to visit – Bhutan Travel Guide

Tshophu lake:

Tshophu is a high altitude lake situated on the way to Jomolhari glacier. The elevation of the lake is 4100 m and it offers breathtaking views of Jomolhari peak, 7326 m. To reach the lake, one has to do a moderate trek of around 6 days.

Mongar:

The journey to Mongar is considered one of the best road journeys in Bhutan. The road passes through sharp cliffs, dense forest, and green meadows. One can have a view of Himalayan peaks during clear days.

Trashigang:

Trashigang is also called as the “Jewel of the east”. It is also connected to Assam by road. Some of the attractions to visit include Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary and the Dzong.

Buxa Tiger Reserve:

Situated near Alipurdwar in the state of West Bengal, the reserve is mainly famous for elephants. 

Safari at Buxa Tiger Reserve - Trip to Bhutan
Safari at Buxa Tiger Reserve – Trip to Bhutan

How to Reach – Bhutan Travel Guide

There are 2 ways through which one can reach Bhutan, viz, by Air or by Road.

By Air:

There is only one international airport situated in Paro. Flights are regularly available from all the major parts of the world. In India, one can get flights to Paro either from Delhi or Kolkata. Flights are usually expensive and frequency is one flight per day by a particular airline company. The flights can also get canceled if the weather is not good because the airport is situated in the Paro Valley which is prone to strong winds and thunderstorms that can interrupt the landing. One can book the flights either from Drukair or Bhutan Airlines. You may not get the flight information on websites like MakeMyTrip, Yatra, etc. Try checking on the official websites of the above flight (Drukair and Bhutan Airlines) companies.

Make sure you do have a passport if you are planning to fly to Bhutan. The permit process would be done at the airport itself. One can find and hire taxis from outside the airport.

By Road:

To enter Bhutan by road, one has to reach Bagdogra airport or New Jalpaiguri railway station.

Bagdogra is an international airport situated near Siliguri in the state of West Bengal. Flights are available from all the major cities in India. Trains are also easily available to and from New Jalpaiguri Railway Station.

Phuentsholing is 160 km from Bagdogra / NJP. Once you are at Bagdogra/NJP, either you can take a bus from the Siliguri bus stand or hire a taxi to Jaigaon or Phuentsholing. Govt buses are available from Siliguri for traveling to Phuentsholing and charge around INR 300. Tariff for a small taxi is INR 3000 and a big taxi is around INR 4000.

At Phuentsholing, one can easily hire taxis for the complete tour in Bhutan. The drivers can also help you with the immigration process.

One can also take a train from Siliguri Junction to Alipudwar Railway Station or Hashimara and from there one can hire an autorickshaw or taxi to reach Jaigaon or Phuentsholing.

Currency, Phone Connectivity, & Permits – Bhutan Travel Guide

  • The currency of Bhutan is Ngultrum. INR 1 = Nu 1. Indian currency works in Bhutan except 500 and 2000 notes. You can also exchange the currency at Jaigaon or Phuentsholing at any shop without paying any extra amount.
  • Indian sim cards do not work in Bhutan. You can buy a Bhutanese sim card of Tashicell company for 100 bucks and by giving a copy of your permit. You can use that sim card to make calls in Bhutan and use the internet as well after activating the data pack.
  • In Bhutan, mostly all the hotels have Wi-Fi so you can easily access the internet once you are at the hotel.
  • As of now, Indians do not have to pay USD 250 per day fee to travel in Bhutan, unlike other country visitors. Though the Bhutan government is planning to impose a Sustainable Development Fee on Indian visitors as well, it hasn’t finalized yet. Bhutan permits can be obtained offline as well as online.
  • If one wishes to apply for the permits/e-visa online then he must have a passport. The advantage of obtaining permits online is that you can enter Bhutan on any day.
  • If you don’t have a passport, then you have to apply for offline permits once you are at Phuentsholing. A voter ID card or passport is mandatory for offline permits.

Some quick tips before you travel to Bhutan

  • Before entering the gate, Jaigaon is the last Indian town where you can exchange currency, dispense cash from ATM, have Indian food or buy stuff at Indian rates. Indian currency works in Bhutan except ₹500 and ₹2000 notes. In case, if you want to exchange currency, you can do it at any shop located in Jaigaon.
  • Earlier you visit the office, the less time it will take. Get all the documents ready beforehand.
  • Market and shops get closed by 8 or 9 PM (max) in Thimphu and other places.
  • Must try the hot chocolate at a cafe situated at the DochuLa pass.
  • Paro street is quite lively and has some amazing cafes. Some of them are Mountain Cafe, Champaca Cafe, Club Ecstasy, etc.
  • Leave a bit early and keep the margin of at least 2 hours before the flight departure.
  • Entry fees for different places- Simply Bhutan: INR 300 per person, Punakha Dzong: INR 300 per person, Takin Reserve: INR 300 per person, & Tiger’s Nest: INR 500 per person.
  • Smoking is not allowed in Bhutan. Liquor is cheap and is available at almost all the shops and restaurants.

This Bhutan Travel Guide covers almost all the information that you will need to plan your trip to Bhutan. If you need any help in planning your trip to Bhutan, let me know in the comment section.

Happy Travelling 🙂

Written by

Manu Khandelwal

An engineer and a travel blogger. Loves trekking and doing bike road trips. Burger lover (want to try every burger in the world). Clinomaniac. Sports fanatic. Likes technology but not a technology addict.