Bhutan Trip Report: Thimpu, Punakha and Paro

#1 Jun 4th, 2017, 19:14
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  • Avishek_T is offline
#1
Arrival (26th May)

Kanchankanya Exp was over an hour late at Hasimara station. We thought it will be a struggle to get down at that station because of a 2min stoppage time. But the train waited for a bit more than that and we could comfortably get down. An Innova was waiting outside, arranged by Jaigaon Tours & Travels. Hasimara to Jaigaon was a rather slow drive due to road restoration and widening being done. By the time we reached Jaigaon, it was raining pretty heavy. I got down at the tour agent's office and others moved towards designated hotel at Phuentsholing (Hotel Tsheringma).

Tourist Permit (26th May)

It was already for immigration department when we were ready with the documentation for permit at Jaigaon Tour's office. So we reached Phuentsholing immigration office a little after 1:30pm. Documents (one copy of voter id OR passport AND one pp size photo) and forms were submitted by travel agent for verification by officials. This was happening at the ground floor of the renovated building. Then officials called names and we were asked to go upstairs. There were 8 windows for biometrics and 1/2 to deliver actual permit. The whole process was pretty smooth. But still it was almost 3:30pm when we got the permit. Unfortunately the travel agent could not get the car permit on that day, as it was too late to get the tourist permits. Next day was saturday and hence no chance of getting the car permit done. Though I had requested for an Innova 4 months back, but I had to be satisfied with a Bolero. This is because the travel agent had to arrange a Bhutan car (which apparently costs more per day, than renting one from India). A small heartbreak for us at the beginning. Innova was undoubtedly much comfortable for car.

All these could have been avoided if I had done the permit from Kolkata. But I didn't know permit had to be applied 2 months in advance at Kolkata. A bizarre rule !!

Phuentsholing (26th May)

As soon as you enter Phuentsholing, you are bound feel the calm after the mayhem of Jaigaon. Phuentsholing is a much cleaner and much peaceful town. Lot of bars all around, but hard to find a medicine shop. Quality of people seems much better after crossing the border though.

You can buy a SIM card here. TashiCell SIM cards are easily available, but only at designated shops. Whereas in India, you can get SIM cards almost at every street corner. If you show original tourist permit, you can get 2 SIM cards per person. I could show a photocopy and allowed 1 SIM per person. Basic price is Nu 200 with the same talk time value. You can opt for some data packages if you like. Activation is instant.

Hotel Tsheringma seemed to be a pretty decent option with good spacious rooms and they have A/c in all the rooms. Backside rooms have nice view of the nearby mountains. Food is also pretty decent if you stick to Indian dishes. Chinese dishes are strictly avoidable.

View from hotel at Phuentsholing
Regards,
Avishek.
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Kaluk & Uttarey | Bawali-Raypur | Uttarakhand after 32 years | Uttorer Oli-Goli | Dhobi Ghat of Kolkata | Rolep (East Sikkim) | Bhutan Trip Report
#2 Jun 4th, 2017, 19:21
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#2
Phuentsholing to Thimpu (27th May)

There were some confusions before we started our journey for Thimpu. The assigned driver Pema, had arrived on time with his Bolero. But he had no idea about our tour plan. It was quite obvious that he was not briefed by the travel agent. After 3/4 calls to Jaigain Tour representative, one of them arrived with some papers. I noticed that only the hotel of Thimpu has been identified. It was Hotel IMSL. I had never heard the name. In their tour planner they had mentioned "Hotel White Tara or similar". While White Tara was a nice hotel, but IMSL was an anonymous one. When I asked about hotels in Punakha and Paro, tour agent representative said those will be informed on time !! I told them that I should know those names before start of the tour as I had confirmed the tour with them 4 months back. But no satisfactory answer. I was already having a bad feeling about the situation. But we started nevertheless. First the crocodile farm (mainly for the kid in the group), then beautifully located Kharbandi Gompa. Within 10 minutes of leaving Phuentsholing, you get to see a vast scenery of Indian plains. Then the permit is checked after technical institute. Views get quite fascinating after Gedu and weather gets quite cool. Lunch break usually happens around Chukha View area. Hotel Dam View was just ok. Veg meal was Nu 250 and Chhole-Bature Nu 100. Road condition was pretty good throughout, thanks to BRO. Indian army has a prominent presence all over the place, actually Royal Bhutan Army is hard to locate. We reached Thimpu in 5 hrs and revealed that our hotel in away from city. It was 17 km away and high up in the mountain amidst forest. I wanted to stay close to the city to be able to explore it more. It was a new hotel opened on 15th April. The manager said he received my booking few days back. It was obvious that the tour agent had messed things up. But the rooms and washrooms were big enough and very clean. It had room heaters by default. Food was not inspiring though.

Views on the way;




Hotel IMSL



#3 Jun 4th, 2017, 19:46
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#3
Thimpu (28th May)


I had very kept very limited points in my list for sightseeing. Budhha Point was nice and view from BBS Tower was excellent. Second half was dedicated for Semtokha and Tashichhoe Dzongs. Tashichhoe Dzong has Nu 300 ticket per person (kid below 5 years were exempted). Guide is mandatory to enter this dzong, but guide service is free. The dzong is very big and quite grand. But tourists can visit only a small section. Late afternoon was dedicated to exploring Clock Tower area, which started with Ambient Café, followed by Swiss Bakery.













#4 Jun 4th, 2017, 23:01
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  • banerjee s is offline
#4
Lovely! Waiting for the rest.
By the way, which camera do you use?
#5 Jun 5th, 2017, 00:02
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#5
Nikon 5200 + Nikon 18-140mm + Sigma 17-50mm
#6 Jun 5th, 2017, 01:26
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#6
Thanks, I was just going through your other posts and saw some lovely pictures! It was a treat for the eyes :-)
#7 Jun 5th, 2017, 07:05
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#7
Joined the ride , and as has already been mentioned , lovely images and crisp narrative.
Keep chugging,
Cheers
Somnath
#8 Jun 5th, 2017, 11:53
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#8
Great narration, lucid and crisp! If possible, please add the logistic & cost aspect also. It seems you had engaged Travel Agents for booking of Hotels, Cabs etc. How is you impression in regard to their services, cost etc. vis-a-vis self booking?
#9 Jun 5th, 2017, 12:11
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#9
wow...very nice and crisp..I hope you had an awesome time in Bhutan
By the way I am also starting my Bhutan trip day after tomorrow and I am so excited. Your TR will be of uttermost help
Warm Regards
Soma

My travel blog

http://thetravellerweare.blogspot.in/
#10 Jun 5th, 2017, 17:09
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#10
Thanks banerjee, somnath, ashis da and soma !!
#11 Jun 5th, 2017, 17:41
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Punakha (29th May)

First thing to be done on Monday morning was to get the permit for Punakha. In Bhutan, you are always facing a potential holiday, uncalled for. Their census was going on at that time and govt offices were to be closed on 30th May. Thankfully it didn't collide with our plans.

We left our desolate accommodation at 9:30am and reached permit office at 10am. A form to be filled up and a copy of the base permit to be attached. After the submission, we headed towards the stalls selling handicrafts (right opposite permit office). This is a nice place to buy mementos. You need to bargain here to settle for a better price. Bargaining is good if you reach there during opening and closing hours of business. Shopping done, we headed towards clock tower. We had our late breakfast at one smaller café to the corner of clock tower compound. They made nice aloo paratha and momo. We hanged around the clock tower area, while Pema went to fetch the permit. We finally left Thimpu at around 1pm and reached Dochula Pass in an hour. Dochula has wide spectacular views of the valley around. There is a café there. You can also climb to Druk Wangyal Lhakhang for two sided views of the valley. We stayed there for 30 min and left for Punakha.

Road condition up to Dochula is quite excellent. It remains more or less so for most of the remaining journey up to Lobesa. After Lobesa, there are few patches of rattling road condition up to river rafting point. From here to Punakha Dzong, everything is smooth.

Punakha Dzong remains open for tourists from 3pm to 5pm. Among the 3 mains dzongs we visited, this was most beautiful. First there is this cute little wooden bridge to cross the river. Then a beautiful dzong compound leading to an intimidating entrance. No entry free here. IMHO you should take at least good half an hour to explore the dzong. I would have taken full 1 hour, if I was on my own. But with parents and kid, it was rather a hurried visit. We quickly left for our accommodation, which was near Wangdue. The kid was getting cranky and weather was not that soothing. We reached Lobesa crossing again and headed towards Punatsanchu Cottages. Lobesa has got a decent sizes market to buy daily provisions. We reached our accommodation at around 5pm.

Punatsanchu has a nice location beside the river, overlooking Wandue town. Food options were very limited here. But the staff were very polite and tried to meet our requirements.

I was calling the travel agent frantically to get the name of the hotel at Paro. First I got the name of Hotel Drukchen. When I called the hotel, they said there is no such booking in my name. Then I called the agent again. Next morning I got the name of Galling Resort, which was fortunately a confirmed booking.


Dochula Pass








Dochula to Punakha










Punatsangchu Cottages

#12 Jun 6th, 2017, 21:10
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#12
Wangdue to Paro (30th May)

We started a bit late, at 11am. This was an overcast day from the morning. Up to Chuzom, it was a known road. From Chuzom to Paro, we took the road which goes through Airport view point. Nice road and excellent views. Though it was throughout cloudy with occasional light drizzle, but it made the journey quite mystic. We even saw an airplane landing in Paro airport. Upon reaching Paro, we first had lunch at Sonam Trophel (thanks to IM posts praising it). This was the best Indian food we had in the whole trip. They even made better chinese dishes than many other places. This is a must visit place for meals in Paro. After little over 4 hours from Wangdue, we reached Galling Resort.

We didn't like the rooms we were being assigned, so we changed one of them. This is basically a hotel, forcefully named a resort !! Front side rooms, though a bit basic, but has wonderful views of the valley and river in front. Rooms had built in heater and running hot water. One room in particular, room 101, had 3 sided views. Paro had already stole our heart. We settled down in the terrace with coffee mugs, enchanted by the mystic valley.


Paro Airport on a cloudy afternoon



#13 Jun 6th, 2017, 22:15
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#13
Paro (31st May)

Last evening and night was completely cloudy. We dropped the idea of going towards Chele La Pass and Haa Valley. So we started a bit late from hotel and went to Tiger's Nest Monastry. The day was sunny though, but thick clouds hung over the mountains. Drive towards Tiger's Nest Monastry trekking point, was a charming one. There is a quaint peacefulness about Paro, which touches you instantly. We didn't have plans to climb up to the Taktsang Monsatry, hence roamed around the foothills. Ladies were completely engrossed with the sellers with interesting trinkets in front of them. When the shopping was over, we started for Ta Dzong. But it was closed for some reason. We satisfied ourselves with beautiful view of Paro town and valley, from there.

We had lunch at Peljorling Hotel in the town. It was an average quality food, compared to Sonam. We regretted skipping Sonam this time. Post lunch we reached Rinpung Dzong. This was a nice dzong as well. The view of the valley from Rinpung Dzong was simply breathtaking. There is a wonderful stoned path which descends from Rinpung Dzong to Nya-mey Zam (the wooden bridge over the river). There were hardly any tourist on this path.

We then moved around the main streets of Paro town and later settled in to Brioche Café. Paro has some cute cafes, which are quite attractive. When evening was setting in we visited a kids park nearby (the kid in the group had spotted it early and expressed his strong desire to spend some time there). Even the main market area of Paro town looked so idyllic and peaceful, that it was quite a treat for us. Before reaching for the hotel, we went for evening view of Rinpung Dzong, all brightly lit up.

Next day we were to drive down to Hasimara to catch our train, which was a full 6 hour journey including lunch break.

I have to revisit Paro sometime later for Chele La Pass, Haa Valley and Drukgyel Dzong. I must revisit just for the idyllic peacefulness that Paro offers.

From hotel





Trinkets on offer below Tiger's Nest Monastry



View From Taa Dzong



Rinpung Dzong











View from Rinpung Dzong





Airport View Point on clear afternoon



Day is coming to an end, so is the trip report

#14 Jun 6th, 2017, 22:49
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#14
Wonderful! What is your review of the imsl hotel? Even though it is away from the town, the location is quite idyllic it seems from the pictures. Did the tour operator meet your expectations?
#15 Jun 7th, 2017, 22:24
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#15

Closing Notes

Places

Undoubtedly Paro is the most beautiful place. In Paro, I would suggest a place outside the town so that you get sweeping view of the valley. Also keep some time to explore the town on foot. For shopping, you may try the small market at the foot of Tiger's Nest Monastry. Shops in the town are pricey.

I don't have a particular suggestion about staying options in Thimpu. Given a chance, I would try to find a hotel near clock tower. Nu 300 per head ticket for Tashichhoe Dzong, is not worth IMO. Paro and Punakha Dzongs have no entry fee, but they are more exciting to explore.

Punakha can be visited only for the dzong. I didn’t explore Wangdue at all, hence no idea how the place is.

Food Suggestions

If you are selective about taste, then food is a bit challenge in Bhutan. In Phuentsholing to Thimpu route, DANTAK canteen maybe the better option than Dam View Restaurant. In general, these long routes does not have decent restaurants (unlike India). Thimpu (Sinchula near Hongkong Market) and Paro have few decent options for Indian food. Sonam Trophel in Paro is the star of the lot. Bhutanese restaurants stumble particularly on Indian rice items. Many places can cook decent rotis and naans though.

Thimpu and Paro has some nice cafes though, which you should visit.

Hotel Suggestions

Among the ones I stayed at, Hotel Tsheringma ranks first considering their location and food.
Hotel IMSL is located appx 17 kms away from Thimpu and high up the mountains. Food options here are strictly average. But it's newly built facility, hence very clean and modern. If you want complete solitude, this may be a good option. Try to book cottages in the upper layer for better view. Cormorant 1 & 2 have worst view, since view is blocked by trees. Though it's high above the mountains, but TashiCell connection works fine and they have free wifi as well.

In Paro, you may choose any hotel which is slightly away from the town for better valley views.
In Punakha, Damchen Resort has good location. Punatsanchu or Kichu Resorts can be chosen if you want to stay close to Wangdue town.

Tour Agent

I always prefer doing my own research and book hotels directly. If you want to avoid that, you may choose Jaigaon based agents like Jaigaon Tours or BK Tours.

This is the first time I engaged tour agent for hotel booking and car. I didn't get the car I wanted because of delay in getting tourist permit. It seemed they had made a mess of hotel bookings as well, since they gave names of hotels at the very 11th hour. All these despite confirming with them 4 months back !! I have heard that Bhutanese tour operators are more professional.

Cost

Jaigaon Tours took a total of Rs 53k for hotels and car. The hotel cost excludes all meals. We booked 2 DBL rooms at all places.

They charged Rs 3200 per day for the car, plus Rs 700 x 2 for pick-up & drop at Hasimara.

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