[Dec 2017 - Jan 2018] Experience From My Bhutan Trip

#1 Jan 6th, 2018, 11:08
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Well, people who knows me personally, knows, I went to Bhutan during XMas - New Year holidays on 2017 - 2018 again leading a group of 15 pax. Here are few things that I saw is changed from the last time (Feb 2016) I visited.

Though most of the experience stands same and you may check the details at http://www.indiamike.com/india/cross...hutan-t243896/

I'll only try to highlight here, what all I see is changed now...

1. Permit : Yes permit system have been changed into whole different story altogether. So, people visiting Bhutan needs to understand this very clearly.

(a) Kolkata Bhutan Consulate : Kolkata Bhutan Consulate have stopped issuing permits since April 2016. So this is not an option anymore.

(b) Paro Airport : Permit is issued at Paro Airport 24 x 7. The process is same as P/Soling Immigration Office, however less stricter.

(c) P/Soling Immigration Office : It's closed on Weekends and Holidays. On Working Days it works from 9AM - 5 PM BST. BST is 30 minutes ahead of IST (For Indians). Here a lot of things have been changed in terms of making the process more stricter.

They are very strict about the way you fill up the form. Along with the form you need to submit your whole Itinerary in an white paper. Yes this seems to be mandatory. As they just shoo away few people standing in front of me for not having this. Luckily I had one mentioning my whole itinerary. The itinerary needs to be mentioned clearly as in..

Date : Phuentsholing - Thimphu
Date : Thimphu Sightseeing
and so on...

Along with this, Hotel Booking Reciept of Thimphu and Paro, on Hotel's Official Letter head is mandatory clearly stating the booking dates, number of person staying, number of rooms etc. For people visiting Punakha and other regions, you only need to show Hotel Booking Reciept of Thimphu and Paro. I have noticed them accepting Hotel Confirmation Reciept from MakeMyTrip too.

Another point I want to emphasize on, is, if you are hiring vehicles from India Side, and if the driver is Indian, then please note the you need vehicle permit too from RSTA (driver himself will process the same), which can only be done after you all are done with Entry Permits (specially the driver). So again this eats up a lot of time.

We started from P/Soling towards Thimphu at around 5:30 PM.

If you are visiting during holiday season (like I did), make sure you stand in the queue early morning, or even better have 2N at P/Soling. Trust me, 3 such group of tourists in front of me had to stay back in P/Soling that night because of offices getting closed and they were in mess as they had hotel bookings accordingly from next day. I still have no idea what they would have done. Because miss in one destination means, shifting the whole plan by one day and changing dates during holiday time can be a real issue on getting accommodation. You'll end up loosing more money finding an alternate accommodation, if your original one is unable to fit you in next day in such case.

This is not to scare you away, but I'm just stating my real experience as I have been through.

Okay so, in short, here are the documents you need to staple / pin together and submit to Immigration Officials...
(i) Itinerary
(ii) Entry Permit Form duly filled up
(iii) Photocopy of Voter ID Card / Passport (as mentioned in Entry Permit)
(iv) Passport Size Photo
(v) Hotel Booking Reciept of Thimphu and Paro

Staple / Pin (ii), (iii), (iv) together fr every member and put (i) in front of the bunch and (v) in end of the bunch and again staple / pin everything together and submit.

I'm emphasising on this, because from last year Biometrics have been introduced and this will help your group stay together. Else if forms gets messed up, after reaching the officials, you'll be in a mess sorting it together again as it happened to few tourists.

One more thing to note here is, don't undestimate the process and it's strictness and also have enough time in your hand specially during peak season. If you are visiting during off season, you might experience a seamless Immigration Process. However during peak season better have 2N in P/Soling in case anything mess up. Because only one people from a group needs to stand in queue and be 100% sure that people are having 15 - 30 forms for each of them.

Once you submit the documents, verification is now more stricter. They give more preference to family and married ones instead of single groups / solo travellers. Groups of Singles / Solo Travellers are prone to be more questioned but definitely you won't be denied an entry if your documents are in order.

Post that, you have to go up and stand in queue on one of the various counters for Biometric. Again, only one person from the group needs to stand in queue. So, Solo Travellers / Small Groups, do check with the persons standing in front of you.

Once the biometric is done, you need to wait endlessly, until your permits are printed. This takes some time, depending on number of permits submitted before yours. Also note the lunch break from 1AM - 2PM BST.

(d) e-Permit : Online Permit has been introduced, from last year, however this is not accessible to general public. So you need to reach out to authorized Bhutanese Tour Operators. However the catch here is, as like P/Soling Immigration Office, they too needs to fill in hotel details, vehicle details etc. So you need to book hotels through them. And due to restrictions from TCB, they are not allowed to deal with anything below standard hotels. So if you are on a budget tour, this is an issue here.

2. Entry Fees : Another change that I noticed is introduction of Entry Fees. Previously hardly 2-3 points had entry fees that too was around Rs. 50/- - Rs. 100/-. However now, most Dzongs and various imporant Monastries / Temples like Chimi Lakhang, Kyichu Lakhang, Memorial Chorten etc. charges Rs. 300/- per person. However this includes guides who caters a group of 15 - 20 pax at once. This was introduced to give you deep knowledge about various things and to control Indian tourists from misbehaving and touching things inside monasteries. Yes this sounds harsh and bad, but it's true. Few are free while most other remaining ones are having entry fees of Rs. 50/- - Rs. 100/-. Tiger's Nest have introduced Entry Fee of Rs. 500/- per person.

3. Touristy : Well this was may be because I visited during peak season, however tourist influx in Bhutan have increased a lot since last few years. So I personally feel Bhutan is loosing it's charm day by day specially in Western Bhutan. Once you get out of common tourist circuit of Thimphu - Paro - Punakha, you can experience real Bhutan.

Well I can't think of anything else. However, I feel, permit system had been made stricter a lot and during peak season, it's very common to miss out on getting permit on one single day due to the rush. So defintiely during peak season, keep 2N in P/Soling in order to avoid further issues.

Rest all stands same from my previous posts.
#2 Jan 7th, 2018, 08:42
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  • asishdas is offline
#2
Thanks for the latest inputs. I'm loosing interest to re-visit Bhutan. Gone are the good old days, it seems!
#3 Jan 7th, 2018, 22:10
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#3
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Originally Posted by asishdas View Post Thanks for the latest inputs. I'm loosing interest to re-visit Bhutan. Gone are the good old days, it seems!
Yes Ashish Da, Bhutan have lost it's charm nowadays. Holiday seasons are full of chaotic tourists. However Eastern Bhutan (by the grace of God) is still peacefull due to low tourist footprints.
#4 Jan 9th, 2018, 15:16
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#4
Changes are inevitable..and changes are made for good only. I don't agree to the statement "Bhutan has lost its charm nowadays", otherwise it would not have been in the 10 most exclusive travel destination of CNN rating for 2017. It depends on how you plan your travel, your stay and spend for your comfort. And if one looses interest to re-visit Bhutan since the verification process has become stricter and entry fees introduced at several places of tourist interest and there are no more freebies available, then Bhutan is not a place to visit at all. Vehicle permit for Indian Registered Vehicles from RSTA is not a new requirement and has been there since past many years.
#5 Jan 10th, 2018, 00:48
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#5
Thanks for the latest update. Its a great help for me as I am planning for Bhutan in April. Could you please update me on following:
1. 7 seat taxi charges per day.
2. to get seat in coaster bus from phuntsholing to thimpu do we need to book 2 days in advance.
3. can we submit documents for permit at immigration office after their lunch and approximately how much time will that take.
#6 Jan 10th, 2018, 11:24
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#6
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Originally Posted by mprasad1900 View Post Changes are inevitable..and changes are made for good only. I don't agree to the statement "Bhutan has lost its charm nowadays", otherwise it would not have been in the 10 most exclusive travel destination of CNN rating for 2017. It depends on how you plan your travel, your stay and spend for your comfort. And if one looses interest to re-visit Bhutan since the verification process has become stricter and entry fees introduced at several places of tourist interest and there are no more freebies available, then Bhutan is not a place to visit at all. Vehicle permit for Indian Registered Vehicles from RSTA is not a new requirement and has been there since past many years.
I beg to differ, Mr. Prasad. The underlying message behind these stricter rules pertaining to Indian visitors is to discourage budget travelers from India to visit that country. A place becomes attractive from the perspective of a travelers' viewpoint if the same is hospitable, friendly to the visiting travelers. If this is not the case, it turns out to be disincentive to the common travelers. This is precisely what happened with the Bhutan Govt's recent turn around. Tell me please, why the sudden change in rules? Isn't it simply to discourage the budget deshi travelers to visit their country?

In this context, did you hear or read any change in rules pertaining to Bhutan citizens coming to India? Isn't the bilateral relations between the two sovereign countries are reciprocal? I reckon it is difficult for a person living in Bhutan to understand the anguish faced by a budget travelers when he or she compares him or herself with that of their rich counterparts.

I know you or me can't do anything on this issue. But, at least, we can sympathize with those countless "Bhutan lovers", who are denied entry simply because they can not afford a Tour Agent or a star category Hotel.
#7 Jan 10th, 2018, 11:30
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#7
Exactly my words Ashish Da.

@mprasad, When I say "Bhutan has lost its charm nowadays", I also say "Bhutan still possess the same charm if you proceed to eastern side beyond Thimphu, Paro & Punakha". What I meant was Bhutan has become touristy nowadays. And definitely, I don't want to reiterate the same things again, but I 100% agree with Ashish Da's statements.
#8 Jan 10th, 2018, 11:33
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@Shaibal,

1. 7 seat taxi charges per day.

An Innova / Xylo would cost you around Rs. 3000/- - Rs. 3500/-. Depending on season this rate varies. However this is the rate if you hire it from Indian side. Cab rates at Bhutan side is more expensive.

2. to get seat in coaster bus from phuntsholing to thimpu do we need to book 2 days in advance.

A. During rush time? Yes. I missed one Bus from Paro due to over-confidence. Last time I visited during Feb which was off season, however now during XMas - New Year it was total peak season. Although buses from P/Soling - Thimphu is more frequent.

3. can we submit documents for permit at immigration office after their lunch and approximately how much time will that take.

A. You can. But time depends on number of persons in queue on various counters.
#9 Jan 10th, 2018, 12:04
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#9
I've been searching for the latest information for quite a some time. Thanks!!

This year I am planning to visit with my Family. This post would help me definitely.

Regards,
Aneek
Darjeeling, Kuari Pass Winter trek, Tawang-Dirang-Bomdila


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
#10 Jan 10th, 2018, 12:16
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  • BIMAL PRADHAN is offline
#10

planning to visit

I am planning to visit Bhutan this year. Definitely by road. We will be a family with two kids of 10 and 13.
I am flexible as far as time of travel is concern. Options are End of FEB, Summer break in May, Puja holidays in Sep/Oct....or next winter

1- is it possible to stay in my own tent? I would love to travel by road and pitch tent at different places.My family can manage. what about any restrictions to do so?

2- at few locations I would love to stay in Homestays.....for experience as well as budget.

3- as I can extend my trip to 2-3 weeks and can travel to any possible place, can you please suggest me the locations I should consider?
#11 Jan 10th, 2018, 12:56
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#11
I don't think Bhutan allows pitching a tent - or for that matter trekking on unmarked trails, unaccompanied by a guide- for tourists. They do this to minimize impact of mass tourism on the fragile ecosystem. It's very different from Nepal in that sense. Driving your own car with necessary paperwork is possible though.

Also keep in mind that photography inside their monasteries and dzongs, for most part, is not allowed. I've rarely seen photos of the inside of their structures. It's a mixed blessing and may or may not align with your travel style.
#12 Jan 10th, 2018, 13:10
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#12
Recently, I met a traveler in Nongriat. he gave me this impression that pitching tent is possible. He encouraged me to undertake a 15-20 days road trip there.

what about homestays? will there be any issue for permit at the border if I stay at homestays ? The changed scenario for Indians tourist is definitely creating confusion.
#13 Jan 10th, 2018, 21:08
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#13
Quote:
Originally Posted by BIMAL PRADHAN View Post I am planning to visit Bhutan this year. Definitely by road. We will be a family with two kids of 10 and 13.
I am flexible as far as time of travel is concern. Options are End of FEB, Summer break in May, Puja holidays in Sep/Oct....or next winter

1- is it possible to stay in my own tent? I would love to travel by road and pitch tent at different places.My family can manage. what about any restrictions to do so?

2- at few locations I would love to stay in Homestays.....for experience as well as budget.

3- as I can extend my trip to 2-3 weeks and can travel to any possible place, can you please suggest me the locations I should consider?
1. No. You can go for Cultural Trip on your own. But for Trekking / Camping / pitching in Tents you'd need to involve authorized tour operators. Anyway Hotel Booking Confirmation on Hotel's Official Letter head is Mandatory.

2. You can do that. But for Paro and Thimphu you need to book hotel in advance. You can book homestay too, however again, they should write you a booking confirmation letter on their official letter head.

3. For 2-3 weeks you can do end to end of Bhutan. Enter from P/Soling and cover Paro, Haa, Thimphu, Punakha, Phobjika, Trongsa, Bumthang, Mongar, Trashigang, Luthnse, Trashigyangtse and exit from Samdrup Jonkhar.
#14 Jan 10th, 2018, 21:31
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1-Are all these places doable by own car?

2-what is the best time to do it?

3-As I have not yet done my homework, any suggestion of any travel Report I should refer to?
#15 Jan 10th, 2018, 21:48
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#15
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Originally Posted by BIMAL PRADHAN View Post 1-Are all these places doable by own car?

2-what is the best time to do it?

3-As I have not yet done my homework, any suggestion of any travel Report I should refer to?
1. Yes. You just need permits

2. Well you can do these throughout the year. But it depends on what you want to see. Winters would be chilling on eastern sides. So you may consider Summers (March - April - May) or October - November

3. Follow http://www.indiamike.com/india/cross...ck-t147456/73/

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