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Old 24th May 2012, 18:02   #16
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Default Re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

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Well timed thread for me. We are a group of 6 SUVs leaving Bangalore for Bhutan on Sep 28th 2012. I would like to get in touch with you for some pointers. Although our trip is well planned to the 'T' with hotel bookings, guide, service vehicles, mechanics etc, I am sure you can give me some very useful advice. Please pm me your phone number, if you would. Thanks
Hi Chetan68 though we have lots of plan and as usual it was thrown into the bin (we were late everyday by minimum one hour and is normal if you have 3 Better Halves and a kid in the team). The most important phase of this journey is to reach Phuntsolling before 8:00 (make sure it is not a holiday for them), make two teams, one for permission for people and another for your car. Remember permission for your car would be made only after the permission for the people is finished. In Phuntsholing Indian SIM would work so try to coordinate your team between two places.

Second thing that I would suggest is to take a Bhutan mobile SIM while in Thimphu. You would need some help from hotel people in this (Indians cannot have SIM in their name easily).

The following link contains a sheet which presents our planning (Time lines are not met), Expenses etc.

http://bit.ly/Bhutan2009

Just to arouse your interest sharing a photograph of Phobjikha Valley
Attached Thumbnails
Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4-img_2750.jpg  

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Old 25th May 2012, 01:35   #17
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Default Re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

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Originally Posted by chetan68 View Post
Well timed thread for me. We are a group of 6 SUVs leaving Bangalore for Bhutan on Sep 28th 2012. I would like to get in touch with you for some pointers. Although our trip is well planned to the 'T' with hotel bookings, guide, service vehicles, mechanics etc, I am sure you can give me some very useful advice. Please pm me your phone number, if you would. Thanks
Awesome, can you share your research material - route & hotel information. We had been planning to do the same trip from Bangalore and I would definitely appreciate pointers - specially on the permit stuff.
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Old 25th May 2012, 02:48   #18
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Default Re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

Awesome travelogue with very detailed description. And lovely pictures, i am sure they might have aroused interest of lot of readers to visit this godly beautiful place, including me.

Thanks for sharing!

Monastery picks reminded me of a chapter of Uncharted 2 , supposedly based in Nepal. Unreal !!
(Note: for those who are unaware, Uncharted 2 is a very famous game for PS3, apologies for going OT)

How easy or difficult it was to communicate with the local folks?
Also, you said some (angrez type) hotels were very costly, Can you please give a rough estimate?
Is it possible to fly there and then rent an SUV?

p.s.- Some pictures are repeated in your following posts, you may want to edit those.
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Old 25th May 2012, 06:06   #19
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Default Re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

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How easy or difficult it was to communicate with the local folks?
Also, you said some (angrez type) hotels were very costly, Can you please give a rough estimate?
Is it possible to fly there and then rent an SUV?
It is not very difficult to communicate with locals. broken Hindi works and most of the guys manning counters at hotels etc would speak English

costly is relative . in 2009 the rates were in the range of 2500 to 3000 per night in not-so-peak season. We were looking for rooms for 600-800 in those times. Now of course, rates would have appreciated a little.

It is totally possible to fly to Paro (their only airport) and you will have to fly Druk Air, their only airlines. Rent an SUV and see the place. They have the best SUVs available for rent there. mouthwatering stuff, santa fe, prado, landcruisers et al.
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Old 25th May 2012, 08:48   #20
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Default Re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

Can you share with us details of the hotels you stayed in?

Is the Punakha Dzong lit up every night?
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Old 25th May 2012, 09:13   #21
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Default Re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

Mesmerizing travelogue and pictures. I have a few question though:

1) What's the difference between getting a VISA and permits? Is'nt it better to get VISA for whole Bhutan rather than permits?

2) Are the permit offices located at border check-posts?

3) Last question, do those people know Hindi.
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Old 25th May 2012, 09:37   #22
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Default Re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

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Originally Posted by mercedised View Post
Mesmerizing travelogue and pictures. I have a few question though:

1) What's the difference between getting a VISA and permits? Is'nt it better to get VISA for whole Bhutan rather than permits?

2) Are the permit offices located at border check-posts?

3) Last question, do those people know Hindi.
Maybe I will step in and clarify the matter regarding permits.

All tourists to Bhutan - except Indians & Bangladeshis - can travel to Bhutan only in conducted tours arranged by approved local travel agents.

Indians are a special category of tourists who face no restrictions travelling in Bhutan. However, they also need permits (not Visas) to enter Bhutan.

You do not have to carry your passport. All you need is proof of your Indian ID - like Voter ID, Driving License. At Phuntsoling, the most popular road entry point from India, you have to visit the Immigration Office - works to office timings, on weekdays - when it opens at 9 am, fill up a simple 1-pager application form, enclose the necessary documents. You have to spell out your itinerary and thereupon, you will be given a permit that will allow you to visit only Thimphu & Paro. The entire process is computerised, including your digital photo, and each check post en route is online with the Immigration Office. Normally, you should get your permits in under an hour, if not faster. Ideally, carry your passports along because that makes the process faster. Sometimes, the Immigration office may not accept your Indian ID proof (other than passport, Voter ID or Driving License) and may send you away asking you to get the document attested by the Indian Consulate at Jaigaon, the Indian border town, just a km away. That can delay you.

After getting the permits, take lots of photocopies made because each check post on your way to Thimphu/Paro will need a copy to be given to them (there are 4 one way). Immigration office personnel are very courteous although they can get irritated if you do not put your application/ papers together properly. There is no "jugaad", no bribes and they work efficiently. However, you have to plan your arrival such that you do not have a holiday the day permits are to be made. And try to be there at 9 am sharp so that you put your applications before 12 noon, and also to avoid the crowd of Indian workers who enter the border for small-time work daily.

If you are going by bus or local taxi, you can board it after getting your permit. If you have your own car or mobike, you have to now go across to the RSTA (Road Safety & Transport Authority), which is the equivalent of Indian RTOs. It is just 500 mtrs away in Phuntsoling in the bus station building complex.

In the RSTA, fill up the application form for the vehicle permit. No confusion, the reception will guide you how. You must have your vehicle documents in original - RC Book, PUC (they don't ask for insurance) - and your Driving License. YOu will be guided to 2-3 counters where your application is scrutinised, you will be asked to pay fees (Rs 20 per day?) for each day you propose to be in Bhutan - and thereafter the vehicle permit is visited. Needless to say, you need your visit permit also to be attached to the application, so you cannot do each visit permit & vehicle permit independently. Take photocopies of the vehcile permit also. The entire process at RSTA will not take over an hour. RSTA also works to government timings.

Therefore, take care to arrive at the Bhutan border so that you can get your permits made on working days during working timings.

You are now cleared to leave Phuntsoling for Thimphu/Paro. You will cross 4 check posts during the 200 km journey, and at each you have to show the permits.

The permits issued at Phuntsoling are valid only for Thimphu & Paro. In case you want to go to any other place in Bhutan, especially Ha, Punakha, Central/East Bhutan, you have to repeat the process in Thimphu Immigration Office/RSTA.

The same procedures can be followed if you enter from Samdrup Jhonkar entry point too. I am not sure if they allow you to enter through Gelephu.

You have to specify your exit point also in the permits. Indians are allowed to exit through Phuntsoling, Gelephu & Samdrup Jhonkar.


Do people know Hindi? Yes, most of them in the Govt offices & hotels. But English is more spoken. All signboards are in English also.

You can read more in my travelogue on my drive to BHutan in 2009, https://sites.google.com/site/hvkumar/kumar'snortheastdrivingholiday8

Having gone in the year 1994 also by my own mobike, I found little change in procedures over 15 years, and the Bhutanese people are as courteous, helpful and warm as they were before. You will not encounter corruption, so do not try any Indian techniques.

Last edited by hvkumar : 25th May 2012 at 09:39.
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Old 25th May 2012, 10:01   #23
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Default Re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

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Originally Posted by hvkumar View Post
Can you share with us details of the hotels you stayed in?

Is the Punakha Dzong lit up every night?
HVKumar my post have link the to the excel sheet http://bit.ly/Bhutan2009. (Expense statement sheet) and have some information about the hotels we have stayed along with our comments. We are not sure if Punakha Dzong is lit up every night but we have reached Punakha at night and has gone directly to Punakha and was blown away the night time beauty. I have not came across any other picture of Punakha Dzong at night.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mercedised View Post
Mesmerizing travelogue and pictures. I have a few question though:

1) What's the difference between getting a VISA and permits? Is'nt it better to get VISA for whole Bhutan rather than permits?

Indians do not need VISA in Bhutan they need to have permit and you have to do it in Phuntsholing, Samdrup has only exit only permit.

2) Are the permit offices located at border check-posts?

Yes and entry permit are given only in Phuntsholing (as of 2009) and that is for Paro, Thimphu, and Dochula. If you want to go beyond this you need to extend your permit in Thimphu. I am also creating a separate reply to point out the follies and foibles of Permit making in Phuntsholing.

3) Last question, do those people know Hindi.
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Old 25th May 2012, 10:25   #24
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Default Re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

@HVK, rup_chatterjee:

Thanks alot for the much needed clarification. I also noticed that you both took permits for eastern Bhutan too, Is it any different than the one till Thimpu. I have gone through the picture and everything seems so similar.:P

@Hvk: Sir, I have read your travelogue and the last part in which you entered India, you wrote about Army movements, some other unsafe moments could you please clarify on it more?
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Old 25th May 2012, 10:29   #25
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Default Re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

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@HVK, rup_chatterjee:

Thanks alot for the much needed clarification. I also noticed that you both took permits for eastern Bhutan too, Is it any different than the one till Thimpu. I have gone through the picture and everything seems so similar.:P
The permits are the same except for the destinations. Central/eastern Bhutan was out of bounds to tourists till 2-3 years ago, maybe that is the reason why permits for that region are controlled from Thimphu Immigration office.

Quote:
@Hvk: Sir, I have read your travelogue and the last part in which you entered India, you wrote about Army movements, some other unsafe moments could you please clarify on it more?
There is lot of insurgency in the India side after you exit from Samdrup Jhonkar towards Guwahati. In the year 2009, it was pretty bad and the Army was patrolling the road and Bhutanese cars were travelling only in convoys to avoid being ambushed, etc. I am told that now the situation is much better.
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Old 25th May 2012, 11:25   #26
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Default Re: Bhutan : Escapades from the daily grind on 2 wheels & 4

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There is lot of insurgency in the India side after you exit from Samdrup Jhonkar towards Guwahati. In the year 2009, it was pretty bad and the Army was patrolling the road and Bhutanese cars were travelling only in convoys to avoid being ambushed, etc. I am told that now the situation is much better.
Thanks. Which route is more safer? Is it worth taking risk and going via this route or one should go back by the same road (back via Thimpu)?
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Old 25th May 2012, 11:28   #27
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Thanks. Which route is more safer? Is it worth taking risk and going via this route or one should go back by the same road (back via Thimpu)?
There are generally no safety issues for ordinary motorists.
Travel by day. Submit to any petty "donation" demands on the way.
Don't be an argumentative Indian.
Respect bandhs & hartals that are called often in this region.

Why would anyone want to go back the same route?
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Old 25th May 2012, 11:34   #28
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Hey novice_alto and Rup Chatterjee, this is an awesome post. A really adventurous and amazing trip. And really nice clicks Rup!

I have traveled Silliguri to Phentsholing on a trip to Darjeeling and Sikkim. I'd done it on a Bike with a friend in 2007. But just visiting Phentsholing put such a lasting impression of Bhutan in my mind. I really wanted to drive through Bhutan someday.

Your trip certainly is an inspiration and I am gonna use it as a guideline to plan the trip! It really refreshed my memories of my maiden bike trip through the beautiful region.

Thumbs up!

Cheers.
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Old 25th May 2012, 12:20   #29
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Some info about Permits in Phuntsholing and Thimphu, Food and mobile connection.

Permits

Phuntsholling:

1. Make permit of all the individuals
2. Make a copy of them and write a application to the RTO (Regional Travel Officer) for permit.
3. A person will check and forward the same to RTO. If he okays that then
4. Pay a fees of Rs. 145.
5. Take the original bill and the application and the documents and go another officer who will check all the documents and will send to the lady.
6. He/She will then check and ask another person to create the permit.
7. This permit will again have to be signed by the RTO.

Catches:
1. The individual permit is issued normally around 2:00 - 2:30. after lunch break
2. RTO has operation hour 9-1 and 2-5 normally. But actually startes work at 10:00
3. The accounts division closes on 3 pm sharp.

Thimphu
It took around 1 hour to get the extension permit and we have to pay again a fee of Rs 145.

Food
Food might be a problem for some people and getting veg would be a rarity in central and eastern Bhutan. We have carried our own provision (rice, vegetable (bought from Thimphu), etc.

Mobile Connectivity
As of 2009 there was two options one B-Mobile and another Tashi. We bought a B-Mobile SIM but for the same u need to be authenticated by Bhutanese national. We can openly buy a Tashi SIM but Internet is costly and network penetration is low compared to B Mobile. We got the same as a lady from the hotel (Tan Din - An excellent Cheap hotel on Norzing Lam - around 100 meters towards the Immigration center, just above the crossing) helped us to get the SIM in 10 minutes. GPRS activation takes two days but we very helping Taxi Driver who also works part time in B-Telecom helped us to get in just 15 minutes flat.

Quote:
Originally Posted by mercedised View Post
Thanks. Which route is more safer? Is it worth taking risk and going via this route or one should go back by the same road (back via Thimpu)?
Please follow the suggestion of HVK do not come by the same route and you are not going to save any time by that. Road condition in Bhutan is most of the case is excellent. While exiting through Samdrup try to get up early and get youself included within the Army Convoy. In-fact as usual we started late and missed the convey and we did not face any issues in the route. Currently, condition is much better than it was in 2009
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Old 25th May 2012, 12:58   #30
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Thanks Rup for a nice TL. Bhutan is on our list for a long time. The beauty of Bhutan is still not spoilt and hopefully it will remian like that in future as well. You can actually see happiness and contentment on the faces of Bhutanese.
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