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Old 11th November 2012, 23:05   #1
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Default Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

Bhutan – The Land of the Thunder Dragon , it’s beautiful , calm , serene and full of happy & smiling people. Our north-eastern neighbour is relatively small , measuring just about 110 miles from North to South and 200 miles from East to West , but do not let it’s size fool you , it has plains , river valleys and – the majestic Himalayas !. The people of the Kingdom are devoted to their Royals and till a few years ago , Bhutan was totally aloof from the rest of the world. It is only in the last few years that it has opened itself up, allowing us glimpses of their culture , way of life and mesmerizing landscapes. Gross National Happiness may or may not make economic sense , but it does work for Druk Yul , where the Bhutanese way of life is fiercely preserved. It is also a foreign land where you can drive your own vehicle from India with ease and this made it my calling!.

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It is also the land of SUVs and you may drool to your heart’s content. Hyundai Sante Fe , Tuscon and Land Rover seems to be their National Vehicle, however you will see almost every make and kind. Make no mistake , there are plenty of smaller siblings like Alto , Swift, Eon , Getz , Santro, Tata of all Kinds, Figo, Beat and what not.

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Once the entry gate in Phuentsholing is crossed , we should hang our heads in shame and contemplate what civic sense means to us ; one side is crowded , dirty and filthy while the other is – do go and see for yourself.

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An exhaustive trip calls for entry through Phuensholing and exit through Samdrup Jongkhar , unfortunately I did not have the luxury of too many days at hand , hence the trip was limited to Paro , Thimpu , Punakha and parts of Wangdue Phodrang with entry and exit both through Phuentsholing.

The condition of the roads in Bhutan are very good , this is true for even the roads in mountainous terrain. Phuentsholing to Thimpu/Paro is mostly a broad carriage way with separate up and down lanes . The section between Chuka to Chapcha is narrow and single but in great condition.

The Steed : “Ms Getsy” my 2007 Getz Prime 1.3 GLS

Trip Duration – Eight days , from Kolkata to Kolkata with no night driving and 2400 Kms door to door.

Itinerary : Day 1 Kolkata to Siliguri , Day 2 Siliguri to Paro , Day 3 Paro , Day 4 Paro to Thimpu , Day 5 Thimpu , Day 6 Punakha & Wangdue (base Thimpu) , Day 7 Thimpu to Siliguri , Day 8 Siliguri to Kolkata. Intentionally planned this way not to make it a rush , as it was a family driving holiday.

Route taken : I did not take NH34 from Kolkata to Siliguri , instead I drove the alternate route via NH 2, Gushkara , Bolpur , Purandarpur , Siuri , Tilpara , Massanjore , Dumka , Bhagalpur , Purnea , Dhalkhola & finally Siliguri. This is a welcome relief from the horrendous jams and torture that is termed as a National Highway (NH34) . An entire thread is devoted to this route

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/route-...ding-nh34.html (Kolkata - Siliguri route via Dumka, Bhagalpur. Avoiding NH34)

My Route update is also provided here :

http://www.team-bhp.com/forum/route-...ml#post2943616 (Kolkata - Siliguri route via Dumka, Bhagalpur. Avoiding NH34)

I used Locus Pro on an Android Phone as my GPS with pre loaded Google Maps , worked like a charm , absolutely no need for asking directions at all.

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Last edited by DriveTrain : 12th November 2012 at 22:10.
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Old 11th November 2012, 23:17   #2
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

The Essentials

The bible on driving your own car to Bhutan was coined by none other than HVK and can be found here :
https://sites.google.com/site/hvkuma...rivingholiday8

Here is some additional information :

People based in Kolkata have the option of getting their entry permits issued from the city itself. Thanks to “asishdas” on IndiaMike for this significant piece of information.

The details can be found here http://www.rbckolkata.bt/ , the entry form itself is found here

http://www.rbckolkata.bt/wp-content/...ermit-Form.pdf

You may use these coordinates in Google Earth or Google Maps for the location of the consulate 22°37'30.55"N, 88°25'11.98"E

It is a hassle free process , you need to visit the consulate office about a week to 10 days before travel , between 9 AM to 1 PM to deposit the filled up form. Please carry the originals for verification. Passports are the best and next is Voters ID card , all members of the touring party need an individual entry form , irrespective of age. Children too will need an identity proof. Once everything is checked , you will be given a date (about 6 -7 days later) to come back and collect the printed entry permits between 2 PM to 5 PM. Anyone can come and deposit the application form(s) , I noticed hordes of travel agents at the consulate. As usual , this permit is only valid for Thimpu and Paro , special area permit for other places are only issued at Thimpu. Make sure you calculate the entire duration of stay in Bhutan appropriately and apply for the permit , otherwise you will need to apply for an extension route permit in Thimpu to extend your length of stay. Please keep ample photocopies of this permit as it is needed for all subsequent documentation. The other option off course it to get the permits issued at Phuentsholing, however you will loose time. These permits are issued free of cost to Indian Nationals

Once at Phuensholing with your own car , you will need to visit the RSTA office at the Bus Station (26°51'52.33"N, 89°23'4.89"E) to get the route Permit for your vehicle. The timings are 9 AM to 11 AM and 4 PM to 5PM BST (not IST). You will need to make an application in a white paper with your car plus itinerary details and submit photocopies of your own Entry Permit , D/L ,R/C, PUC and Insurance. They take a nominal fee , you hop 4 to 5 desks and get the coveted permit in an hour. There is a photocopy machine right in the ground floor of the bus station to create the necessary clones.

Fuel is marginally cheaper in Bhutan so use it to your maximum benefit.

Now to equip yourself with a local SIM card , since roaming charges with Indian operators are exorbitant, the general advice is to procure a local SIM. Tashi Cell is a local private operator and can be easily obtained by Indian Nationals. You will need a copy of your entry permit to procure one. It seems that nowadays the SIM itself is not available everywhere , though recharge can be done from many shops. At Phuentsholing, the SIM can be obtained from the Tashi Cell Office (26°51'43.46"N, 89°22'54.88"E) , which is within the Tashi Shopping Mall.

Indian currency upto 100 Rupee denomination is freely acceptable at 1:1 ratio in Bhutan , Rs 500 and higher is a strict no no. Obviously you cannot use the Bhutanese currency in India , so please plan accordingly.

Between Phuentsholing to Paro / Thimpu , there are 2 immigration check posts where your permits are checked , one post is within 5 kms of Phuentshoeling , the other is about 3 hours away. They do not need photocopies now , only the original permits are required and these are stamped. During exit , the original stamped permits need to be surrendered at the last check post on the route.

Travel to any other destination other than Paro and Thimpu is through a special area permit issued at Thimpu only, between 9 AM to 5 PM BST , Monday to Friday barring Bhutanese National Holidays. Note that travel to Haa also requires the special permit. Plan your journey so that you reach Thimpu first on a weekday to get the special permits done , ear mark a full day for the job and keep this day aside for local sightseeing. My plan was not ideal since I reached Phuentshoeling on a Friday , hence I opted for Paro first as travelling to Thimpu over the weekend would have meant no permits. Make sure that you reach the immigration office in Norzim Lam at Thimpu (27°28'41.80"N, 89°38'7.49"E) a few minutes before 9 AM, if you are able to submit your papers by 9:30 AM you should get the prized possession by 12 PM (it all depends on the season , and can be considerably earlier as well). You can use the time to see the local Museums. The entire party is not required at the office , only one person will do. If you need to extend the duration of your stay as granted in the original entry permit , you will first need to file an extension of the route permit , only once it is issued , you will need a photocopy to next file for the special area permit . Otherwise you can apply straight for the special area permit , photocopies of the original entry permits are needed for the same. There is a photocopy shop about 5 to 6 buildings away on the same side of the street (towards the town center) , if you you need one. If you have a longish itinerary and plan to exit through Samdrup Jongkhar , the best practice is to enclose a day wise itinerary of your travel plan with night halts mentioned in a white piece of paper , along with your application. The office is known to make mistakes with the duration of stay and places covered , so be prepared and explain everything in detail to the issuing clerk. For extension of Route or the Special Area permit , only one application form is needed per party unlike the original entry permit application procedure.

Forms are available online at : http://www.mohca.gov.bt/?mode=FORMS

Route Permit Extension (extension of duration of stay ) http://www.mohca.gov.bt/forms/38extension%20form.docx

Special Area Permit http://www.mohca.gov.bt/forms/19sptourist.pdf

Once you have this , next stop is the RSTA office at Thimpu to get the vehicle route permit extended as well . The office is at Thimpu Bus Station (27°28'5.54"N, 89°38'35.04"E) on the other side of the river. A nominal fee is required and no new permits are issued , the original vehicle permit is stamped with the extended route details. You visit the Base In Charge at the ground floor to get the original permit checked , go up to pay cash and again come back to the Base In Charge with the receipt and get the endorsement done. Should take you 1 -2 hours depending on the queue at the cash counter.

The permit is checked just before Dochula pass , if you come back the same way , the original needs to be surrendered.

Parking at Norzim Lam : if you choose a hotel at Norzim Lam , beware that it is paid parking from 9 to 9 , if you book a hotel on this road , make sure you negotiate with the parking attendant on daily rates and keep his number!. That way he can reserve a spot for you in front of the hotel when you are back any time of the day.

What is so special about Tuesday
: It is a pedestrian only day in Thimpu and in many other towns / cities and no private vehicles are allowed from 7:30 / 8 AM till 6:00 PM within city limits. Make sure you plan for this if you happen to be at Thimpu on a Tuesday. Only some commercial vehicles and buses are allowed to ply.

You can always negotiate a hotel on arrival , but beware of high seasons around Sep / Oct when it might be better to pre book. I found this site to have a lot of information on Local Hotels in Bhutan http://www.hotel.bt/

Last edited by DriveTrain : 12th November 2012 at 22:11.
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Old 11th November 2012, 23:39   #3
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

Day 1- Kolkata to Siliguri , approx 650 Kms through Nivedita Setu, NH 2, Gushkara , Bolpur , Purandarpur , Siuri , Tilpara , Massanjore , Dumka , Bhagalpur , Purnea , Dhalkhola & finally reaching Siliguri . Night halt at Siliguri. Except for about 25 Kms , entire route is in very good condition.

Crusing Towards Gushkara and Bolpur (these images are from my Independence day Drive to Bolpur along the same route)

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Towards Siuri from Bolpur

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Lush green fields of rural Bengal

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In Jharkhand , going towards Massanjore Dam (pictures from current trip starts)

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Massanjore Dam

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Bihar Jharkhand Border at Valjore

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On the Vikramshila Setu at Bhagalpur.

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Towards Purnea. I had a 90 min meet with Sheel at Purnea at the BP CoCo Pump , unfortunately forgot to take pictures. Thank you Sheel for all your help and guidance in planning this route. Me and my family were touched by your hospitality.

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Day 2 - Siliguri to Paro Via Sevoke , Oodlabari , Malbazar , Chalsa, Binnaguri , Madarihat , Hasimara , Jaigaon , Phuensholing and then Paro. Total 300 Kms driven , Siliguri to Jaigaon was 135 and Phuentsholing to Paro was another 165 Km. I did not take the shorter Jalpaiguri route as the road condition is bad. On the route I drove , the surface is excellent save for 15 Kms which was pure bedlam.

Crossing Coronation Bridge at Siliguri

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Tea Gardens near Chalsa / Malbazar

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The curves begin , somewhere after Chuka , enroute Paro

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Nearing Paro

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Day 3
- Local Sightseeing at Paro

View from the back of our hotel

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Drukgyel Dzong

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Mt. Chomolhari (24,000 Ft) from Drukgyel Dzong

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Countryside from Drukgyel Dzong

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No idea what this was !

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Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest) zoomed up close , we did not trek up there !

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The full perspective - spot the Monastery

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Intricate work inside Kyichu Lhakhang

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From Kyichu Lhakhang

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We stayed here

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Paro main square

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The Paro Chhu

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Entrance to Ta Dzong which houses the National Museum of Bhutan

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Rinpung Dzong (Paro Dzong) from Ta Dzong

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Last edited by DriveTrain : 12th November 2012 at 20:42.
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Old 12th November 2012, 20:56   #4
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

Day 2 continued.

A Druk Air Taxies for Take Off at Paro - the only airport in Bhutan

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National Museum

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Ta Dzong from inside Rinpung Dzong

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Inside Rinpung (Paro) Dzong

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Main Street

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Lovely , beautiful Paro

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Murals inside the Dzong

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The tale of two Dzongs

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Day 3 - Paro to Thimpu

Paro Street

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Main Square

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Chorten as you enter Paro

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The Dzongs again

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Leaving Paro

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Towards Chhudzom from Paro

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Confluence of Paro Chhu with Wang Chhu at Chhudzom

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His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and Her Highness Ashi Jetsun Pema Wangchuck welcomes us to Bhutan

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Vistas towards Thimpu

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Simotkha Dzong , Thimpu

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The Lord at Kuensel Phodrang

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Thimpu from Kuensel Phodrang

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The only manned / regulated traffic circle in all of Bhutan at Norzim Lam in Thimpu

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Last edited by DriveTrain : 12th November 2012 at 21:54.
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Old 12th November 2012, 23:07   #5
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

Day 3 - Continued

Weekend Vegetable Market at Thimpu

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Staple Diet of Bhutan

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Hotel Taj

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Tashichho Dzong , Thimphu , in Golden Light . You can also make out the giant Buddha Statue

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The Royal Palace on left top and Tashichho Dzong on right bottom

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Thimpu from atop the Television Tower.

While climbing up the road that leads to the television tower we came across 4 cyclists coming down , one leading and 3 more following. Immediately afterwards came an official looking SUV (possibly a Land Rover). When we reached the top we sheepishly learnt about our brief brush with Royalty , the Lead Cyclist was none other than the current King of Bhutan , enjoying his hobby !.

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Lhengye Densa area - Ministerial Enclave of Bhutan

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The Lord at Centenary Park

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Day 4 - Thimpu Local and application for Special Area Permits.

This was high season and being Durga Puja time , it was chock a block with Bengali tourists. I was at the Immigration office sharp at 9 AM , they promised the permit within the hour & hence I opted to wait , the coveted document was finally received at 11 AM. The next stop would be RSTA to get the Vehicle Permit extended , but something else was in store for me!. I came back triumphantly with the Special Area Permit , sat down in car and extended my hand to turn the key - then total shock as I realized that a cardinal sin has been committed. As my family was there with me , in the haste to reach the counter on time , I had left the Key in the Ignition On position with the blower running, the idea was to keep air circulating in the car . The rest as the say - is history - the battery was completely drained , Ms Getsy was furious at this misdemeanor and did not purr back to life. Now for Sin Whole Square - I was not carrying Jumper Cables!. The helpful drivers from other vehicles parked nearby tried their advice , but I knew what was wrong. The Getz Manual expressly forbids a push start , I did not dare try it with a completely drained battery. To compound matters the car was pointed towards an upward incline on a one way street. The helpful drivers flagged me a passing Taxi and I was off to Olakha where salvation awaited. All the Auto Works in Thimpu are concentrated in an area named Olakha , which is in the outskirts of the city and to the side of the expressway. First stop was the Hyundai Showroom cum workshop (the only one in Bhutan) , but alas , they were woefully short of manpower and did not have anyone to send with a spare battery. Next started the guided tour of Olakha and its various small shops that specialize in Auto electricals. Those who had the cable + battery did not have the manpower to spare and those that had , did not have the battery !. After a lot of negotiation and pleading one shop agreed and asked us to wait since their mechanic had gone out to start another car that had met the same fate. After about an hour, manna from heaven was at hand and I was off pronto to the spot marked X. The spare was hooked up and with this pacemaker in place , Ms Getsy roared to life on the first crank, salvation at last , but she has taught me a valuable lesson. I lost about 3 hours , which meant bye bye to all the famed museums at Thimpu. The next pit stop at the RSTA tested my already rarerified patience with a huge queue at the sole cash counter, which took up 2 more hours!. What follows are snaps from what remained of the day..

Memorial Chorten - built in 1974 in the memory of third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who is popularly regarded as Father of Modern Bhutan

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Next up is Tashichho Dzong which is the main Government office of Thimpu and center of power. All major Government offices are located inside the Dzong. It is open to public throughout the day on weekends when the offices are closed ; on weekdays it is thrown open for a couple of hours after 5 PM only. They need a proof of identity or a copy of your entry permit to allow you in , we did not know and had kept ours in the car , which was parked some way off. The kind guards noted our predicament and actually allowed us to enter sans this official verification.


Tashichho Dzong , Thimphu

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Rose Garden in the Dzong

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More Inside the Dzong

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Don't miss this - the Dzong is lighted up in the evening and it is a sight to behold.

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The Royal Palace

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Tashichho Dzong at Night

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Last edited by DriveTrain : 13th November 2012 at 10:06.
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Old 13th November 2012, 22:57   #6
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

Day 5 : From Thimpu to Punakha , Wagdue Phodrang and back to Thimpu

At Dochula Pass with Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chortens (a.k.a. 108 Chortens)

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The road descends towards Punakha Valley

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Punatshang Chhu

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Ms Getsy posing

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Pungtang Dechen Photrang (Punakha) Dzong at the confluence of the Pho (Father) Chhu and Mo (Mother) Chhu rivers - forming Punatshang Chhu

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The bridge over Mo Chhu , that connects the Dzong

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A giant Bodhi tree inside the Dzong , a gift from Indira Gandhi

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Wangdue Dzong

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Roads in Wangdue , meandering towards Gangtey & Phobjikha

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Back over Dochula , 108 Chortens in all their glory

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Dochula Pass - 10,400 Ft + 108 Chortens + a beaming Ms Getsy

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Simtokha Dzong from the other side of the road as we re enter Thimpu

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Last edited by DriveTrain : 13th November 2012 at 23:19.
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Old 14th November 2012, 16:32   #7
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to the Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 14th November 2012, 18:37   #8
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

Fanstastic trip there. Lovely landscapes and bridges. Simply loved the pic of the snow capped mountain.

Thanks for sharing.
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Old 14th November 2012, 19:45   #9
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

Great Pics and good info as well. I too was lucky enough to visit Bhutan in 2009 with my friends. We did the trip on our Pulsars and unfortunately for us the Jaigao to Thimpu road was being widened as that particular time. So it was more of an "Adventerous" off roading trip for us. .

Anyways great pictures once again. Just curious to know what photographic equipment were you carrying?
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Old 14th November 2012, 23:17   #10
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

Great finally your travelogue is up. Fantastic photos I must say. I have been itching and itching to do this alternate route to North Bengal and beyond and maybe Bhutan but it looks like providence is conspiring against me. Could you please share the hotel details where you stayed in Paro and Thimpu? I believe you didn't stay in Punakha. Thanks a bunch for sharing the location and website details of the consulates, these will prove extremely helpful. I have always thought its a waste of time staying overnight at Phuentsoling when one can make it to Paro or Thimpu in daylight with an early start from Siliguri.

Also another member from HVK's FB Forum who recently traveled to Bhutan said that nowadays even INR of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 denominations are also accepted widely. Curious that you mentioned only INR 100 is accepted even now.
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Old 15th November 2012, 17:55   #11
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

Fantastic log DriveTrain.
Did you take vehicle insurance seperately for Bhutan. I believe that Indian insurance companies do not cover for accidents outside India. I am asking because my vehicle insurance is expiring and i am keen on travelling to Bhutan next year. However the insurance guy said that it will not be valid in Bhutan. For that you have to mention seperately the country of visit and then insurance rate will be different.
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Old 15th November 2012, 18:48   #12
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

Quote:
Originally Posted by DriveTrain View Post
Indian currency upto 100 Rupee denomination is freely acceptable at 1:1 ratio in Bhutan , Rs 500 and higher is a strict no no. Obviously you cannot use the Bhutanese currency in India , so please plan accordingly.
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Originally Posted by samarjitdhar View Post
Also another member from HVK's FB Forum who recently traveled to Bhutan said that nowadays even INR of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 denominations are also accepted widely. Curious that you mentioned only INR 100 is accepted even now.
Excellent narration and pictures DriveTrain. All the details are very nicely put forward. The pictures reminds me of these places i visited this April as if it was yesterday.

Rs 500 and Rs 1000 are not much of an issues these days. I myself have used this year in April and Karthik as well who just came back from Bhutan a week ago.

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Fantastic log DriveTrain.
Did you take vehicle insurance seperately for Bhutan. I believe that Indian insurance companies do not cover for accidents outside India. I am asking because my vehicle insurance is expiring and i am keen on travelling to Bhutan next year. However the insurance guy said that it will not be valid in Bhutan. For that you have to mention seperately the country of visit and then insurance rate will be different.
National Insurance does, and no other insurance company will cover a Indian registered vehicle in foreign land. Need to re check though, but definitely NI used to cover.You can get in touch with any NI agent and inquire.
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Old 16th November 2012, 19:46   #13
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

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Fantastic log DriveTrain.
Did you take vehicle insurance seperately for Bhutan. I believe that Indian insurance companies do not cover for accidents outside India. I am asking because my vehicle insurance is expiring and i am keen on travelling to Bhutan next year. However the insurance guy said that it will not be valid in Bhutan. For that you have to mention seperately the country of visit and then insurance rate will be different.
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National Insurance does, and no other insurance company will cover a Indian registered vehicle in foreign land. Need to re check though, but definitely NI used to cover.You can get in touch with any NI agent and inquire.
It is called a 'Geographic extention', for a nominal additional premium. All Insurance companies give it. You can take it later on also, though then the additional premium is not reduced for the shorter time.

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Old 16th November 2012, 22:16   #14
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

Thank you "nkrishnap" , "amrisharm", "samarjitdhar","columbus" & "A.G.The Rambler" for your comments.

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Just curious to know what photographic equipment were you carrying?
A Canon EOS 7D with the EFS 18-135 Kit , for zoom I have a Tamron SP 70-300 + a sturdy Tripod.

Quote:
Originally Posted by samarjitdhar View Post
Could you please share the hotel details where you stayed in Paro and Thimpu?

Also another member from HVK's FB Forum who recently traveled to Bhutan said that nowadays even INR of Rs 500 and Rs 1000 denominations are also accepted widely. Curious that you mentioned only INR 100 is accepted even now.
I stayed at Lakhi Yangchak in Paro and Hotel Singye in Thimpu , both have the same owner , you may find the details at www.hotel.bt You are correct , I did not stay at Punakha. Hotel Tandin at Thimpu was in hot demand , I did not get a room there.

Reading previous posts on Bhutan , I was only carrying 100 Rupee notes. I did try to exchange a Rs 500 note at a small shop once , though it was not directly refused , the owner made it amply apparent that it was not very welcome (This was the Auto Electrical guy who arranged the booster battery).

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Did you take vehicle insurance seperately for Bhutan.
I did not and I knew that my current insurance did not cover it , not a very wise move I must admit in hind sight.
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Old 17th November 2012, 13:21   #15
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Default Re: Into the smiling embrace of “Druk Yul” – The Last Shangri La

What are the options for travelling on a hired vehicle? How much would be the cost trip?

Any hints on the accommodation and rates if possible!

BTW a wonderful travelogue with lovely photographs and nice details.
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