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Old 10th July 2014, 18:06   #1
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Default Magnificent Bhutan - The Lazy Man's Guide

I've done a few motorcycle trips to the mountains but one tends to grow lazier with age. These days I'd much rather prefer the most direct path to the destination and then spend my time wandering around with no specific plan in mind. The planning and logistics of a road trip can be pretty overwhelming for the lazy. Crowds of tourists are off-putting so I tend to travel to most places in the low season.

Having successfully pulled off an early April 2012 trip to Ladakh, flying in and out with minimum fuss, seeing virtually no tourists and soaking in the spectacular scenery for 10 days, it was time to do another trip. Bhutan during the onset of the monsoon was the perfect choice.

It is pretty well known that only Druk Air flies into Bhutan and they recently launched a direct flight into Paro from Mumbai on Thursdays and Sundays. While the flight tends to be expensive, it is a much better alternative to flying in to Bagdogra and making the roadtrip via Phuntsholing. So that's what the wife and I did.

The flight itself was comfortable with a great view of the snow capped Himalayas. We had hired a car and a driver for the whole trip and were in Timphu by mid-afternoon. The roads and the scenery was fantastic.

Fields enroute to Timphu

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We checked into the Wangchuk Resort, Taba, Timphu and got to know that we were the only guests. Comfortable, wood panelled rooms with a big balcony, great views and decent food. The evening was spent wandering around and exploring a hill nearby. And we stumbled upon the Layrab Choling Goenpa. A warm, friendly six year monk showed us around.

Yamantaka. Wrathful deities are so photogenic.

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Our friend, philosopher and guide.

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It doesn't get better than having a whole monastery to explore just by yourself. You can sit back, soak in the view and just observe. A perfect end to the day.

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Old 10th July 2014, 20:29   #2
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Default re: Magnificent Bhutan - The Lazy Man's Guide

The plan for the next day was a bit of sightseeing in Timphu, getting the permits done and heading over to the erstwhile capital of Punakha. The idea of permits was a bit of a bother but being in Bhutan in the low season helped. The whole thing took a grand total of 10 minutes.

Beautiful, quiet and clean Timphu.

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The Memorial Chorten.

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The Buddha Doderma Statue the scale and magnificence of which had me speechless.

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And then onward over the Dochula to Punakha. There was extensive road repair work on Dochula which means that traffic is only allowed to go in one direction at a time. Well, cheese momo stalls were conveniently located near every stop so a 3 hour journey to cover 70 kms was never a problem

Dochula with the 108 chortens
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Views from Dochula.
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And then a visit to the spectacular Punakha Dzong (fort) which has been beautifully restored. Several hours were spent just soaking in the atmosphere.

Punakha Dzong

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Inner courtyard of the Dzong

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A beautiful carp filled pond at the rear of the Dzong

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A lovingly restored foot over-bridge that leads to the Dzong

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And then to rest our not so tired feet at the beautiful Kichu Resort, Wangdue which is located right beside a rushing stream. Lovely rooms with a view of the stream, a slight nip in the air and good food. Bliss !

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Old 10th July 2014, 21:36   #3
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Default re: Magnificent Bhutan - The Lazy Man's Guide

The next day was supposed to be a drive to the Phobjika Valley from Punakha but this is a lazy man's trip and a 4 hour drive, one way, didn't make any sense. Instead we decided to head up to the little known Nalanda Buddhist Institute which we had spotted on the descent from Dochula.

A narrow, steep breathtaking drive up a hill took us first to the Talo Monastery situated on the top of the mountain. This has to be one of the most beautiful drives that I have done.

Terraced farming enroute to Talo

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Magnificent Talo and it was just the two of us there. We were gently forbidden from entering inside the Goenpa but it really didn't matter.

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And then to the Nalanda Buddhist Institute where they opened the Goenpa for us, showed us around and offered us tea and crackers which we happily accepted. The crackers were delicious and I did indulge in a few more than what is considered polite. Very un-buddhist like

A few hours were spent gazing out and talking to the head monk who was warm, friendly and indulgent in answering a few ignorant questions of mine. A definite highlight of the trip.

Nalanda

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Unknown Goenpa en route.

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Old 10th July 2014, 21:56   #4
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Default re: Magnificent Bhutan - The Lazy Man's Guide

And then back over the Dochula to Paro where we spent three nights and two full days just walking around, talking to the locals, buying overpriced souvenirs and filling up with Thukpa (noodle soup) whenever we felt hungry.

Note to all travellers: Bhutanese restaurants are not lazy. They need 45 minutes to prepare your food and rightfully so since they start preparing your meal from scratch. Never rush in hungry and always have snacks in your backpack to tide over emergencies

Beautiful Paro

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The National Museum, Paro. Had a rather macabre stuffed bird collection that threw me off but hey, it's a museum. And the old building was cordened off due to damage caused by a (relatively) recent earthquake
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And we found the outstanding unrestored Drukgyel Dzong at the other end of Paro town. Many hours were spent exploring the ruins and reconstructing the Dzong in our heads.

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The Kichu Lakhang

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And the last day was spent hiking up to the Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) monastery. You have read about it and you are expecting it to be spectacular but nothing prepares you for the moment when you first get a good clear glimpse of it. I'm yet to see a man-made structure that can match the magnificence of Taktsang.

Taktsang from the bottom. It is a two and a half hour uphill hike up all the way. It was a drizzly day which really helped.

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Steps to navigate the steepest parts of the trail.

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Behold !

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Photography is strictly forbidden inside but really, such things are incidental. We spent a few hours exploring the Goenpa, soaking in the views, watching a prayer session and growing happier by the minute. This is unquestionably the highlight of a journey to Bhutan and it helps to keep it for the last day of your trip. You spend your time falling in love with this wonderful country and then the experience at Taktsang takes it to a whole new level.

Hopefully this is the first of many trips to this wonderful country. I have scratched the surface of Western Bhutan and there is the whole of Central and Eastern Bhutan left to explore. What a happy thought that is !

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Old 12th July 2014, 11:29   #5
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Default re: Magnificent Bhutan - The Lazy Man's Guide

Thread moved from the Assembly Line (The "Assembly Line" Forum section) to Travelogues. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 12th July 2014, 13:24   #6
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Default Re: Magnificent Bhutan - The Lazy Man's Guide

Bumping this thread up as per the protocol !
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Old 12th July 2014, 13:30   #7
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Default Re: Magnificent Bhutan - The Lazy Man's Guide

Nice pictures there Ranjit. Wonder if you missed the nice feeling of being driven (or driving) from Pheutsholing to Thimphu/ Paro. Understandably though, you guys were feeling too lazy! However, flying into one of the most dangerous airports in the world must be some experience.
I had been to Bhutan in 2012 and it was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable holidays I have ever taken. The pictures of Tiger's Nest are mesmerizing, more so as we missed the place.

Thanks for sharing,
Saket
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Old 12th July 2014, 13:54   #8
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Default Re: Magnificent Bhutan - The Lazy Man's Guide

Wonderful pictures and a nice write-up! The Bhutanese seem to respect their land for they have kept it clean and tidy. I can't spot litter anywhere.

What's the offseason in Bhutan and can it be reached by train (or closest station to Bhutan within India)?
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Old 12th July 2014, 14:02   #9
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Default Re: Magnificent Bhutan - The Lazy Man's Guide

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Wonderful pictures and a nice write-up! The Bhutanese seem to respect their land for they have kept it clean and tidy. I can't spot litter anywhere.

What's the offseason in Bhutan and can it be reached by train (or closest station to Bhutan within India)?
Let me have the privilege to answer that. Bhutanese people are very particular about their ecosystem. That is why they are not in the race of development, esp. at the cost of their wonderful nature. In fact, the Bhutanese constitution decrees at least 70% of forest coverage at all times of the total land in Bhutan. Isn't that amazing?

The off-season in Bhutan is the winters, as it is really chilly, esp. at night. However, since some people, like me, enjoy being in colder places esp. in winters, do not expect a completely tourist free place.

The nearest Indian rail hub to Bhutan is Hasimara, which is about 2.5-3 hours of travel from Siliguri/ NJP. About 18 kms from the Bhutanese border.

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Old 12th July 2014, 17:22   #10
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Default Re: Magnificent Bhutan - The Lazy Man's Guide

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Originally Posted by saket77 View Post
Wonder if you missed the nice feeling of being driven (or driving) from Pheutsholing to Thimphu/ Paro. Understandably though, you guys were feeling too lazy! However, flying into one of the most dangerous airports in the world must be some experience.
I had been to Bhutan in 2012 and it was one of the most relaxing and enjoyable holidays I have ever taken. The pictures of Tiger's Nest are mesmerizing, more so as we missed the place.
Saket
The landing is pretty epic. You fly into a narrow valley and right at the end, the pilot dipped his wings and took a sharpish left turn. That was quite a moment. Lakshadweep's Agatti airport is pretty spectacular too.

I'm sure the drive to Phuentsholing would have been nice but Bagdogra-Phuentsholing-Timphu was over over 300 kms, one way, with a break in the middle to handle border formalities. By flying in and out of Paro, I would have got two extra days in Bhutan which made a lot of sense.

I hope you will get to go back and visit Tiger's Nest someday.

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Wonderful pictures and a nice write-up! The Bhutanese seem to respect their land for they have kept it clean and tidy. I can't spot litter anywhere.
There are multiple factors to this, as far as I can see. Bhutan has free education and healthcare which really helps. The process of modernisation and democracy has been very deliberate: Bhutan's first elections were held as recently as 2008 and the ecology and culture is center stage in decision making. Faith and religion play a big part too.
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Old 14th July 2014, 13:18   #11
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Default Re: Magnificent Bhutan - The Lazy Man's Guide

Does one need to pay $250 as part of the Minimum Daily Package per every day's stay in Bhutan?
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Old 14th July 2014, 13:30   #12
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Does one need to pay $250 as part of the Minimum Daily Package per every day's stay in Bhutan?
Not applicable to Indians and people from Bangladesh & Maldives. One can decide their own budget if they happen to any of the above.
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Old 14th July 2014, 13:52   #13
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Default Re: Magnificent Bhutan - The Lazy Man's Guide

I am not able to find the flight options. what is the airfare? and how did you book it?
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Old 14th July 2014, 14:43   #14
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I am not able to find the flight options. what is the airfare? and how did you book it?
Only Druk Air, the national carrier of Bhutan flies in. Their website is pretty hopeless so a friend of mine who has a travel agency in Pune booked the ticket for me. I paid approximately Rs. 30,000 per head, return but I'm not sure how much the fares fluctuate. I believe they do.

You can drop an email to savita@travelessence.in
Do give her my reference.
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Old 16th July 2014, 00:14   #15
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Default Re: Magnificent Bhutan - The Lazy Man's Guide

Ranjit ... the place looks serene and your pics reflect that beautifully!!
Hoping you will have more to add to the ones above.
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