Travel stories from my trip to Bhutan
Bhutan is a tiny Himalayan kingdom sandwiched between Tibet to the north and India to the south that is quite off the beaten track due to numerous restrictions the country has on independent travel. It’s a land locked country and only way to get to Bhutan is through India. As a result, the country is heavily dependent and influenced by India (right from the ancient times, well before the arrival of Buddhism), and as a result, Indian citizens enjoy a special concession for mostly freely travelling in the country. Securing my travel permits, and before losing my Indian passport, I seized this opportunity to travel to Bhutan in 2008.
And boy what an awesome time I had exploring this mystical and happiest place on Earth!
Part 1: Introduction
Suggested itinerary: 2-3 weeks.
This himalayan kingdom, recently transitioned to democracy, is almost completely Buddhist. The Bhutanese call their country Druk Yul which means The Land of the Thunder Dragon. I like it already.
A cheaper way of entering Bhutan is through the land border at Phuentsholing and its sister city Jaigaon in India. The border city can be reached from Siliguri (a major transportation hub in West Bengal, also a convenient point to get to Darjeeling and Sikkim). Alternatively, Bhutan’s national airline (Druk Air) flies to Delhi, Kolkata, Dhaka, Kathmandu and Bangkok.
Part 2: Entering Bhutan
Since I had an Indian passport, the cheapest way of reaching Bhutan for me was through the land border. You’ll need to secure permits (takes few hours in the morning) and then jump on a bus to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan.
Part 3: Thimphu
Thimphu is a lovely little city that has a youngish charm to it. There are lots of places to see – monasteries, arts and crafts, and shopping places – but this is also the place where I had to apply for additional permits to visit the interiors of the country.
Mystic Druk Yul 06 – Thimpu at night
Mystic Druk Yul 07 – World’s biggest book
Mystic Druk Yul 08 – 13 Traditional Arts and Crafts
Mystic Druk Yul 09 – Spinning some prayer wheels
Mystic Druk Yul 10 – Views of Thimpu city
Part 4: Dochu La and Chimi Lhakhang
My first glimpse into rural Bhutan was extremely interesting, almost shocking. Mostly because I stopped on the way to visit the monastery of The Divine Madman at Chimi Lhakhang. Houses in the village are decorated with murals of huge phalluses, a symbol of fertility. … You must check this place out on your trip!
Part 5: Punakha
This fort-monastery was the former capital of Bhutan and defended the country many times from invading Tibetan forces. The monastery is well kept and very impressive, not to mention its scenic location in the valley.
Part 6: Wangdue
I’ve had my share of random incidents during travel, but when you encounter Bhutanese Buddhism’s most venerated monk, that has to be among the top experiences. Little while later I visited another fort-monastery perched on a hill commanding an impressive view of the valley below.
Part 7: Paro
Bhutan’s second city (with the country’s only airport) is small but spread out over a large valley. Great base for jumping off to nearby hikes and checking out old monasteries.
Mystic Druk Yul 22 – Paro
Mystic Druk Yul 23 – Paro Dzong
Mystic Druk Yul 24 – Religion in Bhutan and some temples around Paro
Mystic Druk Yul 25 – Paro Valley
Part 8: Cheli La and Takshang Lhakhang
A visit to Bhutan is incomplete without a hike to Taktsang Lakhang, more famously known as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. This temple is built on a sheer vertical rock face and, while I am quite the skeptic of these things, I have to say that I felt the immensely positive energy and the divine force that is said to reside here.
Part 9: Conclusion
Visit to Bhutan was, besides hitting me with monastery-fatigue, very instrumental in boosting my spiritual energy and overall satisfaction with life. I would certainly implore everyone to visit this place and see for yourself how happiness and materialism are completely disconnected ideals.
My transformative experience continued till my last step here, as I relied upon the kindness of strangers to get me back to India.