Dreaming of visiting Bhutan? I flew to Bhutan from Delhi via Kathmandu after a 10 year obsession with this Buddhist Kingdom and a whole lot of research. I have a long standing love affair with the Himalayas. The natural beauty, the scenic mountain ranges, the lush green fields, the cold winds, pure air and last but not least the peace and tranquility. All of this has fueled my love for Himalayan hill stations over the years.
My first brush with the North (like Game Of Thrones, the North is also cold in India because of the mighty Himalayan ranges) was when my parents took us to Nainital for a vacation, I was 12 years old then. My 12-year-old self was mesmerized when I first saw the ice clad mountains. Since then I have been to the north multiple times. I have seen the fierce Kempty Falls at Mussoorie, been to the Dalai Lama temple in Dharamshala, taken a heritage toy train ride from Kalka to Shimla, had a Zorb ball ride at Khajjiar in Dalhousie and so many more adventures.
But my multiple visits have not yet been able to satiate my desire to visit the Himalayas. Each time I go, I fall in love with this place all over again and I come back with stars in my eyes, making plans for my next sojourn.
My love for everything Himalayas reached a new high when I first read about Bhutan some 10 years ago. This small Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom is known for its natural beauty and culture. However their happiness wasn’t so famous across the globe a decade ago. This started to garner attention after Bhutan began being repeatedly featured in the global happiness index. The popularity of the country increased when their present King gave a Ted Talk describing why Bhutan is what it is today and why people across the world can learn a lesson or two from the Bhutanese people.
I am an academic by profession and I love reading and researching, especially when it comes to Bhutan. I got to know that Bhutan doesn’t have traffic lights, people here are so considerate that they will stop when they see someone crossing a road and in case of heavy traffic, they wait patiently for it to clear – no honking. I also learned that Bhutan is a very gender neutral country with a high number of working female professionals. Instead of Gross National Development index used by most of the economies across the globe Bhutan uses Gross National Happiness as a measure of their development. Bhutan tries to stay away from modern technology and it’s the only country in the world with a negative carbon footprint.
By the time I was done reading about Bhutan I had all of their stats, facts and trivia at my finger tips and I was actually afraid that I would come back disappointed as my expectations for this place were sky high.
I struck gold in October of 2017 when I got a vacation for 8 days from my work. My immediate thought was Bhutan here I come. As I am an Indian national I do not require a visa or for that matter a passport to visit Bhutan. For Indian nationals a valid Voter ID card or a passport are required as identification proof to visit Bhutan. Further I had to make a choice between air route or land route to arrive in Bhutan, I choose a flight as it saves time and would give me more days to explore.
So I flew to Bhutan from Delhi via Kathmandu. Bhutan permits only two state owned airlines to operate and thus getting air tickets is a matter of timing and luck. I was lucky enough to get a ticket and once I got my tickets confirmation I started the process of shopping and planning. After more than two months of planning, anticipation and towering expectations, I landed at the Paro international airport. This is one of the most dangerous airports in the world and also a thing of beauty.
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The air strip is surrounded by 5500 meter high mountain peaks, while this makes the landings and take-offs risky, the view is spectacular. The first thing you notice after deplaning is the chilly air and the happy silence of the hills. As the airport only operates in day light, I landed at 4pm and the temperature was 19° Celsius.
My first thought wow this is manageable, but reality hit me once we came out of the airport after clearing immigrations. I had this epic realization that 19°C in the city is very different to 19°C at a Himalayan hill station.
One very important thing about Bhutan is that you cannot travel without a local tour guide. At the airport my tour guide picked me up and took me to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. I had contacted Mr Pema, my Tour Guide, through a travel agency which also handled all my bookings for Bhutan as well. My Tour Guide gave me the highlights of the trip and then went on to explain the road to Thimphu. It was one amazing 2 hour road trip but when we finally reached Thimphu it was dark already.
The receptionist at my hotel (the hotel Phuntso Pelri) pointed me in the direction of the clock tower area which is famous for its cafes. The place was pretty easy to find and the route gave me my first glimpse of life in Bhutan. I walked from my hotel through lot of small shops and local housing areas. I was surprised to see lots of luxury cars parked outside the houses of locals. For a country that thrives and propagates simplicity, the luxury sedans were an unexpected surprise.
The square in the clock tower area is surrounded on three sides by shops and cafes selling local merchandise and souvenirs. Kids were playing football at the centre ground and locals were sitting on the steps enjoying the atmosphere and relaxing. I was pretty tired owing to the day of travel, my excitement and the change in atmosphere but I still spent an hour walking around the town soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the feeling of being in Bhutan… finally!
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Lonely Planet Bhutan: Check price on Amazon
Read more on my trip to Bhutan;
Day 1: You’re here!
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