This post is a summary of the activities, travel route and most importantly how to reach to Bhutan. Read detailed posts on Paro, Thimphu and Punakha on things to do there.
How to reach here Bhutan:
There are mainly two ways of reaching this country;
Directly fly to Paro (via Mumbai or Delhi). Alternately you may fly to Bagdogra, West Bengal, for an onward journey to Phuentsholing by car (roughly 4-5 hours, Rs.2,500 on average). Here you have an option to either stay in Jaigaon (which is Indian border city) or stay in Phuntsholing (Bhutan border city) – which we did. Its ideal to stay in Phuntsholing as the permit office is located there.
Citizen of India/ Bangladesh/ Maldives don’t need a visa. You may just carry your voters id/ passport/ ration card along with photographs and legitimate hotel/ stay letters to receive the permit which is valid only for 7 days. Any further stay needs an extension which can be obtained either from Phuntsholing of Thimpu permit office.
In our research I noted that mostly travelers had hassle free experience in getting their permit/ visa. However, we had a different experience.
The permit & visa offices stay shut on Saturday, Sunday and all Bhutanese public holidays. We reached Phuntsholing on sunday night and monday morning we were at the permit office. It was chaotic and no clear information of what to submit and to whom. Mainly first we submitted a form which we got from permit office along with photograph, letter from all stays and passport as ID card. These documents are then processed on the their 1st floor office wherein they call each person at the counter while entering the details in their system. We verified each detail filled in and gave our finger impressions. Post which the forms are further processed and permit is issued. This entire process most people have listed to take about 20mins to 2 hours at max. It took us 6 hours and we ended up wasting our day in Bhutan.
Later we got to know that since our visit was during the main Tshechu festival along with rush accumulated on Monday (since permit office is shut on weekends) which we didn’t expect at all.
Also, from some cities such as Punakha, you need special permit. Since we werent very sure of visiting Punakha, we got the permit done from Thimpu, which was an easy breeze and took only 15 mins.
For other nationals, Bhutan has a Visa on arrival at the Paro airport and its said to be hassle free, provided you have all the required documents listed on their website.
Thumb rule – Southern Bhutan is tropical, East is warmer than the West, and in the high Himalayan region expect perpetual snow. Bhutan’s Tshechu festival calendar is also a very good way to understand best seasons – there are none (or few) Tshechu festival during January, February, June, July & August.
WINTER: December, January & February – Much of the east-west highway remains snowbound during winter. One of the chief attractions in winter is the beautiful Gangtey (Phobjikha) valley where you can expect to see a wide expanse of rolling plain with bamboo shrubs. The graceful Black-Necked Cranes and Yak come to roost at the plain from the Tibetan plateau during this time of the year offering wild-life picture opportunities.
SUMMER (SPRING): March, April & May – Best time and most preferred time to visit Bhutan (means most expensive time and definitely getting bookings in last minute is going to be a challenge). This season is considered the most beautiful time of the year in Bhutan, resplendent and ablaze with a spectacular array of bright colors. This is the time when the valleys are green with fresh vegetation and fruit trees are blossoming. Paro Tshechu festival is held in this season.
MONSOON: June, July & August – Bhutan receives the most amount of rainfall than any other region in Himalaya.
AUTUMN: September, October & November – Its lovely with clear and crisp blue skies, providing a grand view of some of the tallest unclimbed mountains in the world. It is the best time for trekking and traveling Also a good time to catch the solitude of parks and somber views of dzongs and monasteries. Thimphu Tshechu festival is held in this season.
Get the entire festival list for Bhutan here.
We travelled from Bagdogra >> Phuntsholing >> Paro >> Punakha >> Thimphu
Here is a quick sneak peak into the trip.