Love thy neighbour – how often do you see this in reality? But it’s an adage that applies to Bhutan and India. This peaceful, Buddhist country that rates high on the happiness index is the neighbour you need when you want to enjoy nature, soak in some culture, relax, and do nothing.
Bhutan and India have enjoyed diplomatic relations for years. This relationship provides perks that Indian passport holders can enjoy. Indians do not require a visa to enter Bhutan, only permits – which are free of cost. There are two ways to get into Bhutan from India – road and air. If you enter by road via Phuentsholing, you don’t require a permit to stay there while in transit. Being in this border town is surreal; only an archway divides the chaotic India and the quiet, orderly, clean Bhutan – you can literally spread your legs 3 feet apart and be standing in two countries at the same time!
Getting a permit is a hassle free process. The entire process can easily be wrapped up in an hour or two – less if you’re lucky. Permits obtained at Phuentsholing are usually applicable only for Paro and Thimphu. To access other regions you will need to apply for additional permits at Thimphu.
Public transportation in Bhutan is limited and cabs are the most convenient way to get about. It can work economical if you strike a deal with a cabbie or guide to take you around for the entire duration of your journey. The journey to either Paro or Thimphu from Phuentsholing takes about 5-6 hours along winding, mountainous roads that provide you with a wonderful view of the lush, green valleys. Timing is of the essence in Bhutan; people rarely travel at night and public transportation run for limited duration. Timings depend on destination and origin. Take care to check timetables in advance before planning a trip. It’s best to check these timetables at the station than rely on online research.
One of Bhutan’s must-see-must-dos (even if it is clichéd) – a hike to Taktsang – popularly known as Tiger’s Monastery. The hike is not too strenuous. Those who have not as much as tasted activity before can even hire a horse to do the heavy lifting for some of the way. For the remaining journey, you’ll have no option but to hoof it yourself. If you’re wondering what’s in it for you – the view and a sense of accomplishment.
The monastery itself is a place of serenity. The interiors are cool and immediately instil you with a sense of peace and a feeling that everything you do, even your breathing, is too loud. The hike is best done early in the morning, so you can stopover for a nice Bhutanese buffet at the restaurant mid-way to Taktsang.
Places of Interest
Other places of interest in Bhutan are Thimphu (the capital), where you can witness the great Buddha Dordenma Statue dominate the skyline even from a distance. Punakha is a town surrounded by Himalayan Mountains. It is well known for the Punakha Dzong, a 17th-century fortress that is nestled at the juncture of rivers Pho and Mo Chhu. River rafting and camping is wildly popular at this spot. In central Bhutan you will find Bhumtang which has massive areas dedicated to biological conservation. It is also one of Bhutan’s most historic spots with the maximum number of ancient temples and sacred sites.
Bhutan is a Buddhist country and the people believe in peace, simplicity and harmony. They hold things sacred and care must be taken not to offend their sensibilities. Bhutanese people are extremely friendly and welcoming; tourists, especially from India must take care not to hurt sentiments.
In this country allow yourself to let go. The pace is slow, the people are lovely, and the land is a lush green. Do not expect a fast paced, activity-packed time. Instead learn to just be. As Buddha once said – “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”