Saturday, 24 June 2017

Reaching Thimpu, Bhutan Diaries - 2


Day 1

There are two easy ways of entering Bhutan from India, although there is a third entry point from Assam.One is by road from Hasimara (nearest railway station to Bhutan border) and the other is by flight from Kolkata. The flight option is not very easy on pockets although it's a very charming way of entering Bhutan as you can get an areal view of Mt Jomolhari and the beautiful Paro river. Bhutan has only one airport at Paro and there are only three airliners which are allowed to use the Paro airport - Druk Air, Bhutan Airlines and Buddha Air. Also Paro airport is considered one of the world's most challenging airports and only a handful number of pilots are certified to land at the airport.

Beautiful objects at display at airport shops


In Bangalore Airport

Vacation started...Yayy!!

View from train on our way to Hasimara

Our plan of reaching Bhutan was the one easy on pockets, that is take the road. So from Bangalore we boarded our flight to Kolkata. We reached Kolkata in the after noon. I already had confirmed tickets of Kanchankanya Express from Sealdah(SDAH) to Hasimara(HSA) booked from irctc. We had our awesome lunch at Aminia (New Town). I cannot express the happiness as we dug into the soft aloo ( potato) in the mutton biriyani.

Kanchankanya Express leaves Sealdah at 8:30 PM. We reached Sealdah much early and had to wait in the waiting rooms. The condition of the retiring rooms as well as the waiting rooms at Sealdah is really pathetic. Most other railway waiting rooms that I have seen till now were much better.

Day 2

As usual with Kanchankanya Express it was late by over an hour. We were supposed to reach Hasimara at 10:45 AM the next day morning, but reached around 12 noon. It is a small railway station and the one nearest to the India-Bhutan entry point. We came out of the station and took a small AC taxi and told the driver to drop us till Phuentsholing Immigration Office. He charged a very nominal fare of 400 INR( 6 USD). 

A good part of the road has picturesque tea estates on either sides. Soon we reached Jaigaon which is the last village on the Indian side. We crossed the iconic Bhutan gate with mixed feelings, happy to enter our beautiful neighbor's land but sad to leave our homeland for the next few days.

By the time we reached the permit office it was quarter to one on our watches. Bhutan is 30 minutes ahead of IST i.e, Indian Standard Time so Permit Office was closed as it was lunch time for them. The lunch time is from 1 PM to 2 PM (Bhutanese Standard Time). However the security personnel who hands out permit forms was there. He gave us three forms, one for each member. One needs to fill up individual forms for each member, attach it with a passport size photo along with xerox of photo id card. For each group a photocopy of  all hotel booking receipts/confirmations and a copy of the itinerary are also required. The applications along with the attachments were submitted to the security personnel and were verified by another staff. After that we were told to wait till our names are called.

In another 20 minutes we were called inside. Our finger scans and details were taken and very soon we got our default 7 days permit. This permit will allow us to visit only Thimpu and Paro. To extend beyond 7 days or get permit for other places such as Punakha, Wangdue, Bumthang one needs to go to the main immigration office at Thimpu situated at Nordzim Lam. Also bear in mind that all immigration offices in Bhutan are closed on Saturdays,Sundays and National Holidays. And believe it or not Bhutan has too many National Holidays around 22-23 in a year. That is another reason why happiest people live in Bhutan! So if you reach Bhutan on any Saturday the permit office will be closed and you cannot proceed further than the Phuentsholing check post until you have a permit. So you will be housed for two days....and if Monday also happens to be another National Holiday then you are pretty gone. So its always good to plan properly, check the dates and days before you reach Phuentsholing. The best day to reach Bhutan is either a Thursday or Monday. My sister bought some litchis from a shop just opposite the immigration office and got the change in Ngultrum which is the Bhutanese currency name. Yayy got some Bhutanese notes!

Immigration Office at Phuentsholing

Document verification
Ngultrum

Once we got the permits, which is basically a stamped paper with your details and photo we took a taxi from the immigration office gate till the Phuentsholing taxi stand. Taxi rates are fixed and pretty reasonable. Our plan was not to waste any day at Phuentsholing, instead straight away reach Thimpu. There are coaster buses from Phuentsholing to Thimpu and the last one is at 3:30 PM Bhutanese time.
Coaster buses in Bhutan are pretty okay and they only allow as many people as the number of seats in the bus, so standing is not allowed. Fare is also reasonable something around 250 BTM (250 INR/ $3.8) per head. 

We booked a WagonR from Phuentsholing taxi stand till our hotel opposite to Clock Tower, Thimpu.
The taxi rate is fixed at 3000 INR($ 46.5) and it took 5 hours for us to reach Thimpu  including a lunch break. As we started towards Thimpu, gradually the weather starts getting cooler and the greenery greener. It was night we reached our hotel. Our driver gifted me a magazine that I fondly bought back home. 

Our hotel was Ghasel Hotel situated on Nordzim Lam, just opposite to Clock Tower. We were given a 3 bedded room on the 3rd floor. The room has great views of the road. The rooms are basic,big and nice. However there was some smell maybe of paint that was disturbing. For dinner we went to Tibetian Kitchen.Its not a big restaurant but they make good food .This restaurant is also on every travellers list.Very excited but pretty tired and also no activities for the rest of the time, we crashed on the bed.

Night view from room

Night view from room


Do not miss out our Bhutan vlog for this post



Important Info:

Reaching Bhutan on Road : Train from Sealdah (SDAH) to Hasimara(HSA)
Take a taxi from Hasimara to Phuentsholing Immigration Office ( taxi fare - 400 INR)

Permit Office is closed on Saturdays, Sundays and all National Holidays
Documents required to get permit for Indian Nationals:

a) One Passport size photo 
b) Photocopy of ID proof recognized by the Govt of India. Best to have photocopy of passport/voter       ID card/Driving Licence 
c) Hotel booking/confirmation receipts for Thimpu and Paro 
d) A copy of your itinerary

Taxi fare for reaching Phuentsholing taxi stand from Phuentsholing Immigration Office - 50 INR
Taxi fare for reaching Thimpu from Phuentsholing - 3000 INR
Coaster buses also ply between Thimpu and Phuentsholing

Hotel Ghasel : ghaselhotel@gmail.com
                        00975-2-324002
                        http://facebook.com/ghaselhotel

General hotel information : http://www.hotel.bt/

Our time of Visit : June 1st week


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