Travel: Exploring mystical Bhutan
Getahead reader Jyotika visited Bhutan last year with her husband Rohit Gupta. She shares with us her experiences.
My husband Rohit and I visited Bhutan in October 2009. We landed in this beautiful country through the border town of Phuentsholing, which we reached by taking a West Bengal State Transport bus from New Jalpaiguri.
Bhutan Home Adventures had organised our trip and a certain Chencho Dorji was our guide. Unlike in most other countries I know of where you can travel freely once you have a visa, Bhutan's policies are somewhat different. Here you need different permit to visit different places within Bhutan itself. So you cannot change your itinerary on a whim.We checked into Hotel Centennial 2009 in Phuentsholing. There is little to see within Phuentsholing itself except the crocodile-breeding farm where I touched a croc for the very first time in my life. We then visited the beautiful Karbandi monastery, adjacent to royal King's palace. We spent the night in the city itself and then drove down to Thumpu, the country's capital.
The drive from Phuentsholing to Thimpu is picturesque. And the seven-odd hours it took us to reach Thimpu we saw some very beautiful buildings, which for some reason looked very similar. This was when our guide told us that you cannot design a building as per your choice.
After reaching Thimpu we checked into Hotel Takshang. Located in the heart of main market this hotel proved to be an ideal base. We went shopping that evening and the next morning went to see the parliament house followed by a visit to the zoo to look at their national animal -- Takkin, a cross between a cow, goat and a deer.We also saw a lot of people practicing archery, the country's national sport as we visited the Sunday Market in Thimpu and had our dinner at Bhutan Kitchen.
'It is as beautiful as Switzerland'
After staying in Thimpu for two nights, we travelled to Punakha, a beautiful valley surrounded by two rivers. Punakha is also the winter capital of Bhutan. Here we visited another monastery and stayed at Hotel Zangtopelri, which offers a breathtaking view of the valley.
Then next day we visited Gangtey where we stayed at Gakiling Farm House. Food can be a problem here as there was little else other than some very basic Bhutanese food like half-cooked rice and dal and boiled potatoes.We visited another beautiful monastery called Gantey Stupa and then went on see the Phobjika Valley. Here it can get very cold but it is as beautiful as Switzerland. Here you can experience something called stone bath, an ancient Bhutanese ritual that involves a person sitting in tub with hot stones heating up cold spring water. The Bhutanese say it has medicinal qualities, which I am not quite aware of. What I do know that after the bath we didn't feel cold for the whole night.
'10 days of Bhutanese culture -- loved it!'
The next morning, we went hiking to Gangtey and returned to the hotel. Our next stop was Paro the most famous place of Bhutan.
A perfectly planned city, Paro is house to the beautiful monastery called Taksang (or Tiger's Nest). We were to discover that reaching there could be quite a task. While my husband decided to walk 20 km uphill, I decided to go on horseback. I was somewhat surprised when I was told about 4 km before our destination that the horse wouldn't go any further! What's more, it wasn't available to descend. So we had to climb down all by ourselves! Nonetheless it was the most amazing experience we had.
During our ten days we experienced the Bhutanese culture and loved every moment of it. The only thing I missed though was that unlike they do in Kashmir, the Bhutanese don't seem to rent out their traditional dress for a photo op!