What not to do at a monastery
“The GDP is happiness”
Weather and Seasons
October to December is the ideal time to visit Bhutan as the air is clear and fresh with sunny skies. January and February are cold, March to April the climate remains dry and pleasant and in spring the famous rhododendrons bloom, painting the valleys with colour. Heat and humidity increase from May, and from June to September the monsoon rains cover the mountains.
Travel and Stay
Bhutan has plenty of budget hotels and lodges. We booked a lodge as we were a big group and pretty much had the entire place to ourselves. Details mentioned under tips.
Must see places
Tiger Monastery at Paro and the karaoke bars. The airport is at Paro and the view point of the airport is a must stop. Thimpu is the capital city so spending a night here and checking out some bars would be relaxing. Dochella Pass and Buddha Point are a must visit.
The travel story
We travelled from Kolkata to Siliguri by Padatik Express train. We reached the city a little later than expected but our driver Pema welcomed us and took us to our vehicle which would be our chariot for the remaining days. It was an 11 seater van and much more luxurious than we had expected. Settled comfortably we were off to Bhutan.
4 hours later we arrived at the border town Phunselling. After a night long journey in train and the most of the day in car our stomach had almost started to digest itself out of hunger. Finding an opportunity to try something local we ordered rice and pork. Due to harsh weather locals eat pork fat and the texture of rice used is reddish and very dry. I decided to get cup noodles instead.
It was evening by the time we were back in our car heading towards Paro, our first destination. To be honest this was not a pleasant drive. We had already travelled over 16 hours since leaving Kolkata and it took us another 8 hours to reach Paro. That night we checked in and slept like inanimate objects.
Next morning our mind woke up before our body. It could sense it was in a different land and did not want to miss out on experiencing it. A knock on the door and jump out of bed later we ventured out in the early morning breeze. We had heard tales of the beauty of Paro Valley and it stood up to its reputation. It was beautiful. We strolled past a sleepy town and located a glittering river called the Paro river. We were ready to head out for the agenda of the day- hike to Tiger Monastery.
A small drive took us to the base of the mountain upon which lay perched the monastery. One foot in front of the other we marched towards our destination. It is a popular area in Paro and hence relatively crowded. People from all over the world visited the monastery and the ones returning cheered us on to make it to the top. For experts its a 2 hour walk uphill but it took us nearly that amount of time to reach midway. There is a midpoint cafe where weary travellers can refresh their spirits and renew their will to complete the hike. We could see the monastery up ahead and even though our lungs were screaming by then and calves protested to give up we made up our mind that we had to make it. In another hour and a few hundred steps at the end we reached Tiger Monastery.
Legend says it was the home of a mighty tiger once. It even had a cave where it supposedly stayed. But all we knew is we had made it to the monastery, the view was breathtaking and it was the most peaceful and serene place we had been to. It calmed our muscles, renewed air to our lungs, quenched our parched souls and we sat in silence feeling grateful for existing in this beautiful place called earth. A monk offered us some biscuits and water and told us stories of his visit to India, specially kolkata. In his opinion India is noisy and here on top of a mountain, Bhutan is peaceful. His belief was shattered when the relatively slower members of our group finally finished their climb and went looking for us in the monastery in all enthusiasm. At this point, the monk retired to his quarters.
We learnt few things on this hike.
Monasteries are peaceful places and shouting out each other’s names from across bridges is a strict no.
The monks are friendly and interested to know about you till you do not try anything funny.
Giant bells if static are supposed to be that way and ringing them would ensure you are shooed away from the monastery by an angry monk.
A little while later we made our way down the mountain to head back to our hotel. We came across some very fit youngsters with LPG cylinders on their back merrily climbing up the mountain without a sweat. It made us city folks pretty ashamed of our unhealthy city bodies. Nevertheless feeling accomplished we returned to the hotel and decided we deserved a celebration.
We headed to a karaoke bar. Its a rage in Paro. We came across a perfect little bar run by women, which had karaoke and had a decent ambience. Having never attempted karaoke before we waited to watch what others did and follow. A group of local youngsters took up the opportunity and sang Bollywood songs old and new. We joined in with them as we listened to Rafi and Kishore in a Bhutanese accent 7,300 ft above sea level.
Paro airport is one of the most beautiful airports in the world. It is the only international airport in Bhutan. It is also one of the most challenging airports to land in. Nestled between Paro river and tall dominating peaks it is a sight to behold. There is a view point to watch the runway and the planes and it is a definite stop for some photo ops.
We headed on our way to the royal capital city of Thimpu. The journey from Paro to Thimpu by road is mesmerising. The road snaked through mountains and valleys.
We entered Thimpu and immediately knew that we should have planned a longer trip. Thimpu is magical. Its colourful, beautiful and bustling with life. The houses complimented the massive mountains surrounding them and the paintwork made them look like flowers in a valley.
The next stop Dochula pass, provided a stunning view of the himalayas and amidst it stood in all tranquility the 108 chortens. There was a beautiful cafe at the pass. Its glass walls provided the majestic view of the Himalayas as we gorged on a delicious warm sumptuous lunch.
Having our bellies full, we were off to our next location. Buddha Point! Everywhere from Thimpu we could see a massive golden Buddha statue overlooking us and now it was time to visit the hallowed site. The site was still under construction and once completed it would house over a hundred thousand smaller Buddha statues. The statue is made of bronze and gilded in gold.
Buddha point is windy, chilly and vast. It literally blew us away. With a height of 169 ft the massive Buddha looked over Thimpu protecting it against evil and blessing it with prosperity and happiness. Maybe it was with divine blessing that its a popular belief that GDP of Bhutan is measured in amount of happiness.
Hotels and cars for our trip were pre booked with the help of Tshering Yangden.
We were 7 people and we booked the trains in advance. Darjeeling Mail was our preferred choice but due to seats being unavailable be booked Padatik. It takes a much longer time to reach.
This was a budget trip and including train, hotel, sightseeing, food it cost us around 6000 INR per head.
Tshering Yangden email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hotel in Paro: Hotel Phunsum