Ms. Shreya Ghosh recommend best tour operators in Bhutan

TripAdvisor: Trip Report : May 2014 (1-11) May In Bhutan
Hi All,

Just back from 10 days trip to the heavenly trip to Bhutan, organized by “Heavenly Bhutan”. Thanks to the experts from TA who helped me plan this trip to this beautiful country. When I first started researching about Bhutan and told people that I am interested to travel to Bhutan everyone was wondering and asked me “Why Bhutan”!!! I was not so sure what to answer them other than the statistical report I read in google about safety .. However now I know the answer ,it is really worth my effort to make a trip to Bhutan. It is a small country with beautiful scenery along with their unique culture to offer to every individual. When I was researching I could not find a trip report posted by any Indian traveler, hence I thought of posting it and I hope it will be useful to travelers other than Indians as well.

If you are a budget traveler and time is not a constraint then you can go via Phuentsholing, It is the border for Bhutan. If time is constraint then you can take connecting flight from Kolkata, Delhi or Mumbai(started from 1st May). Since Kolkata is my home I took a night stop over at Kolkata and took a flight (Tashi/Bhutan airways) next day morning to Paro. It took about 1 hour to reach Paro. As advised by TA we took the seat in the left side and indeed a great view from the flight.

We could get the feel of Bhutan as soon as we got into the flight itself as we saw the cabin crews were dressed up with tradition Bhutanese attire “Kira” The moment we landed in the Paro airport we were welcomed by the huge picture of the Royal couple of Bhutan .. . The first thing we did is to take a Sim card of Bhutan. You just need to show the Xerox copy of your Passport/Voter ID card and pay 60/- to get it , then you can put a top up for as much as you want. Indians should have a valid passport or Voter ID card in order to travel to Bhutan.

Once we were out of the Airport we were welcomed by ourGuide T.B(TekBhadur) and Driver Ram.

Day1 :

We started our journey from Paro towards Thimphu.En route we stopped at Tamchoe Lakhang, a privately owned temple, where one can admire and cross one of the loveliest suspension bridges in Bhutan. Walking over the suspension bridge was indeed a thrilling experience!. We spent some time there and proceeded to Thimphu town to have lunch. There are many restaurants in that stretch of road which serves good Indian food at a very reasonable rate. After Lunch we visited Memorial chorten and The Thimphu Dzong .In memorial Chorten we noticed school children were distributing doughnuts in the occasion of celebrating “Teacher’s Day”, to the old and poor people who were sitting and chanting prayers. Then we proceeded to the Thimphu Dzong. We found this Dzong to be very well maintained one as it is next to the King’s Palace. The Dzong looks amazing in the night with many colorful lights. Another must see place in Thimphu is “Budha point”. Especially during sunset the it really nice to be in the Buddha point. Then we went to the “Weekend market” ..We were shocked to see the size of the red chillies available as we Indians also use red chillies in our food but not this big!!! We happily clicked lots of pictures and went to our booked hotel .

Day2 :

Day 2 started with good morning walk in the nearby area followed with a healthy and good breakfast. After breakfast we drove towards Punakha .It took us 3 hours to reach to punakha. On our way to Punakha we saw “Dochula Pass” , one of the best attractions in Bhutan. The view of 108 Stupas in Dochula pass in a misty morning was spectacular. I could not stop myself from clicking photos in every possible angle to capture the beauty of it. We reached our hotel by afternoon . This hotel was located by the river hence had an amazing view from our room. We quickly finished our lunch in the hotel. The best part of being in Bhutan is 90% of the hotel serves Bhutanese as well as Indian food at a quite reasonable price .So we can always have food according to our choice. Now we were all ready to go and visit the most beautiful fortress of the country “ PunakhaDzong” .This majestic Dzong situated at the confluence of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in Punakha , the line of Jacaranda trees with their bright purple blossoms perfectly complements the white walls and the intricate woodwork. It was little crowded as we went inside the Dzong. We spent couple of hours listening to the prayers which monks chant then moved for hike to “Divine madman’s temple”. It was nice to hike through those rice fields to this temple, where one can receive a special fertility blessing. We had tea in the town and went back to the hotel.

Day3:

After breakfast we started from hotel towards Phobhijikha valley which is about 3 hours to reach. The drive towards this valley was very scenic . As we were moving towards high altitude we could see yaks , different colors of Rhododendron flowers on both sides of the road. Our driver had very good knowledge on different kinds of birds, trees and plants. He even plucked leaf from some of the plants and gave it to us to taste it , as it is used to make pickles ..  Once we reached Gangtey we visited the GangteyGompa and later on a hike through “Nature Trail”.The best part of the being in Phobjika is the 2.5 hours walk through the nature trail , through the serene and dense blue pine forest . It was one of the highlight of our visit to Bhutan I must say. After the walk we went to farm house , as we had opted for a farm house stay with the locals. It was a very different experience to be in farm house, have food with the family members ,chit chat with them. This farmhouse was about 50 years old . The elderly couple lived with their son and his family. You might not get the modern days comfort and amenities however it is about experiencing the Bhutanese culture, and the life in farms in the villages . They were very happy to welcome us to their sweet home. It was a tradition Bhutaneese home where the ground floor is used as store room and first floor is used for kitchen , living and alter room as well.We were served bhutaneese food like Ema datshi, Shamu datshi (highly recommended),a vegetable dish made with fern and delicious home made Ara(Local wine). Our driver ,Ram, was gifted with cooking skills to make different varieties of delicacy and we loved his preparation of Shamu datshi. The elderly couple (the host) made us feel very comfortable. They kept asking our driver and guide if we were comfortable. The view from the little window from our room in the farmhouse was the most spectacular view I had in my lifetime. We could see the beautiful and misty valley down below from the farmhouse. In the morning , we had typical Bhutanese breakfast- fried rice with Suja (butter tea) which was really yummy. And we bid farewell to the family and started our journey to Bumthang.

Day4 & Day5 :

We started our drive towards Bumthang through Trongsa. Trongsa is famous for its Rainforest. I recommend people who are travelling to Bumthang via Trongsa to take break at a resort called “Yangkhil Resort” on the way. The view and food both are just amazing at this place. After lunch we went to see the “Trongsa Dzong”. Best part of this Dzong was the view of the rainforest from this Dzong It is about 6 to 7 hours drive from Gangtey to Bumthang . Only at few stretches the roads were not good else it was fine . We reached Bumthang in the evening . When we reached Bumthang hence we decided to stay at the hotel for rest of the evening.We experienced rain only in Bumthang rest of the places the climate was very pleasant. We never knew there was a surprise waiting for us!! Our driver Ram cooked fish and gave us for our dinner. I know most of the tour operator provide very personalized service in Bhutan but Ram went out of the way to make the trip memorable for us. We were really glad to have him as our driver.

We need atleast 2 days to cover Bumthang because the day we reach we couldnt do any sightseeings. Either you can go to one of the valleys of Bumthang like Ura else can choose to do the local sightseeing. We decided do the sightseeings in Bumthang .There are couple of very old Temples like Jambay Lhakhang , Kurjey Lhakhang. Our guide took a special temple called Tamzin where people walk around the temple carrying 25kg Iron jacket on their back in order to get their wishes fulfilled. We tried it too just to know it feels like carrying a 25KG iron jacket on our back and ended running around the temple to finish it faster!!. We enjoyed the beautiful drive around the valley and took a walk around beautiful Jakkar Dzong and ended our day. Our driver and guide arranged a special dinner for us at the hotel and we ended our evening with a delicious dinner with local delicacies like Kewa Datshi, Ema Datshi, Roasted Fish and Fish soup (excellent).

Day 6:

We were our way back to Thimpu , we didnt want to drive for continous 9 hours hence thought taking a stop at Wangdue . It was a relaxed drive through beautiful scenery around . We had nothing much to see as we had covered most of the places while we were coming to Bumthang.On our way back we went to see a local handicraft store where they make shawls, sweaters out of Yak’s wool. We reached our hotel in Wangdue in the evening and spent in leisure.

Day7: Now we were moving toward end of journey . So we travelled back to Thimphu in the morning . We were very excited to visit the very famous “Folk heritage museum”. In case your don’t get an opportunity to stay in farm house then you will surely get an fare idea about local Bhutanese life style when you visit this museum. After lunch we were geared up for a hike to Tango university . We loved the drive towards the university as well the hike. Once we reached the university we had little chit chat over tea. The monks were generous to offer us tea with Zaw(a common Bhutanese snack).

In the night our tour operator Raju took us out for dinner to one of famous Indian restaurant in Thimphu. It was really generous of him to take his time out of his busy schedule to find out how we have experienced Bhutan.We ended our evening with a great conversation with Raju over a lovely dinner.

Day 8 & 9:

Next day morning we drove to Paro, it is about 1 hour drive from Thimphu to Paro. We loved our hotel in Paro,”The Gangtey Palace”. During our trip to Bhutan out of all the hotel we liked this hotel the most because of its uniquenessl.It still has the charm of a palace along with the modern amenities. The view from the room was excellent. The seat out, carving on the door, the furniture, the wooden steps everything is very nice and it compliments each other. We spend the day visiting Drukgyel Dzong,Kichu Temple and shopping.

Next morning we hiked to Tiger nest Monastery. We started from hotel around 7 towards Tiger Nest by the time we reached we found many tourist already started their hike. You can either hike by foot or take a pony till the view point. I would say the hike was little difficult one till the cafeteria, which is almost the midpoint. But it Is worth every effort you put to climb up the hill to see the spectacular Taksang monastery which is built on a cliff. We were amazed to view the monastery and feltl really glad that we visited such a nice place. We took about 3 and half hours to reach and climb down it might take about 1 and half hour.

We couldn’t attend any festival during our stay in Bhutan. Our tour operator was very kind enough to arrange a cultural program for us . Thanks to him we could witness the most famous forms of dances of Bhutan which is usually performed during festival like masked dance etc.

Next day morning we left for Bangalore with the thought that we will visit Bhutan again.

I can’t thank Raju (CEO of Heavenly Bhutan) enough for providing an extraordinary service by executing the itinerary designed by us the way it is and arranging all comfortable accommodation throughout our stay in Bhutan. It was a perfect vacation anyone would love to have from a routine hectic life. Most of the tour operator provides personalized services in Bhutan however Our Driver (Ram) and Guide was exceptionally good . I guess your trip will 60% depend on the kind of Driver and guide you have. I highly recommend “Heavenly Bhutan “ for their exceptional and great service. I would be happy to share their contact details if anyone is interested.

Few Points:

1>I sent emails to atleast 20 tour operator to select the best one for me and it worked out very well. Choose the tour operator who is always willing to be flexible according to your interests.

2>If you are going for longer duration , you can take a sim card at the airport itself , the sim cards are preactivated in Bhutan

3> All the shops and restaurants accept Indian currency. Most of the shops,restaurants now accepts 1000 and 500 notes. But ATM’s don’t work so well , hence you need to carry cash.

4>Must try – Yak’s meat,Ara, Ema Datshi, Kewa Datshi, Shamu Datshi,Zaw,Buckwheat Pancake, Red Panda Beer, Druk 11000 Beer.