Bhutan…The Land of the thunder dragon
Bhutan, the Land of the thunder dragon (In Bhutanese “Druk” stands for thunder dragon).
The thought of travelling to Bhutan arose primarily because it got really hot in India (Bangalore) and we(me and my friends) intended to visit some place relatively cooler. The initial plan was to visit the north east side of India but then post some online research we realized that we might as well travel to Bhutan.In terms of distance and time needed to travel it will almost be equivalent for both the cases (read on further to find out why) and Bhutanese currency (“Nu”) is equivalent to Indian rupee (INR). But there is an opportunity to experience a foreign culture. So Bhutan it was!! (North east can wait for now)
Reaching Bhutan (the most common route from India)
There are two primary ways to reach Bhutan
1. By Air : You can catch a flight from Delhi or Kolkata and the flight lands at a small town called “Paro” (Which also happens to be one the major sightseeing locations in Bhutan). However this option proved to be expensive for us that time, (The flight charges were 100% more If I recall correctly). Therefore we decided to take the Land route. We knew it would be more strenuous but also more fun.
2. By Land : The “Land Route” still involves taking multiple modes of transportation (Train, Bus, Auto etc) to some how reach Jaigon on West Bengal border. Jaigon is situated on the opposite side of Bhutanese border town of Pheutsoling. If you are taking the land route, you have to get all your entry permits made in Pheutsoling.
The Route we Took
Being based in Bangalore, we needed to catch a train or a flight to West Bengal in order to head to Jaigon (and by extension pheutsoling). So we decided to catch a flight to the nearest airport to Jaigon i,e Bagdogra Airport in Siliguri. The flight took off at 10.35 a.m from bangalore Airport and landed at bagdogra airport by approx 3 p.m (with a stop at Kolkata Airport). This is where the “land transportation” begins.
-> After exiting Bagdogra Airport, catch a bus to Siliguri Junction Railway station (About 10Kms, should cost about 15 INR per head and take about 30 mins)
-> Catch the train from Siliguri Junction to Hashimara. We caught the 4.45 p.m train and it takes about 3.5 hrs to reach Hashimara. (About 120 kms ;The cost is 60 INR per head)
-> From Hashimara, take a shared auto to Jaigon. (18 Kms and it should cost you about 40 INR per head in shared auto and take about 30 mins. (However it is quite possible that during the late evening phase ,due to less number of passengers , the per head charge could be higher)
The train from Siliguri junction to Hashimara passes through beautiful tree plantations and a very dense forest where it slows down to some 30 kmph due to potential elephants crossing.
You can actually spot elephants and peacocks in the forest on the sides of the track (if you are lucky). We finally reached Jaigon by 9 p.m or so in a shared auto. We rented a lodge opposite to the main Bhutanese gate separating the two countries.
The lodge (Aram Lodge) cost us 700 INR per night and not too clean but still ok for 1 night ; but you will find a lot of “alchohol consumption” around. So if you are not comfortable, search for another one. There are many restaurants at this location, catering to various taste buds but you will have to walk around for a bit if you are looking for a particular kind of cuisine. The simplest cuisine offered at most restaurants is Rice, Dal and sabzi .
Some Important Takeways
1. This was the cheapest method to reach Jaigon from Bagdogra. You can also hire taxis directly or maybe on a sharing basis but it will obviously cost you more.
2. Many restaurants at Siliguri, Jaigon etc will not have a physical menu card but the waiter will just state everything that is available. Extremely important to simply query the prices of the items available before ordering. Otherwise they simply charge exorbitant amounts later on when you receive the bill. (Yes, it is very common!!) and there is little you can do about it later on.