Phuntsholing (Day 1)
Phuntsholing is the border town on the Bhutan side. The difference between India and Bhutan is quite noticeable as soon you enter Phuntsholing. The entrance gate separating Bhutan and India is used by vehicles. Do not use that to cross into Bhutan. There is small gate entrance on the left which needs to be used by people entering bhutan. You don’t need any permit, just enter directly.
Getting the Entry Permit
Phuntsholing is where you get the first entry permit to travel to the rest of Bhutan . I mention the word “first” because the initial permit is only for 7 days and covers only two places (Thimpu and Paro). In order to get an extension of the number of days and/or if you intend to cover more places, you need to your permit extended at Thimpu. (More on that later).
The Immigration office is located next to a petrol bunker (in front of hotel Druk)
Try to reach the immigration office early (like 8:30 a.m). You can get a copy of the entry permit form from the Xerox shop located opposite to the immigration office across the road. Fill up the details, attach the photograph and a copy of ID proof (Passport, Voter’s ID etc). Please note that Bhutan as such does not allow solo travelers ; you have to be in a group. If travelling solo, you have to sign an undertaking that you are responsible for yourself which has a slightly different process. There will be a lot of tourists present. (depends on the season really). The counter is on the first floor. The personnel inspects the filled up form and writes down a token number on the form ; you will be called in that order for further inquiry regarding the purpose of your visit, number of people in the group etc. Post clearance, you can collect the entry permit from counter 8 after 20 mins.
Hurrah!! You can now officially enter Bhutan.
Getting a SIM Card
Post getting the entry permit, take a photocopy of it and visit any electronics store at Phuntsholing to a get SIM card. We took a monthly plan from Tashi Cell and cost us 210/- INR per head. Get the internet (3G at this time) activated at the store itself since it needs some additional input settings for the tashi network.
From Phuntsholing to Thimpu
Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan is situated about 173 Kms from Phuntsholing. The easiest mode of transportation would be getting a cab directly to Thimpu. But that is going to cost a reasonable sum of money (3000 INR/- at the time of the blog). The other method would be to ‘book a bus seat’ ; yes, you need to reserve a seat asap by reaching the counter since private buses are the only means of mass public transportation. (There is no government provided mass public transportation system in Bhutan at the time of the blog). The bus stop is located about 1 Km away from the Main Gate (Ask directions from local, Maps etc).
The buses start running from 7 a.m and are available for boarding up to 4 p.m. The cost of a single ticket (at the time of the blog) is 240/- INR. We reached the bus stop at about 11.30 a.m ,paid at the counter and booked our seats for bus departing at 12 p.m.
The journey takes approximately 6 hours and you go ‘up and down’ the hills multiple times along the way with fantastic scenery. Unfortunately the bus driver is not going to stop for you take shots. :).On the way there is a Bhutan Police check post where everyone is required to show the permit. (Bhutanese people have a ID card pre issued to them).
Midway,after three hours, the bus driver stopped at a point for us to have our lunch. Since we preferred only vegetarian food, we could order the Veg Maggi noodles and some Veg Momos.