Charisma of Paro (Bhutan)

Learning and experiencing butanese culture was of my major interest. I booked myself in a Homestay- Ama’s village lodge, a bit away from the Paro main town. A traditional bhutanese farmstay, with two dogs in the back yard, barn and wooden planks stacked at one end and agriculture field with new crops on the rear end of the house made it the perfect choice.

The room I stayed in, had traditional paintings on the wall, an interconnecting room (which obviously I din’t need). Also our room had a prayer room, which we sneaked in when grandma came to worship. It looked like a mini monastery with the statues of lord “Buddha” and ‘Padmasambhava’ and the chanting instruments.

None of the rural bhutanese houses have bathrooms attached to the rooms. They are usually constructed away from the sleeping rooms, somewhere in the corridors.

What’s in Paro??

The Tigers nest

It has always been an Instagram destination. But dint know that the complete hike can be so much more than an insta perfect pic.

The base is about 9km from city center. The ticket costs Rs 500. You could take up the support sticks or pony’s to take you up but then what’s the fun. Some eatables, sport shoes, warm jacket and a fit body is all you need to complete the hike in 3hrs.

It’s a steep route but I chose shortcuts, they pump the adrelin, hell out of me. The shortcuts through the narrow paths amongst the pine with ravine on one side and trees on other is exhilarating.

Quick altitude accent might make the head heavy.

There are storage rooms for bags & cameras. You can not take your belongings inside the temple premises. And there are no shops/cafe. Keep enough edibles.

Taktsang cafe is mid way, so if you are not on budget, definitely experience the dining amidst the jungle and fog while admiring the tigers nest.

The monastery is enlightening if you go with belief . A guide will accompany you inside(included in the ticket). They would walk you through the history and importance of each temple.

Post the trek I was so hungry that I could eat like a whale. So our driver took us to a low cost restaurant that served buffet lunch.

Shopping

Explore the symmetrically aligned shops for souvenir, traditional wear, incense sticks or local produce.

National museum of Paro

The museum showcases the culture of the country. It shuts by 3:30pm.

Read

Grab a seat in one of the cafe on the street of Paro market, order a pot of lemon tea with a piece of delicious carrot cake. Pick out the book you want to read from the book shelf and that’s my ideal holiday.

Paro is a panoramic town with snowclad mountains forming a fencing around. It has people living simple lives , witnessing the real emotions of joy, love and peace. “We” the city dwellers are just existing to earn, real emotions are far away from our knowledge. Hence I travel to keep me sane and maintain my balance.

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Bhutan-Punakha & Dochula pass

I might not travel to Bhutan again so had to explore the maximum I could. Punakha was next on my itinerary. One needs to take a permit extension to visit Punakha. Not that there is strict border policing but you still dont want to see the violent side of the peaceful country 🤔

The permit can be obtained from the Thimphu immigration/visa office. Punakha is a day trip from Thimphu about 2hrs. A must site stopover is Dochula pass which is 19 km from the capital. It was constructed by the Queen in the memory of the soldiers of war.

You will experience extreme climates enroute Punakha. You would have to layer up at Dochula, but will be left with the last layer of your clothing at Punakha.

The attraction points in Punakha are:

The 370 years old, Punakha Palace

Life connector, the suspension bridge

We took a taxi from Thimphu at 8am, which was arranged by Gakyil hotel. It took us around Punakha and then dropped us to Paro. The driver also stopped at the Paro airport viewpoint. And all this for 4000rs.

Thimphu is midway Punakha and Paro

To know about my Paro adventures keep following….

Visiting Thimpu check this out https://voyagetrails.com/2018/08/11/things-to-do-in-thimphu/

 

Things to do in Thimphu

Located in a valley, ‘Thimphu’ is the capital of the peace loving country of Bhutan. It is the most developed city as well. Thimphu is a smooth drive of 4.5 hrs from Phuntsholing by cab.

The weather in April is cool at night and pleasant during the day. So carry some light woolens.

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Stay

The hotel we stayed in was ‘Gakyil’ is located at the city center (hence the choice). The market, cafes, banks and clubs are a short walk. Its a 3 star property with clean and well maintained rooms, equipped with bathtub as well. They also have a restaurant serving breakfast buffet and the rest is ala-carte. We booked it a an excellent rate using makemytrip.com

Luxury options are Le Meridien and Taj

Party

Everything shuts at 9 pm except the clubs that opens only at 9😉. Yes you read it correct Thimphu has a couple of clubs- Vivacity, Space 34 and Mojo park. All of them have an entry fee but we ladies have some perks and get free entry on Wednesdays. So girls plan your trip accordingly.

Tuedays are dry days

Eat

International cuisine

The Ambient cafe– the cafe carries a casual vibe with view of the busy streets of Thimphu. Collection of books to read while sipping coffee. My favorite dish was ‘whole wheat waffles with banana and homemade ice cream’

The Zone cafe– go in the eve, it is the hangout place for all the youngsters.

The Maggie point- in case looking for a quick and eco meal, go to this kiosk which serves pasta, Maggie and sandwiches. Its located near the theater.

Most of the restaurants don’t have a giant welcome gates, the way to them is usually from back of the complexes, through dingy stairs. So one needs to really look hard to find a way

Local cuisine

They don’t have much vegetation but Bhutan has chilies (Datshi) in abundance It is used in majority of the dishes. “Ema” means cheese and Ema datshi is there specialty. Its a must try.

The locals savor “Butter tea” that’s their everyday tea. Slightly pink in color and tastes more like soup and less like normal tea.

Pork is used for main course, because of its lower price and long shelf-life. Chicken is more of an exotic main course.

Don’t be fooled by the pepper in the cruet set, because it ain’t the normal one, every bottle contains the ‘wild sichuan pepper’, which isn’t spicy but numbs your tongue and lips for sometime 😁

I enjoyed eating the local cuisine and still crave for the cheese preparation.

Shopping

market

Handicraft market is the place for souvenir finders located opposite to the Thimphu visa office. Shops are in the shape of small huts, lined up straight adjacent to each other. The goods sold are ethnic and attractive, ranging from a fridge magnet to costumes.

Bargain well

Then is the main market with complexes and standalone shops. Bhutan doesn’t have a mall yet and is far from the status bragging branded stores. They have shops selling multi items like clothes, jewelry, cosmetics. Most of them are either imported from India or China.

 

Also not so far from the city center is a local bazaar, near the vegetable market. An apt place to buy cheap crockery ,basic footwear, traditional attire(cheap ones), household stuff etc.

Bhutanese people love chewing supari (betalnut), mostly all shops sell this and it smells awful.

Tourist Spots

The Buddha point- 12 km away from the city center, has the Thimphu view.

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Tashichodzong- ‘The King’s palace & office’. Open for public in the eve.

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Changankha Lakhang- Temple of fertility.

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Best way to cover these is to hire a taxi Rs 1500-2000 for all these places

This is Thimphu experience from my eyes and ears. Stay tuned to know more about Punakha and Paro.

Quick guide to ‘Bhutan by land’

It was the right weather and the time to set sail to another voyage. This time it was in seek of peace and what better place could I think of but Bhutan. As I had some extra days in hand, decided to club some cities of Sikkim for my 10 days itinerary.

A sneak peek of my travel

Bagdogra airport>> Darjeeling>>Ravangla>>Gangtok>>Silliguri>>Phuntsholing>> Thimphu>>Punakha>>Paro>>Phuntsholing>>Bagdogra

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Tip: The economical way to reach Bhutan for Indians is via land -Phuntsholing border. To reduce the travel time, take a flight to Bagdogra.

Tip: Cheap, quick and easy way to travel within Sikkim and Bhutan is the shared taxis.

Delhi>>Bagdogra>>Phuntsholing>>Thimphu

Reach Bagdogra before noon and directly head towards Jaigaon(Indian side of border). There are numerous taxi that charge Rs 2500 to Rs 4000 one way to the border (3-4 hrs journey). Indians are allowed free entry and exit in Phuntsholing (Bhutan side of border). You don’t need a permit to roam around/stay there. So enjoy the charm & simplicity of Bhutan. But don’t forget to use the Zebra crossing while crossing the road specially near the immigration office. That’s the first thing that would make you feel the difference.

Delhi>>Bagdogra>>Silliguri>>Thimphu

If you arrive late in Bagdogra, stay overnight at Silliguri (30 min away from airport). An auto to Silliguri costs around Rs’300 and a cab Rs’500 to Rs 800. Don’t expect a lot from the town but to kill time, ‘the Hong Kong market’ can be an attraction to buy cheap China goods. The buses are not readily available to Phuntsholing from Silliguri. The fastest and cheapest mode of transport is a train to “Hasimara”. All trains going to kolkata will definitely stop at Hasimara. From here if you are lucky, will immediately get a shared auto (20 min ride to the Border)

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Shot from moving train to Hasimara

Immigration process

It is important that the traveler carries hard copy of hotel confirmations and voter Id/ passport. Though they have 2 photocopy shops right opposite to the immigration office. The easiest way to skip the que is to get hold of an agent and ask him to file on your behalf  and for that they charge a small fee of approx Rs 250-500. Then your name would be called and you “enter the dragon”😉 that’s where your finger prints are taken.

Currency

Bhutanese currency is ngultrum. Not even once did we get a currency exchange done at a forex shop because Indian currency is widely accepted and as change we received ngultrum.

 

The cold dessert of Lahaul & Spiti (CHANDRATAL)

The extra day at Kaza went in lazing around, chilling at the cafe and strolling on the streets. Very next morning we were headed to Chandratal. We did an advance booking for the tent at Chandratal. 
(It goes till 2 degree in the night there, this gave me shiver and I made sure I bought the hand woven socks and gloves. Yes even in the month of August).

It was a very smooth drive , crossed “Losar”, another village of interest for travelers, with a beautiful background. We halted in between to have Maggie. 
The deroute from the highway is where the difficult ride began. Most of the year this area is covered in heavy snow, thus there is no way the roads can stay intact. There were steep uphill where all the passengers except the driver ofcourse had to get off . 

And after  4hr of drive we reached the camp site, which are setup 2km before the lake.

There are options or Swiss tents but as we were on budget trip we went for basic ones. 7 tents and only one WC to share with no water supply. I avoided drinkint water so I don’t have to use the loo.

Wrapping myself in woollens and my walking shoes, I was ready to take the 2km trek from the campsite to the lake. There is also a partial motorable way but I chose the difficult but the adventurous path.

The initial climb was steep and I had to stop after every 10 min to catch a breath (also because the altitude made the oxygen level low). Not that I was in a very good shape.

We met two Shepherds with their herd , they were the only source of direction to us. Both of them said the same thing “go right don’t take the left”. 

After 2 hrs of trek I could see the calm blue water stretched amongst the red/brown dry mountains. It was a serene sight, I could have sat there the whole evening introspecting. 

But soon the Serenity changed to a tourist spot coz a herd of tourist flocked there clicking selfies. Such a spoiler. Human is the one who destroys nature and the day will come when nature will destroy human. 

And we headed back. I was sweating but still freezing, my body was confused. The gushing wind made it worse. We took the motorable way back. I was so exhausted, that’s when I heard some bikers going the same direction. It was offroading. But we took the risk and climbed on the bikes. My  co-rider was a girl riding a Royal Enfield. There came a turn with a descent and she got disbalanced and we were on the road with the bike on my left leg. But I managed to escape serious wounds and planned to walk down. 

On the camp the caretaker had cooked rice, dal and some vegetables. The wind was very strong and it was freezing outside. We sat in his kitchen tent near the cooking gas and ate our food.

In the night the temperature dropped and the wind stopped. I had one quilt below and 3 quilts over me. I was unable to decide is breathing important or staying warm.

Morning sky was clear blue and it snowed at one of the peaks. I had realised that these experiences are rare but camping at this height is not my cup of tea.

Soon we started towards Manali. The road was terrible because of the rains that  it took us 8hrs to cover a 120km distance.

But I was so relaxed to be back to Manali.

The cold dessert of Lahaul & Spiti (NAKO-TABO)

I know I haven’t written for a while, I believe that’s how daily life consumes you. But trying to relive the memories, and completing the the unfinished. 
Chitkul was a short stay but worth the tiresome journey. I was lucky enough to see a ‘Kinnauri wedding’. It’s always a joy to experience different traditions.
Since the only bus of Chitkul was busy with wedding, my driver from the evening agreed to drop me back to Kharcham from, where I was supposed to board a bus to Nako.

Waited for almost an hour and I could not even hear distant honking noise of the bus.

*Folks do not travel to Lahaul and Spiti, after Chitkul without your own conveyance. You would be stranded for hours and hours.

I hitchhiked with 2 guys from Mumbai who were driving a ‘Zoomcar‘ going to the same destination. They were my saviours and who knew we would make such good travel buddies.

4 hrs of rides and the scenery transitioned from wet green landscape to dry brown high mountains.
I could not resist clicking the picture of the board ‘you are travelling on the world most treacherous road’.

I was confused should I admire the nature or fear it. We were climbing height intermittently.

It was evening and we were there at “the windy village of Nako“, from where everything looked antsize

Nako has multiple accommodation options, ranging from INR 500-2000. They are easily available. Namely there is no major attraction but whats there to do is to understand the lifestyle of Nako people, acclimatise to the weather,  admire the structure of the houses in the village, survival stories during winters. Moreover it’s a stopover for bikers and travelers on the way to Kaza.
Ohh I forgot to mention it is at an altitude of 11000 ft/3300 m and the only phone/network  connectivity is of Bsnl. I could complete only 6 hours of sleep. The altitude was still not very comfortable for me.

The only disappointment was that the route I thought to be raw and tucked away but it was full of bikers and backpackers. I would have loved more isolation. I guess I chose the wrong time.
It was time to move towards the main town of Spiti valley- Kaza. We had planned to visit Tabo & Dhankar monastery on the way.

I was backpacking and taxis there ask for redundant amount of money for short distance, God bless the Mumbain friends.  I tagged along.

TABO

I would have loved staying overnight however couldn’t , shortage of time. But visited “the Tabo Monastery ” estb in 996. There is no light in areas where ancient artwork is done. One can use phone lights to have a glimpse of these exclusive paintings.  What I figured out was there was a lot of Egyptian art influence in the paintings.
Post the heritage walk we had a sumptuous lunch.
And we hit the road again.
DHANKAR GOMPA

This was built in a form of fortress. One can only wonder how was Dhankar Gompa created on these anthill structured mountains .

My traveler freinds were supposed to go to  Pin valley,  they were very kind to find me another ride to Kaza from the point where they took a deroute to Pin valley. The vehicle I boarded came out to be BRO (Border Roads organisation). The officer was very warm, he welcomed me to Kaza, arranged for evening tea in his office  and also made sure that his subordinate dropped me of to the hostel I booked in.It’s hard to  find such people in Metro cities.

The cold dessert of Lahaul & Spiti (NARKANDA- CHITKUL)

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After 3 months of no travel, finally the day came when I could get on with my wishlisted trip of lahaul  and spiti circuit.
Left on the Friday evening,  took a volvo till shimla. Our badluck, it rained on Friday in delhi, so the consiquence was a major jam, which caused delay.

At 10am the volvo dropped us at the outskirts of shimla, and since I had backpacked to this place before , so knew taxi was an expensive option, instead we boarded the intracity bus and got dropped ahead of old bus stand. From there the lift to the mall road was a walkable distance. Suprisingly there wasn’t the amount of crowd I expected to be on a weekend. We quickly freshend up and had our lunch. Post that we walked through the market downhill towards the bus stop, through the long canal, amidst locals, with an 8kg backpack and on the top, it was rainning !  We had to board a bus to Narkanda , luckily got into one which was just about to leave, it was packed, no seats were available.  We had been travelling for almost 18 hrs by then, needed a seat badly , we did get it but after 2hrs of standing in a Zig Zag ride and swaying at every turn. Body and eyes were shouting for a warm bath and a comfy bed.

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After 3 hrs 30 min we were at Narkanda which has 3-4 roadside motels, exorbitantly priced. Got into one, paid 1600 per room after negotiation.

Next day was a long one, we targeted 8 am to catch a bus to ‘karcham’ . Unlike Shimla bus stand we had to wait for 1 hr for the bus. The bus journey was beautiful. The landscape became more scenic as we headed from district Shimla to kinnaur.

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But through out the way it was rainning,  which made the route, all the more riskier.

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Day 2- Travel time to reach destination (CHITKUL) was 8 hrs.
Reached karcham after 6 hrs, it is just a name on the map, you cannot  find even a chai or a cigarette shack there. Thank God we immediately got a bus to Sangla. It’s a detour of 18km from NH22 and has a very limited bus service.

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A 1.5 hr of roller coaster ride on the narrow, twisty and deconstructed  road literally got our hearts in our mouth. The Baspa river gushing on one side. On reaching we took a sigh of relief, ate some “assorted  veg Pakora and teas” to calm us. It was cold, we had to take our quilt jackets out.  Now was the delima , since it was already 5pm and we planned to reach Chitkul which is 1.5hrs further, the same day. But sangla was not a beauty and we didn’t want to waste our day. There is only one bus which is owned by the resident of sangla, so it moves as per the situation of the village. If there is a wedding the bus will go in the baraat, and will leave the travellers to figure out their own mode of transport.

Alas we got a cab, on negotiation we brought him to Rs1000 for just dropping us 24km further to sangla. In delhi ncr I ride an uber for 30 km in just Rs400, so this came as a shocker.

Good that we went to chitkul because it was worth a night stay.

Chilling breeze
3 small restaurants
Accommodation ranging  between INR 400-4000
Tibetan dogs as size of me.
A beautiful temple.
Travelers to share experiences.

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