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.

gakyil

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)

tea
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.

 

Sri Lanka with GG in Rs32000/ $500 (Ella)

Ella is more about the journey rather than the destination. We were way early at the station to grab the best seats. (As I said it was all about the voyage)

There was a seperate toilet for the tourists, and we took advantage of it🤣. We had our breakfast at the confectionary situated at the platform, the shop was fully loaded with eateries . I felt like a 5 year old in the candy shop.😋

Soon our jouney began, a loooooooonnng jouney 8hrs to be precise. As I mentioned before, the first class coaches were full of different nationality travellers, some were on a guided/packaged tour & some were like us. The train had a small pantry from where one could grab hot tea, coffee, water, all at higher price ofcourse. (Better to stock beforehand)

I was mesemerised by the landscape through out the route. Also made some freinds on the way, posed for cameras while looking out of the window and just couldn’t sleep. It is a experience that every traveler to Ella should witness.

Alas during lunch time we reached the mini hillstation. I had already booked a luxurious resort (for a change) “The Okreech cottages” costing $32 for a night.But there are multiple cheaper options available starting $12.

For some reason Okreech’s kitchen was not operational. So we went to the main road for our meals, we were so lazy to climb back that we decided to come back to the hotel after ohr dinner only. We were hardly in Ee for 18hrs in Ella, but utilized our time to the fullest. Travelers with liesure time stay for 3-4 days, to hike and to visit the nearby attractions.

What we did is ate!!

We had a big lunch at Chill cafe. I ordered for a srilankan lunch platter worth 800Srs. (Food at restaurants is very expensive). But I was stuffed. The vibe of the place was nice.

We took a stroll and by the time we finished it was evening. We enjoyed some drinks and live music in a bar. And by 9pm we were in our bed, fast asleep😴

The next morning we revived ourselves with a cup of tea at our patio and yet another journey was waiting for us.

Shillong & Guwahati 

This was the day to explore the capital. While walking the streets I wondered how humans themselves spoil the surroundings they live in. Buildings, shops and markets have destroyed the climate and the beauty of the town. The exteriors/ countryside are marvelous, rich in greenery but the centre of the town is crowded and conjusted. Since the lanes are narrow, it’s better to walk, else one would be stuck in long traffic jams.

Today I would be be meeting my freind and where should we meet?? I had heard a lot about Dylan’s cafe, well it lived up to its reputation. Cozy seating, warm sitout, lovely view and a book shelf. I could have spend the whole day reading and sipping coffee.

Soon Gaby joined me, we ordered breakfast platter and creamy shakes.

I was so full, and needed to walk to digest. On the ground floor of Dylan’s cafe is an outlet showcasing the agricultural production of Meghalaya. I bought black rice, bamboo pickle and tea.

It was now shopping time!! She took me to the plaza where there were imports from Bangkok and I got more stuff to fill my wardrobe. In the evening we went to Living roof-it’s a pub with board games and a pool table. Looked like ‘the’ hangout place for shillong’s youth. This was my last evening in shillong and had to travel to Guwhati the next day. Had dinner with my relatives that evening in nice Chinese restaurant.

Cars were arranged to drop us to Guwahati. We stopped at th Umgot lake.

There are couple of restaurants in the middle on the shillong- guwahati road. That’s why it’s important to plan your meals accordingly.

There was only one thing on my agenda in Guwahati and that was the “Bhramaputra cruise”. It was very warm and I was missing shillong. The cruise costs Rs 300 per person for the upper deck. It is for about 45 min, with live music and menu to order. It was amusing to be sailing on the river about which we studied in our General knowledge classes.

I had booked Ginger hotel for the night, which was the nearest hotel to the ai protection and fit my budget. I had an early morning flight to catch, thanks to Uber, that riding to the airport wasn’t a task.

At the airport before the security check they have economically priced eateries.

Post my breakfast I was ready to fly back to Delhi and join office.

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.