If I am asked what I remember most of my trip to Bhutan I’d say the towering fort monasteries ,the blue pines ,weeping willows, gurgling chuus (rivers) &the bright gold laburnum trees.
The sight of the laburnum trees in all their golden splendor was just stunning. You can sight these trees en route Trongsa to Bumthang.Unfortunately there weren’t any gold finch birds to bring these trees to life. The drive from Throngsa to Bumthang is about 2 hrs.Once in the valley of Bumthang you are bound to be bowled over by its alluring charm. Bumthang is in central Bhutan and if you want to venture into east Bhutan you have to pass through this valley. This tranquil valley is a must see for all tourists visiting Bhutan. The resplendent pines that tower majestically on the mountains, the pebbled river chattering noisily with lovely round pebbles strewn all along its bank, the modest grandeur of its ancient dzongs ,the exotic birds& the balmy air soothes and excites you at same time. Bumthang has a number of guest houses, The Swiss Guest house the oldest among them is perched on a secluded spot. The guest house we put up in was Thinley Zam , thanks to our driver who located the guest house, & when compared to the hotel we had stayed in Trongsa it was dirt cheap. Nowhere during our trip were we given the royal treatment as we were in Thinley Zam. The rooms were spacious airy spotlessly clean All the rooms lead to a common verandah .From the verandah one can get a good view of the upcoming Bumthang airport. The mist laden mountains covered with thick pine forests can also be viewed from the verandah. At the back of the guest house is a small apple orchard, in fact there are several farm houses in this valley and most of the trees are laden with a variety of apples and pears .Bhumthang has some of the most venerable dzongs in Bhutan. The Tamshing monastery was a good 3 kms away from the guest house, we took a pleasant walk across a footbridge on a river viewing the potato fields on either side .A sudden drizzle made the walk all the more memorable. The worshippers in the temple were mostly aged Bhutias, it appeared that the dzong was not just a place of worship for them but also a place for sharing their joys and sorrows. Bumthang has a large market but a recent fire has gutted it totally. This picturesque valley doesn’t have the flashiness of Paro but it has a flavour completely local.
Bhutan the youngest democracy is roughly the size of Switzerland, Bhutan literally means Druk Yule – The Land of The Dragon. This land is not yet scarred much by the furies of development, its people are warm friendly with a cheerful disposition. The roads are clean &well maintained no where you will find heaped up garbage which is a common sight in Kolkata.The houses in Bhutan wear a similar look; they are mostly two storied with exquisite wood carvings in the doors, windows &in the ornate roofs. Bhutanese people take great in donning their national attire –gho(for men)&kiras (for women). Most of the monasteries have made it compulsory for the Bhutias to wear their traditional dress.
Bumthang was the last destination in our trip to Bhutan, Paro was the first. The lush valley of Paro is beautiful but with an urban touch. It’s a flashy town where you’ll find people zipping around in swanky foreign cars; the locals in Paro have taken to western attires & look quite hep. The main street of Paro is lined with similar looking wooden construction there are several hotels in this scenic valley. The Paro chuu descends from the snow capped mountains into this wide undulating valley, the river runs west of the Paro airport, when it reaches lower Paro it waters the rice fields and orchards of apples and pears. This grassy valley has two famous monasteries-----The Paro dzong and Taktshang monastery. The latter is the holiest dzong in Bhutan. It is perched on a cliff 900m from the valley floor and is inaccessible except on foot or on horse back. I wondered what on earth prompted the ancients to build the goemba in such a location on a single piece of rock. We did something sacrilegious by not visiting the sacred temple, the steep height was discouraging and we decided to skip the steep ascent. Hotels are a plenty in Paro, we lodged at Hotel K K which was quite a decent place except for the food that was rather expensive. Two boiled eggs cost Rs 60. The hotel owners were friendly people,un pretentious to the extent that the lady at the reception told us very bluntly that only thing we could get free in the hotel was her smile. Anyway we had a good stay at this valley which has a fairyland feel about it.
Any body coming to Paro from Thimpu or Phunsiling has to cross Chhuzom a place of confluence of Paro chuu and Wang chuu. Such confluence of rivers is held sacred by the people of Bhutan. The drive from Paro to Thimpu takes an hour or so. It’s surprising to note that all major tourist destinations in Bhutan are flanked by a river on one side and Thimpu is no exception. The wang chuu cascades down the steep mountain slope of Thimpu –the capital of Bhutan. Thimpu is the political and cultural hub of Bhutan, the place is a mixture of tradition and modernity, however the place is choking because of booming construction. Thimpu houses the king’s palace but tourists are not allowed inside the palace, they can only view it from a cliff opposite it. I tasted Ema Datse Bhutan’s national dish (a lip smacking combination of green chillies and cheese) in the hotel we put up in Thimpu. The main street Of Thimpu is lined with hotels and curio shops selling handicrafts and antiques, however the price of every local item you touch is sky high.
Punakha was our next stop, of all the places we visited In Bhutan, Punakha was the warmest. This valley was the ancient capital of Druk Yule and has the most beautiful Monastery in Bhutan. On our way from Thimpu to Punakha we had to cross DochulaPass where 108 chortles were built in memory of those Bhutanese soldiers who were killed during the flushing out of Assamese militants from the forests of southern Bhutan. Punakha is quite pedestrian except for the dzong. The dzong situated at the confluence of two rivers The Mo Chuu and Po Chuu is sheer magic. I was reminded of Keats’s famous line ‘A thing of beauty is joy forever’. The dzong when viewed from a nearby park is just picture perfect. It is a towering construction; the wooden bridge built across the river is an architectural marvel. You can spend hours just standing on it watching the frothy river flow under it. To enter the dzong one has to ascend a steep flight of wooden steps. Inside there is a huge prayer hall, lamas in maroon were seen moving in and out of the dzong busy in their own work whether it be feeding the ants or polishing the huge lamps. Most tourists go to Punakha for sight seeing but we decided to spend two nights here just to view the dzong at different time of the day.
The drive from Punakha to Trongsa takes nearly seven hours but since the drive is through spectacular landscape not for a moment did we feel fatigued. After we crossed Wangchuk –a dirty but commercially throbbing town -- human habitation became less and far between. This was the most scenic drive in Bhutan; our car sped through rapidly changing landscape, the lush greenery of rich deciduous forests, the rich fauna rejuvenated our spirits. I wondered how long it will take man to plunder this bounty of nature. Our car traveled for miles only then did we come across tiny villages with a tinier temples giving us ample proof of man’s ability to make a home in brambly wilderness. En route to Trongsa the road winds its way to Pele La beyond which a turn off plunges into Phobjikha –the valley of black necked cranes. Since we visited Bhutan in the monsoon we were not lucky enough to see the cranes. This is a valley of calm and is almost idyllic, the undulating meadows, the picture postcard huts and even the beautifully built dzong has an irresistible fairy tale charm about it. Probjikha has a couple of expensive hotels only for the super rich. If one wants to savour the tranquility of this Arcadian valley one has to stay overnight, since we were short of time we couldn’t do so.
From Phobjikha to Trongsa the road winds through lush evergreen forest. The vegetation changes rapidly in the lower valleys, the hillsides are lined with bamboo trees. While passing the villages I observed that bamboos were spread on the road so that the passing vehicles would smash them and make it easier for the villager to stripe them. Throngsa lies in the broad valley of Madge chuu. The Dzong slips into view all on a sudden near and open expanse on the hills. It seemed so near but actually it was 15 KM away. In Trongsa we stayed in ‘Hotel Norling’, the rooms here were pretty expensive-Rs.1300 after bargaining. However we could get panoramic view of the Dzong from our Hotel window. When we reached Trongsa the rain came pouring down and this gave a new dimension to the Dzong. Through the rain and the mist the Dzong just looked spectacular. Actually the Dzong is located in a striking position, it almost looks as if it is suspended from the gorge. The Trongsa Dzong is not only the largest Dzong in Bhutan, it is also the second oldest. It looks more like a fortress; the central tower is six storied high with a huge prayer hall.One has to have ample time to view every corner of the Dzong. Its immenseness is sure overwhelming.
Bhutan is increasingly becoming popular among tourist because the Bhutanese Govt. in collaboration with Big Brother has tried to improve accessibility of this once forbidden country to the world. This tiny kingdom isn’t exactly an exotic tourist spot but if you want to rest your tired limbs and recharge your drooping spirit Bhutan is the right place to go. Away from the din and grime of city life you can lose yourself in the verdant green, feel a thrill of pleasure as you savour nature’s pristine glory and try to renew your ties with Nature.
BY AIR: Royal Bhutan Airlines offer Flights from Kolkata to Paro.
BY ROAD: You can also do the road journey from Siliguri to Paro / Thimpu via Joygaon / Phuntsoling.One can avail Bus or Taxi services from Phuntsoling, the border town of Bhutan or Rent a car from Tourist operators for the entire trip.
4 Copy Passport Photo,Voter Identity Card or International Passport are required to enter Bhutan.
WHERE TO STAY?
There are a number of hotels in different tourism destinations in Bhutan.
In Bumthang we opted for 'HOTEL THINLEY ZAM' Contact Mr.Yeshi Dorji,Proprietor.E- Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Fax: 03-631585
In Punakha we stayed at 'PUENZHI DINER' E-Mail: email@example.com
At Paro we put up at 'HOTEL K.K.' Phone no: 00975-77281444/08271122