In the early 90s, Bhutan was cut off from the rest of due to its inaccessibility. The country could only be accessed by foot through two different points i.e. the south and the north. The Northern route was difficult to pass through especially during winter. This is because it passed through high mountains as you crossed through Tibet. The southern route passed through dense jungle, and it passed through the plains of West Bengal and Assam.
Nonetheless, since 1960, Bhutan government has put a lot of effort to improve its transport infrastructure. You can now be able to transverse the country through a network of roads, and it has one international airport and several domestic airports. This has now made travelling from India to Bhutan very cheap.
Any visitor coming to Bhutan has to possess a travel visa and seek clearance before starting their journey. Travel bookings are made through the Bhutanese tour operator or an international partner. There are exceptions though for Indians, Maldavians, and Bangladeshi nationals who want to travel from India to Bhutan. They can receive a visa after entering the country. They also do not need to book their travel through an international partner or a tour operator. A voter’s card or a passport is an acceptable proof of identification to be allowed in the country.
Since Bhutan is a landlocked country, the only entry points by a road that are open for tourists are Samdrup Jongkhar, Gelephu, and Phuentsholing.
Phuentsholing town is approximately 170 km east of Bagdogra where the Indian national airport is located. After being cleared at Phuentsholing, you take a cab to the capital city i.e. Thimphu which takes you approximately 6 hours.
Gelephu district is approximately 250 km to Thimphu south-central of Bhutan. The journey between the two districts will take you approximately 10 hours, and you pass through the alpine zones of Bhutan.
Samdrup Jongkhar district is 150 km from the capital city of Assam, i.e. Guwahati. It is south-east of Bhutan and borders Assam, the Indian district of Darranga. The journey from Samdrup Jongkhar is approximately 700 km, and it will take you approx. 3 days to reach Thimphu. The stretch passes through Trashigang – Monggar – Bumthang – Trongsa – Wangdue – Phodrang and finally to Thimphu the capital city.
Bhutan Airlines and Druk Air are the only national carriers that carry passengers from India to Bhutan. The national carrier flies to Paro which is 2,225 m above sea level, and it is surrounded by mountains as high as 16,000 ft. Flying from India to Bhutan through the Paro Valley is an exciting experience as the aeroplanes fly close to the mountain tops. Travellers coming to Bhutan have an amazing adventure of a lifetime as they are passed over the 4 out of 5 highest mountains in the world which are Mt. Kangchenjunga, Makalu, Lhotse, and Everest.
Travel Costs and Stay
The cheapest way to travel to Bhutan is by use of a train. New Jalpaiguri railway station is accessible from Bagdogra airport. You can take a cab to the train station which will only take you approximately 30 minutes. The train takes around three hours to get to Jaiganon, and you only pay Rs. 100 to get a reserved seat. The trains are very comfortable, unlike the buses that ride on bad roads. Once the train reaches Jaiganon, you can walk to the border gate of Phuentsholing. Indian tourists crossing beyond the checkpoint require obtaining a tourist permit from the immigration office centre. The permits are only valid for seven days, and Indians are only allowed to visit Paro and Thimphu.
From Phuentsholing, you can hire a reserved taxi, shared mini-bus, or a shared taxi to Thimphu. Buses charge approximately Rs. 240, shared taxi Rs. 500, and reserved taxi Rs. 2500. The journey to the city takes approximately 5.5 hours, and you get to enjoy scenic views. Travelling alone will cost you more money as compared to travelling in a group.
In case you wish to stay for more than 7 days, you need to apply for an extension of your permit. Once your extension request is granted, you can now travel beyond Thimphu and Paro. Everyone in Bhutan is treated equal and therefore as an Asian woman, and you have the freedom to visit any district of your choice.
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