“I must admit, I have not been myself since I have gotten back from Bhutan”, I said to my friend. “Why? What happened there? Is everything alright?”, she said. Taking a deep breath I replied, I surely am back to Mumbai but my heart refuses to cross the Bhutan gate. The green cover of forests, the twists and turns on roads with prayer flags fluttering in the wind and colourful chortens on almost every nook and cranny literally ooze happiness and satisfaction. In this age of technology taking over human relationships, it is almost impossible to find a place where people prefer sitting in a circle to sip on homemade wine (Aara) with their family and friends, instead of connecting with each other on virtual world of social media. All these luxuries of city life make no sense if you aren’t happy from within.
Being a traveller, I find my happiness in exploring the unexplored. As usual, I was falling short on positivity working in my corporate job, so I started skimming through places on the internet for my next solo adventure and that’s when the thought of going to Bhutan struck my mind. Because, you know, when you’re looking for positivity, there’s no place on the earth as positive as the Land of Thunder Dragon itself!
I sprang out of my bed as soon as the alarm went off around 4:00 in the morning as I had to catch a 7: 40 am flight to Bagdogra. Before embarking upon my every trip, the mixed feelings of anxiety and excitement do not let me sleep through the night and this night was no different.
Traveling to Phuentsholing from Bagdogra with ever so scenic Kalimpong falling on the route, we had started finding friendships within the group with people who were complete strangers almost 4 hours back.
As soon as we crossed Bhutan gate from Indian border town of Jaigaon to Phuentsholing, the entire vibe of the place had changed. Crowded roads were replaced by relatively empty and cleaner roads with colourful buildings along the sidewalk. And what to say about our excitement; we had finally entered the land of happiness after traveling for almost an entire day.
Upon reaching our hotel, our hansdome Bhutanese guide Norbu, dressed in traditional attire called ‘Gho’ welcomed us and briefed us about how amazing our next few days were going to be.
We spent almost the entire next day waiting for our turn at the immigration office of Phuentsholing. While the rest of the group was getting antsy, I was hopping cafes around the immigration office searching for traditional Bhutanese buttered tea, Suja. The frustration of waiting for immigration formalities could not take over my eagerness to explore this Himalayan country.
Day 1: Exploring the capital city Thimphu
It was a sunny yet chilly morning in the capital city Thimphu. As I was fueling up for the day with poori bhaji, the view of Thimphu city from the restaurant literally took my breath away.
We started exploring Thimphu with Buddha Dordenma statue or Buddha Point as it’s popularly known. Situated atop a hill in Thimphu, the gigantic golden statue of Buddha is a visual delight. The statue is visible from every corner of Thimphu city which gives a feeling of Lord Buddha watching over you wherever you go.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the capital city. From watching Archery competition to catching a glimpse of Thimphu Dzong to rambling through Takin reserve and finally endend the day with filling up on momos and suja in a cafe overlooking the clock tower of Thimphu.
Day 2: World’s most beautiful mountain pass, the fertility temple and a divine madman….
With 108 memorial chortens built overlooking Druk Wangyal Lhakhang, Dochula pass is inarguably the most beautiful mountain pass in the world. Situated at a height of ~3,100 m, Dochula pass offers a panoramic view of the mighty Himalayas. Being a long weekend, the complex of 108 chortens was super crowded and it was difficult to get a good shot without fellow travellers photobombing.
The road to Punakha from Dochula pass is one of the most scenic routes I have ever travelled. The colouful prayer flags flapping in the wind all through the route complement the colour of lush green forest in the backdrop.
Punakha is famous for its fertility temple and this is the place where you find the most unique phallic graffitti on houses, streets and shops. Phallus is considered to be a sacred symbol here and is believed to drive the evil eye away.
Hiking through Chimi Lhakhang village, capturing the phallic graffitti in our cameras, we reached the fertility temple. Lined with colourful flags on both the sides, the Chimi Lhakhang temple boasts of the preachings of the divine madman, Drukpa Kunley who was one of the key monks who brought Buddhism in Bhutan from Tibet. Even the priest in this temple blesses the devotees with a 10 inch phallus made of ivory, wood and bone. Behind the temple, you can catch a glimpse of Mo chu flowing between the mountains and paddy fields.
Day 3: The grand fortress, suspension bridge and rafting in Mo chu…
Starting the day with rafting in Mo chu or male river, it was time to witness the grandeur of the most beautiful fortress of Bhutan, the Punakha Dzong which is situated on confluence of rivers Mo chu and Pho chu.
A short hike behind the fortress lies the longest suspension bridge of Bhutan. Adorned by colourful prayer flags, this suspension bridge offers spectacular views of river and the valley. After having a traditional Bhutanese lunch at Chimi Lhakhang cafe and a short stride through the village it was now time to proceed to yet another stunning destination, Paro.
Day 4: Hiking to Tiger’s nest…
It had been three years since my last trek, as I had been dealing with spine problems and, frankly, I was not confident enough to trek all the way to Paro Takhtasang monastery or as we fondly call it the Tiger’s nest. Perched at a cliff approximately 900 m off of the ground, Tiger’s nest monastery is the highlight of every Bhutan trip. Muddy trail with prayer flags all along, the trek to tiger’s nest is indeed a bit difficult, but the encouraging words by fellow trekkers make it easy to keep you going.
Almost midway through the trek lies Takhtasang cafeteria where I decided to take a pitstop for coffee and biscuits. For those who want to break for lunch, the cafeteria is the only option available. After a short hike uphill from cafeteria lies the view point of the monastery. Most of the travellers decide not to hike beyond this point since this is the only point that offers the best view of the monastery and the valley. After thinking for a while I, decided to go all the way to the monastery and believe me, the moment you climb down the stairs, the breathtaking view of the partly frozen waterfall makes up for the effort taken to reach there. The trek doesn’t however end at this point. From the waterfall, we need to climb up the stairs to the monastery.
After paying respect to various deities in five temples, it was now time to hike back to Paro. As I was inching closer to the base of the trek a feeling of accomplishment was taking over the exhaustion. After all, I had resumed trekking after a long time and I believe Tiger’s nest was the best trek to do that.
We spent next day shopping at Paro market and clicking pictures of Paro airport from the viewing point and embarked upon our return journey to Phuentsholing.
I had gotten back to Mumbai but as I stated earlier, I had physically left the land of happiness but mentally I am still there.