Friday, December 25, 2015

The Land of Thundering Dragons - Bhutan Part 2

Hey Guys, I am back with another set of long break and this time I will conclude on my last post about our Bhutan trip. So please keep reading.

Our Days in Thimpu
As I said, we stayed in hotel Norbuling right in the middle of the city centre just opposite the archery stadium. It was a good place to stay though a bit expensive but then all good hotels in Bhutan especially Thimpu are on the expensive side. Imagine Taj Tashi was quoting over 30K INR for a night during our stay, so be prepared unless you are ok with a B&B in Thimpu.

Sight - Seeing in Thimpu

Thimpu has a lot of places to go and see, we chose a few as we planned to enjoy the town rather than clicking selfies at all of the tourist attractions.

Breakfast : We started our day at around 9 in the morning and since I didnt take the breakfast plan at the hotel, we moved out to grab a quick bite. The wife had a plan to eat something local while I planned something conservative ( aka continental). Thimpu is like any small lazy hill town and few shops open early. We found one great cafe right opposite the town square called Ambient Cafe. The sandwiches and handmade chocolates are great, the coffee and the hot chocolates are good. The staff is courteous and teher is free Wifi. They open up early and we found the place value for money. Do try them, they also have a B&B if you are interested. ( Trust me they havent paid to advertise here).

 Moving further our first stop in Thimpu was the Chorten Memorial, just a short walk from the main square. Its a memorial in  that was consecrated in the memory of the third king of the current dynasty of Bhutan in 1974 after his untimely death.  The memorial has four stone sonwlines gaurding the four corners and is very popular among local and foreign tourists, People come and pray here by circling the monument chanting hymns and lighting incense sticks. The paintings and statues represent the philosophies of Buddhism. Its a good place to sit & see how traditional people live their lives in Bhutan.

To go there you can just take a walk from the main square and ask anyone for directions, pretty close to the newly opened Le Meridian Thimpu.

Our next stop was to see another place called Tashichho Dzong but it was closed that day for public visits, so we decided to explore the local markets before we go to the next stop. So we walked along the main market just to see around the local town markets. After a while we passed the Indian Embassy which is quite centrally located in the town.

Next we took a cab to the Buddha Point which will be once it is fully completed one of the most famous tourist spots in entire Bhutan. It's actual name is Kuensel Phodrang & has the largest statue of Buddha in Bhutan. The 51.5 meter bronze statue is almost three story high with several chapels. There is a well paved road leading to the Buddha and is used for drives, cycling, jogging and walk apart from those who go there to pay homage to Buddha. The view of the Thimphu valley from this point is exhilarating. There is a museum which was under development when we went and this place is thronged by everyone who comes to Thimpu especially the Japanese tourists. You can easily spend a couple of hours and this place has some great views of the valley. The sky was clear and the sun shone well on the bronze statue to give some great shots. The drive is around 20-30 minutes from the town square and you can negotiate with the driver for going up and coming back. We did it in INR 400 after some haggling.

My wife was anxious for her first Bhutani lunch and talked the driver into taking us to local restaurant in the town. So we ended up at around lunch time for a Bhutani meal at a small restaurant which was called Tashi ( which is common name in Bhutan ). Anyways we tried Ema Datshi which is chilli in chese gravy and is supposedly the national dish of Bhutan. It is a bit on the hot side for most people, but once you get the hang of it, it is OK. You east it with boied rice. Since Bhutan is a cold country thus a hot dish serves its purpose.

Me being a vegetarian limited my exploring of food to Ema Datshi and some rice along with a local noodle brand Koka made in a soupy gravy. My wife on the other hand tried her hand at Jasha Maroo ( a chicken dish) and rice along with Ema Datshi. These are common staples in Bhutan and do try it at any small restaurant to get the actual flavor.

Once done with the food, our plan was to relax and have a stroll walk in the lazy sun. The afternoons become slightly cooler as soon as the sun starts to lose its intensity and we walked across the local market for search of some handicrafts. There is a big market here which is run y local craftsmen and women who sell genuine Bhutani stuff at very good prices, you can haggle a bit too. There are goods made from wood, leather, yak wool, hand made paintings etc which you can buy. We didnt buy immediately but planned to return around dinner time after the long walk.

By 4 PM we were back in the hotel to rest a bit, before we move out again in the evening.  After a short nap, we decided to eat again at the Ambient Cafe and walked to the town square, by 6 PM the city is bustling with youngsters making their way to pubs in the evening and Thimpu becomes very alive. Reminded me of Shillong in the winter months.

We had a good meal at the Ambient cafe & then went to the handicraft market to get some stuff my wife earlier shortlisted. By 730 we bought a purse, a shawl and a stole all of it in 2000 bucks. This is what value for money is but haggling is required.

So we ended our day and then planned to go back to the hotel for a long day ahead to Paro & to the famed Tiger's Nest Monastry.

Next Morning we woke up and checked out after breakfast and quickly moved to the city bus station to get a cab for Paro. Paro & Thimpu are on two ends of a Y shaped road from India, so we took the road back to India for a bit and then we reached Paro. For anyone who comes directly to Bhutan by flight will always come to Paro as it houses the only international airport in Bhutan almost on the river bed.

Paro is another valley and is around 60 km from Thimpu ( an hour ride in Taxi). We reached Paro by 11ish and decided to go to our hotel and check in. The hotel we chose this time was Sonam Trophel. Paro is an exteremely small town, so it will have properties which will be isolated luxury resorts or otherwise a bed and breakfast sorts. Sonal Trophel is a comfortable bed and breakfast. It was recommended to me by another friend. Though I would suggest if you have the time and are not on a budget then you should try a stay at any of the resorts, the only problem is that unless you have a cab for the entire duration such resorts become a problem as there are no taxis available unless you pay for an exorbitant fare to the hotel itself. Since we were there for only one day, we didnt mind the stay and quickly moved to our next destination which was Tiger's nest monastry.

We hired a cab to take us there and meet us back on return, since it was afternoon the guy charged us more ( 600 INR). You take his mobile number and give him yours ( comes in real handy)

Tiger's nest is a monastry on a mountain top and is a very popular hike for any traveller to Bhutan. I have had a good set of experience is easy and moderate treks/hikes but for my wife it was the second time after doing Vaishno Devi to climb any hills. People usually start in early morning and finish by around lunch time, however since we were short on time we planned to climb in the afternoon session and return by evening.

We started at around 1230 to climb and it is good 3000 feet climb before you can see the Cliff edge monastry and have a view of the Paro valley. You must take care of the weather and water ( the two essentials in the hills). Always carry some high energy foods and enough water with you. Wear good shoes as some parts can be tricky in the climb. Weather is chilly despite the sun and refrain from the habit of taking clothes off as you walk uphill as the air gushes are cold especially in the late afternoon. We took around 5 hours to go all the way up and return by 530.    

There is a stoppage at midway where Bhutanese tourism department has a small restaurant for travellers. Bhutan is a very clean country and they do their bit by not polluting the hike trail.
At the top you will find a couple of big waterfalls which feed the main river in Paro city, the water is refreshingly cold and enjoyable. We didnt spend much time at the monastry as it was getting dark.

We started our downward trip and got some great shots of the view of the valley. This is a a hike between easy to moderate and saw many elderly also complete it with relative ease. Do visit it for the sake of the views if  not anything else.

After a long day we were tired and eventually opted for in room dining and rest. We ordered some food at Sonam Trophel and ended our day there. Shopping and town hopping was for the next day before we return to Phuntsholing and then to India.

The next day we started with a good breakfast at Champaca Cafe - a very nice cafe with wifi and the next best option after Paro Pizza which was unfortunately closed in the morning. We however had  a sumptuous meal there and planned to walk around the city and laze in the strong sun alongside the river which flowed in full fury before we started our return journey. My idea of vacation is more about lazing around than going to all sort of places just to get pictures clicked.

The river front is nicely made and it is great to take a quite walk and feel the fresh crisp mountain air rather than do anything else. We soaked the sun and visited some small handicraft shops but did not buy anything.

After 12 we took another cab back to the town of Phuntsholing from the hotel. Sonam Trophel is a decently priced hotel and can be booked over email. You can find the reviews on trip advisor for more details.

Our return cab again costed us 2500 INR and we reached Phuntsholing by the day end, it gets real misty in the evening on the way back and you see some clouds coming on to the road when you car just drives through. An experience to have unless you had such earlier.

We stayed again at Hotel Park and had dinner at Kizom cafe. The next morning we bid goodbye to Bhutan as our taxi driver took us back to Bagdogra for our return flight. The return cab costed me another 2500 INR. We took the return flight to Delhi and reached Delhi by 5 in the evening. That was our short Bhutan trip, a pretty eventful one. Looking forward to your reviews on the post. Will post another trip very soon.


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