- Monday, 28 October 2013

Bhutan: Some Quirks and Some Secrets (Part 2/2)

.. in continuation to Part 1 of same post.

4. Festival in Bhutan

There are several festivals in Bhutan throughout the year and if one can club the holiday with any of the traditional festivals, it can be really insightful. Eventhough I had not planned it, but my trip happened to coinside with this festival called Tsechu in Thimphu. It was a three day festival and was organised in the Dzong. There were several performances by masked and heavily dreassed men, based on recitals. Not that I understood much of what was exactly going on in terms of performance, but I was just caught over by the magnanimity and simplicity (both) of the event. Everyone was dressed in their fineries and carried picnic lunch to the venue. The venue was thronged by not just locals but almost all the tourists in town had come there to not miss the spectacle. There were crowds and crowds everywhere, yet everything seemed orderly. Look at this.

5. Mini Bus Rides in Bhutan

Most of the tourists entring bhutan opt for travel agents and who would ensure comfortable travel throughout the country in private taxi cars. However, it's highly recommended to ditch the cars for once and enjoy comfortable mini-bus rides in Bhutan. These are generally Japanese Coasters and very comfortable. What makes the ride interesting is getting to see the local life upfront. Other than reserved seats for everyone boarding, the buses will be loaded with apples, stop every now and then to pick up vegetables from government alloted stall sheds in remote villages or may be courier packets or may be simply because someone wanted to have a quick chat with someone on the road. All this while decent Bhutanese or Hindi music plays in background. The drivers are not shy to talk over their cellphones while navigating mountain's steep turns, and surprisingly nor does the driver driving from opposite direction at the same turn. Its cheap, comfortable and no matter how many stops they make, you reach your destination well in time. 

Only issue being that buses are not very frequent in interior Bhutanese sectors. Like from Paro to Phuentsholing, there is only one departure in the whole day, which is in morning. Therefore its advisable to book bus tickets a day in advance. I understand busiest sector is Thimphu-Phuentsholing, with buses running between the two almost throughout the day at gap of about 30 minutes.

6. Thimphu Western Style Eateries/ Pubs

When in Thimphu, do not miss on the Ambient Cafe on Norzin Lam for a breakfast and chat with very friendly owners and others around. Its located on first floor of a building overlooking the main Thimphu town street called Norzin Lam. Menu is small and tidy, but more importantly I have to say the ingredients they use in their dishes can't be any fresher and tastier. The owners are a young couple and they pretty much run the place themselves. This is where we also happened to meet a Buddhist Lama who has been working with people suffering from drug/alcohol addiction. The cafe has also been supporting some people who have suffered in this manner by helping them rehabilitate and learn new kitchen or other related skills. Its a totally a family atmosphere. Here is a picture taken from their facebook page:

There are also couple of interesting bars/ pubs/ live music restos that one can find on street opposite the stadium. The places are generally very friendly and though prices are lightly on the steep side, food is good and offers ample variety for a western palate.

7. Authentic & Organic Bhutanese Food in Thimphu

For savouring authentic bhutanese food right in the city of Thimphu, one has to visit the Folk Heritage Museum's restaurant. While the museum itself is interesting, sometimes even live, restoring the traditional house, equipments and artefacts from Bhutan, what's even better is this restaurant in the same premise. The restaurant is privately owned by this cheerful and friendly lady who also happens to be Bhutan's first woman ex-police officer. She has been working on this idea of preserving bhutanese traditional cusine and therefore this restaurant was born. The restaurant is packed through day and night mostly by foreign tourists. It offers a fixed menu in two options at their respective fixed prices of 250 Nu or 450 Nu. Even 250 Nu option covers all the courses and there is ample serving of food. 

Its advisable to book a table there in advance at +975 17600736 (10 am to 10 pm)

8. Bhutanese Local Beer and Ara

Bhutan offers primarily two locally brewed beer- the white one called 'Druk' and strong one called 'Druk 1000' - both, to our amusement, bottled in Indian Kingfisher bottles. Out of curiosity we asked about it to the owner of the bar we were drinking at, and got to know Bhutan doesn't have its own bottling plant, therefore all the Kingfisher bottles disposed off near Indian border are brought into Bhutan (legally/illegally ?!) and their own local beer is put into it and repacked. Having said that, I confess the beer taste good. Druk is very fresh and light, like a good white beer and 5000 eventhough claimed to be strong, is not really that strong. So even if you are a lager drinker, you can easily opt for 1000.

The other local and traditional drink is Ara made in rural households by fermenting rice. Well these can be packed in just about any bottle. Looks clear like vodka, a little strong on smell and taste both. 

9. Riverside Cafe in Paro

All the bhutanese towns and villages are located around a river which cuts through its centre giving it its life. Strangely on my trip, I could not locate a single riverside cafe or something similar. Well strange might be to me and other tourists, this looks like a deliberate effort from the government to avoid any too much crowding around rivers. Bhutanese rivers are small in width and extremely clean, one can see through it to the river bed. However, as fussy I can get sometimes to eat my food in nature, I was able to locate this little cafe serving only coffee, teas and homebaked cakes by the river. Eventhough they did not have any river front seating, they happily allowed us to take their portable chairs upto the river prmonade where they served us the yummiest peach cake in the Bhutan. This cafe is located just behind Hotel Peljorling (opposite mobile tower). Its a must visit.

More on Bhutan

For first part of this series please click here.
For information on entry routes and permits, please visit- Bhutan: Entry Routes for Indian Citizen

Note: A copy of this article has also been published in New Indian Express, Bangalore. Please visit this link for the e-edition.


  1. Could you list your itinerary for the whole trip? Which places did you visit apart from Thimpu and where did you use the special routes permit? I am planning a solo trip in 2 weeks and your blog was very helpful for the travel info.
    Hope to see something from you soon, else a comment would also suffice :). Keep on traveling !

    1. Hi Pranjali,

      Thanks for your feedback.
      Did you read the complete blog post and related post hyperlinked with it ? Its all mentioned there. Anyways, quickly and in short words again:

      I have visited Paro , Haa Valley and Punakha apart from Thimphu.

      a) Itinerary: Puentsholing- Thimphu- Punakha (day trip from Thimphu)- Thimphu- Haa Valley- Paro- Phuentsholing. I did this route in 10 days.

      b) Special route permit is required to visit any place other than Thimphu And Paro. So I used it for Punakha and Haa Valley

      Wish you good travels ! :)

  2. Just stumbled upon your blog through Twitter and the information on getting into Bhutan was really wonderfully put. Definitely Will be my go to resource when I go there.
    Read both your entries and I liked how you have talked about off the beaten path things such as the innocent dance bars, the homestead and so on. I had two questions though
    1) How easy is it to exchange currency one you're in Thimpu? In case you're out of money, Will they accept INR?
    2) I want to do the Tigers Nest trek, apart from visiting Paro and Thimpu. Is it doable within the 7 day window?
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Thanks Nimish !
      Now the answers to your questions:

      1) Indian currency is accepted everywhere. 1 INR= 1 Nu. The Bhutanese economy completely depends on India, so exchange rates are always same. However, Rs 500 and Rs. 1000 INR are discouraged. There are ATMs of Indian banks in Thipmhu and Paro and you could easily withdraw Bhutanese cash using your regular debit cards.
      2) Tiger's Nest is a half day trek (3 hrs up and 3 hrs down)- just outside Paro. It must be done when you visiting Paro.

  3. Hey, nice blog! very well written! I was researching about Bhutan and stumbled upon your blog. Just needed to clarify some things-
    1) Bhutan official site says there are no ATMs available. (http://www.visitbhutan.com/ind_terms_conditions.html)
    How did you manage in terms of money?
    2) If, we are not as lucky as you and for some reasons cant visit places mentioned in the blog. What are the few must see places that I can prioritize the same.
    3) Also, wanted to know the lodging fare for one night at Thimpu.

    Hope you continue travelling and show us the way to such unexplored places.

    Thanks in advance! :)

    1. Thanks for stopping by Akhil. Your answers:-
      1) There are ATMs in Thimphu and Paro (Only)- intact those of Indian banks but dispensing Bhutanese currency. So you can rely on those. Otherwise Indian currency works well throughout Bhutan (except Rs. 500 or 1000 denominations)
      2) Depends on how much time you have. Within bare minimum of 1 week, you can do Thimphu-Punakha-Paro perhaps and visit all the dzongs (monasteries) etc.
      3) Decent Budget accommodations available from Rs. 2500/ night in Thimphu. But if you want to go further cheap, then even at Rs.1100/night.

  4. Hi, it's nice of you to be answering everybody's queries (just thought someone needs to applaud the effort!) we're planning a trip sometime towards end of April. Just a few questions

    We're big on greenery and we're wondering if we can experience lush green scenery considering our travel date.. the kind we get to see during rainy seasons?
    How much should we expect to pay for home stays?
    We're a couple planning to travel from Mumbai with our 6 year old boy, while we have an option of flights were keen to drive down..any advise on our mode of travel, we have enough time too!

    1. Thanks for the appreciation MAC. your answers.
      1) lush greenery- no
      2) I paid about 800 rs, meals extra. but pls contact dodo directly for revised rates.
      3) Driving in Bhutan will be fun as roads are in very good condition. Cannot say same about driving from Mumbai to Jaigaon.

  5. Hi Richa,
    Thank you for writing this 3 part series on Bhutan, it's been my go to page during the entire planning of my upcoming trip. The clarity with which you write is appreciated greatly, especially by solo travellers like me. No questions for you really, just wanted to say thanks :) hopefully I'll have the patience to write down the whole experience when I get back.
    Well, Good luck for your future travels..
    And hope to read more from you :)

    1. Thank you Sonali :) This is really wonderful. Its readers like you who keep me so motivated and inspired. I wish you best for your travels and hope you will connect and share stories once back. Good luck !

  6. Awesome post..such wonderful places and i am confused where to go and what not to miss..
    Could you pls help me out with a brief tour plan..its a 6 day tour plan.

    1. You can write me directly on my email. It all depends on what kind of planning you need.

  7. Hi Richa,
    Thank you for this informative write up on Bhutan, hope to incorporate some of the interesting to-dos in our travel.

  8. Hi Richa,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences while visiting Bhutan!

    I am planning to visit Bhutan. Is it safer to visit this country alone?? how u manage to communicate in term of languages?? have u also visited the himalayas and china border??

    Thanks and Regards

    1. Yes, its absolutely safe for solo travel. Hindi is commonly understood everywhere (apart from remote villages). Bhutan is in Himalayas so I am not sure of your last question. You can visit Haa Valley which is near China border, but you can not go up till the border !

  9. Hi, it's nice blog, we're planning a trip sometime in dec mid 2015. Just a few queries:

    can we get on the spot accommodation?
    How much should we expect to pay for home stays?
    How much should we expect to pay for Transportation?
    Can we use public transportation and use shared or other taxis?

    1. Your answers:

      Rs. 800- 1200/ person/ night
      Public Buses: INR 60- 180, Reserved Taxis: INR 1200- 2000

  10. Thanks a lot Richa for these little secrets of Bhutan which i couldn't find anywhere else. I am leaving for a backpacking trip Bhutan in like 6 hours and just doing intensive research on the country. This really helped. Thanks a ton!!

  11. Hi Richa, great info, and my thanks as everybody else. 4 of us are planning a driving trip from Chennai all the way into Bhutan. In Bhutan Mar 10 to 20th, 2017.
    Would prefer homestays to hotels. Any advice/contacts on that please? my email id is dilipksrinivasan@gmail.com. Many thanks, Capt. Dilip Srinivasan