Bhutan Expedition by Road – Pre-planning & Roadmap
Our Ladakh expedition by road has given us impetus to plan for more long road trips and this time we have decided to cross the international border by road. Yes! that’s correct. We will cross the international border and explore our neighbour Bhutan by road. A team each from Mumbai, Pune, Delhi & Kolkata is all set to capture captivating culture, monasteries, prayer bells, Buddhist populace along with sightseeing road expedition. Although Bhutan is a neighbour and has close relationship with India but there are limited information about the country. We are gathering as much information was we can and this blog is the stepping stone for our trip which is scheduled during the summer of 2017. We are ready to conquer the ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon’.
Most people question: Is cross-country road trip possible? The answer is very simple – a big yes. Citizens of India can easily visit Bhutan without many formalities by obtaining a permit for visitors and vehicle.
There are primarily two routes to enter Bhutan: By Air or by Road.
Druk Air offers direct flights to Paro, which is the only international airport in Bhutan, from Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Bagdogra. Popular travel websites do not offer these flights and one need to contact the authorized Druk Air travel agent in the city for bookings. Fares listed on the website are higher, for Indian citizens, they are slightly different. Also, these aren’t daily flights, so when if intent to fly both ways, better to first see the flight schedule and availability and then plan the rest of your trip.
The Jaigaon/Phuentsholing border is around 4-5 hours from Siliguri/Bagdogra which is well connected by air, rail, as well as road.
Documents, Formalities & Permit
Indian nationals having their passports (with 6 months validity) or voter ID can directly approach Regional Immigration Office, Royal Govt. of Bhutan, Phuentsholing to obtain entry permits for visiting Thimphu and Paro in Bhutan. Also, entry permit issued at Phuentsholing is valid for 7 days only. To visit beyond Thimphu & Paro one need to acquire a ‘special area permit’ from the Royal Govt. of Bhutan Immigration Office at Thimphu on any working days. Along with original visitors should carry 2-3 photocopy set of the documents being submitted and 2-3 photographs as well. Permit form for every individual along with requisite document need to be filled up and submitted at Immigration Office. No fee is charged by Royal Govt. of Bhutan for issuing entry permits. No entry permit is required for Indian nationals to enter Phuentsholing City. The Phuentsholing border gate normally remains open from 6 am to 8 pm. Also, for Indian citizens it is not compulsory to hire a local agent or guide but it is advisable to hire a local who can deal with logistics for the trip. On the way the permits are checked and stamped at check points. It’s important to reach Phuentsholing & Thimphu on a weekday to obtain permit for visiting places.
Indian nationals not carrying either a valid passport or voter ID cards may please contact Consulate General of India, Phuentsholing and apply for Identification Slip.
For details about identification slip: http://www.consulatephuentsholing.nic.in/?0668?000
Indian registered car’s are allowed to enter Bhutan and need to obtain a permit for the car from the Regional Transport Office in Phuensholing by paying a nominal fee. The road authority in Bhutan is the Road Safety and Transport Authority (RSTA). It is important to wear formal or semi-formal dress in Bhutan specially when we are visiting any government office. After obtaining immigration permit one has to apply for vehicle permit in Phuensholing only. The below documents are required for obtaining the permit:
- Original Registration certificate – two photocopies required
- Original Insurance Paper – two photocopies required
- Original Pollution Under Control Certificate – two photocopies required
- Original Tax Paid Receipt – two photocopies required
- Original Driving License – two photocopies required (THE NAME ON THE LICENSE SHOULD BE EXACTLY SIMILAR TO THE NAME ON THE ENTRY PERMIT ISSUED BY THE IMMIGRATION)
- A simple application on plain paper
- Copy of Immigration permit
We will start our journey from Mumbai on 20th May 2017 and intend to complete our tour by 4th June 2017. We have planned our journey via Kolkata thereby avoiding UP & Bihar but those who intend to join us in this expedition from Delhi can meet us at Siliguri “the best possible meeting point”.
The local currency is the Ngultrum, which is pegged to the Indian Rupee. The rupee is also legal tender in Bhutan, so we do not need to convert any currency, rupees are accepted everywhere.
We need to carry lower denomination notes i.e. INR 100 and below as officially INR 500 and above notes are not supposed to be accepted. Very few places accept cards, so it’s best to carry sufficient amount of cash in lower denomination to cover entire tour.
We can get a prepaid SIM card from any shop after showing immigration permit.
Basic necessity check for vehicle:
Before starting the trip, check the service of vehicle and ensure that the it is in proper working conditions as mechanic shops are less found in this region. We will carry tool kits such as screw driver set, Basic toolkit, a few bottles of petrol or diesel, iron rod, small hammer and puncture repair kit. Also do pack an adhesive, funnel, wires or cables, towing rope, spare tube, M-seal and so on. Do not forget to check the service of your vehicle done before setting on for the journey.
Driving in Bhutan
Here is what we were able to gather about driving in Bhutan :
- Fairly easy
- Drivers usually do not use their horns
- Speed limits are monitored and respected
- Parking on the right side of the road is a taboo
- Uphill traffic to be given the preference.
- Right indicator means – ‘do not overtake’- If the vehicle ahead of you flashes its right indicator, it means you should not overtake that vehicle. It might have stopped for some uphill traffic or for some other reason to avoid any traffic issue. If you see a vehicle coming towards you with its right indicator flashing, means he has stopped for you and you should go towards it without worrying about traffic.
- Left indicator means you may get ahead – If the vehicle ahead of you flashes its left indicator, means it’s asking the vehicle behind it to come ahead.
- Do not use high beam at night.
- Always keep left especially at turns.
- When you reach behind a CAR at night, switch off your headlights and turn on your parking and fog lamps to avoid any reflection of your light in that car’s rear view mirror.
Miscellaneous Do’s & Don’ts:
- Taking pictures inside the alters of dzongs, temples and monasteries is strictly prohibited
- Take off your caps/hats inside dzongs, temples and in front of the national flag
- Wear full length, long sleeved clothes while visiting dzongs, temples, monasteries, schools and any government institutions
- Walk clockwise while crossing dzongs, temples, monasteries, prayer flags and other religious artifacts
- Please seek permission before clicking other people or religious items
- Do not give sweets, money, pencils, pens etc. to the children
- Although Bhutan is safe, please keep your valuable items safe
- There are a lot of stray dogs in Bhutan. Do not tease them as they aren’t friendly. Barking dogs are also a nuisance at night in several areas
- Public display of affection is uncommon in Bhutan. Kindly refrain
- Smoking in public places is prohibited
- Buying of antiques from Bhutan is strictly monitored by customs. Please insist on a cash memo/original bill while purchasing
Other important basic preparation:
- It is also advisable to start full tank and whenever fuel station is available again get the tank filled up
- Keep sufficient cash buffer of lower denomination in hand as electronic payments are very rarely accepted
- Need to be careful about availability of hotels/tents/guest houses
- Carry basic medicines
- Carry essential warm clothes such as body warmer, cap, socks, jackets, hand gloves, and shoes
- Keep a lot of dry fruits in stock, chocolates, and food that is not easily perishable.
- Carry sufficient amount of drinking water and keep replenishing it
- Check for any permission to visit a place