Delhi to Bhutan RoadtripPlaces seen Darjeeling, Mirik, Paro, Punaka, Thimphu, Gangtok, Nathula, Zuluk, Baba mandir, Kalimpong Total No of days - 15Dated - 29th March to 12th April 2019
Behind the wheel & ContributorVinod Kumar...know more about me
Road trip to Bhutan
After Nepal, this year the Ghumi group started the planning for a Bhutan trip in January, with the help of Arpan's friend Tsong Ashmii of Bhutan Off-road Adventures. We were able to plan out a 15 day trip covering Darjeeling, Paro, Thimphu, Punaka and Gangtok. Bookings in Bhutan was handled by Ashmii, and for Gangtok and Darjeeling we booked Summit (from MMT). Rest plans were dynamic, on the go planned to book. As March came closer, so did our group get smaller and finally we were just 9, two families of 3 each and 3 adults. Our youngest member Eliza was now 2 years old and she was the heart and soul of the entire trip.
Itinerary & Route plan
The Bhutan Ghumi Group
Day 1 (Delhi - Lucknow)Total distance - 566kms
Time taken - 7 hrs
Stay at Hotel Vista Residency
Not much of an eventful drive, the Yamuna Expressway all the way till Lucknow is a smooth sail. Dinner at dastarkhwan which is the highlight of every Lucknow trip.
Day 2 (Lucknow - Darjeeling)Stay at Summit Hermon Spa
Distance - 980 kms
Time - 19 hrs
The Longest drive day in our entire trip. Started at 5:20, Lucknow Gorakhpur stretch was congested. Lots of toll booths on this road, and some were jammed with huge trucks, especially the tag lanes. Enter Bihar at 12:30pm, in Gopalganj the flyover work was on so got a bit congestion here, at 10pm we enter West Bengal and by 12:30am we reached our hotel. Now for a good sleep.
Day 3In Darjeeling
Toy train ride, Tibetan & mall Market Shopping, Glennerys for Dinner.
The next day early morning a peek out of the windows to have a glimpse of the mighty Kanchenjunga, and lo the lofty peaks give us a beautiful view. Its has been raining since morning, still at 8 we walk to Keventers to have our breakfast. Keventers was hardly 1.2 kms walk from the hotel, and we just barely managed to grab a seat.
The mighty Kanchenjunga
View from our room
Our toy train ride was at 10, we had already booked our tickets from irctc.in. The charges are Rs 1400 for steam and Rs Rs 800 for diesel, we opted for the diesel one. After half an hour delay, our train started to roll slowly through the busy markets and intersections of the hill station. No good views as such, but the ride brings you a lots closer to the daily life of the local people.
The diesel train in the station
Inside our toy train
On our way to Ghum station which is at 7400ft, and is the highest railway station in India, we pass through the Batasia loop. A break of 10mins is enough to view the 360 degree view of Darjeeling town and the Himalayan peaks on a clear day. A beautiful garden with a war memorial to commemorate the Gorkha soldiers of the Darjeeling Hills who sacrificed their lives in various wars after India's independence.
Ghum station has a break of half an hour. Here there is the rail museum, can be missed. Photos not a miss
Inside the museum
At around 12:30 we were back at Darjeeling station, walk our way to the markets, have a wonderful lunch at The Park. Their food was awesome.
After lunch did shopping at the mall market. As it started raining we walk back to the hotel.
After some good rest in the evening walk to Glenerys for dinner, it was also a good place. Some pics of the place.
Day 4 Darjeeling - Mirik - PhunetshulingDistance - 285 kms/12 hrs
Stay - Palm hotel
This part of the drive was very picturesque, we pass by the Ambotia tea factory, and view a whole lot of women plucking the tea leaves with bamboo baskets on their back. Being the village roads, it was not in good condition at places, although small houses here and then added beauty to the otherwise green landscape. We could not get a cup of tea to drink however. By 1pm we climb the steep slope to enter Mirik, where we are stopped by the Police officials, papers were checked. Further we have lunch at Jagjeet restaurant, thali was ok. Saw the Mirik lake, and started our drive to Phunetshuling.
View from Mirik
Tea break at Dudley Baazar
It was quite a mess at the border, HMV and LMV vehicles are marked seperate to cross the border. We cross the border, and thanks to our guide who had already informed the guards there, we pass by, without questioning and checking to our hotel in Phunetshuling, which was just 5kms from the border.
Day 5 (Phunetshuling - Paro)Distance - 147 kms/6hrs
Stay - The Centre Point
To stay here, no visa or passports required but for the journey forward we have to get our passports stamped. Morning our guide who later became a good friend Jamyang, met us with the forms needed to be filled up. Copies of passport as well as original and photographs are also required. For vehicle entry, The RC(the name of DL and RC is same the process is much faster), Pollution, Insurance and DL photocopies are required. Jamyung was very quick with the instructions as well as the processes, within 2 hours we had finished with the permits and even picked up a mobile connection just beside the permit counter. Sim was Rs 699/- plus taxes with 1GB data a day and it worked fairly well wherever we went.
And then we stop at the Transport Ministry where our vehicle papers are submitted and permits collected. Around 1apm we reach the first checkpost where our papers are checked.
Fruits are sold by the local farmers enroute, and as we drive through Jamyang explains everything one has to know about the country. Since we insist on traditional food he stops at Doejung Paksan Dzongkhag for lunch, and the menu was....
Vegeterians like me had a tough time trying their local food as the smell is not that appetising even though I tried veg koka. Imatachi or chilly cheese is a must try veg food but its too chilly.
Dantak canteen run by the army was a great relief as tea coffee samosa etc were available. After half an hour there was another check post where our papers were checked again. Bhutan time is half an hour ahead of IST so our mobiles were in Bhutan time and watches in IST. The new road opened recently is a great blessing as it has cut down the journey by 2hrs.
The drive was very beautiful, its a mountain drive, beautiful roads with white and colourful prayer flags adorned all over mainly at intersections. Waterfalls can be seen in the mountains.
Dzong at night
By 7 pm we reach our hotel.
Day 6 (Trek to Tiger Monastery)Distance - Approx 6 kms oneway
It was very cold in Paro and at night we had to pull out our jackets. Morning 8:30 after breakfast we start for Tiger Monastery. From our hotel the drive was hardly 5kms. We park the car and take tickets for Rs 500/- per person, for students there is a 50% concession on showing school ids. Ponies are available half way, walking sticks etc are available. So before the trek, wear loose comfortable clothing, caps, carry water and some energy snacks, good walking shoes and loads of sunscreen and ofcourse sunglasses.
Tickets and Dress code
Trek poles to buy
Paro Taktsang or Tiger Monasteryis at 10,240 ft, and is carved on an exposed cliff face, resembling a tiger face. Guru Padmasambhava in 8th century is believed to have meditated here and later in 1692 a monastery was built. As we climb now and then the monastery is visible, and the view gets beautiful when we reach halfway at the Takstang Cafeteria. Ponies ply till here, and the rest we have to walk. Tea coffee biscuits were available here. After some rest and photos we start our climb, its steep and unlaid. There are shortcuts which one can take at your risk, as we approach the flight of the stairs, we reach the famous photo point where the most iconic picture of the monastery can be taken. The steps then descend down into the canyon, a high water fall at the bottom of the canyon greets you, and from here a path of stairs are to be climbed to reach the monastery.
Every belonging are to be kept in the cloak room, before entering the monastery, removing one's shoes to enter, Jamyang takes us to the three temples and explains the deities and legends associated. It took an hour and by then the clouds had darkened signalling rain, so we have to a bit more swift in our trek down.
Instructions before entering
Luckily we made it in time to the Cafeteria, where we had lunch. In an hour the rain stopped and by 4:30 we were able to reach the parking area. That evening we roamed about the markets of Paro, and picked up a few curios and gifts.
And the samsung steps report.....
Day 7 (Paro - Punaka)Distance - 115kms/5hrs
Stay - The Village
Start at 9am, and we stop in Paro town for some shopping, then see the Dzong and Museum, the plane landing at the airport and then drive to Punaka.
Rinpung DzongThe architecture of the Dzong is very beautiful and impressing, especially the wood work, wall paintings and the impressive view from the height it stands at. Dzongs are actually temples, offices, and monks' accommodation all in one huge mansion. Entry is Rs 300/- Visitors full hand shirts and pants are compulsary.
National Museum of BhutanThe museum has a good collection of masks, and other information about the birds and animals of Bhutan. Its a worth watch. Photography not allowed.
We drive to Punaka. At 12pm, we stop here to have tasty momos. They are markets set by the villagers.
There was a immigration check before Dochula pass, and then we stop at Dochula. At Dochula is the 108 stupas, and there is a great view of the Himalayas. Not visible at this time for us. The cafeteria is good too. Its cloudy and windy here. Still manage to click some pics.
View from Dochula
At Punaka we see the Dzong which is situated beside the lake and is an archtectural marvel. In 2011 the wedding of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck to Jetsun Pema was held here. Punakha Dzong was built at the confluence of two major rivers in Bhutan, the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu, which converge in this valley.
Then we visit the Suspension bridge. It is the second longest suspension bridge in Bhutan and connects the old administrative centre of Punakha Dzongkhag to the rest of the valley. This hanging bridge in Bhutan is draped with prayer flags all along. it sways a bit due to the strong winds from the flowing river beneath but we had a fun time..
And finally we arrive at The Village our stay for tonight
Day 8 (Punaka - Thimphu)Distance - 69kms/4hrs
Stay - Yardroling hotel
We start by 9:30 from Punaka, visit the Fertility temple or Chimi Lhakhang Temple. It is a temple built in the honour of Saint Drukpa Kunley. A statue of Guru Padmasambhava is found inside the Temple where couples seek blessings. It was an ausicious day as some rituals were going on in the temple. Jamyang says that he received his name here and so every year he has to make a mandatory visit to the temple.
There are lots of shops around the temple
The same route back through Dochula, again our immigration is checked and we enter Thimphu. Its photo time..
Our stay was at Yardroling, a decent place. We were greeted by Ashmii here, a very warm and lovely lady. In the evening we hire a cab and visit the markets. Cabs are easily available, we first go to the post office and have our photos stamped. Then some shopping in the markets and our foodie lovers indulge in cosy cafes serving dishes like Pork Paa, crispy Beef Chilli and momos etc
Ghumi group stamps
Day 9Thimphu Sightseeing
Morning after breakfast we start to see Thimphu city by 9. On the way we stop by a stone painting which was really beautiful. Then we see the Chen Tango monastery which was around 14kms away, it is a 1 hour steep climb from here to the top, and none was in the mood to trek so skipped it.
Chen Tango Monastery
We then saw the Heritage museum, the life and culture of Bhutan was exhibited here. Brought a bottle of rice wine which is made here. Photos not allowed.
We the visit the Taikin reserve, where taikin the national animal of Bhutan is protected. There were barking deers, monals, sambar and the himalayan goats here. Entry was Rs 300 per person.
Taikin the national animal of Bhutan
Then we visit the Buddha statue which is a huge statue and is visible as we enter Thimpu town.
The Dzong in Thimpu. And back to Hotel for the days rest. We had a wonderful Cultural show at 7:30 by Ashmi, which was really spectacular.
Day 10 (Thimphu - Gangtok)Distance - 382kms/12hrs
Stay - Summit Norling
Today the distance was less, but the roads and traffic will be much more. So we need a longer time to reach our destination, we started early at 5:30 and had our breakfast at Dantak army canteen. At the customs point around 9:40 we stamp our exit, and cross Bhutan border by 10:20.
Enter West Bengal
Since Bhutan was a cash country and credit cards didnt work anywhere, we had to collect cash and so after the border spent some time finding a working ATM. After bidding goodbye to our guide, we drive past Jaigaon to our next destination. And back in our country the traffic is high and so covering distance took time. At Rangpo we took a break for lunch at Dominos. Reached Summit Norling at 6pm.
Day 11Gangtok Sightseeing
We hire a Innova and first see the Ganesh temple. Close to Tashi View point is Ganesh Tok, a temple of Lord Ganesha. It's located at an altitude of 6,500 ft. You will need to climb a stair case to reach to the upper levels where the temple and viewing area are located. You can see the Gangtok town, and the snow capped mountains including Kanchenjunga.
View from temple
Himalayan Zoological Parkis just in front of the temple. Himalayan Monal Pheasant, Himalayan Red Panda, Snow Leopard Cat, Goral, Himalayan Palm Civet, Himalayan Black Bear and Crimson-Horned Pheasant can be seen here. Can take car in for Rs 100, and per person entry is Rs 25. We wanted to see the Red panda.
Tashi pointhas good views of Kanchenjunga snow peaks on a clear day. For the beautiful sunrise, we need to be here by 5am. A flight of steps takes to the top. There are many eating outlets here, selling Wai Wai, Maggi etc.
Ban Jhakri Fallsis the waterfalls which cascades from a rocky height of almost 40 feet and plunges down with intense force. Around the waterfall gardens have been beautifully landscaped and the place is further adorned with several statues of Ban Jhakri, Lyam Lymay, Mangpas and Lepcha ancestors.
In the evening we visit MG Marg, do some shopping and spent the evening there.
Manish arranges the army permits for our Nathula visit. So we plan to drive via Nathang valley and Zuluk to Kalimpong the next day. The army permits arrived today, for which we had submitted photos IDs, RC, pollution, DL etc. The permits had to be stamped from the Tourism office. Arpan was quick with his contacts to arrange a local guy to travel with us who would take care of it. And so we were ready for the thrilling ride tomorrow, didnt know if the roads were open as it was still snowing on the top. Fingers crossed....
Day 12Gangtok - Nathula - Zuluk - Kalimpong
Distance - 186kms/14hrs
Stay - Summit Kalimpong
So after breakfast we check out of the hotel and start by 8:30. As we drive it starts drizzling, roads are a bit bad at some stretches and Nathula is around 50kms from our hotel. By 10 we reach Tsongmo lake where it was snowing heavily. Geared with jackets and boots, we make our way to the ropeway and reach the top which was totally snowed out. Snow boots and dresses are available on rent too.
3rd mile Checkpost
Ropeway fare was Rs 325/- per person. It was totally snowing on the top and was one of the most beautiful rides ever.
At the top
By 12:10 we reached The Dagar Dwar which is the entry to Nathula and it is snowing heavily there the guards didn't allow us up. Its just 4.7kms from here, but due to the heavy snowfall we were not allowed further.
The New Baba Mandir is just 4 kms ahead of the Y fork so we make it to the temple, offer our prayers and pick up some souvenirs from the shop and drive on.
The snow fall is continuous and showers heavier as we drive through. None except we three cars with hardly the way for a car to pass make our way through the virgin white lands. We drive through Kupup to reach the Old Baba Mandir at 1:45. Some pics enroute..
We reach the Old Baba Mandir at 1:45, where again except for a army jeep no other vehicles were visible. One has to climb a few stairs where you will be able to find Baba Harbhajan Singh's bunker. The temple is also there. Some people also believe that his spirit still exists, guarding the Indo-China border, especially at the night time. Its snowing and hands and legs were numb, hardly we could remove and wear our shoes.
Nathang valley at 13,500 feet, this lush valley was the home to traditional yak herders who came from Tibet. It is mostly covered in snow for the most part of the year and even now. There is a monastery here.
The snowfall continues and finally after 2kms before Lungtu we spot a small cafeteria. Here we have tea, maggi, bread toast omelettes etc.
A yak enroute
Near Thambi Viewpoint
ZulukZuluk was breathtaking at 10,100ft, it is nearly 90 kms from Gangtok, has 32 hairpin zig zag bends for a distance of 14kms viewable from Thambi View Point. Old Silk Road is slightly ahead of Thambi view Point. As we descend the snowfalls lightens, at Phadamchen picket post our permit papers are checked. There are many homestays at this part. As we descended the roads were bad in some patches, stop at Que Khola waterfalls and also have a coffee break. At 10 we reach our hotel in Kalimpong.
Zuluk was so beautiful that photographs carn't do justice.....
Pangolakha Wildlife sactuary
At Que Khola or Kali Khola Waterfall
Shops near the waterfall
Dinner somewhere neat Bhalukhop
Day 13Kalimpong - Muzaffarpur
Distance - 468kms/13hrs Stay - Royal Phullar
The original plan was to drive till Gorakhpur, so we kept hotel plans dynamic. Start relaxed at 10, and planned to visit Dello park but then none was interested so planned to drive on. Summit has a beautiful view and so morning surise was awesome from the hotel. Momos are usually a must try in Kalimpong. At around 1pm stop at a sweet shop for some fresh Ragullas, Mishti doi and Ras malai. Tolls are back, on this road and take a late lunch at Vaishali dhaba. All small dhabas in this route. We were at Darbanga by 8pm, so planned to stay there, but we could'nt find a good hotel room so planned to drive to Muzaffarpur. There we were suprised to find Royal Phullar which was too good. The hotel guys served us dinner at 11:30pm. After a good sleep...the onward journey.
Vaishali dhaba near Rajganj our lunch break
Day 14Muzaffarpur - Lucknow
Distance - 538kms/9hrs Stay - Visa residency
Breakfast and stay was excellent. By 9:30 we started, not much eventful. Lunch was at Daana Pani at 1:30. As usual traffic and heat greeted us. Around 7pm we reached the hotel.
Day 15Lucknow - Delhi
That brings the end of our 15 day trip. Bhutan is as beautiful and clean as we see in the pictures. The people too are very friendly and happy. Bhutan has a blend of urban life with their traditional life, a well balanced one, really appreciate that. Sadly there is much to see and explore in this beautiful place, time is never enough.......