Let’s begin with a fun fact- Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan is the only capital city in the world with no traffic lights! Did you know that? It’s okay if you didn’t. We bet there are many things about this tiny Himalayan kingdom country that you wouldn’t know.
As travel has become easier and more accessible, more and more people are not just getting excited about the idea of solo travelling but are also exploring lesser known countries like Bhutan. It’s beautiful Himalayan landscape and humble, honest people have rightfully helped it earn the reputation of being one of the happiest countries of the world. Bhutan is one of the very few countries where the people’s primary focus is increasing the Gross National Happiness of the country, rather than the Gross Domestic Product. Imagine entering the country borders by yourself but leaving the borders with friends made for a lifetime- that’s the kind of vibe Bhutan has!
This sole Buddhist kingdom in the world has only one international airport in a town called Paro. One can travel to Bhutan via airplane or road. However, there are certain things all tourists- whether travelling in a group or solo- must keep in mind.
Do You Need a Visa?
Citizens of India, Maldives and Bangladesh do not require a visa, but do require a permit from the Bhutanese government to enter the country.
Travellers from countries other than these will be required to hire a guide from Bhutan, and will be required to present (and follow) a pre-planned itinerary, with a mandatory daily expenditure cost of $250.
What Do You Need to Know About The Permit?
What Are The Documents Required?
The very first thing on all travellers’ list must be their passport or voter ID. These are the only two acceptable identity proofs to get the entry permit into Bhutan. All travellers will also need two passport size photographs to submit with, along with the form.
Where Can You Apply For The Permit?
The permits can be applied for on weekdays in Phuntsholing, which is within the Indian borders, close to the town of Jaigaon.
While Phuntsholing lies close to the border, travellers going to Bhutan via Kolkata can also apply for the permit in the office of Royal Bhutan Consulate in Kolkata. While the office is function from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, the documents can only be submitted till noon.
What is The Permit Process?
All applicants are handed out a form demanding their personal details, and details about their intended travel plans. While some officials are more liberal, most insist that all travellers fill up the exact names of hotels or homestays. So, it is advisable to make all bookings well in advance, and to carry the related memo receipts with you as proof.
All travellers will be asked to specify if they intend to visit the more touristy part of Bhutan- known as Thimphu Bhutan- or if they want to visit the less touristy, more commercial Samdrup Ionghkar Bhutan. There are different permits and regulations for both places.
In case of solo travellers, especially female travellers, the officials may raise certain questions, which are a greater result of concern, than of prejudice. The officers only want to be assured that all solo travellers can look after themselves for the entirety of the trip. The trick is to have all your details in place and to sound confident and self-assured.
Once the application is approved and stamped, a tourist would then have to get generated their photograph and thumb/finger biometrics- a procedure that does not take longer than an hour.
The permit is valid for a period of seven days only, and all travellers must always carry this permit. It is unlikely that one would be asked for the permit within the city-limits, but officials may demand to check the permit inter-city.
Remember to surrender this permit on the last day of your trip, at the last check point.
How Can You Travel to Bhutan?
The easiest way to travel to Bhutan is via airplane. Druk Airways and Bhutan Airlines offer direct flights to Paro from Delhi, Gaya, Mumbai, Guwahati, Kolkata and Bagdogra. Ensure to plan the trip well in advance because only these two airlines offer flights to Bhutan. The reason for this is that the Paro airport is one of the toughest airports for landing in the world.
For all those who want a more authentic, road-trip experience, it is possible to travel to Bhutan over lands via the Indo-Bhutan order. This, however, requires a proper permit in place. It would beneficial to remember that Bhutan is ahead of India by half an hour.
Now that we have dealt with the what’s, whys and when’s, it’s time to look at Bhutan for the dragon land that it is. The deep mountainous jungle treks add to the mythical and mysterious appeal of the country. If anything, a trip to Bhutan is the perfect opportunity to relax the soul and the mind amidst the beauty of nature.
As a traveller and tourist, many of you would notice that instead of creating something exceptional and exotic for the tourist, the country offers its local treats for everyone to experience and enjoy- whether it is the local food, or local activities like archery (the national sport of Bhutan). Bhutan’s small-town roads, and village grounds are a good exhibition ground for all things cultural, especially dance performances.
Here are Some Things That You, As a Solo Traveller, Can Do in Bhutan-
Trek to Tiger’s Monastery, Must Thing to Do on Your Solo Travel to Bhutan
While some people have labelled this trek as tiring, many more have said that the trek was worthwhile, especially with its lush panoramic views. The monastery- its inside chambers and outside pavilions- offers a peaceful environment, especially in the early evenings. This is the perfect retreat for thinking, reading, writing or just simply unwinding.
One of the very first things that any tourist is bound to notice about Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital city, is just how cosmopolitan it is, especially when compared to the rest of the country. Having said that, the city has managed to maintain the peace and quiet that Bhutan is known for, despite its commercial establishments. There are so many quaint restaurants and cafes that offer authentic Bhutanese food. Local boutiques selling the traditional dress are also something you shouldn’t miss out on. In Thimphu, urban life blends with the traditional so seamlessly that you wouldn’t feel like leaving.
Through the narrow passageways, one must visit the Centenary market of Thimphu. This market has earned global fame for the variety of veggies and jams one would find there. Farmers from across the country come here to sell their produce.
Chelela Pass, Amongst Best Things to Do on Your Solo Travel to Bhutan
Chelela Pass is the highest motor-able road in Bhutan, at an elevation of over 3,500 metres. It is also one of the most picturesque routes of the country. It’s absolutely breath-taking landscape is bound to give you goose bumps! No matter how far you look, you will only see the soft skies over the valleys.
Masked dance festivals are a large part of Bhutanese culture. It is a fascinating spectacle to behold. Earlier, Tsechus was aimed at shunning away evil spirits. And then, later, to re-enact notable historic events. Now, however, this festival is a mark of celebration, community harmony and fun. This festival occurs almost monthly, and despite its frequency, draws in large crowds from far and wide.
Punakha is a couple of hours away from Thimphu. En route to this picturesque destination, one must stop at Dochula Pass, and then at Wangdiphodrang for some exquisite sightseeing.
Dochula Pass was the war site of the 2014 war between Bhutan and India and is full of memorial chortens (Buddhist shrines). The uniqueness of this war memorial lies in the fact that this site mourns and honours the casualties on both sides of the battle.
Paro: Another Must-visit City!
Paro is a relatively small city- so small that its entire length can be walked in an hour or so. The Rinpung Dzong in Paro is a distinctive fortress with huge walls that can be seen throughout the valley. The centre is filled with tiny markets selling local handicrafts and pretty boutique stores and restaurants.
Other than these attractions, the country has various trekking experiences to offer- the Drug Path trek that connects the valleys of Paro and Thimphu, offering a glorious view of Mt. Gangkar Puensum; Duer Hot Springs Trek that is literally one of the most difficult trekking tracks in the whole world; Samtengang Winter Trek with pleasant weather and comfortable trekking trail, best suited for amateur hikers; and the Bumthang Owl Trek which promises a portrait-like untarnished natural beauty of the Buddhist kingdom.
The best part about these treks are not the feeling of accomplishment, or the excellent views they offer, but the endless possibilities of meeting new people, making new friends, sharing life stories and seeking inspiration from people from all walks of life.
Many solo travellers have come back with an increased level of happiness and satisfaction after having met similarly passionate people during their trip.
Don’t forget to arrange for a Bhutanese sim card on reaching this land of peace and calm! And, well, there’s another thing you must remember: There’s no place like Thomas Cook when looking to plan your trip! Not only do we prepare a custom itinerary for you, but we also look after all your travelling arrangements- be it tickets, visa, permits, local transport, local currency or even your sim cards!