Travelling gives you pleasure and fulfill your mind with joy and happiness not only when you are exhausted and frustrated in your daily work schedule, but also when life is getting boring day by day and if this traveling can be explored in a foreign country that too within a low budget then your first preference should be Bhutan, “The Land of Thunder Dragon” and “The Last Shangri La”. So plan a Bhutan budget tour from India that will offer you a rich culture, peace and serenity.
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“Travelling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”- Ibn Battuta
So before going to exact budget plan details for a successful Bhutan trip let’s have an overview of which a traveler should be aware.
Specialty of Bhutan:
High gross National Happiness Index, Carbon Negative Country, One of the most Travel-Friendly Location in Asia, world-class scenic beauty.
Best time to visit Bhutan:
March, April, May, September, October, November but as it is all about a budget trip plan I will recommend to visit in January or February(Though it is cold you can spend quality time with less price because of less traveler)
Official language of Bhutan and SIM card:
Dzongkha is the official language in Bhutan, more or less everybody can understand and speak Hindi and English. Travelers can collect a mobile sim card from the immigration office. B-Mobile and TashiCell are two popular Telecomm and data provider in Bhutan. We took B-Mobile SIM card for Rs. 100 with a call balance of Rs. 100(Rs.4/Min charge to call in India) and also took a data plan of 1 GB for Rs. 100 which was enough for 7 night trip in Bhutan(Most of the hotels provide free WiFi to their guests)
Currency and ATM in Bhutan:
Bhutan’s currency is Ngultrum. They also accept Indian currency(except Rs. 2000). Ngultrum and INR both are of the same value there. ATM is also available in main cities but I will recommend carrying enough cash from Jaigaon before entering Bhutan as most of the time ATM runs out of money and secondly you can withdraw Ngultrum, not INR.
Visa and Passport for Bhutan Travel:
No visa is required for Indian, Bangladeshi and Maldivian passport holders. As we were Indian we just had to show original Voter Id(not Aadhaar card) or Passport and a passport size photo. It is better to keep a minimum of 4 copies of Id proof and 4-5 passport size photos. Traveller from other countries(apart from India, Bangladesh, Maldives) they will get the visa permit on arrival in Phuentsholing or Paro.
Food in Bhutan:
Bhutanese cuisine is mostly influenced by Indian, Chinese and Tibetan food. The most famous Bhutanese dish is Ema Datshi which is served with chili and cheese which is a must-try for every traveler (It was not as hot as I would imagine)
READ ALSO: 10 Best Ways to Eat Cheap While Traveling
How to get to Bhutan:
By Air – Bhutan Airlines and DrukAir fly from Kolkata, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Singapore and Bangkok to Paro International Airport. From India, take a flight to Bagdogra from the airport nearest to you. You can check Skyscanner or Kayak to book a cheap flight. Jaigaon(Indo-Bhutan border) is a 3-4 hrs road journey from Bagdogra.
By Train – Hasimara is the nearby Indian Railway Station to the Indo-Bhutan border. Board on Kanchankanya Express from Sealdah which goes directly to Hasimara. You have to take Cab or bus to reach to Phuentsholing from Hasimara which charges Rs. 40-50 per person.
So we four travel freak friends started our long-awaited journey on 10th February(Sunday),’19 for Bhutan budget trip of 7 nights 8 days from Sealdah Railway station at 8:30 pm. Kanchankanya Express(13149) was supposed to reach Hasimara railway station at 11:07 am on next morning, but as usual, the train was late for 2.5 hrs.
We had already contacted a local experienced driver(Sanjeev) who is an expert to conduct a Bhutan budget tour. We hired a WagonR for our 8 days Bhutan budget tour for Rs. 2500/day basis. It was a 15 km distance from Hasimara to Jaigaon. Taxi or bus is also available to go to Jaigaon which costs Rs. 40-50 per person.
As we were already late for that day, we did not waste not a single time and directly went to the Immigration office of Bhutan crossing the border. You have to make a permit from here to travel in Thimpu and Paro, but to travel in Punakha you have to make a permit from Thimpu.
Generally, Monday used to be crowded due to the backlog of 2 days as the immigration office remains closed on weekend but luckily while we went to make permits there was max of 5-6 people in the queue. Hereafter filling immigration form we have submitted it along with a passport size photo and a copy of our voter id or passport and got a token number.
Next, we had to go to the verification counter to verify our documents. After getting verified all documents we went to the next counter where fingerprint and photo were taken. All the processes were completed within 1 hour and our driver collected the permit. In between, we completed our lunch from a restaurant in Jaigaon.
Completing all the process we did two most important thing before starting our journey to Bhutan. The first one was we withdrew a good amount of money(I took 14k INR) from the ATM of Jaigaon and then we bought some dry foods like puffed rice, chanachur, chire vaja, peanut, Maggi, biscuit, cake, potato chips, etc. for the breakfast and evening snacks of our entire trip. It saved a good amount of money on our budget trip to Bhutan as food in Bhutan is a quite costly(Later we found the Rs.5 Maggi in India was selling at Rs.15 in Bhutan).
Ultimately at around 4:30 pm we started our Bhutan budget tour towards Thimpu which is around 147 km from Phuentsholing. As soon as we crossed the border we felt the difference between two countries, there were fewer people with discipline everywhere you can literally feel the peace all around you.
We already decided previously that we won’t stay at Phuentsholing as there is nothing special to visit except Karbandi Monastery so that we can spend an extra day in Bhutan. We were dead tired when we reached our hotel “Welcome Home”(Rs.1200/Night) in Thimpu at around 9 pm. Our first day ended eating noodles in dinner from the hotel restaurant.
Best places to visit in Thimpu:
The next morning, we went to the immigration office to make the permit for Punakha. The weather was charming and the sky was also full clear. While our driver was arranging this we were busy exploring the capital city of Bhutan which is not only enriched with its scenic beauty but also a combination of traditional and contemporary culture.
While roaming around to Thimpu city we found some local shops where local people were selling their traditional handmade crafts and pieces of jewelry but the price was a little bit higher. Taking some pictures of the Thimpu city and National Textile Museum(not worthy to visit, so we avoided).
National Memorial Chorten:
It is a Large white stupa with a golden spire on top which was built in memory of Third Druk Gyalpo. It is a place for daily worship of the Bhutanese. I found it better to take a snap from outside as the entry fee is a little bit high, Rs.300 is not justified.
The 50 meters tall Buddha Dordemna statue is one of the largest seated Buddha statues in the world. The whole statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold that makes it more attractive on a sunny day. We got a great panoramic view of Thimpu city from here which never fails to cease the viewer’s eyes.
The interior chamber of this statue has a painted wall that depicts Buddha’s life and a total of 125,000 miniature Buddhas are there. Though the total cost to construct this wonderful statue is more than 100 million USD still there is no entry fee till now.
Folk Heritage Museum:
It is a 3-story house made with mud and timber which was built more than 150 years ago. A traveler can have a basic idea of the traditional Bhutanese way of living and culture. In addition, you can also have a taste of their hand made local wine and other traditional foods. The entry fee here is Rs.50 per person.
Completing all the sightseeing we had lunch in a restaurant near Clock Tower Square. There are several restaurants of different range. We ordered mixed fried rice and two chicken item which total costs Rs.900 for 4 people.
You can explore the local market where from a little keyring to a big Buddha idol everything is expensive here. One thing you will surely notice that there is no rush to anyone, not even in the traffic, no horn, no chaos, everybody maintains a proper discipline here which will melt all tiredness after completing sightseeing.
We did not stay longer outside our hotel as the temperature was near around 3-degree centigrade. We ordered Roti and Paneer for dinner which costs around Rs.160 pp.
Best places to visit in Punakha:
Punakha is 85 km. distance from Thimpu at an altitude of 1242 m. and it is quite warmer compared to Thimpu.
On the way to Punakha, you have to cross Dochula(3100 m.) which is a pass between Thimpu and Wangdue. It was the first place in Bhutan where we got the first glimpse of snow. There were 110 small stupas constructed in memory of soldiers of Bhutan popular as Druk Wangyal Chortens.
You can have a mesmerizing 360-degree view of snow-covered Himalayan mountain range if lucky(while returning from Punakha to Paro we could not see anything for the cloudy weather). No doubt it was one of the best places in Bhutan where we spent more than 2 hrs.
READ NEXT: 12 Best and Cheap Places to Visit in India
Punakha Suspension Bridge:
On the way, we had our lunch from a roadside hotel with Rice, Daal and Egg curry which cost Rs. 160 pp. We reached to Suspension Bridge at around 11 am. This is the longest suspension bridge of the country built on Pho Chu river. Crossing the bridge is fun and we got a nice view of Pho Chu river along with the green hills from the mid of the bridge.
It is the second oldest and second-largest Dzong in Bhutan which is an Administrative building of Punakha district. For each district, there is separate dzong and everywhere the entry fee is Rs. 300(guide included). So it’s better to visit one dzong instead of visit all that will save your time and money both.
Crossing the wooden bridge we entered to the Dzong which is situated on the bank of Pho Chu(male) and Mo Chu(female) river. You will surely be amazed by the great architecture and open courtyards of the inside Dzong where the life of Buddha is described in detail with great artwork.
After spending almost 2-3 hrs we left the Dzong and checked in to our Hotel Kinten(Rs.1100/Night) in Wangdue 15 km away from Punakha. We completed our dinner with chicken wai wai(Rs. 60) and momo(Rs. 60) from a nearby restaurant and the taste was just awesome and food was very cheap as compared to other restaurants.
Tips: I personally recommend you to stay at Wangdue instead of Punakha because fooding and lodging both are cheap here compared to Punakha. Not only you can save money but also you can explore the Bhutanese life going into depth. We did not see a single tourist while we were roaming around the streets of Wangdue. The cold breeze and the silent atmosphere will surely help you to extract the essence of pure Bhutan.
It is a vast glacial valley at 3000 m above sea level which is 81 km from Punakha, a 2.5 hrs journey. This journey itself is very beautiful and the valley will give a breathtaking view with the black naked crane if you come in Winter.
Though this valley was not in our checklist at first but we were impressed when we found it in Guides by Lonely Planet app, my all-time friendly travel app.
It is a 450 years old large monastery that consists of monk’s quarter, meditation center and small guest house. While returning from Phobjikha valley we visited this place and got an amazing scenic view which was totally free.
We had our lunch and dinner from the same restaurant and here are the details:
Lunch: Fried rice and Chilli chicken(Rs. 190 pp)
Dinner: Chicken wai wai and momo(Rs. 100 pp)
As we 4 shared our lunch and dinner it helped us to keep our food budget in the limit.
Best places to visit in Paro:
Paro(125 km from Punakha) is the most beautiful city in Bhutan at an elevation of 2200 m which is enriched with its cultural heritage, religious sites and vivid scenic beauty and hence it is often called Switzerland of Asia.
National Museum of Bhutan:
After a three and half-hour-long journey, we entered to this century-old museum with an entry fee of Rs. 50 where you will have a chance to see ancient Bhutanese artifacts, traditional costumes, statues, scrolls, pottery and many more.
We completed our lunch with mixed fried rice, chili chicken and chili pork. The taste was good but I won’t recommend trying pork for the high altitude. The total cost for our lunch was Rs. 900 for 4 people.
Later at night taking a little walk through the streets of Paro city we checked in to our hotel “Hotel Blue Poppy”(Rs.1200/Night) as the temperature was around 2-3 degrees centigrade. We ordered Mixed Veg and Roti for our dinner from our hotel which was not up to mark and costs Rs. 100 pp.
Tiger’s Nest Monastery:
This was the day we were waiting for from the very first day we planned our Bhutan budget trip. Having a healthy breakfast we started our trek to Taktsang Monastery, better known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery at around 9 am. We trekked for almost 3.5 hrs. to reach to the top. On the way, we got snowfall also that was totally unexpected. There is a cafeteria also on the midway of the trek.
The trek was not so hard but the last 300 steps were really hard for us. You can also hire a horse for half of the way if you cannot hike. You will surely be mesmerized by the ambiance of the monastery, all of your tiredness will be blown away with the surrounding calmness everywhere. Spending one hour we started our return trek and returned to the base at around 3:30 pm.
On the way, we completed our lunch with rice, daal and egg curry and that tasted like the best dish I have ever had as we were very hungry after the trek. After that, we had no more activity and took a complete rest. We took our dinner from a restaurant in the main city with roti and shahi paneer and for the first time, we tried Ema Datshi(Rs. 80) from here which is Bhutan’s national dish made with chili and cheese which total costs Rs. 180 pp. Your Bhutan budget tour will incompleted if you don’t try their signature dish Datshi.
Important facts and tips for Tiger’s Nest Monastery:
- The total trek distance covered more or less 10 km on a round trip.
- The highest elevation of this trek: 10232 feet
- Opening Hours:
October – March: 8AM- 13:00PM, and 14.00PM- 17.00PM.
April – September: 8AM -13.00PM, and 14.00PM – 18.00PM.
- You have to buy your ticket(Rs.500) from where the trek starts. Without a ticket, you can trek but cannot enter the monastery. Unfortunately, if you cannot complete your full trek money won’t be refunded.
- Carry a water bottle, biscuit, chocolate which will help you to get stamina also help you to save your budget(1 cup tea costs Rs. 120 in the cafeteria)
- Photography is strictly prohibited here.
The next day at 9 am we started our journey to Chelela Pass(3988 m) which is the highest motorable pass in Bhutan. As it was February there was snow on both sides of the road and our driver was driving very slowly as there was black ice which is very dangerous. We were stuck before 16 km of Chelela Pass due to road blockage, there is no sign of green rather we saw only snow-capped mountains and trees. You will be lost in the scenic beauty of Chelela with a cup of hot coffee.
While returning we stopped our car at a perfect bend from where we got a clear view of Paro International Airport. If you wish to visit Rinpung Dzong which is quite similar to Punakha Dzong. We did not enter with an entry fee of Rs. 300, rather we captured some beautiful picture of the night view of Rinpung Dzong.
At lunch, we ordered rice, daal and gobi curry from a Bengali restaurant near Paro which costs around Rs. 160 pp. Our hotel Blue Poppy was 5 km away from main Paro city and the beauty of the surrounding was more spectacular than main Paro city, less traffic fewer people, this picturesque location is the ideal place for a nature lover to extract the essence of Paro. We completed our dinner with roti and matar paneer costs around Rs. 150 pp.
Tips: Book a hotel like Blue Poppy which is not in the main Paro city, it will help you to have a better view and also reduce your budget and as we had reserved car so we could go to the main city whenever we wanted. P.S: Paro is costlier than any other city in Bhutan.
Taking a light breakfast with puffed rice and namkeen we started our journey for Hasimara. On the way near Phuentsholing we had our lunch with chole bature(Rs. 80) and reached to Hasimara at 3:30 pm.
If you have 3-4 more days in hand you can explore Buxa Jayanti additionally, as it is just 74 km from Hasimara.
Our train Kanchankanya Express(13150) started its journey at 4:48 pm and we arrived at Sealdah on the next day at 8:30 am.
Tips and Information for Bhutan Budget Tour:
- The immigration office closes by 4 pm and remains closed in the weekend, hence plan accordingly.
- Smoking weed is strictly prohibited.
- No restriction for Alcohol, one can openly drink, even you can find alcohol in 9 out of 10 restaurants.
- Photography is prohibited in some Dzong, Monastery, Temple, Museum. Better take permission before capturing any picture.
- Follow traffic rules and always use zebra crossing while crossing a road to avoid fine.
- All Bhutanese have a deep respect for their King and Queen. You will see the picture frame of King, Queen and Royal family in each restaurant and hotel. They don’t entertain any disrespect of the Royal family as well as religious sentiments. So make sure not to mock them anyway.
- Travel insurance is not mandatory to travel in Bhutan.
- Road condition is very good in Bhutan so I will recommend coming here by land.
- Bhutan monitors the export of any antique. Buy handicrafts but not antique to avoid punishment.
- Try to book the hotel not in the main city to save your budget, you can find several budget hotels outside the main city which are better also.
- Do thorough research on Bhutan, make a list of Do Visit and Don’t Visit. For example, we keep Motithang Takin Preserve(you will see Bhutan’s national animal Takin with an entry fee of Rs.100) and National Memorial Chorten in our Don’t Visit list.
- Try to visit Bhutan on a group of 4-7 which will minimize your expenses.
- If you are a nonvegetarian try to compromise and go for veg to reduce your budget.
- Though this post is related to budget travel in Bhutan but do not neglect Travel Insurance. You can buy World Nomad Travel Insurance which is the cheapest and best value for money policy.
Now coming to the most important part of this blog: Detail list of expenses of my Bhutan budget tour:
*We went in a group of 4 people.
Train : Kanchankanya Express(Sealdah <> Hasimara) round trip: Rs.375*2= Rs.750
Cab : WagonR(Pick up and Drop Hasimara to Hasimara): Rs.2500/day for 8 days. (2500*8)/4= Rs.5000
Thimpu: Hotel Welcome Home(Rs.1200/Night for 2 nights): (1200*2)/4= Rs.600
Punakha: Hotel Kinten at Wangdue(Rs. 1100/Night for 2 nights): (1100*2)/4= Rs.550
Paro: Hotel Blue Poppy(Rs.1200/Night for 3 nights): (1200*3)/4= Rs.900
Food Cost in Bhutan Tour:
Breakfast: We bought some dry foods like puffed rice, chanachur, chire vaja, peanut, Maggi, biscuit, cake, potato chips etc. for our breakfast and evening snacks. Total costs approx. Rs.300:(300/4)= Rs.75
Lunch: Avg. Rs.200 pp: (200*8)= Rs.1600
Dinner: Avg. Rs.200 pp: (200*8)= Rs.1600
Entry Fees:(I have enlisted the major places where we visited)
Folk Heritage Museum: Rs.50
Punakha Dzong: Rs.300
National Museum of Bhutan: Rs.50
Tiger’s Nest Monastery: Rs.500
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Please note: We went for this Bhutan budget tour on 10th Feb,’19 which is offseason. The above-listed price may vary from time to time.
I hope this blog will help you to plan and execute your Bhutan tour with a low budget successfully.
If you have any queries or want me to cover any other places within budget then put your comment, I will try my best to do so.
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