The Bhutan Sojourn
Panorama Photography Nature Photography People Photography
April 24, 2019

And thus began my odyssey with Bhutan. A long pending destination to be ticked off the bucket list. As the aircraft accelerated for take-off, I was exhilarated.  The yearning to be lost into the unknown was finally a reality. Next few days would be pure bliss... After all, I was going to the land of Happiness!!

A good three hours flight and I was at the Bagdogra airport waiting for Shruti, my travel partner. After a little haggling with the cab drivers to drop us off at Phuentsholing, we finally got one by the name Rudra - a resident of Jaigaon, a small town at the border of India and Bhutan.  I was super excited. But my excitement was cut short when he informed us that we may not be allowed entry into Bhutan as the checkpoint was closed due to elections in West Bengal. My heart sank.  Nonetheless, we decided to take a chance.


Well, we never made it to the other side of the border that day and had to spend a night in Jaigaon.  I thought to myself that this was going to be one hell of a trip!

The next day we entered Phuentsholing, the border town of Bhutan.  One can clearly see the difference in the culture, landscape, and lifestyle while traveling through the roads.  We were tempted to proceed further but had to halt for a night to clear the immigration.  Indian nationals require an entry permit to travel within Bhutan which can be easily obtained at the immigration office in Phuentsholing at no additional cost.

So finally we had the permit and also found a very good cab driver – Mr. Ugyen Kelzang to drive us around Bhutan J.  I had read somewhere that National Happiness was identified by the country as being more important than Gross National Product.   I wondered if they could teach me what happiness actually means and a few days later, I realized they were onto something.

The 4-hour long journey to our first stop in Bhutan – Paro was rather impressive and enjoyable.  The dark and dusty mountains which looked like a painting on a blue canvas welcomed us with open arms.  The view of the city was breathtaking from every corner.  It has many sacred sites and also is home to Bhutan’s sole international airport- Paro Airport.

We settled in at our hotel and called it an early night as the next day was going to be a long one. At least, that’s what I thought.  We started off early morning for our trek to Tiger’s Nest or Paro Taktsang as the locals call it.  Though I was always fascinated with the pictures of Tiger’s nest, I must confess that trekking is not my cup of tea (or rather was not my cup of tea). This was going to be my first ever trek.  I knew I had to climb to its top but wasn’t sure if I could. 

All my apprehensions faded away into oblivion as soon as we reached the foothills.  Just a glimpse of the monastery was enough to inspire me to hike all the way to the top.  The trail wound its way through deciduous trees and halfway through the trek, prayer wheels and colorful flags welcomed us.  The trickiest part was balancing the urge to click pictures and enjoying the view to myself as the monastery seemed to play a peek-a-boo with us all along.

It's only when we push our limits that our limits will expand.  I realized this when we finally made it to the top after 3 long hours of winding trail and about 700 steps.  And boy, it was totally worth it and was a proud moment for me! 

A small monastery hung up on a cliff overlooking a spectacular valley. The internet may have thousands of pictures but what you see there, is a different feeling altogether and no words could do justice to describing it. It is simply incredible. 

As legend has it, Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava is also known as ‘Second Buddha’ is said to have flown on a tiger to meditate there in the 7th century when he brought Buddhism to Bhutan.  Hence the name ‘Tiger’s Nest’.

The descent was rather easy though by the time we reached the base my knees had given way.   Nonetheless, I had come to realize why thousands of people were beginning to call mountains as their home and that wilderness was a necessity.   Exploring Tiger Nest will always be an unforgettable experience for me.


Our next stop in Paro was at Kyichu Lhakhang – one of Bhutan’s oldest and most beautiful temples.  As we walked towards the temple, we could sense the serenity in the environment. Elderly pilgrims were seen walking around the temple spinning its many prayer wheels, making this one of the most charming spots in Paro.  There is also an orange tree just outside the main temple that bears fruits all throughout the year.   After absorbing the peace and clicking pictures of cute little Bhutanese kids in the temple courtyard, we proceeded towards Chelela Pass.

Located at an elevation of 13000ft, Chelela Pass is the highest motorable road in Bhutan. About an hour’s drive from Paro, the road passes through lush valleys and little purple flowers on either side of the road making it very scenic.  Unfortunately for us, it rained that day and the clouds were very low covering the entire area in a dense fog.  We couldn’t see some of the highest peaks but what we did see was beautiful.   

We decided to break for lunch in the quaint town of Paro.  The local cuisine of the place is one of the experiences that no one should miss, like the Bhutanese flavors when on a trip to Paro.  We devoured some mouthwatering dishes like Thukpa and Momos.  Chilies are an essential part of almost every dish so much so that most Bhutanese people would not enjoy a meal that was not spicy. 


Travel leaves a mark on your memory.  When you travel, you take something with you and leave something behind.  And how can one forget to buy souvenirs when you are in Bhutan.  The town of Paro is lined with many such shops to satisfy your shopping cravings. From local handicrafts and textiles to prayer beads and prayer wheels these shops have it all.

After having spent an awesome time in Paro, I was looking forward to experiencing what it would be like in the capital city- Thimpu.  Thimpu is about an hour’s drive from Paro and once again the mountains did not fail to impress us.  The route is extremely beautiful with spectacular landscapes, small villages, rivers, lakes, and temples.  Though Thimpu is the modern city of Bhutan, it still has managed to retain its cultural identity and values.  What I also observed was that there are no traffic lights in Thimpu.  Instead, at major intersections, policemen stand in nicely decorated booths using hand motions to direct the traffic.

As we drove across Thimpu, we could see a giant statue of Buddha on top of a hill overlooking the city.  Buddha Dordenma as it is known is a 170ft tall statue of Buddha in a sitting posture made of bronze and gilded with gold.  When we reached the top, I realized its not just the enormous statue that takes over you but also the surrounding nature.  It’s a different energy that you feel and is one of the most soothing experience for your eyes and heart.  From here you also get an uninterrupted view of the beautiful Thimpu city.

Our last stop was at the Memoria Chorten. It is one of the iconic monuments dedicated to World Peace.  This seemed to be a busy place and a heaven for photography as all kinds of people, young and old gathered here to pray.

The elections in West Bengal played a spoilsport for us and we had to cut short our stay in Bhutan as the gates were to be closed again.  As the trip concluded, I realized that there is something magical about Bhutan that somehow manages to touch your soul and soothe you. Buddhism teaches compassion for all living being, human and non-human and this aspect is evident in every corner of Bhutan.  People are happy because they have managed to strike a balance between spiritualism and materialism.  The enchanting mountains and breathtaking views may sound a very clichéd way of describing it, but exploring Bhutan is an experience in itself.  This Land of Thunder Dragon is sure to call me back soon! 


By Deepa Jathar

Panorama Photography Nature Photography People Photography
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Amazing, I can see myself going to Bhutan very soon as a result of this article. Good job.
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