Entering Bhutan From India
Bhutan is a small country that lies south of Tibet (China) and North-East of India. Bhutan had centuries old monarchical rule. The country has only recently shifted to democracy (December, 2006). Bhutan is the only country where economic development is often measured as GNH or Gross National Happiness!
Much like Nepal, Bhutan is also an ally of the Indian Democracy and is largely dependent on India (and other sub-continental countries) economically. The country’s accessibility to India, combined with good trade relation makes entering Bhutan from India very convenient.
Bhutan can be easily reached by air. Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines, have regular flights operating between Paro (Bhutan’s only International Airport) and many big cities around the Eastern World, including Singapore, Bangkok, New Delhi and Kathmandu.
But one of the cheapest ways to enter this erstwhile mountain kingdom is by road. The visible culture change and beautiful mountain roads makes entering Bhutan from India by road, a trip worth taking.
Owing to its rough mountainous terrain, northern Bhutan is less accessible as compared to its other regions. The nation is therefore connected by good to moderate roads from various regions of North-Eastern India. In fact, in some places along the Indo-Bhutan border, it is not surprising to see population of either countries crossing over the border stretch on a daily basis.
Start Your Journey
You can start this road trip from the Indian city of Siliguri. Siliguri can be easily reached from Kolkata (Calcutta), New Delhi, Kathmandu and other nearby cities/towns by either rail or road. Siliguri is rightly considered as the Gateway to the Eastern Himalayan Lands; including Nepal and Bhutan.
If you are in Kolkata, there are direct buses that are run by the Bhutan Government. These overnight buses leave from the Esplanade Bus Terminal.
Shuttle cars, tourist vehicles and buses ply regularly between Siliguri and Jaigaon (Bhutan Border). Transportation is easily available from Siliguri Railway Station, Siliguri Bus Terminal, and from NJP Railway Station. It takes approximately 3 hours to reach Jaigaon OR Phuentsholing from Siliguri.
Make sure that the vehicle you are boarding will take you directly into Bhutan – i.e. to Phuentsholing after crossing the border at Jaigaon. This way, it becomes easier to find a hotel/guest house in Phuentsholing, as your car can take you directly to your desired hotel. So tourist vehicles and “some” shuttle cars with Bhutan car permit are the best option.
Jaigaon (pronounced: Jai – Gaao) is the Bhutan border on the Indian side, while Phuentsholing (pronounced: Foont – Sho – Ling) is the border town in Bhutan. There is an elaborate colourful gate known as the Bhutan Gate, that separates the two nations here. Some checking will be done at this Gate and whether your car can pass this Gate or not depends upon the security officials’ decision. If they find nothing wrong with your papers and possessions or that of your vehicle then crossing over will not be a problem.
A car from India is allowed to cross the Bhutan Gate only if it has a permit to enter into the Bhutanese territory. So make sure about this while you board your vehicle in Siliguri. You may even be lucky to get a taxi with Bhutanese registration plate. It’s quite easy to find both.
Another option is to just “walk” into Bhutan. After reaching the Jaigaon border, with valid entry permits, you can walk through the Bhutan Gate, and then hire a Taxi that has ‘BT’ written on the number registration plate.
Phuentsholing is a small border town on the Bhutan side of the border. The moment you pass through the Bhutan Gate at Jaigaon, you are in Phuentsholing and you immediately begin to notice the culture change.
Although the population here is a mixed one – Indian, Nepalese and Bhutanese, the Bhutanese people stand out with their unique checked clothes and shoes. The men here, and throughout Bhutan, wear the traditional ‘Kho’ dress, while the women wear the beautiful ‘Kira.’
Spending one night and one day in Phuentsholing is enough time to explore this border town.
Places To Visit In Phuentsholing
- The Bhutan Gate.
- Zangtho Pelri Lhakhang – a temple dedicated to Guru Rinpoche.
- Kharbandi Monastery.
- Amo Chhu – a crocodile breeding centre, where the crocs are bred to be released into nature!
Road Trip From Phuentsholing to Thimpu
Entering into Phuentsholing from the Indian Territory is only half the journey. Your final destination is Thimpu (the capital city of Bhutan) and farther. So Phuentsholing act as a base camp to enter Bhutan from India by road. It is here, where all your papers and currency needs to be checked and if all are valid, you are free to travel within Bhutan (i.e. to all the “approved” places that you have mentioned in your Visa/Permit).
By Bus Or Taxi
Buses and Taxis are widely available in large numbers in Phuentsholing. It takes about 6 hours to reach Thimpu from Phuentsholing.
This road trip is an adventurous one and you will be amazed by this nation’s natural beauty and mysticism that has largely remained untouched by modern society.
The lush green mountains dotted with brightly painted buildings, the pleasant climate, and the exoticism of the ever smiling Bhutanese people with their unique dress code, draw a picture of a faraway mysterious land from the fantasy tales of childhood. And Bhutan is exactly that – a mysterious mountain nation that’s been largely untouched by modern man.