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BHUTAN, The Top of the World

          Those who have visited Bhutan, the land of the Thunder Dragon, say it is a unique heavenly experience, and it is truly a hot international tourist destination, but costlty. Tour packages are mandatory for foreigners except Indians and may cost around US$200 per person per night. With a befitting spiritual landscape, Bhutan's religion is mostly Mahayana Buddhism. A visit to the country is a mystical experience and at the same time its call of adventure too is irresistible. Seventy two per cent of the country is under forest cover. The culture of a land of 700,000 people revolves round Tsechu, the Buddhist festival of masked dance, celebrated after Guru Rinpoche, who brought about the spread of Buddhism in Bhutan. Worth watching, the festival is held at different times in different districts. The pre-Buddhist Bon festival of Ha district is equally popular.

          It is a trekker’s paradise. Nature tours and trekking expeditions are arranged by tour operators. There is rafting and kayaking, ideal during March to April and November to December, else rivers will be swollen. Guides are available. Paro Valley and Wang Chhu in western Bhutan are good for kayaks. Punakha Valley in central Bhutan is suited for kayaks and rafts (Mo Chhu, Pho Chhu, Sonam Put In). The stretch from Waklaytar to Sunkoshtar on Puna Tsang Chhu in Wangdue Phodrang in central Bhutan is amazing for both kayaking and rafting.

          Punakha is good for mountain biking. Rock climbing is a recent sport in Bhutan. Climbing clubs offer equipments and training. For trekking the ideal time is mid-March to mid-May and mid-September to mid-November. Treks even from Thimphu to Paro is also adventurous. Trekking requires lot many gears which trekkers have to bring. Camping facilities are provided by the operator. The low key Druk Path and the challenging Snowman routes are popular. There are a dozen proven tracks in Bhutan.

HOW TO REACH BY ROAD: Bhutan can be reached via Phuntsholing on Indian border in Bengal or from Nepal by road. The road from Phuntsholing takes one to Paro and Capital Thimphu. The only airport in the kingdom is located in Paro, 65 km away from Thimphu. Inside Bhutan, of high mountains and deep valleys, travel is by road only. Roads, mostly single lane, are well laid, although bumpy, at times, and the hair-pin bends and turns, ups and downs make journey quite time-consuming, yrt interesting. Tour packages are mandatory and are to be booked with operators, they are costly for foreigners except Indians.

BY AIR: Paro airport is in a valley at an elevation of 7300 ft surrounded by hills of 16,000 feet. The national air carrier, Druk Air, and foreign airlines fly to Bangkok, New Delhi, Kolkata and Kathmandu. Mt. Everest and Khangchendzonga can be seen in close quarters during a flight between Kathmandu and Paro. And the views at such high altitudes are spectacular too. Bagdogra in West Bengal is the nearest Indian airport, but there is no flight from here to Paro.

TRAVEL IN BHUTAN: Travel inside Bhutan is by bus or taxi. One spends a day at Paro resting and seeing the famous manasteries. Paro and Bhumthang are two places in the kingdom with godly associations. For that matter the whole of Bhutan is dotted by monasteries and the only other thing to see is the scenic beauty which is considered a heavenly experience with the mountains, deep jungles and valleys characteristic of the country. It takes a day each in Paro and Thimphu, resting and sightseeing. One can visit Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang in another day, and return. It takes two days visiting Trongsa and Bumthang and returning or proceeding to Assam border. In a two-day short duration trip to Bhutan, one can be fully satisfied with seeing around Paro, Thimphu and Punakha.

          Bagdogra (nearest Indian airport, in West Bengal) to Phuntsholing by road is 170 km and takes 4 hours; Phuntsholing - Thimphu is 176 km, 6 hrs, by bus (Approx.) Rupees 250 pp, Rs 350 by taxi pp, Rs 1500 per one taxi; Paro airport - Thimphu is 65 km, 2 hrs, Rs 500 taxi pp, Thimphu – Punakha 77 km, 2 hrs; Thimphu – Wangdue Phodrang 70 km, 3 hrs; Punakha – Wangdue Phodrang 21 km, 30 min; Wangdue Phodrang – Trongsa 129 km, 4 hrs; Trongsa – Bumthang 68 km, 2 hrs 30 min; Bumthang – Mongar 129 km, 4 hrs; Mongar – Trashigang 90 km, 3 hrs; Trashigang - Samdrup Jongkhar (Assam border) 180, 6 hrs.

(Royal Bhutan Embassies provide travel guidelines for a given time)

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