Paro Valley, Bhutan

This is the last in a series of posts recounting my 2012 trip to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

Tamchhog Lhakhang, a monastery built in the 15th century by one of Bhutan's first civil engineers, Thangtong Gyalpo, near Chuzom, Bhutan

Tamchhog Lhakhang, a monastery built in the 15th century by one of Bhutan’s first civil engineers, Thangtong Gyalpo, near Chuzom, Bhutan

On the way back to Paro we stopped at an isolated monastery built in the 16th century by the Bhutanese guru who discovered iron ore. Once back in Paro I took a hot stone bath, a traditional Bhutanese treatment used to unwind and cleanse the soul. In a wooden, coffin-like tub, scented herbs are placed in tepid water. The patient (me) sits in the water, while at the other end of the tub, a bath mistress places rocks which have been heated up to around 400 degrees Celsius. They sizzle, gurgle and bubble, and the water gradually becomes hotter, creating the reverse effect of a bath at home (where the water gradually cools with you in it). There’s a wooden plank between your feet and the burning rocks, so no-one gets injured, and you sit there relaxing with the aromatic herbs until it becomes too hot to bear. It was absolute bliss – very, very relaxing, and I could barely stay awake for dinner afterwards.

Traditional Bhutanese bath

Traditional Bhutanese bath in a farmhouse

The next morning we had a little time for sightseeing around the Paro valley again. Over the three short days I had spent in Bhutan my guides and I had became good friends, and decided to stay in touch. Just before driving to the airport to leave, we stood at the Paro monastery overlooking the pristine Paro valley. It was as if we were in another world. I asked my guides if they would like to travel abroad one day, to which they confidently replied “not really”. We then turned to the spectacular, perfect view before us. Could this be Shangri La?

Paro Valley

Paro Valley

Paro Valley

Paro Valley

When to go

Peak tourism period in Bhutan is from March to June, as the temperature climbs, and from September to November, after the monsoon recedes. July and August can be rainy, although not unpleasant, and December, January and February see the country covered in a blanket of snow – gorgeous, but very cold and some roads close.

 

Essential Stats

Culture shock: 8/10

Language difficulty: 4/10

Quality of food: 8/10

Cost: 9/10

Physical demand: 9/10

 

Advice and warnings

Bhutan is an incredibly safe place in which to travel – the dangers posed by altitude sickness, hiking fatigue and avalanche far outweigh any potential crime or political unrest. That said, do keep an eye on your belongings just in case – this might look like utopia, but you’re still on planet Earth.

Check Smart Traveller or the British Foreign Office for more comprehensive warnings.

 

Visas

Australians and Pakistanis need a visa in Bhutan, but it is pre-arranged by the travel agency  and then collected at Paro airport on arrival. I used the excellent and very friendly Phuentshok Tours and Treks, and would happily recommend them – they organised everything! The price and processing of the visa is worked out on the basis of length of stay.

Indians may visit Bhutan and obtain a visa on arrival, provided that their passport has a further six months of validity.

Looking back towards Paro airport after take off

Looking back towards Paro airport after take off

 

Getting there and around

No foreign airline regularly flies to Bhutan – only Drukair, which flies to a bunch of regional ports.

Melbourne and Sydney

For Australians the easiest option is via Bangkok. Drukair’s Bangkok – Paro flight costs US$799 return, inclusive of taxes. This will be organised along with the tour package. Drukair doesn’t have interline agreements with any other airlines, so you’ll need to disembark from your flight to Bangkok, collect your baggage and re-check in for Drukair onwards to Bhutan. Be sure to leave enough time – a day or two preferably.

THAI flies to Bangkok at least once daily from each of Melbourne and Sydney. All THAI flights arrive and depart from Survanabhumi International Airport (Bangkok’s main airport).

Melbourne (from $1079 return)

Sydney (from $1096 return)

Discount airline Air Asia flies from Melbourne to Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur from $513 return, while Sydney to Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur is from $547 return. Note that Air Asia uses Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, the older airport which is now popular with discount airlines. Discount airline Jetstar flies directly from Melbourne to Bangkok with fares starting from $563 return. They operate into the main Bangkok airport at Survarnabhumi.

 

Lahore

Lahoris heading to Bhutan are best to transit through Kathmandu. Flights on Drukair from Kathmandu to Paro cost US$443 return. PIA flies from Lahore to Kathmandu via Karachi several times a week from PKR 59,067 return. Don’t forget to apply for a multiple entry Nepal visa from the Embassy of Nepal in Islamabad (from US$25).

 

Chennai

Indian citizens can fly directly from Kolkata to Paro from US$430 return. Indigo and Jet Airways fly from Chennai to Kolkata several times daily.

 

All transport in Bhutan will be organised as part of the tour.

Comments (6)

  • jameela deen Reply

    I’ve been following your Bhutan posts and it sounds like an incredibly peaceful place. Must be perfect to relax… how did you find life back in the world after your time there? Did you see your place differently after that?

    March 18, 2015 at 10:55 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Thanks for following Jameela! Hmmm good question. Actually I wasn’t as affected by Bhutan as one might expect – and I put that down to a) doing a lot of research about the place before getting there, and b) having had a life-changing experience a couple of years earlier. In 2010, my journey through the northern mountains of Pakistan really left a mark on me, and I found it quite difficult to get back into things afterwards – I was distracted, and often questioning why I had chosen the path which I had. It took me another two and a half years to act upon it – and you’re looking at the result now 🙂

      March 20, 2015 at 10:58 pm
  • Andrew Reply

    what no photos of you in the bath? Beautiful place Tim!

    March 19, 2015 at 2:25 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      ehehhehehe no, I’ll leave any “breaking of the Internet” to a certain Ms Kardashian :p Thanks for reading, Andrew 🙂

      March 20, 2015 at 10:59 pm
  • Anna @ shenANNAgans Reply

    I wanna know more about the ‘bath mistress’.

    That whole bathing experience sounds wonderful, particularly that you exit the bath because its too hot, not cold.

    Looks like a gorgeous part of the world. 🙂

    March 26, 2015 at 5:09 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      The bath mistress was a rather hardy-looking (and notably buxom) middle-aged Bhutanese woman who works with volcanic rocks and pits of fire. She didn’t speak English (although, truth be told, she didn’t say much in any language), but motioned towards the bath whenever she thought it needed topping up. She smiled wryly when I finished, then accepted my tip before hurrying back to the farmhouse for the next bathers, a Swedish couple, who had just arrived 😀

      It’s amazing – hope you can get there some day 🙂

      March 26, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Subscribe To DuniyaMail!
Weekly Travel Inspiration, Photography and News.
Join the adventure here!
Subscribe Now
close-link