Getting into Bhutan

phuntsholing-gate1Entering the Himilayan Kingdom

 Secluded from the rest of the world and following a policy of self isolation, till the early 1960’s, Bhutan was accessible only by foot. Entry from the north meant scaling the high mountain passes, which were inaccessible during the winters.   Connectivity from the south meant entering through the plains of Assam and West Bengal. However, with the construction of the first motorable roads, Bhutan opened to the outside world. Roads also lessened the burden of Bhutanese communities who had to walk for days across extremely difficult terrains.

By Air

drukairA landmark in Bhutan’s progress was the introduction of its national airline, Druk Air, in 1983. Starting with flights to the metropolis in India, Druk Air gradually expanded its reach. Today, it operates flights to Bangkok, Kathmandu, Dhaka and Singapore. Druk Air operates a fleet of A319 aircraft.

In the latter half of 2013, a new airline, Bhutan Airlines, was launched. Currently it operates flights to Bangkok only. However, expansion of flights to other cities are on the cards.

Bhutan’s only international airport is located at Paro in western Bhutan, which is an hour’s drive from the capital city, Thimphu. The stands at a height of 7300 ft above sea level and is surrounded by mountains as high as 16,000 feet.

The aviation industry was boosted with the opening of three domestic airports in central, east and southern Bhutan, cutting short travelling time and providing passengers with the choice of multiple entry into Bhutan from various parts of India. While domestic flights have currently been suspended, it will not be long before the services resume.

By Landbus

Phuntsholing in south-west Bhutan, Gelephu in the central and Samdrup Jongkhar in eastern Bhutan are the only land border areas from which international tourists can enter Bhutan.

Located approximately 170 km east of the Indian airport at Bagdogra in the Indian state of West Bengal, the journey from Phuentsholing to Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, takes approximately five hours.  The main thoroughfare in the south today is from Phuentsholing, the country’s second biggest town and the conduit of most of its commerce.

Travelling from Gelephu to Thimphu, means enjoying the serene and scenic beauty offered by the sub-tropical and the alpine forests that the approximately 250 kms of roads meanders through. Traversing across three districts of Bhutan, it takes about 10 hours to reach Thimphu.

Samdrup Jongkhar, is the only entry point in eastern Bhutan and borders the Indian district of Darranga, Assam. It is approximately 150 kms from Guwahati, the capital city of Assam. The journey from Guwahati to Samdrup Jongkhar takes about three hours. An additional six hours is taken to reach Trashigang, Bhutan’s largest district. From Trashigang, travelers are taken through the lateral highway, which cuts across the districts of Mongar, Bumthang, Trongsa and Wangde Phodrang, before reaching Thimphu. The distance of about 700 kms takes a minimum of two days.