This post is about how to reach Bhutan from India, where I have updated with the latest information.
The people of Bhutan have high consideration for the people of India, Maldives, and Bangladesh. Because we people don’t need a Visa to visit Bhutan. But, yes a special permit is required to enter the country as a tourist. For the tourists of the rest of the world, there would be a visa process and the same has to be done through a travel agent. But, Indians can do by themselves, to get a permit free of cost. More on the permit is in the latter part of this post.
First, here are the ways in which you can reach Bhutan from India. I’ve tried to collate and mention all possible means of reaching Bhutan from India for all budget ranges. Yes, I want to say about the cost of transport here because as you’ll see, there’s a lot of difference in the price depending on how you choose to enter Bhutan.
Reaching Bhutan by air:
Needless to say, this is the most expensive and of course, the most comfortable way to reach Bhutan from India.
Paro is the town in Bhutan which has an international airport.And from Delhi, Kolkata, and Bagdogra you can reach Bhutan by taking a flight to Paro. However, there are no direct flights to Paro, and the only airlines are Drukair, which offers scheduled flights. The price is expensive, and also it does not fly every day. So, if you intend to go by Drukair, it’s better to plan well ahead to save some money and time!
The permit formalities are done at Paro airport’s immigration office, and you will be granted permission to visit Thimphu and Paro. You need to carry either a valid Indian passport *or* voter’s ID card. Please note that the officials are very particular and don’t accept or entertain any other forms of ID proof. So, please ensure to carry the originals of either of these two and passport size photographs.
Reaching Bhutan by road:
Entering Bhutan by road is a relatively cheaper option. Of course, you could make it all the more inexpensive if you could cut down flights(wherever possible) and travel by road.
There are only three towns which grant permits for Indian travelers or any travelers traveling by land – Phuentsholing, Gelephu, and Samdrup Jongkhar. The popular town among these is Phuentsholing, as it’s closer to the principal cities like Thimphu and Paro and because of its better connectivity.
a) From Phuentsholing (Entry from South Western Bhutan)
Phuentsholing lies beside Jaigaon, a town in West Bengal and you don’t need a permit to enter Phuentsholing. You can enter Phuentsholing in any of these two ways-
1. From Bagdogra: Bagdogra is the closest town with an international airport and is about 170 km from Phuentsholing. You can fly to Bagdogra from Kolkata which is about an hour’s flight. From there, look for a shared auto(inexpensive) or a prepaid taxi(slightly expensive) to Siliguri which is about 17 km from Bagdogra.
From Siliguri, Bhutanese public buses ply to Phuentsholing at regular intervals. But it’s better if you plan in such a way that you reach Siliguri before 2.30 PM as the last bus to Phuentsholing is somewhere between 3 to 4 PM.
Another option to reach Phuentsholing is to take a cab directly from the airport. They charge a standard amount of Rs 2500. This a feasible option if you’re traveling in a group.
2. From Hasimara: This option is the cheapest and the best, provided you’ve ample of time. The Hasimara railway station is just about 17 km from Phuentsholing. To reach there, you’ve to take a train from the New Jalpaiguri Junction(NJP). From Bagdogra airport, you’ve various options of reaching NJP junction like rickshaws, shared taxi or a prepaid taxi.
Once you reach NJP, you can take a train to Hasimara. There are many intercity passenger and express trains which go to Hasimara. The only thing which you need to take care here is to check the train timings and availability well before. Sometimes, trains don’t arrive on time, or they don’t run on particular days. Make sure you do your homework on this if you plan to reach by train from Hasimara.
From Hasimara, one can easily reach Phuentsholing by availing a shared taxi.
The immigration office located very close to the gate near the border issues the permit to enter Bhutan. As I said earlier, please carry either a valid passport or voter’s id for identity proof along with few passport size photographs. The immigration office is open from Monday through Friday and opens at 9 AM BST.
You’ll be asked to fill a form, after which the verification happens. Later, they take a photograph of yours and your fingerprints. The permit is issued on a Regional Immigration Office letterhead. Its validity is seven days, and the grant is only given to visit Thimphu and Paro. If you need to visit any place beyond these, you should obtain the same only in Thimphu.
The entire permit process takes about 30 min to 2.5 hrs depending on the crowd. To expedite, go near the check post office right next to the gate before 9 AM and collect the form. You can fill it and submit it. It saves time as it gets pretty crowded when people get the same form in the immigration office and start filling them at a time and submit together.
Permit for Solo Women Travelers
If you’re traveling solo to Bhutan, don’t worry about the permit. You would be given the permit, but a bit is involved here.The officials were shocked /surprised to see me traveling alone to Bhutan and asked few questions. Don’t get intimidated. Just be confident and honestly answer their questions. You’ll be asked to write a letter addressed to the officer of immigration offices, stating that you’ve arrived alone and you’d be responsible for yourself throughout your stay in Bhutan.
Submit this along with the form and the permit would be granted!
Note: This process of writing letter does not apply to Men solo travelers. I got to know later about this when I asked a few guys who’d traveled solo. They told me that they weren’t interrogated nor asked to submit any letter!
Anyways, women solo travelers need not have to worry about getting permits or about their safety. Because I traveled solo in Bhutan for about 12 days and I felt safe all along! So basically, you need to be careful just like you’d need to be in any other place and just enjoy rambling in Bhutan.
b) From Gelephu(Entry from South Central Bhutan)
Gelephu is located on the Indian border and is closer to reach by Assam. It is about 25o km from Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. There are bus services and shared taxi/prepaid taxi services to Thimphu and Phuentsholing from Gelephu. It takes about 10 to 11 hours to reach Thimphu from Gelephu.
c) From Samdrup Jongkhar(Entry from South Eastern Bhutan)
Samdrup Jongkhar is about 150 km from Guwahati, the capital city of Assam and takes about 3 hours to reach. You’ll pass through many districts to reach Thimphu at the other end of Bhutan. Depending on the road conditions, it takes a minimum of 3 days to reach Thimphu.
Permit for tourists, especially to Indians is given intermittently or could even sometimes denied at the immigration office in Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar. Because the surrounding region is sensitive and is prone to attacks. So, please plan on getting in touch with the immigration offices here, or any local travel agents if you intend to enter Bhutan from Gelephu or Samdrup Jongkhar.
You’ll need a valid passport or voter’s ID to obtain the permit here.
Carry the original permit as well as a photocopy of it with you all the time while traveling in Bhutan. Permits are regularly checked at check posts throughout Bhutan The same has to be returned while exiting through the same points. Failing to return would cause a problem the next time you visit Bhutan and traveling without permit attracts a huge fine.
How to obtain an extended permit and route permit for restricted areas in Bhutan?
If you plan to travel in Bhutan for more than seven days, you should get the permit extended at Thimphu. You’ll be asked to fill out a form, and after submitting a photocopy of the original permit along with the form, a permit would be granted after verification.
Apart from Thimphu and Paro, the rest of Bhutan is marked as restricted areas, and an individual route permit is required to travel to other places. It This can be got again from the Thimphu immigration office, where you would need to fill a form mentioning the places to which you’d be needing the permit.
Depending on the places you’ve mentioned and after verification, the permit would be granted. Sometimes, the permit could be denied if there’s some roadblock, emergencies or danger.
The time for the process varies, depending on how early you submit the form and the crowd at the immigration office. This office is more crowded as many locals come to seek work permits/route permit. Although tourists are given preference, the process can get over in less than 30 min if you’re lucky or go up to half day too.
Being a solo woman traveler, I was asked to go to the chief immigration officer’s desk. The officer carefully verified and asked me questions casually. After he had felt convinced, he signed on the permit. Again, just be confident, polite and honest when questioned as there shouldn’t be any reason for them to deny the permit!
Start planning your trip to the land of thunder dragon!
Got any questions? Comment below and I would be happy to answer it for you.
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