My Bhutan Diaries: Pre-Bhutan Prep

Why do we travel?

My friend, Madhuri and I have always dreamt about running away: not from, but to the unexplored, the uncertain and the unconnected. (Cliché much?) We’ve talked about taking a trip together, right from when we turned 20. We day dreamed about competing in the Amazing Race, making trips to our natives together — Kerala (mine) and Andhra Pradesh (hers), moving to the Himalayas, visiting Mumbai, going on a weekend trip to Bengaluru or at the least, making it to Pondicherry, the closest to our home city, Chennai.

None of that happened. We collectively, though separately, did visit Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Mumbai, Himachal Pradesh, Leh-Ladakh, Goa, Pune, Assam, Bengaluru, Delhi, Sri Lanka, the United States of America and of course, Pondicherry.

I think the first time I paid attention to Bhutan was in my Economics class, when the professor said, “Every country in this world measures its progress by GDP, except for Bhutan. Bhutan’s progress is measured by GNP — Gross National Happiness.’ That lit me up. A couple of months post that, in May 2016, in one of our regular ramblings way past midnight, Madhuri enthusiastically (henceforth, madsoastically) proposed we should go to Bhutan. Fast forward to November 2016, and we found ourselves planning for our Bhutan trip. From figuring out a 10-day vacation window our bosses would be cool with, to convincing the parents (yes, we had to), to pouncing on the overload of information available online on Bhutan — itinerary, food, accommodation, transport, must-see places, must-avoid places, safety concerns, immigration information, winter clothing — we were reading it all. Towards the end of it, we just had two conditions and one surprise:

  • We were not going to plan the trip to a T. We wanted it to be unstructured, with a lot of room for random, spontaneous desires.
  • New year 2017 would be welcomed in Bhutanese soil.

The surprise (pleasant, of course) being Meghana, Madhuri’s uber-cool sister. She would be joining us uninvited (sorry, Meghs).

We decided on a 10 day/9 night trip, starting from 29th December, 2016 — 7th January, 2017. (We’d decided to start on the weekend but learnt later that the Bhutan Immigration Office at Phuentsholing is closed on weekends and special days/festivals. The trip was advanced then, so as to finish the immigration formalities by Friday, 30th December).

We got our leaves sanctioned at work and finalized the itinerary. Once the itinerary was ready, we booked our flight tickets from Chennai to Bagdogra via Kolkata.

We also reached out to BK Travels and Tours, one of the oldest and well-known tour operators in Jaigaon, India, to help reserve budget hotels at each of these planned locations. Since we wanted to experience the culture and people up-close, we requested for homestays at Paro and Haa, and budget hotels at other locations. BK, through his expertise (ahem!), found us a place to spend every one of those 9 nights in Bhutan.

We were particularly excited about the time we’d chosen to travel. Bhutan experiences winter season during December-January, with temperatures varying from 10°C in the morning to -5°C at night. Having been brought up as daughters of an ever-present sun in Chennai, we had to make sure we were heavy on the winter clothing.

So, the final checklist:

  • Finalize itinerary. Check.
  • Make reservations at hotels/home-stays. Check.
  • Book flight tickets. Check.
  • Carry documents: Passport / Voter ID Card. Check.
  • SHOP! (for winter-existence). Check.
  • Pack suitcases. Check.

Land of happiness, here we come! 🙂

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