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Published: January 13th 2015
Phuentsholing is a small town in Bhutan adjacent to the Indian border. While Phuentsholing is on the Bhutan side of the border, Jaygaon (a bigger town) is on the Indian side of the border. The distance between Phuentsholing and Jaygaon is just a wall, i.e., say one meter (just to visualize).
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Phuentsholing is important because it is currently the only route (by land) from India to Bhutan. Hence anybody going Bhutan has to stop here, get the permit from immigration office, and then proceed.
Phuentsholing is about 175 kms from Siliguri (6 hours journey) and 15 kms from Hasimara (half an hour journey). After reading various blogs on Bhutan trip I decided to go upto Hasimara by train and then from Hasimara to Phuentsholing by bus. Thanks to the bloggers who have advised to go upto Hasimara by train.
We went by Kanchanakanya express which left Sialdah at about 8 o'clock in the night and went through NJP (7.30 morning), Siliguri (8.00), New Mal Junction (9.15), Dalgaon (9.53) and then Hasimara (10.18). The train was slightly late and reached Hasimara after 11 o'clock. The biggest question was how to go Phuentsholing, whether by auto, or by taxi or by bus or other?
After getting down from the train we saw more than half of the people are going out by on the train line instead of coming through the platform entrance/exit. (They were actually gong to to Hasimara town / Hasimara bus stop through short-cut route). However we preferred to come through the regular exit through platform. Immediately we were surrounded by many taxi drivers who said there would be no bus to go Jaygaon and they could take us to Jaygaon for 600-800 rs to go Jaygaon. After some time a rickshaw offered to drop us in Jaigaon bus stand for 100 rs (which was just 2 km).
I was fully prepared with all travel related information and detail google map. The second advantage was the luggage was within our capacity to carry. We just started walking for about 50 meters out of the station to reach the main road. All Jaygaon buses were going by that road. As it is not a stoppage you have to show hand to stop the bus (and they will happily stop). There were actually many buses to Jaygaon as we could see about 3 buses in 20 minutes. The advantage of catching the bus here is that even if you don't get a seat you are more likely to get a seat at Hasimara stoppage (2 kms).
(Bhutan gate on Indo-Bhutan border)
When we got the bus we were so relaxed. We could avoid rickshaws and taxis. The bus took just 15 rs per head to Jaygaon and took about half an hour to reach Jaygaon bus stand. When we got down from bus, we saw a shared auto going to Bhutan border. We immediately got into the auto rickshaw who dropped us in front of the Bhutan gate (4kms) for 10 rs per head. The journey from Bangalore to Bhutan was over. We could take a walk to cross the border to reach Phuentsholing.
Getting entry permit at Phuentsholing Immigration office
We were feeling happy as we had reached Bhutan. But that was just the beginning of the long journey. We were supposed to get an entry permit from the immigration office in order to go Thimphu. When we went to immigration office, it was closed for lunch break (Indian time 12.30, Bhutanese time 1 PM). Bhutan standard time is half an hour ahead of Indian time. We had to adjust the time of our watch there.
The big decision was ahead of us, whether to look for a hotel to stay or catch bus for Thimphu on the same day. Immigration clearance can take 2-3 hours and there is no bus to Thimphu after 3 o'clock. The big question - can we get the immigration clearance before the last bus leaves for Thimphu?
(Eating momo in Ashoka restaurant)
We went to Ashoka restaurant, just in front of the immigration office, and had some momo, puri etc. as lunch. Filled up the form and submitted with photos and copies of voter ids etc. in the immigration office (I was ready with all required documents) immediately after the lunch break. However immigration office was painful as there was huge crowd in the immigration office and no ventilation. It was extremely suffocating. I started sweating even in winter.
Actually the verification process is long. So it had to take some time. The immigration officer had verify the documents, get convinced about the purpose of travel, take fresh photos (through their computer) and fingerprints, print the permit letter, put their signature and seal and give us. We felt our case was cleared early. Many people who came before us were still waiting because of problems in their document.
(The immigration office)
Just for information, Indian nationals can just walk in to the Phuentsholing town of Bhutan (and so also Bhutanese nationals can come to India). No special permission required to go Phuentsholing. The border gate remains open from 6 AM to 8 PM. However, you need permit from immigration office for onward journey to Paro or Thimphu. More details from authentic Govt. sources are available at:
also bhutan govt source http://www.tourism.gov.bt/plan/visa
In order to get permit, no visa is required for Indian nationals. They can directly approach the immigration office (with passport or voter id) for entry permit. No fee is charged for the permit, it is completely free.
The attractions of Phuentsholing
- The Bhutan gate on Indo Bhutan border is attractive. Though it is not so important, it becomes the first curiosity of everybody to take a picture of it who goes Bhutan for the first time.
- The Prayer wheel on the way to Phuentsholing bus stand is very attractive. There are three large whiles at the ground floor and another wheel on the first floor.
(Large prayer wheels in Phuentsholing)
- Zanghtho Pelri Lhakhang- a beautiful budhist monastery in the town. Kharabandi gompa is another monastery which is at a distance. We could not visit Kharbandi due to shortage of time.
- There is a crocodile breeding center. If you are staying for a day you may have time to cover this place.
- It is a clean town, very less number of vehicles, not much crowd unlike Indian towns, Beautiful climate and Himalayan views. Hotels and neat and clean.
Journey from Phuentsholing to Thimphu
Thimphu is about 175 kms from Phuentsholing which is about 6 hours journey. Small coaster buses are available at bus stand. The bus fare from Phuentsholing to Thimphu is 230/-. Besides taxis (both reserved and shared) are available to Paro and Thimphu. Shared taxi is 600/- per head, reserved taxi 2500/- (4 seated). Rates are almost fixed, leaving little scope for bargaining.
(The bus stand in Phuentsholing)
Everybody told us that buses wont be available after 2 o'clock. However, when we reached bus stand after 3 o'clock we could find the last coaster bus was about to leave (at 3.45). We immediately bought tickets from the counter and got into the bus. The luggage is kept on the top of the vehicle everywhere in Bhutan.
(Going from Phuentsholing to Thimphu by bus)
The Himalayan mountains immediately start from Phuentsholing and the bus has to go through steep climbing and zig zag roads. Within 15 minutes we found ourselves in sky height above clouds as if we were in aeroplane. While the road was good, climate was good and vehicle was good, driving was rough. As the vehicle was very much controllable the driver was driving at dashing speed (even 35 km speed was extremely high speed in that road).. It was even difficult to hold on to the seat and I started vomiting soon. It was painful for me to travel further. I requested to drop me somewhere on the route and I was dropped at a place called Tsimasham from where I continued to Thimphu on the next day.
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