Bhutan is easily the 2nd most likely place to tour on every Indian motorcyclist’s bucket-list next to the breathtaking Ladakh and I had to explore for myself the much-heard hospitality of the Bhutanese, their food and why they measure success with GHI (Gross Happiness Index) as opposed to GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
Until 2014, Bhutan & Nepal were the only countries an Indian motorcyclist could enter via-land, the recent inclusion being Myanmar that has opened up access to Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Cambodia etc.
Serene Bhutan – best relished on a motorcycle :)
The Original RedBull – 3 times stonger than the Indian version :D
- Hero Impulse
- Hero Karizma
- KTM Duke 390
Flawless Performance -Not a Single Breakdown during our ride :) At Dochula Pass (10,171 ft)
We kept the motorcycles stock since the chances of things going wrong reduce drastically – additions include:
- USB Charger
- Auxiliary Throttle & Clutch cables that ran in parallel to the OE (in order for us to switch)
- Tyre Slime
- Rotopax Fuel Can of 8 liter capacity for the Duke 390
Securing Immigration & Motorcycle Permits:
Phuntsholing is the only entry point from India to secure the permits for us and the motorcycles – both of which ‘CANNOT’ be applied in advance or online. They need to be secured in person at the Immigration Office for the traveler and the immigration permit should be produced at the RSTA (Road Safety & Transport Authority) office to get the motorcycle permit.
Immigration Permit for Indian National:
The process is very simple and there is NO fees required to secure the permit/visa.
- Original Passport or Voter ID
- 2 passport size photographs
- Photocopies of the above (carry at-least 3 copies)
Note: In-case one doesn’t have the above documents – he/she has to go to the Indian Embassy to secure an ‘Identification Slip’ that should be produced at the Immigration office.
- Step 1 : Fill the Immigration Form (very basic form- easy to fill)
- Step 2: Stand-in-line for Document Verification & Fingerprint + Retina scan check
- Step 3: Receive the Immigration permit document for valid for 7 days (In order to extend this – one has to do that in Thimphu)
Time Required: 2 to 3 hours
Get the Immigration permits stamped at the check-posts and DO NOT forget to surrender the original immigration permit while exiting Bhutan – in-case you dont surrender , a heavy fine would be imposed the next-time you enter Bhutan
This can be applied at the RSTA (Regional Safety and Transport Authority) office only ‘after’ the Immigration permit is done – One complete day is required to complete both the immigration and motorcycle permit.
- Registration Certificate (Original & Photocopy)
- Insurance of the motorcycle (Original & Photocopy)
- Emission Certificate (Original & Photocopy)
- Driving Licence (Original & Photocopy)
Fees: 70 INR/BNT per motorcycle
- Step 1: Fill the form with motorcycle details (Registration, Chassis number, owner details etc)
- Step 2: Attach the photocopies of motorcycle documents (Registration Certificate, Insurance, Driving License and Emission certificate)
- Step 3: Pay a fee of 70 INR/BNT as Road tax for each motorcycle and submit this to the RSTA officer
Time Required: 1 hour
- Recommend that the Immigration Permit holder and the motorcycle owner are the same
- Fill a single-form for multiple motorcycles if and only if all the motorcycles will exit Bhutan at the same time – if not fill out individual forms/each motorcycle
Super Cool :)
Do not exchange INR to Bhutanese currency (BTN) – INR is accepted even in the remote corners of Bhutan, but the change tendered would be BTN. INR to BTN Conversion is 1:1 (which means 100 INR is equivalent to 100 BTN)
- Riding in Bhutan:
- Traffic Rules are actual rules that people follow unlike in India – No cutting lanes, speed limit is 50km/hr (speed interceptors on major roads such as Phuntsholing to Paro and Paro to Thimphu) jumping signals and yes always stop to let the pedestrian cross the road.
- Helmet for the pillion is mandatory
- Overtake Indication: Switching-On the ‘Right’ indicator means you are asking the vehicle behind to overtake (which is the vice-versa of how we do in south-India)
- Generic Stuff:
- Get a local SIM (TashiCell) – Indian SIMs do not work unless you have an international roaming and having a Bhutanese Mobile Number is required to call hotels for accommodation – A copy of the Immigration permit is required to secure a local SIM card
- Smoking is an absolute NO in the public – consequences of public smoking start with being jailed
- Food: Extremely spicy – insist on less spice while ordering. Try the cafes in Paro & Phuntsholing – you wont be dissapointed :)
- Shopping – Sports Shoes, the most varied collection of sports shoes from Nike, Adidas, and Asics can be found in Thimphu (Norlim Zam street) and prices beat any of the mega-discount deals of Indian e-commerce sites. North Face, Patagonia & Timberland fans, Norlim Zam is the Wall Street for adventure gear and boots.
- Tiger Nest Monastery, Paro – absolute must-visit – worth the trek (one can also hire a donkey to ascend halfway – rates are regularized at 660/person)
Yours Truly, Vaishak and Vijay – Trek to the Tiger Nest Monastery
- December is the off-season (so accommodation doesn’t need prior booking). Highly advise to call the next place of accommodation to ask for a discount and they do offer them (Use your Bhutanese SIM to call instead of your Indian number – in North Bhutan they don’t answer calls from other numbers.)
- Ask your friends/acquaintances who will visit Bhutan to take pics with the hotel owner (This helps to make a case and bargain – which works only in off-season though). However during the Tourist Season (Sept to Nov and March to June) – Prior booking is a must.
- Average Cost of stay (for 3 guys/night) – 2,000 INR
Beautiful Vistas – Enroute to Punaka
We got our motorcycles transported via GatiKWE from Bangalore and thanks to the immaculate packing and assistance from Mr.Yatish (manager at GatiKWE warehouse in Peenya, Blore) the motorcycles reached Siliguri without any damage.
Highly recommend to approach him for transporting motorcycles from Bangalore – Mr. Yatish can be reached at +919845348829 or +918867705999
Although our original route included Sikkim, we couldn’t go beyond Gangtok – since the Home Ministry office which issues motorcycle permits to North & East Sikkim was closed for a week (Dec 12 to Dec 18) due to Buddhist festival.
Bangalore > Siliguri > Darjeeling > Gangtok > Sevoke (along River Teesta) > Mal Bazar > Jaigoan > Phuentsholing > Paro > Thimphu > Punakha > Wangdue Phodrang > Trongsa > Jakar > Trongsa > Wangdue Phodrang > Haracha > Sarpang > Gelephu > Bongaigoan > Guwahati > Farakka > Kolkatta > Bhubaneshwar > Puri > Srikakulam > Vizag > Araku > Rajamahendravaram > Kurnool > Bangalore
Total Distance: 4,500 kms
Motorcyclist’s Delight -Wangdue Phodrang to Gelephu Bhutan