The way to Bhutan: Travel by Land and Travel by Air.
The Kingdom of Bhutan remained largely cut off from the rest of the world up until the early 1960’s. Entering the country was difficult as it was only accessible by foot from two main entry points, one in the North and another from the South. The Northern route was through Tibet, crossing high mountain passes that were inaccessible throughout the winters. The second entry route from the South came through the plains of Assam and West Bengal. The high, frozen passes in the North and the dense, jungles in the South made it extremely difficult to enter the country.
However, carefully planned economic development has made the country much more accessible and there are now a network roads entering and traversing the country, as well as one international and multiple domestic airports.
Today the main roads entering the country are through Phuentsholing in the south, linking Bhutan with the Indian plains of West Bengal, through the border towns of Gelephu, in the central region and Samdrup Jongkhar, in the east, that link with the Indian state of Assam.
All visitors to Bhutan require a visa to enter the country (see visa under the plan tab). Visa clearance must be obtained before coming to Bhutan and travel must be booked through a Bhutanese tour operator or international partner. Indian, Bangladeshis and Maldivian nationals can receive a visa on entry and it is not necessary for them to book travel through a tour operator, however it is recommended. In the case of Indian nationals a passport or voters card are acceptable on entry.
Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrup Jongkhar are the only land border areas open to tourists.
The town of Phuentsholing in south-west is located approximately 170 km east of the Indian national airport at Bagdogra. After crossing Phuentsholing, you begin your journey to Thimphu, the capital city with travel time of about six hours for the 170 km stretch.
Gelephu in south-central Bhutan is another entry point to Bhutan. It is approximately 250 kms from Thimphu and the journey will take you through the sub-tropical areas of Bhutan before entering the alpine zone and then finally into Thimphu. One will have to traverse across three districts and the travel time will be about ten hours.
The district of Samdrup Jongkhar in south-east Bhutan borders the Indian district of Darranga, Assam and is approximately 150 kms away from Guwahati, the capital city of Assam. The journey from Guwahati is about three hours. Tourists entering Bhutan through Samdrup Jongkhar will take you to Trashigang, and from there over the lateral route to Monggar, Bumthang, Trongsa, Wangdue Phodrang and then finally into capital, Thimphu. The distance is about 700 kms and will take you a minimum of three days to reach Thimphu.
There are flights to destinations that include Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Singapore and Mumbai.
Paro is situated at a height of 2,225 m (7300 ft) above sea level and is surrounded by mountains as high as 4,876 m (16,000 ft). At present two carriers operate to Bhutan, Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. And there are domestic airports in Yonphula in eastern Bhutan, Bumthang in central Bhutan, and Gelephu in south-central Bhutan. A second international airport is currently under construction in Gelephu along the southern border to India.
Flying into Bhutan’s Paro International Aiport is typically an exciting experience as the descent into Paro valley brings you closer to the mountain tops than most other flights in the world. The flight between Paro and Kathmandu is one of the most exciting ones as the aircraft passes over four of the five highest mountains in the world. In fine weather, as you soar higher up, you can enjoy the spectacular view of Mt. Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and Kangchenjunga at their best.
The main international routings used to fly in to Paro are Delhi, Kathmandu, Bangkok, Singapore and Calcutta. There are also flights from Dhaka, Gaya, Bagdogra and Guwahati and Mumbai.
Bangkok flights come in and out every day with both airlines (and at busy times there are two or three flights a day) but flights on the other routings are not as frequent. Delhi and Kathmandu flights tend to be daily (or sometimes twice daily at the peak of the season). Calcutta flights run around 5 times a week with Druk Air and daily with Tashi Air and Singapore flights are twice a week with Druk Air. Flights from Dhaka, Bagdogra and Guwahati are usually twice a week in each direction.
Druk Air uses an airbus which seats 114 passengers with 20 business class seats and an ATR that seats around 40 passengers with no business class available. Tashi Air has two airbuses with 122 seats (including 20 business class seats).
Timings vary depending on whether the flight is direct or has a stopover but are broadly as follows:
If you would like more precise information about flight timings or options please ask and we will be happy to explain further.
The price of Druk Air and Tashi Air flights is charged on top of the tour price. Current rates for return flights are around US$430 (Kathmandu), US$660 (Delhi), US$780 (Bangkok), US$465 (Calcutta) and US$965 (Singapore). However the seats are priced in local currency but must be paid for in US$, so the price fluctuates daily and the final price can only be confirmed on issuing the tickets. As a result the initial quote we give you for the flights will always be indicative only. Discounted fares are available at certain times of year and for children and students.
The ticketing system used by the airlines allows us to hold seats for a period so you have time to decide on your dates and organise your international flights before we have to issue the tickets. For travel dates which are more than 45 days away, the ticketing date will be between 30 to 90 days from the date of booking, depending on availability. If seats are still available on the flight we can keep extending the reservation for further periods of 30 days until the flight fills up and we have to issue the tickets. For travel dates less than 45 days but more than 14 days away the ticketing date will be 7 days from the date of booking. For travel dates within 14 days, no ticketing date will be available and the flights must be paid for on booking to secure the seats.
The baggage allowance is usually 30 kg in economy class and 40 kg in business class, although this may differ depending on the routing so you should check your ticket.