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Air

Flights To & From Paro

Paro

Arrive

Bagdogra

Frequency

2 weekly

Cost (US$)

95

Paro

Arrive

Bangkok

Frequency

daily

Cost (US$)

333

Paro

Arrive

Dhaka

Frequency

2 weekly

Cost (US$)

180

Paro

Arrive

Guhawati

Frequency

2 weekly

Cost (US$)

105

Paro

Arrive

Kathmandu

Frequency

6 weekly

Cost (US$)

170

Paro

Arrive

Kolkata (Calcutta)

Frequency

daily

Cost (US$)

180

Paro

Arrive

New Delhi

Frequency

5 weekly

Cost (US$)

279

Paro

Arrive

Singapore

Frequency

2 weekly

Cost (US$)

435

In-Flight Entertainment

The flight from Kathmandu to Paro provides the most dramatic view of Himalayan scenery of any scheduled flight (snag a window seat on the left if you can). Look for the impressive Bodhnath stupa to the north as the plane takes off. Soon a continuous chain of peaks appears just off the left wing. The captain usually points out Everest (8850m; a black striated pyramid), Makalu (a grey chair-shaped peak) and Kanchenjunga (a huge massif), but if you have trekked in Nepal and are familiar with the mountains you can pick out many more. The elusive Shishapangma (8013m) is sometimes visible inside Tibet. Other recognisable peaks are Gauri Shankar (7185m), with its notched shape, Cho Oyu (8153m), Nuptse (7906m), with its long ridge, Lhotse (8501m) and Chhamlang (7319m).

When you pass Kanchenjunga, look for the dome-shaped peak on the western skyline. That is Jannu (7710m), which some French climbers have described as a 'peak of terror'; the Nepalis have renamed it Khumbakarna. Once past Kanchenjunga, the peaks are more distant. This is the Sikkim Himalaya; the major peaks, from west to east, are Chomoyummo (6829m), Pauhunri (7125m) and Shudu Tsenpa (7032m).

As the plane approaches Paro you may be able to spot the beautiful snow peak of Jhomolhari (7314m) and the grey ridge-shaped peak of Jichu Drakye (6989m). The plane then descends, often through clouds, banking steeply into the wooded valleys of Bhutan. Depending on the approach pattern that day, you may see Taktshang Goemba and Paro Dzong as you descend. Paro airport is often described as the scariest airstrip in the world but it's really not that bad.

Airports & Airlines

Bhutan has one international airport, Paro, and two airlines, government-owned Druk Air, which has offices in Paro and Thimpu, Jakar and Gelephu, and a private airline Bhutan Airlines, a division of Tashi Air, with an office in Thimphu.

The Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines schedules change by season, but usually there are several flights per week from Kathmandu, New Delhi, Singapore and Bangkok, either direct or via Dhaka, Kolkata or Bagdogra, depending on the day of travel. Less frequently there are flights to Guhawati and Ahmedabad. Extra flights are put on during the Thimphu tsechu (dance festival) in October and the Paro tsechu in April.

At the time of research only Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines were operating international flights to Bhutan. There are only a few aircraft that can operate on a runway that is as short and high as Paro's. All landings and take-offs in Paro are by visual flight rules (VFR), which means that the pilot must be able to see the runway before landing, and see the surrounding hills before take-off. This means that no flights can be operated at night or in poor visibility, so when Paro valley is clouded in, flights are delayed, sometimes for days. When this happens your tour program will have to be changed and everything rebooked. The upside of such a delay is that you can probably add some spontaneity into your schedule in Bhutan and make a few modifications as you go.

  • Reconfirm your Druk Air flight before departure and also once in Paro, to ensure that the schedule has not changed.
  • Check-in early for Druk Air flights as they occasionally depart before the scheduled time, especially if the weather starts to change for the worse.
  • Flights are often delayed because of weather and Druk Air recommends that you travel on nonrestricted tickets and allow at least 24 hours' transit time with your connecting flight in order to minimise the complications of delays. It makes sense to budget a couple of days' sightseeing in Kathmandu or Bangkok.

Druk Air Offices Abroad

Druk Air Sales Agents Abroad

Tickets

It is possible to purchase Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines tickets online using a credit card. There are no discounts or student fares, except for citizens of Bhutan.

It's also possible to have your agent book your tickets and email you the e-ticket. In the event of a cancellation you are likely to get a refund quicker this way and your agent should get direct notifications if there are changes to the flight times. Your agent will also email you a scan of your visa clearance from the Department of Immigration and you may need to show a printout of this when you check-in. The Paro airport departure tax is included in the price of the ticket.

You may need to also buy a ticket to and from the place where you will connect to Druk Air. For most travellers this essentially means Delhi, Bangkok, Singapore or Kathmandu, depending on where you are travelling from and which city you'd rather transit through. Delhi, Singapore and Bangkok offer the most international connections, but Kathmandu will give you an extra taste of the Himalaya. Other connections via Kolkata or Dhaka are possible, but fewer discounted international air fares are available to these places.

Transit Baggage

Although Bhutan's airlines say they have interline agreements with other carriers, your ticket to Paro will be separate from your other international tickets. This means you cannot check your baggage all the way through to Paro via a connecting flight. You will need to reclaim your baggage and recheck it at the Druk Air counter. The only exception to this might be Thai Airways if your lay-over is less than eight hours.

When you depart from Bhutan, Druk Air claims it can check bags through to your final destination if you give them the flight details during check-in but be aware that this information is handwritten on the baggage tags. Call us travel cynics but we don't fully trust the system.

The significance of not being able to check through your luggage is that you may have to go through immigration at your transfer airport to pick up your luggage in order to check-in again. Depending on the country, this can create visa problems. Bangkok, Singapore and Kathmandu transit is relatively easy, requiring either no visa or free transit visas on the spot, but in Delhi you're likely to need to find a staff member to get your bag from the carousel and recheck it in for you as you can't exit the transit area without an Indian visa.

Land

Border Crossings

Crossing between Bhutan and India (and then to Nepal) is relatively straightforward at the following three points found along Bhutan's southern border:

  • Phuentsholing The primary border crossing from India into Bhutan, on the border with the Indian state of West Bengal.
  • Samdrup Jongkhar Much less used but still possible for exit or entry, in the far east on the border with the Indian state of Assam.
  • Gelephu Again little used but still possible for exit or entry on the border with Assam.

India

To & from Phuentsholing

The gate between Phuentsholing and Jaigaon (just across the border) opens at 6am and closes at 9pm for vehicles, but people can cross on foot until 10pm. If you are travelling to or from Bhutan via Phuentsholing, all roads lead through Siliguri in West Bengal, the major transport hub in northeast India. Heading into India, you can make road connections from Phuentsholing or Jaigaon to the train station in Siliguri (169km, six hours) or the airport in Bagdogra (which has flights to Kolkata, New Delhi, Guhawati and Paro). From Siliguri it's easy to arrange a share-taxi or bus on to the Indian hill stations of Darjeeling (77km), Gangtok (Sikkim; 114km) or Kalimpong, and also the Nepal border at Kakarbhitta.

The nearest main-line Indian train station to Phuentsholing is in New Jalpaiguri (near Siliguri). From there it's a 12-hour rail journey to Kolkata or a 33-hour trip to Delhi. You can travel by road direct to New Jalpaiguri from Phuentsholing or drive to Siliguri where you can simply flag down a taxi.

If you are headed to Bhutan, Bhutan Transport Services (Sevoke Rd) operate a direct bus service at 7.15am and noon daily between Siliguri and Phuentsholing (Rs 90, four hours). You can sometimes find Bhutanese taxis (yellow-roofed minivans with number plates beginning with 'BT') looking for a return fare. You can technically buy a seat for around Rs 400, but you might eventually have to charter the whole taxi for about Rs 1600. Indian bus companies also operate regular services between Siliguri and Jaigaon on the Indian side of the Bhutanese border.

Bhutanese vehicles may travel freely in India and a Bhutanese tour operator can easily arrange a vehicle to any of these destinations. There are also taxis and shared hire cars available in both Phuentsholing and Siliguri.

Since Phuentsholing offers decent lodging options, few choose to halt at Jaigaon. If you absolutely must stay, there are some reasonable hotels near the immigration checkpoint and on MG Road.

Foreigners

Don't forget to get your passport stamped when leaving India. If your transport has already deposited you in Bhutan, you can simply walk back across the border to complete the paperwork.

Your guide will meet you at the gate and help you obtain your Bhutanese visa in Phuentsholing at the Immigration checkpoint.

Indian Nationals

To go through immigration at Phuentsholing, Indian nationals are required to submit a passport-size photograph, a copy of their identification document such as passport or voters' identity card, and a filled-in application form at the Immigration Office, which sits on the 1st floor of the Regional Revenue and Customs Office, located in front of Hotel Druk. A permit is then handed out by the immigration authorities, which must be stamped in at the check-post in Rinchending, en route to Thimphu.

Please note that these rules are changeable upon short notice, especially during politically sensitive periods or due to unforeseen security issues.

To & from Samdrup Jongkhar & Gelephu

Foreign and Indian tourists are allowed to enter or exit Bhutan at Samdrup Jongkhar (Eastern Bhutan) and Gelephu (Central Bhutan). Be aware that strikes (bandhs) that affect all road transport and can close borders are relatively common in Assam and can be called at short notice and last for a week. Check on the status of Assamese separatist groups before you decide to travel by land through Assam.

The primary reason you would want to exit into Assam is to avoid the long drive back over the mountains to Thimphu after visiting central and eastern Bhutan. From Samdrup Jongkhar and Gelephu, drive down to Guwahati in Assam, from where you can fly to Kolkata, Delhi, Bangkok or Bagdogra, or get a train connection to numerous Indian destinations. Due to security concerns, all Bhutanese vehicles have to travel in a convoy, so expect delays. Six kilometres from the Samdrup Jongkhar border at Darranga, and 10km from the Gelephu border at Deosiri, is a Foreigners' Registration Post, open 24 hours, where you must get your entry/exit stamp. Carry photocopies of your passport photo pages and Indian visa as these may be asked for.

Another alternative to Guhawati is a long, but flat, drive west through the Indian duars (low hills) to Siliguri.

Nepal

Panitanki (aka Raniganj), in northern West Bengal, is opposite the eastern Nepal border town of Kakarbhitta. A long bridge separates the two towns across the Mechi River. Bhutanese tour operators can pick you up or drop you at Panitanki, or you can arrange for them to take you to Bhadrapur or Biratnagar to catch a flight to Kathmandu. The border post at Panitanki is officially open 24 hours but the Nepali Immigration post at Karkarbhitta is only open 7am to 10pm.

Panitanki is only one hour (35km) from Siliguri (India). Buses (Rs 30) to Panitanki and shared jeeps (Rs 100) to Kakarbhitta run regularly on this route and taxis are easy to arrange (Rs 500). A cycle-rickshaw across the border to Kakarbhitta costs Rs 100. Buses depart Kakarbhitta at 5pm daily for Kathmandu (NRs 1150-1375, 16-plus hours), a long rough drive via Narayanghat, Mugling and the Trisuli River valley. See Lonely Planet's Nepal for details of what to see and do along this route.

A better option is to take a taxi (NRs 1000) from Kakarbhitta to Bhadrapur and take a domestic flight to Kathmandu (US$165). There is a larger airport at Biratnagar, a four-hour drive from the border, from where a flight costs US$135. Yeti Airlines and Buddha Air are the most reliable airlines. Jhapa Travel Agency in Kakarbhitta will be able to book a taxi and a flight.

Sea

Bhutan is landlocked and there are no sea routes to the country.