Driving a hired car to the Land of the Flying Tigress

Woman Motorist Me

Well-Known Member
The country we visited has been given many names. The Last Paradise. The Land of the Thunder Dragon. The Land of Happiness.

What fascinated me the most about this country is it's legend about Guru Rinpoche taking the form of Dorje Drolo with his consort transforming herself into a tigress, carrying him on her back & flying to this place now called the Taktsang Palphug or the Tiger's Nest Monastery where he meditated for three years.

This is a blog of my self-drive trip to Bhutan.


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Woman Motorist Me

Well-Known Member
The Planning:

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We are 2 couples who went on this trip in the 2nd week of March (2017) for 15 days: our friends Smita & Praveen, my husband Manan & myself (Nipa).

The boys had planned to fly from Mumbai to Delhi & hire a self-drive car from Myles. (Why fly to Delhi if you want to go to Paro???)

The boys found it completely logical to drive 3500 odd kms so they could self drive the 260 kms from Paro to Punakha & back! :roll:

Since we are so giving inherently, we decided to let the boys have all the fun & chose the uncool option to fly to Bagdogra instead :roll:. The boys were to drive from Delhi to Bagdogra, pick us up & together we were to drive to Phuentsholing, take the necessary permits & enter Bhutan.

Manan claimed he had researched everything thoroughly & found this to be the best option. So he booked an Innova from Myles, Delhi a month in advance & we were all set to leave!

Since there is so much depth in his research, I'll give him the privilege to explain the blunder he made ](*,).
 
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Manan

Well-Known Member
Hi all,

So after going motor-biking in Bhutan 4 years back, (read the blog here), I had always wanted to return to this amazing country. It's interesting that though my last trip was full of problems ... due to permits & other issues, I still felt that this time things would be smoother. Hope somehow always wins over hard experience (after all, people do get re-married. One would have thought that they would have learnt their lesson already)

We already knew that Bhutan doesn't have self-drive cars available. We also knew that cabs are allowed from India into Bhutan. What we didn't know is if Bhutan allows self-drive cars hired from India into it's borders.
There is very little information on it (at least we didn't find any) anywhere. So we decided to find out the hard way.

After booking an Innova through Myles, I was wondering about car insurance in Bhutan. So I called up their call center:

Me: Would I face any problems with insurance when I take your car to Bhutan?
Call center: No sir there won't be any problem.

...

Call center: Of course we don't allow our cars to be taken to Bhutan.

Me: (oh oh. Maybe I should avoid telling them that I'm taking it there)

Call center: And we have GPS chips which detect where our cars are. Would you like to know the fines you have to pay in case you break our rules?


Ok that didn't go too well. I promptly cancelled their car ... and realized we are stuck!!!
(They were actually very sweet & didn't charge me cancellation charges as I was unaware of their rules).


Luckily I remembered reading about this company in Guwahati called 'Awe Rides' which has started self drive operations. So I called them up & found out that they DO allow their cars to be taken to Bhutan!

We quickly cancelled our Delhi tickets & re-booked them to Guwahati. We hired a Renault Lodgy as it was quite new.

Our new plan:

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1. Praveen & me fly to Guwahati

2. Pick up the car & drive to Bagdogra (Simultaneously our wives fly to Bagdogra)

3. Drive to Phuentsholing, take our entry permits, take RSTA permit, drive to Haa (if they give us permits from Phuentsholing)

4, 5, 6. Stay in Paro

7, 8, 9. Stay in Thimphu (extend our permit days & add permit for Punkha, Wangdue, Gasa. + Extend RSTA permits)

10, 11. Punakha (visit the Jigme Dorji National Park if we get permits till Gasa)

12. Wangdue

13. Return to Paro (our wives take a return flight Paro - Guwahati - Mumbai)

14. Praveen & me drive back to Guwahati

15. Return the car & fly back to Mumbai


So with this new plan, we managed to save 2000 kms & 2 days of extra driving \\:D/
 

Manan

Well-Known Member
Praveen & I flew to Guwahati & checked in to hotel S. J. International through Oyo Rooms. The room was quite nice except for the strong smell of smoke. I thought no one allows smoking in rooms nowadays anymore but this one clearly was an exception.

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Nice & clean room​

Next day we picked up the car in the morning. Awe Rides operates from a residential building but their paper work etc. was quite well organized. According to them, they have around 40 cars as of now.

The car we got had a private number plate (instead of the usual taxi or car rental number plates we get from other larger companies). We had a letter of consent from the owner which they said we would need if we were to enter Bhutan.

We were pleasantly surprised that the Renault Lodgy we took had only clocked 11500 kms on the odometer. It was practically new!

From here we left directly to try & reach Bagdogra the same day.

The road from Guwahati to Bagdogra was quite good (except for several patches where the road is still being widened). One thing that surprised us is how many people nonchalantly drive on the wrong side of the road on their 4 lane highways. We found it terribly risky & had to be extra alert but others around us were hardly batting an eyelid.

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This small goods carrier is not only on the wrong side of the road, it's in the fast lane!!!​

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The tractor didn't even warrant an angry horn from the truck opposite​

We completed the 470 odd kms in around 11 hours including pit stops.
 

Woman Motorist Me

Well-Known Member
Smita & I flew from Mumbai to Bagdogra via Delhi & checked in to Hotel Cinderella in Siliguri.

The room was quite nice & the whole property is very clean & well maintained though a bit dated.

The boys reached here by late evening. The dinner in their restaurant was quite nice.

We left early the next morning as our target was to reach Phuentsholing in time for the various permits.

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Hotel Cinderella​

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'Coronation' bridge on the way​

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We had breakfast here. The food was ok. As it was 'Holi', almost everything else was closed on the way.​

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Passed a lot of tea gardens on the way​

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Entering Phuentsholing
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Getting permits
We got permits from here for 1 week for Paro & Thimphu (We didn't get permits for Haa).

Next we went to the RSTA to get the permit for the car. We made it there just in the nick of time at 3 pm (which is the closing time for the accounts division there)

Just before signing the papers, the authority there asked us whether we had hired the car or did we own it. Manan gave a copy of the letter of consent and he seemed happy with that. We didn't ask him specifically if it's a problem entering Bhutan with a hired car.

(We didn't find it very sensible to ask the person who has the power to refuse you entry about the rules *before* the travel starts)

As the permit phase of our trip was quite smooth, we decided to celebrate over a cup of coffee & some desserts at Kizom Café ... a mistake as we realized later.
 
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