INCREDIBLE INDIA: 10 BUDGET FRIENDLY & FREE THINGS TO DO IN GANGTOK, SIKKIM WITH FAMILY

Recently Mr. Mahesh Semwal,  a travel blogger friend asked me about things to see in Gangtok. It reminded me that I have yet not written about my experience of traveling with family to Gangtok. What also makes Gangtok a family destination is the fact that it is cheap to visit Gangtok as most things to do in Gangtok are free. Mr. Mahesh himself enjoys travelling with family and I thought it would be best if I finally write about my travel to Gangtok with my parents.

Me and my parents booked a car from the Gangtok bus stop for the entire day. Here is how to see the best of Gangtok with family in 8 hours. I am writing down the exact time of our arrival at a particular point of interest.

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1) 1:25 p.m. – Do Drul Chorten, Gangtok:

Dense forest of birch trees, oak and magnolia hides the Do Drul Chorten. Do Drul Chorten is a stupa which dates back to 1945. Built by the Venerable Trulshi Rimpoche, head of the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism, it is a calm place in the midst of a busy city. Devotees spin the 108 Mani Lhakor or prayer wheels around the stupa in a clockwise manner. Buddhists devotees chant aum mani padme hum meaning ‘Hail to the jewel in the Lotus’ while spinning the wheel. One must watch out for Chorten Lakhang and Guru Lakhang, where two huge statues of Guru Rinpoche are worshipped. You need to ask around or locate the downwards stairs which would lead you to the huge statues. (Photography in this section is not allowed) It is a place of worship and you must refrain from being noisy. Admission is free

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Traveling with my parents. Facing the museum at Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangtok, Sikkim.

2) 1: 45 p.m. – Namgyal Institute of Tibetology Gangtok :

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Museum at Namgyal Institute Of Tibetology in Gangtok, Sikkim. It is near M G Marg, Gangtok and Do Drul Chorten.

Inaugrated in October, 1958 and built in traditional Tibetan architecture, its museum is surrounded by 2 tower like structures on either side. The maroon and white façade of the building complements the dense green cover of the campus. Child monks goof around as the dramatic background of bougainvillea blooms enhance their charm. The museum houses some interesting artefacts such as a variety of ancient thangkas (Buddhist painting and embroidery on cloth), Buddhist wares, ancient coins, rare statutes. It also houses a casket which contains the relics of Kasyapagotra and Madhyama, the two great Asokan missionaries. Ancient manuscripts (some even belonging to 11th century) in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Chinese and Lepcha also find home in the ground floor museum. My favourite though was the eerie tantric skull-cap bowls and trumpets made from human thigh bones. You may climb up for the library and the views. It is located in Deorali and is around 2 kilometers away from the main town. Namgyal Institute of Tibetology is walking distance from Do Drul Chorten.

 

 

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Deorali Bazar Ropeway Station, Gangtok, Sikkim

3) 2:15 p.m. – Deorali Bazar Ropeway Station Gangtok

 

Just 5 minutes drive/walk away from Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, one can take the ropeway and enjoy the sweeping views of Gangtok city. I did not take the ride because neither my parents nor I were interested in it. We moved ahead for the views of valley at a nearby view point.

 

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Viewing Point near Deorali Bazar Ropeway Station, Gangtok, Sikkim

4) 2: 22 p.m. – Viewing Point, Gangtok-

We instead chose to walk up to the View Point, few minutes away. The winding stairs lead to a viewing point from where one can enjoy the view of the lush green, mist laden mountains, tiny houses and terraced fields. The pathway is decorated with Tibetan prayer flags. We bought some snacks along the way such as boiled and spiced chick peas.   Since my parents are not as fit as me, they took a little longer to navigate the stairs. But it was still easily manageable and was senior citizen friendly. Admission is free.

 

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Hanuman Tok, Gangtok, Sikkim

5) 3:05 p.m. – Hanuman Tok

 

When I arrived at Hanuman Tok, an enterprising family was cooking momos and selling it from the rear of a van modified to double up as a shop. I bought 2 plates of vegetarian momos for  throw-away price and explored the Hanuman temple at Hanuman Tok. The temple is dedicated to Lord Hanuman, much revered God to Hindus, known to foreigners as the Monkey God. If you are lucky, you might get to view the Kanchenjunga range. 11 kms away from main Gangtok city, it is perched at a height of 7,200 ft. It is on located on a road near the Gangtok-Nathu la Highway. There is a gallery which shows important scenes from the Ramayana, the Hindu epic. There is also a famous shine of Sirdi Saibaba. It is senior citizen friendly. There are also benches for rest. I ring a bell, soak in the views and bid it adieu. Admission is free.

 

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Ganesh Tok, Gangtok, Sikkim. It is near Gangtok Zoo

6) 3:54 p.m. – Ganesh Tok, Gangtok:

 

We passed a gorgeous waterfall and arrived at Ganesh Tok. Located at an altitude of 6,500 ft on a gorgeous hilltop, it has a small temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha, known to foreigners as the Elephant God. It is near the tall TV tower and offers incredible views from a circular viewing gallery. On clear days, you can see Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world, from Ganesh Tok.  Ignoring the gift and souvenir shop, the nearby zoo and the ‘Dress Like a Local’ Photo Booths, we headed to the cafeteria near the parking lot for a late lunch. The food is good and cheap. It is 6 kms away from the main city. Admission is free. It is just 4 kms away from Hanuman Tok.

 

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Deorali Orchid Sanctuary in Gangtok, Sikkim.

7) 5:05 p.m. – Deorali Orchid Sanctuary:

We arrived late here and the enclosed garden was closed. On my request, I was allowed to enter the indoor Orchid paradise. Located near Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, it houses over 200 species of orchids, including some rare ones. The bold colors and unusual shapes of flowers vied for my attention. The main blooming season is April to May, July to August and October to November. It offers different varieties in different seasons. Admission is free.

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Monk at Enchey Gonpa, Gangtok, Sikkim. Incredible India!

8) 5:21 p.m. – Enchey Gonpa, Gangtok:

As I entered the quaint Enchey Gonpa monastery with my parents, the absolute silence was gently broken by Buddhist chanting from an individual young monk. His was the only sound which reverberated through the conifer scented valleys. Intrigued, my slow paced walk soon turned into gallops. Soon the faint sound turned bolder as I followed the sound. In no time, my pace was slower than that of a snail-in-no-hurry, as soon as I was face to face with a child monk faithfully chanting his lessons for the evening alone. Few steps away from him a group of child monks were like regular kids, goofing around in their red robes while pretending to read their religious books. These kids alternated between serious education and goofing around at a monastery in Gangtok, Sikkim. Despite a strict routine, the kids had retained their ‘kidness’. They hit gently at each other and cracked jokes on each other between recitals of the holy text.

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Little Monks at Enchey Gonpa, Gangtok, Sikkim. Incredible India!

The 200 year old Enchey Gonpa aka Buddhist monastery is set in a lonely place. No wonder Enchey Gonpa’s literal meaning is ‘the solitary temple’. We were the only tourists there. It is 3 kms away from the main Gangtok city. If you are traveling to Gangtok in the month of January and February, don’t forget to catch the live Chaam aka Mask dance performed on the 18th, 19th day of the 12th lunar month of the Tibetan calendar. It is home to the monks of the Nyingma sect of Vajrayana Buddhism. Do check out the colorful windows. Admission is free.

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My parents chilling on a bench in M.G.Marg Market, Gangtok, Sikkim. Incredible India!

9) 6:00 p.m. – MG Marg Market, Gangtok:

MG Marg Market is located centrally in the heart of the Gangtok City. It was near our hotel, so it made sense to end the day in the vibrant markets of M.G. Marg. Visiting it during night made the experience all the more charming. It reminded me of the Leh market in Ladakh. Though M G Marg market is much bigger in scale than the Leh market but it resembled the look and feel. Also, both the markets are a no vehicle zone and are way too clean by Indian standards for a market as crowded as this. Despite the crowd, it is a pleasure to walk here due to the wide pathways. The open mall or boulevard square is lined with glittery shops, souvenir stores, grocery shops, fancy restaurants and even pharmacy shops. My parents checked out some outlets and shopped. Not a shopping fan, I utilized the time to stroll and fill my face with street food. It is a no smoking zone. Open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Restaurants are open for longer. Admission to M G Marg market is free.

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Gurudwara Sahib, Gangtok, Sikkim. Incredible India!

10) 8:26 p.m. – Gurudwara Sahib, Gangtok:

Gangtok, like other hill stations of India sleep early. I anchored my parents at the hotel and enjoyed the view of the glittery city from the hotel balcony. After I ordered food for my parents, I moved out to get a closer look of the beautifully lit Gurudwara Sahib. Located near the Gangtok bus stand, it is a beautiful Gurudwara (Worship place of Sikhs). The architectural style is unique and it looks all the more beautiful when lit. I walked alone on the adjacent walk way, sometimes looking at the Gurudwara sometimes looking at the starry city in far distance. Personal moments like these are why I travel. The next morning we moved to Darjeeling.

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Traveling with parents at Enchey Gonpa, Gangtok, Sikkim.

IS GANGTOK A SENIOR CITIZEN FRIENDLY CITY?

I found Gangtok to be a perfect place to visit with my parents. My mother has health issues and is wary of climbing anything. However much of Gangtok requires easy climbing. Hiring a car for entire day is the best way to travel with senior citizen in Gangtok. Most things to do in Gangtok are near each other and don’t require much of climbing stairs. The weather is pleasant which further makes thing easier. Food of all variety is also easily available, so rigid eating habits of parents are also resolved.

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Bird’s eye view of Gangtok city and Sikkim TV Tower from Ganesh Tok. Incredible India!

IT IS VERY CHEAP TO SEE GANGTOK AS MOST THINGS TO DO IN GANGTOK ARE FREE

As I mentioned in the story above, admission to most of the things to do in Gangtok is free which makes Gangtok a perfect family destination to travel to. A good idea is to hire cheap sight-seeing cars on arrival.  The rates are reasonable. Hotels of all budgets are also available.

HOW TO REACH GANGTOK FROM SILIGURI (AFTER A WONDERFUL TRIP TO BHUTAN WITH FAMILY)

I had planned Gangtok after a wonderful trip to Bhutan with my parents. As soon as we arrived in Jaigaon, the small town at India – Bhutan border, we booked a cab to Gangtok. We started at 2 p.m. from Jaigaon and reached the Coronation Bridge aka Sevoke Bridge at 5:50 p.m. We stayed over in a hotel near Bus Stand in Siliguri for the night.  Completed in 1941, the coronation bridge commemorates the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937. It is also known as Baghpul aka Tiger Bridge due to the 2 lion statues at one end of the bridge. It is also known as Loha Pul because it is made up of metal. Travellers pass through this scenic bridge on their way to Gangtok, Siliguri, Bhutan and Darjeeling. There is also a viewing point near the coronation bridge.  However beware of the traffic jams in the rush hour and of stray monkeys at all hours.  Avoid carrying any eatable in the open.

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Coronation Bridge aka bagh pul aka Loha pul aka Sevoke Bridge. It is near Bhutan, Darjeeling, in West Bengal and Gangtok in Sikkim. You can see Teesta river in this picture.

The next morning we caught a private non ac bus to Gangtok from the Siliguri Bus Stand. Many buses ply on this route and one can often get tickets without prior booking. We left Siliguri at 7:21 a.m. and reached the ‘Welcome To Sikkim’ gate at exact 10:00 a.m. Our bus was stopped at this point and we were asked to show our identity cards by the army. Before we arrived at this gate, the bus passed through scenic Teesta River. We came across many small metallic bridges. Some of the bridges near Sikkim were so narrow that we had to wait for the other vehicles to pass before making a move. Within 5 minutes of passing through the ‘Welcome to Sikkim’ gate, the bus stopped for refreshments in the middle of the city. I had my fill of different varieties of Bengali Mishti Doi (Sweet Thick and flavoured curd) and other Bengali sweets. We reached around 11:50 a.m. at the multi level Gangtok Bus Stand. We walked in and settled for a reasonably priced hotel near the Gangtok Bus Stand. It costed the 3 of us around Rs.1500 (With extra bed). I forgot the name of the hotel but most hotels on this lane are priced like that. This place is near the famous M.G. Market and other points of interest in Gangtok.

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My mother seems to be happy at Hanuman Tok, Gangtok, Sikkim

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM IN GANGTOK, SIKKIM:

  • Sikkim is a plastic free zone, so no plastic bags are allowed. It is best if you responsibly dispose all the waste you generated.
  • Many areas in Gangtok are No Smoking zone. Kindly Refrain.
  • While entering religious places, please maintain decorum and restraint yourself from shouting, running and other such ‘important tasks’.
  • Please don’t pluck flowers.
  • Please take off your shoes when entering religious places.
  • Ask for filtered water instead of plastic water bottles.
  • Don’t nag the authorities for clicking the picture of a statue/building or even monks if it is not allowed. Respect.

 

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The upper garden of Deorali Orchid Sanctuary, Gangtok, Sikkim

BEST TIME TO VISIT GANGTOK, SIKKIM :

  • Spring in Gangtok: I went in the month of April. The weather was perfect at that time. March and April is the best time to be there.
  • Summer in Gangtok: May and June is still comfortable.
  • Monsoon in Gangtok: July to August is when in pours in Gangtok. Landslides and heavy rains keep tourists away.
  • Autumn in Gangtok: October to November is also a great time to visit Gangtok. Might get chilly at nights.
  • Winter in Gangtok: December to February is very cold. Go if you can brave the chill.
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Buddhist Devotees chanting aum mani padme hum while spinning Mani Lhakor aka prayer wheels at Do Drul Chorten, Gangtok, Sikkim.

HOW TO REACH GANGTOK, SIKKIM

  • AIR: Nearest Airport is at Bagdogra, 124 kms away
  • RAILWAY: Nearest Railway station from Gangtok is New Jalpaiguri in Siliguri, 148 kms away.
  • BUS: Buses to Gangtok are available from Siliguri and Darjeeling, so you might want to club these destinations.

EXCURSIONS FROM GANGTOK, SIKKIM

Gangtok is close to many interesting places such as:

International destinations near Gangtok, Sikkim:

  • Phuentsholing in Bhutan
  • Ilam, Nepal
  • Nathu La pass near China border

Indian destinations near Gangtok, Sikkim:

  • Darjeeling
  • Rumtek Monastery
  • Gurudongmar Lake
  • Yumthang Valley
  • Lachung and Lachen
  • Yuksom
  • Pelling
  • Tsongmo Lake
  • Zuluk
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A waterfall which we saw between Hanuman Tok and Ganesh Tok, Gangtok, Sikkim. Incredible India!

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TIGER’S NEST AKA PARO TAKTSANG IN BHUTAN- QUICK TREKKING GUIDE AND TIPS!

The below article is in a chronological order, based upon my personal experience. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section below and I will answer them.

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Creative shot of Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang.

TIGER’S NEST OR THE PARO TAKTSANG IS THE FACE OF BHUTAN. Most have nurtured a dream to climb up the monastery, which from a distance looks like it will fall anytime from the high mountains. I have been to Bhutan 2 times (Such is the pull of the country!) I could not visit the Tiger’s nest the first time in 2014 because I was traveling with parents for whom it was not possible to trek. The option of taking a mule up to the Tiger’s Nest was there but they were not too keen. I looked at it longingly from a distance and promised myself to return to Bhutan one day for realizing my dream of trekking up to Tiger’s Nest if nothing else.

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Paro Taktasang aka Tiger’s Nest Monastery peeping from the prayer flags

15th August, 2016: Perhaps I was destined to trek to Tiger’s Nest on the auspicious occasion of Indian Independence Day. As our van stopped at the base of the Tiger’s Nest, a touristy market welcomed us. Some of us bought a Rs.50 walking stick. We were 5 bloggers and 2 representatives from Bhutan Bookings.

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Beginning of Tiger’s Nest Monastery Trek- Of Pines and mules

7:35 a.m. Scores of pine cones lay scattered on the ground as we started the trek to Tiger’s Nest. Mules, waiting to be hired, rested nonchalantly. Tiger’s Nest looks like a tiny speck from here. A row of prayer wheels housed in small rooms built in traditional Bhutanese architecture was the first man made structure we passed. Powered by flowing water, it added to the tranquil atmosphere.

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Prayer wheel powered by water is housed in this room. En Route Tiger’s Nest Monastery trek

8:00 a.m. Clusters of tiny mushrooms cushioned the sides of pathways.  The view of Tiger’s nest was our constant companion. Half an hour later, we were rewarded with sweeping views of the valley below and misty mountains on the other side.

Pictures above (L to R) Way to Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Shadow of the quirky prayer wheels, Tiny mushrooms (Please click to enlarge)

8:41 a.m. There are benches built for those who want to rest. I preferred sitting on the stones during the breaks. Nearby is a large compartmentalized tank where the horses stopped for their water breaks.

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Me blowing the quirky prayer wheels fashioned out of bottles. En Route Tiger’s Nest Monastery Trek (Pic: Parnashree Devi)

8:57 a.m. We arrived at a giant prayer wheel surrounded by large boulders and prayer flags of all colors. I loved the quirky prayer wheel somebody fashioned out of bottle waters. It had ‘wings’ and was dependent on fast winds or a little blow by humans. Few minutes later, we entered a modern gate. 20 minutes later the muddy path had become rocky in patches.

Pics above (L to R) : Our guide Sonam resting on a bench en route Tiger’s Nest Monastery; Rocky patches

10:00 a.m. We arrived at a mysterious building. It was built around a cave. It’s door was locked but there was a wooden ladder which opened in the window. I climbed the ladder to see a dark room housing idols and prayer paraphernalia. Incense smell seduced my olfactory system as I pushed my nose against the metal net. Just when I thought there were no human inside, a monk looked at me from inside. A board told me that His Holiness JE Khenpo Geshey Guenden Rinchen was born here in a cave in 1926 (Fire Tiger year). People nick named him Dragphugpa (Cave man). He was a Buddhist scholar and for 10 years he served as the abbot of Tango Monastery in Thimphu. Just 3 minutes ahead is a view point where trekkers can safely take pictures of the Tiger’s Nest.

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The cave Temple just before the view point en route Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

10:22 a.m. After a stop of few minutes we resumed trekking, this time on proper steps with metal railings. Few years ago this was a rough trail. The construction helped people navigate the tricky part of the trek. This stretch has the most ups and downs and perhaps due to this reason the steps were built. “It was pretty rough when I visited it solo many years ago! It’s quite easy now!” An American told me, who was trekking this time with his grown up son. 20 minutes later, I passed a cemented seating area. Skipping the rest, I moved on, impatient to reach the Tiger’s Nest. A Japanese pointed out to me a large formation on the rock below the Tiger’s Nest. It looked like a human form. He told me it is said to be a mythological figure.

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The waterfall. Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang is just an hour away!

11:00 a.m. We arrived at the most exciting part of the trek. A large waterfall cascaded from the high mountains. A bridge helped pilgrims cross the gushing stream powered by the waterfall. Prayer flags of all colors were tied in haphazard fashion everywhere as if celebrating something. Perhaps celebrating our arrival at the Tiger’s nest which was just an hour away! 10 minutes away was a cave where Khado Yeshi Tsogyal practiced Vajrakilaya. A powerful tradition which is practiced to removes obstacles; overpower evil forces and leads to compassion and spiritual cleaning.

Pics above (L to R): Can you identify the human image; the second cave temple just before Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

12:20 a.m. We arrived at the steps leading to Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Cameras, Mobile phones, weapons, liquors, tobacco, drugs explosives and any inflammable object are not allowed beyond this point. We submitted our cameras, mobile phones, sticks, extra clothes and day packs in the locker and proceeded ahead after a security check. It is also not allowed to wear sleeveless outfits, shawls or Bermudas and half pants beyond this point.

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Paro Taktsang aka Tiger’s Nest Monastery

As I climbed the steep steps to the Tiger’s Nest monastery, I arrived at a dark room. The perfume of incense and juniper wafted in the air, lending it a mystical aura. I visited all the temples in the monastery, silenced and awed by its aura. The breathtaking views of the valley made it all the more soothing.

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Me unable to hide my happiness on coming so close to Paro Taktsang aka Tiger’s Nest Monastery. One more dream come true! (Pic: Parnashree Devi)

1:24 p.m. We arrive for lunch at Taktsang Cafeteria. A Bhutan Tourism outlet, it is a relaxing place to have lunch post the trek. It has both indoor and al fresco dining option. I suggest you sit at the outdoor benches for a view of misty Tiger’s Monastery. Lunch is buffet style. There are clean loos too.

Lunch Nu 390; Tea/Coffee with biscuits – Nu 100

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The cafeteria. We ate here while returning from Tiger’s Nest Monastery

Soul Window Tips:

  1. Eat a heavy breakfast. You will be burning a lot of calories.
  2. Wear loose cottons and comfortable shoes. Trekking shoes preferred though it is an easy (for me) trek.
  3. Carry light woolens. I did carry but I did not need it. (I trekked on 15th August)
  4. Don’t wear sleeveless shirts/tops and half pants. You will not be allowed inside the monastery.
  5. Carry water bottles (at least 2 liters per person)
  6. Carry Small snacks like dry fruits, cookies, health bars.
  7. Carry a light day pack to hold all the things.
  8. Walking stick helps, though it is not much required. In case you buy it from the shops at the base, it would be great if you could return it to them for free. This is what we did.
  9. Always give priority to the horses and let them pass the path before you do.
  10. Carry plastic to protect your electronic in case it rains.

MY MORAL POLICING ON RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING:

  1. If you are fit, there is no reason to hire a mule. It’s unpleasant for you as well as the mule. Trekking on foot also helps you observe a lot.
  2. Don’t litter. It is a sensitive zone. Though there are huge bins installed every few steps, I suggest you collect all the garbage in your bag and take them down yourself. If all the individuals take initiatives at their end, it makes a big difference at the end.
  3. Don’t talk loudly or scream. Let’s maintain the sanctity of the place.
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Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE THESE BLOGS ON BHUTAN:

WHY THEY PAINT PENIS DESIGNS ON THE WALLS OF BHUTAN

DRAYANGS: THE DANCE BARS OF BHUTAN

THE HAA VALLEY: BEST KEPT SECRET OF BHUTAN

ALL YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT PARO

MUST DO THINGS IN THIMPHU: 30 EXCLUSIVE PICTURES

WHITE WATER RAFTING IN PUNAKHA: WHEN I JUMPED IN THE RIVER

Disclaimer: My trip was sponsored and all the logistics were taken care of by Bhutan Bookings. Click here to plan your vacation in Bhutan with them.

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Me en route Paro Taktsang aka Tiger’s Nest Monastery. (Pic by: Dipanshu Goyal)

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Dipanshu gaining height. This was shot half an hour after the trek to Tiger’s Nest Monastery began.

I was accompanied by travel bloggers – Dipanshu, Manjulika, Parnashree and Swati in the fun company of Sonam Karma and Dipanjan from Bhutan Bookings. Click on their names to read their stories from Bhutan.

WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.