TO TRAVEL NON STOP FOR 4 MONTHS NON STOP! That was my travel fantasy when I was still working in Navi Mumbai in a 9 to 5 corporate job (Fine, make that 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. job). Sitting at my desk all day, I would dream of packing my bags to never return. My day dreaming would be assaulted with more official excel sheets (some of which I used surreptitiously for making my travel plans for next few months). Circa 2016! As I mentioned in an earlier blog, 2016 was a magical year for me travel wise.

Me at Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

Thanks to my new freelance lifestyle, I had the freedom to realize my dream of traveling non-stop. I had accepted a bit too many professional invites for Press Trips and planned many of my personal travels as well. So from August 2016 to November 2016, it was non-stop travel for me for 4 months. Between this period, I showed up at my brother’s house (I was staying with him till then) only for few hours. I would be back home only to wash and change clothes, rest or deliver already delayed projects before starting my next travel. I remember before my Amazing Trip To Ladakh, I took a post midnight cab to home, picked fresh clothes, unpacked and packed my luggage again and leave before 5 a.m. to catch flight to Leh. Within those few hours, I crazily packed my bag, answered mails and even submitted assignments. As I was unpacking and packing I realized much of my room resembled a war zone. I wasted a lot of time to find my things. Because I had had no time to organize my life!


Offbeat Bhutan : Cycling in Unseen Thimphu

Since November end to present day (February 2017), I have been declining Media Trips because I want to concentrate on my writing, earning and other pursuits in life.  I will start traveling again hopefully towards the end of February 2017. Till then, I just want to be at peace. I used my sabbatical from travel well to write more articles for print travel magazines and newspapers, to burn lot of food every day in my kitchen (I am a hopeless cook), play with my friend’s dog, catch up on movies and dining with my friends, organize my desk. I caught up with food festivals, film festivals, book fair and restaurant hopping in New Delhi too. I had spent quality time at 2 of my friend’s quiet homes and offices to write pending blogs. The month of December was most productive as I wrote around 20 blogs in December alone, most of it on Jordan and Bhutan etc. I also managed my finances and raised pending bills and earned more. I further augmented more wealth for me by landing up for assignments for me. On one of the days, I wrote 4 articles in a day! And oh, I caught up on a lot of sleep too. It was a creatively satisfying phase and I hope to repeat it again.

Click to read about the mystery behind Penis paintings on walls of Bhutan near Chimi Lhakhang

I have realized that I can’t be location independent. I realized that my fantasy was just a fantasy! When I actually tried to live my fantasy of traveling non-stop, I ended up cancelling my own trips. After being on road and in air for so long, I had realized that I do like a base to come back to. (Coz बाबा को base पसंद है). I also realized that no matter how much I love travel, it is not the only thing I want to do. I was itching to read lots of books, even newspapers (I am known for reading 2 months old newspaper even when not traveling), catch up on Bollywood and world cinema (I saw 15 Iranian films in between), meet old friends, spend time with parents and nephews and nieces. On most of my travels in this period I carried books to read. Not even once did I get time to read those thanks to my packed schedules during travel. I talk to my parents in Lucknow daily on phone since 2008, when I left home. I had to request them to hang up because I was too tired (mentally) to even talk)

I went to a remote village Sehore in Madhya Pradesh to see how Delhi girl Sanjana Kaushik is changing lives in rural India.

Even places like Ladakh, where I had planned 16 days trip started to make me restless. Even though it was my first time in Ladakh, I was constantly craving to get back home. This, when I don’t even like Delhi or Ghaziabad, my adopted home since 1 year! I realized I started to enjoy travel less and on every travel, after a few days, there were moments when I just wanted it to end right there. Perhaps if I was a newbie traveler, I would have still enjoyed it but after having traveled to more than 150 destinations in India since 2008, most of it solo travel in shoestring budgets, I was near saturation. I didn’t want to kill travel for me and since December 2016 I took a strict sabbatical from Travel. Not very long ago (Till just a few month ago), I used to crave for such a trip. From being Fired for travelling too much in 2015 to Tired of travelling too much in 2016, I had seen a paradigm shift in my travel aspirations within a year, a bit too fast. Henceforth, my focus this year onwards is to choose my official trips carefully.

  • I don’t want to travel for more than 10 days in a month.
  • I also want to travel more and more with parents, friends.
  • That said, I realized how much I crave to go back to my original Solo Travel Style. I did manage some amazing Solo Travel experiences last year. I hope to plan some epic solo travels for myself this year.
  • I want to choose my Press Trips more carefully. I should be charged up about the destination before committing.
Taj Balloon Festival near Taj Mahal Agra was the highlight of my trips.

This break from travel was also important because I finally shifted to my own rented apartment in January 2017. When I shifted from Navi Mumbai to Ghaziabad to stay with my brother in November 2015, I knew I would move out within a year. But I was unable to even find time to go apartment hunting because I was hardly seen at home. Much of January was spent in organizing my life and cutting the clutter. From August 2017 to January 2017 (staying at 2 of my friend’s homes) I was literally living out of suitcases and backpacks wearing the same set of clothes over and again. It was fun and challenging but also cumbersome.

Before Ladakh in September, a Media Trip to Bhutan for 10 days happened to me in August. After enjoying Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Haa Valley at leisure, I spent quality time with parents at Mussoorie and Landour.   September was marked with 16 days in Ladakh. After Ladakh, I made a solo trip to Mumbai, Bangalore and Agumbe, Ikkeri, Kaledi, Shimoga, Jog falls in Karnataka. It was a mix of flights, rickety buses and sleeper class trains. My train to Mumbai from Delhi was not even sleeper class. It was an overnight Chair Car journey in Gareeb Rath.  September was indeed my busiest month.

Did you know about the Corn Village Bhutoli in Mussoorie? Mosaic Hotels helped me find!

By the time it was October, I had started cancelling my own travels. Never before had I stood at a railway platform with my backpack and cancelled my own tickets. As I sat in metro to Nizamuddin railway station, I was boggled by the amount of work pending. The horrific visions of messy desk and room nagged me further. Upon reaching, I just cancelled the sleeper class train ticket to Surat on my cellphone and returned back to home. I promised myself to travel to Surat next winter to sample the seasonal dishes Ponk and Oundhiyo. Never before in my life had I done something like this. I even cancelled my much awaited trip to Kolkata on Durga Pooja in October. I had wanted to do it since eons. When I was so close to realizing that dream, I cancelled the ticket myself because 1) I was tired and 2) I had so much of freelance work pending). Before this, I explored Madhya Pradesh (Satpura, Bhopal, Pachmarhi, Sanchi, Sehore and Bhimbhetka.) for 7 days. I also stayed at parents’ home in Lucknow for sometime during Diwali. I had plans to visit nearby Ayodhya, Faizabad and Varanasi but I was too tired and just wanted to chill at home and eat some comfort food made by mom. November was all about hot air balloon ride near Taj Mahal and a quick trip to Boat Festival in Goa. I almost said no to these 2 invites. But it was so tempting I had to go. This was the time when I started to slow down. In reality, my 4 month long non-stop travel thus had brief moments of rest at home, thanks to the cancellations.

Alongwith Naropa Festival, I also attended the Ladakh Festival in Leh.

I don’t know if I will travel like this again (Though I still have some crazy travel plans) but for now I want to take it slow. Kudos to those travelers who spend months on road! Before this trip, the most I had travelled at a stretch was one month in Nepal in 2015 (Everest Base camp Trek and Kathmandu). I remember I was itching for a base even then.

It taught me that we should all understand what personality types we are and make travel plans which suit our personalities. I would love your views on this. Does the same thing happen to you as well or do you love living out of suitcases and backpacks? Do let me know in the comment section below.

This song from the Bollywood film Lootera sums up my current state of mind well.

ना उड़ने की इस दफा ठानी परिंदो ने भी वफा जानी. शिकायते मिटाने चली; सुबह बेदाग है!”

(“Having decided not to fly, even the birds learned to stay this time! I answered all the complaints; the morning is spotless now!”)

I took some time off from Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart and went to see Sanchi Stupa. Mesmerised, I spent all day here.

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Spotting Gaur aka Bison and other wildlife at Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh



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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.


  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.
Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang








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.

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.




I HEARD FEMALE GIGGLES as I was concentrating on taking pictures and videos of huge phallic signs on the walls of Bhutanese homes. “There are so many of them, in a variety of colors and designs. It’s weird.” The white woman quipped. Many people from (supposedly liberal) western countries were as aghast on seeing phallic symbols as the (supposedly conservative) Asians. Chimi Lhakhang is the place associated with such symbols. Though you can see phallic symbols across Bhutan, you find more of such symbols near Chimi Lhakhang.


The penis images painted on walls are outrageous. Some have ribbon tied around them; some are shown engulfed by a dragon. Some are even shown ejaculating.  I was amused to see penises with eyes, wings and hands as well. Each one of them is erect and comes with hairy testicles (Some ‘shaved’ too). You can’t afford to miss them thanks to their explicit nature and size (From tiny ones to as large as an adult human).


As I walked on the lush green hilly terrains to reach Chimi Lhakhang, I was amused by graphic pictures of phallus on the walls of homes and shops. Some of it was aimed at tourists, some authentic. Kids played nonchalantly in the shadow of the wall art while men and women went about their work, not embarrassed of passing such symbols every now and then. In conservative Asian cultures, this is an aberration, even a mild shock!


Prayer flags fluttered wildly in the unending rice fields as cows grazed nonchalantly in the undulating fields. A dog followed us throughout as we negotiated narrow dirt tracks and open drains to reach the Chimi Lhakhang. Women roasting ‘bhooja’ (Dry Snacks also popular in India) in an incongruous hut filled the air with a comforting fragrance and warmth.


The cool breeze slapped our cheeks and we would take pauses to soak in the tranquility of the place and admire its raw beauty. Tens of red robed kids were chanting under a tree in their al fresco school.


As I entered the temple, a child monk approached me and blessed me by softly banging a 10 inches wooden penis on my head. It got me curious and I asked my guide Sonam the reason behind the mystery.


Sonam transports me to 15th century. Lama Drukpa Kunley (1455- 1529) popularly known as the divine madman of Dragon lineage established the monastery in 1499. Folklore has it that he subdued a cannibal demon goddess with his ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom’. Following this event, the monastery was established on a hillock in Punakha by his cousin.


A famous poet, monk and Buddhist scholar, he introduced an alternative school of Buddhism in Bhutan. A connoisseur of wine, women and finer things in life, he broke the tradition and introduced a school of thought which was unashamed of sexuality and encouraged his followers (mostly women) to shun greed and embrace a honest and spiritual life. His sexual adventures are the stuff legends are made up of. It is said that he even employed intercourse as a blessing to his female followers. Through his unorthodox teachings, he enlightened those who listened to him. His influence is still palpable in Bhutan. The lama Kunley saw the hillock (where the monastery is situated) as the ‘breast of a woman’.img_1008

Even today, childless couples head to Chimi Lhakhang to seek cure for their infertility. Also known as the ‘infertility temple’, locals come here to seek blessings. The wooden penis, which the divine madman brought from Tibet is used to bless the women who seek to cure the couple’s infertility. Couples also come here for the naming ceremony of their children.img_1105

The penis figures are also known to ward off the evil spirits and gossips which explain its presence on the walls of the households. However, I was told that in urban areas of Bhutan, the numbers of such figures on walls are dwindling thanks to the growing prudishness and self censorship. Also known as the ‘mad saint’, his unprecedented teaching style was laced with humor, songs and socially unacceptable behavior. He popularized the depiction of erect penis figures outside houses along with a flying wooden penis on the top of the main entrance of the house, much like the ‘toran’ popular in India.








  • Carry Water Bottles. There is a uphill path at the end of the walk which leaves you thirsty.
  • Wear shoes and not slippers. Beware of puddles and open drains.
  • Talk to the locals. They might end up offering you some ‘bhooja’ from their kitchen.
  • Wear hat and goggles since Punakha is warmer than elsewhere in the Paro-Punakha-Haa valley- Thimphu circuit.


How to reach:

  • Our car left Thimphu at 9:00 am and reached Dochu La at 9:45 a.m.
  • After a break of 45 minutes, we left Dochu La at 10:30 a.m. and reached the road leading to Chimi Lhakhang at 12:15 p.m.
  • At 1:30 p.m. we reached Chimi Lhakhang. Though people take 30 minutes to reach Chimi Lhakhang from the approach road, we stopped many times en route because it was gorgeous.

The walk from approach road to the Chimi Lhakhang top is through an easy trail near the village Sopsokha. It is barely 10 kilometres away from Punakha. We left Chimi Lhakhang at 2:45 p.m.  and reached Punakha Dzong at 3:15 p.m.

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.

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.


Where to Eat: I would advice to eat at the many restaurants as you you start walking on the dirt tracks. This will give you the energy to keep going! I ate a sumptuous buffet (Noodles, Ema Datshi, rice) at Chimi Lhakhang café. Sit at one of the window seats which overlook the green valley. Beware of the large wooden phallus decorated dubiously at a corner in the washroom though.


When to go: I was twice. April was slightly hotter than August. I preferred the breezy August weather. It was not cold in either of the months. All you need is light cotton clothes. Morning visit advised.


Buy: You can take a phallic souvenir from the many shops. Key Chains, Show pieces, even a penis wearing a gho(local dress) are some of the interesting picks.

Pics above: (L to R): Kids playing oblivious to the graphic phallic symbols, the variety of penis ‘for sale’, the wooden penis above the door of a shop.

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Guide To Paro Valley – Why you should go to this dreamland in Bhutan!


Paro is a charming little town of Buddhist Bhutan, tucked away in a remote corner of the world, unspoiled by globalization and the frills that come with it. Paro is a unique town which can be called a hybrid between a city and a village. It had most modern frills balanced by the peace and serenity of a village. The nightlife is not much and the shops close early in the night. It’s pristine and surrounded by beautiful hills all around. If you ever fantasized about a utopian world, Bhutan is the place to be. Bhutan , as is widely known is a nation obsessed with Gross National happiness rather than gross domestic product. Do discover this landlocked kingdom before everyone else does! Do discover before it ceases to be “The Last Shangri La’ of the world! Chasing happiness is just another excuse though!


Paro is a small town and most of the destinations can be easily navigated on foot. A cab and a driver are important to access some monuments on hill tops, otherwise with a scenery and pleasant weather such as this, it calls for long walks. OK, make that romantic walks if you are on honeymoon! My walks and conversations with my cab driver revealed some secret vantage points and point of interests generally not mentioned in regular guide books.



Address : Near THPA Dam, Phuentsholing to Paro road , Chukha

The dam view restaurant offers great view of the Dam and the Chukha Hydro Power plant. Request the restaurant manager to open the door of the banquet hall (which is generally closed) for better views of the valley and dam. But that’s not the only reason to make a pit stop at the reasonably priced joint. The food and ambience here is equally good. I had my first taste of Bhutan’s national dish, Ema Datshi, a chilly based curry rich in cheese served with rice and lentils and a ‘kimchi’ like salad. There was a ‘hog all you can’ policy on rice and salad.



 Stop at PARO AIRPORT BIRDS EYE VIEW, the best vantage point to see the small town in its entirety. The 1st impression of Paro is promising and leaves you anticipating the discovery of its secrets. Needless to say, it gives the best view of the Paro airport. Wait for some time and you can see the dramatic landing and take offs from here.



 Address : Dop Shari Valley, Take right at the tail end of the bridge that leads to Dumtse Lhakhang, On the approach road to Sangachokhor and Kuengacholing,Paro

The promenade along the bank of river is used by the villagers to commute. This side of the bridge is mostly rural unlike the urban market area of Paro. You will see small charming homes and acres of agricultural lands and rose cheeked chubby kids heading leisurely to school. I envied the idyllic country lifestyle as I walked on the promenade. It gives you dramatic views of the Dzong above.


THE MAIN MARKET STREET built in 1985 is the most modern representation of Paro. It is lined on either side with small stores selling mainly grocery and handicrafts. The shops are well organized, uniform looking and strictly adhering to traditional Bhutanese architectural style. Most shops have a huge window serving as cash and carry counters. The panels and windows are painted exquisitely with Bhutanese folklore elements giving the market a unique character. In case, you happen to be in Paro on a weekend, its Sunday market is a must have experience. A walk down the lane is a must.



 Address: En route to Tiger’s nest

The Temple has an old world charm. Cocooned away from the main city area, this place had a dream like quality. The purple jacaranda flowers on white rough walls and apple trees bursting with tiny white flowers make it dreamy. In the inner courtyard of temple, the silver and gold plated butter lamp in a glass takes around 20 kgs of pure butter to light up. Right behind the lamp is the orange tree which bears fruits round the year. The walls are adorned with beautiful murals and ornately carved wooden windows.



Address: Near main market, Paro

Find local men practicing archery here, Bhutan’s national sport. Even if you miss seeing a proper tournament, there are chances you may catch a practice session played out by the roadside. The hills near the Tiger’s nest resort is often used for practice sessions. Every village here has their own teams. The game is associated to manliness and is passionately followed by the locals. You have to see it to appreciate it!



 Address : En route Tiger’s nest monastry, Paro

Always fancied dressing like locals? It housed many handicrafts and dresses exorbitantly priced at touristy rates. However, do go for a affordable Rs.100 per head to learn to wear a Gho (for men) and Kira (for women) and click pictures once done. For those willing to try their hand at archery, there was small set up where one could try for Rs.100. The stage was set in a room with dry grass, in a bid to give it an outdoor feeling. It was decorated with flags and gaudy flowers and a “Take memories from Bhutan” banner. This was the most touristy one can and one should get in Bhutan.



 The museum offers great panoramic views of the Paro valley. It was born out of the need to preserve, organise and represent Bhutanese heritage, tradition, lifestyle, art, culture, wildlife! The thangkas are as ancient as 16th century. The heritage gallery is more engaging one with its strange collection. The most unusual artefact was the 19th century Horse’s egg and horse horn. These are said to have special powers and bring good fortune to the person who owns it. The other star attractions are traditional water timer, iron chain crafted by saint Thangtong Gyalpo and the eerie stuffed snow leopard!



Address: Dop Shari valley, approach road to Sangachokhor and Kuengacholing, Paro

Again most tour operators and guidebooks skip this unusual Buddhist temple built in the architectural style of a chorten. It was built in 1433 by Thangtong Gyalpo. He is popularly called ‘Iron Man’ since he is credited with building 58 iron chain suspension bridges across Tibet and Bhutan.



Address: Below Paro Dzong

The sheer beauty of the traditional wooden bridge below the Paro Dzong calls for a pit stop. It’s built over Paro’s Paro Chuu river. The present structure is a reconstruction of the original which was washed away in 1969. The bridge also features in the movie Little Buddha by Bernardo Bertolucci. It offers great views of the dzong and the scenery around. Walk on the bridge and see locals and monks use the bridge to access the Dzong and the nearby areas. It also lends beautifully to unusual photo-ops.


Rinpung Dzong : The best stop in Paro is the imposing Paro dzong. Dzongs , the fortress temple of Bhutan are huge multi purpose buildings built in ancient Bhutan and Tibet. The Dzongs typically comprise of a huge courtyard (Dochey) in the middle surrounded by administrative offices, monks’ residential quarters, temples (Lhakhangs) etc. The courtyard generally has a soaring central tower called Utse. The Dzongs are massive, white colored building. Due to their sheer grandeur and extraordinary architectural style, these are now a major tourist attraction. Come in April for colorful festival Tsechu.


How To Reach: You can fly directly to Paro in Bhutan or fly to Bagdogra Airport in India and take a road trip.


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.

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.

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Offbeat Haa Valley in Bhutan. Way to our Homestay in Haa Valley

OFF LATE I HAVE OFTEN BEEN caught dozing off during the cab transfers. Blame it on my expanding girth (Delhi Belly?), my growing age or 8 years of travel. As our van moved from Paro to Haa valley, a series of exclamations woke me up. The travel bloggers in our van were sighing at the misty Chele La Pass. I peeped out of the window, eyes half closed, to see a series of white flags fluttering wildly against a grey sky. Before I imagined that I was still sleeping and this is just another ‘unreal’ dream, my blogger friends jolted me out of my stupor and forced me to come out of van.

These dogs greeted me at Chele La Pass! Bhutan is all about unconditional love! On the way to offbeat Haa Valley (Picture by Dipanshu Goyal)

Not caring about the slight drizzle, I moved about silently as a bunch of dogs, (tails wagging, ears stuck to its head – signs of affection) came running to me. They chose me out of all the people. I value this welcome much more than the garland and tikka welcomes at fancy hotels. It was a silent moment. We were the only people there at that time. Throughout our 10 day long journey in Bhutan, this was the only misty place we came across. At approximately 13,000 feet, it is the highest motorable pass in Bhutan and connects Paro to Haa Valley. None of us had been to Haa valley before and it set the tone for the remaining journey.

Me at Chele La Pass. On the way to Haa Valley, Bhutan (Picture by Swati jain)

It was pitch dark and still drizzling as we reached the 100 year old restored farm house in Haa Valley. Exhausted, we were still curious how the Haa valley looks likes. Never mind, as I stepped out of the van, I inhaled the rain soaked smell of soil deeply, listened carefully to the bell which rang in a distance (A Cow? A Prayer wheel?), touched the wooden railings of the dirt track we took to reach the farm, tasted the Haa air. Sporadic lamps (Few and far between) danced in the distance. I was still not sure what Haa looked like, but I was sure how Haa felt like!

Somewhere in Haa Valley, Bhutan!

The night was spent admiring the beauty of the farmhouse we were staying in. It was a restored house built in the traditional Bhutanese style. The wallpapers in the room were artistic and had Buddhist themes painted all over. Since it was an old style house, there were no attached bathrooms for any of the rooms. You don’t mind such things when you want an authentic experience. Cultural Immersion has always been about getting out of one’s comfort zone. I had always wanted to stay in a Bhutanese house and that wish was fulfilled here. The dinner was simple organic Thali (pre plated meal), flavorsome! A post prandial walk in the garden and midnight conversations followed.

We stayed in this restored farmhouse cum homestay in offbeat Haa Valley, Bhutan!

We woke up early the next day for a morning walk around the village. The sounds and smells we experienced the night before got a face. We discovered it is a sparsely populated village. There were large empty stretches between clusters of mud and wood houses. In our 2 hour long walk, we did not bump into a single person. Some people did go about their chores in their houses, some tending to their farms. The houses were large and often with a big lawn, with angry barking dogs. Some houses seemed ancient. Cows roamed around nonchalantly.

This dog didn’t like me. Fine, hated me! My Peta work, notwithstanding! At offbeat Haa valley, Bhutan

The empty wooden bridge above the water stream waited patiently for someone to justify its presence. Snow capped mountains made it all look even more majestic. The cows grazing in the green expanse next to a wooden hut made it look like Switzerland. Somewhere in the middle of our walk, I got the epiphany that we should have planned a longer stay here. It is not every day that one gets to converse with oneself and the nature in comforting solitude.

The lonely roads of offbeat Haa Valley in Bhutan!

As we left the farm house post breakfast, an old man playing with his cat smiled at me from his second story window. The Bhutanese frame of the window and his fondness for gibberish etched the memory of this moment forever in me. A few steps, as I walked on the dirt road to sit in my van, a kid, perched on his father’s shoulder smiled and waved at me. I don’t know why but that moment humbled me. It made my city life seem meaningless. I sat in the van, slightly upset. I refused to peep out of the window one last time. Because I know love happens when you do that! People in Haa know how to melt your heart, one artery at a time! In a non noisy way!


Good Byes are difficult! Always! At offbeat Haa Valley, Bhutan

Being an agrarian nation, 70 % of people in Bhutan live in rural areas. They depend on farms and cattle for the livelihood. Bhutan is abundant in natural resources what with green mountains, mysterious forests, voluptuous rivers accompanying you wherever you go. I got a glimpse of this even in urban areas.

I have been to Bhutan 2 times, once with parents and again with travel bloggers. I missed seeing Haa Valley the last time when I was here. Just like many others who stick to the traditional Paro-Thimphu-Punakha circuit. Haa Valley is the perfect place to experience the traditional lifestyle of Bhutan amidst a calm atmosphere. It is a great place to indulge in the backdrop of rich culture manifest in prayer wheels, fluttering prayer flags, vibrant close knit communities and a lazy languor that hangs in this village.

Walk around the farmhouse! At offbeat Haa Valley, Bhutan

With an area of 1706.8 square kilometers, Haa is one of the smallest districts of Bhutan. It runs north east to south west, neighbouring Paro, Chukha and Samte. With a population of approximately 12,000 in 63 villages, Haa is the second least populated dzongkhag aka district in the valley.


Farms of Offbeat Haa Valley in Bhutan

People of Haa are called Haaps. They celebrate the New Year much earlier than people in other parts of Bhutan do. The Haa New Year called Lomba (meaning: To carry the year) is celebrated on 29th day of the tenth month (usually November) of the Bhutanese calendar.

Ancient shamanistic traditions are practiced here along with traditional Buddhist rituals. The annual ritual to honor Ap Chhundu, the guardian diety of Haa includes the sacrifice of a yak. It is accepted that doing so will ensure a year of prosperity for the haaps for an year. The deity is worshipped by the men in his form as Pholha Masang Chhundu.

Traditional Bhutanese House in Offbeat Haa Valley, Bhutan!


The valley of Haa is fertile and people grow millet, potatoes, barley, rice, wheat etc. Many apple orchards pass us as we drove through the valley. I also saw farms of Quinoa ivory, Huancayo, Negra Collana.

Habi Hoento aka Hoentey is a local dish cooked during Lomba, the new year. It is a steamed dumpling stuffed with pungent grated turnip, dried turnip greens, mushroom, garlic, onion, chopped cabbage. Occasionally ginger, mustard seeds, walnut, chilli powder, salt, butter and oil seeds like poppy and sesame  are also added as per individual preference and spending capacity.

Habi Ruto: Yak products are common in Himalayan regions. It is a dried variety of Yak Cheese popular in Haa.

The little girl who regaled us at our farm stay cum home-stay in offbeat Haa Valley, Bhutan!


Temples: The verdant hills of Haa are home to many picturesque temples such as 7th century old Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black temple) in a tiny village called Dumchoe. Lhakhang Nagpo is situated above Lhakhang Karpo.

Tagchu Goemba: It is a 100 year old monastery in Lungse Kha Village and was founded by Dali Lama Sangay Jamtsho. It is said that its structure is similar to Nub Dali Dzong in Tibet where Lama Sangay Jamtsho served a tenure as the abbot of the Tibetan monastery.

Shekhar Drak Temple: Built at a foot of a cliff, it appears as if it is an outcrop of the hilly terrain.

Switzerland anyone? I don’t know. I have not been to Switzerland! At offbeat Haa Valley, Bhutan

Wangchu Lo Dzong : Haa is the ancestral home of the Great Royal Grandmother, Her Royal Highness Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuck. Her Grandfather Gongzim Uguen Dorji commissioned the construction of the Wangchu Lo Dzong, a former district center. Its structure is akin to Wangdicholing Palace in Bumthang, the seat of first and second Kings of Bhutan. Dumcho Dzong stood here earlier. It was destroyed in fire. Since it is a relatively a newer construction (established in 1915) when compared to ancient dzongs, a prefix sar (new) is often added to distinguish it.

On the way to our home-stay in the offbeat Haa Valley in Bhutan

Dobji Dzong: This fortress at an altitude of 6,600 feet is 11 kilometres away from Chunzom. It was built in 1531 by Ngawang Chogyal. The five storied fortress stands tall atop a ridge, jaw dropping ravines descending to the basin of Pachu-Wangchu. It was a center of Drukpa Kagyu teachings.

The hill that looks like a horse: Behind the Gongzim Ugyen Dorji Higher Secondary School, our guide Sonam pointed to a hill. A large portion of it looked like the face of a horse. We were told it is a natural formation. There is a suspension bridge near the school.

The view from my #SoulWindow is away from the touristy frills!

The hill that looks like a head of a horse! At the offbeat Haa valley, Bhutan

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.

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.

Ghost Town? At the offbeat Haa Valley, Bhutan

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Love is all around you in Bhutan. The unconditional variety! (Picture : Dipanshu Goyal) At Chelela Pass. On the way to the offbeat Haa Valley in Bhutan


Offbeat Drayang Trail : The open Secret of Bhutan!

When in a new city, I try to explore the same place at different time zones. So, when I have some spare time, I try to visit the same place at early morning, afternoon, evening, night and even late night. Every time zone reveals different characters of a place and has different charms, surprises and secrets which start spilling once you dig deeper.

Thimphu at midnight!

In a quest to discover the split personality of Thimphu, I ventured out from the comfort of my cozy hotel room 10 p.m. to discover the nightlife of the Bhutanese capital city. Though not as lively as the night scene of Mumbai or Delhi, the Bhutanese youth sure know how to enjoy in own unique style.


Strolling past Norzin Lam, the main shopping street in Thimphu; lonely and at age 31, I miserably tried to fit in with the Bhutanese youngsters who for a change had shed their traditional Bhutanese dress for the trendy western outfits. They talked, shared jokes, romanced, laughed, ‘openly’ smoked (Contrary to the clandestine puffs! Smoking is banned in public places!) and hogged on the Thukpa ( A Tibetan soup) from one of the many Thukpa sellers.

Thukpa magnets!

It was a cold April night and thukpa was just the right thing for my soul. It was a strange version of Thukpa prepared with pureed rice and cheese. As I continued walking, my hands warmed by holding a hot cup of Thukpa, all kind of songs escaped the night clubs and found their way on the main street.

Mid night Thimphu

Some were Bhutanese songs , some English but what amused me and intrigued me was an Akshay Kumar-Sonakshi Sinha Bollywood song “Chinta ta ta” playing at full volume. I swallowed the sticky soup in a jiffy and chased the sound and ended up at the stairs leading to a basement night club. I gingerly approached the 3 men in their 30s cocooned in Bhutanese dress Gho and smoking outside the club.

Me : “Is this a Drayang?”
He : “Yes”
Me : “Hi, I am from India. Can I go inside? (I don’t even remotely look like a Bhutanese!”)
He : ” Yes, why not? Just make sure you don’t take pictures upfront. Just melt in the crowd and shoot. Enjoy” (Thumps me up and gives a naughty smile and a wink, I have no idea why!)

Mid night Thimphu

My pre travel research on Bhutan taught me about the concept of Drayangs in Bhutan. I stumbled upon the blog of travel blogger Richa Gupta who has explored drayangs. And ever since I badly wanted to ‘discover’ one. Earlier on the same day, I tried to locate one but failed. Guess, it’s easier to find one in the night. These are similar to the infamous dance bars of Mumbai.(Yes I have been to some. Fine, judge me!) There is booze , there are pretty dancing girls. But the similarity ends there.


What makes Drayangs different from Mumbai Dance Bars is that :

1) In Mumbai dance bars, all kind of pervert gentry throng the bars. Police, politicians, your neighborhood lech, professionals are the regular patrons. While in Drayangs, both men and women, mostly middle class, educated , young , urban Bhutanese frequent. I was the only Indian there apart from an odd nervous looking European tourist brought here by some local guide , perhaps, to reveal to him the little secrets of Bhutan.
2) Unlike the Mumbai dance Bars, the dancing girls do not wear outrageous and revealing clothes nor do they resort to titillating, vulgar moves. They are modestly dressed in their tame traditional dress Kira. But that doesn’t mean they are boring. Once on stage, they are naughty, precocious, cheerful and energetic, some even interacting with the live audience.
3) The songs played may not necessarily be all dancing songs. Though that’s the norm, but at times you can catch one dancing on a slow Bhutanese romantic song.
4) There is no secret room behind the doors where you can take the party to ‘next level.’
5) Though Drayangs are often accused of being a hub for sexual networking, I failed to find any obvious signs. There will be no pimps to approach you, neither will there be any doorman to hold your hand and snatch any leftover money from you as tip.


However, one thing which is eerily reminiscent of Mumbai’s dance bars is that the dolled up girls will approach you all by themselves (No tout handling them) and sit next to you. The similarity ends here. She will come with a diary and try to make small talk with you amidst all the high decibel music. While the bar dancers in Mumbai will apply the same modus operandi to make you sleep with them and basically rob you of all your money, all Bhutanese dancers want from you is to request a song and pay a paltry Rs.100 for it.


But they are as pushy as their Mumbai counterparts to convince you for the same. Again very unlike Mumbai’s dance bar girls, Drayang’s dancers are not sullen faced or sad nor do they wear the depressing “I , the exploited, want to run away from here!” look. They are rather genuinely cheerful, upbeat, friendly, unapologetic and rather enjoy their work. Most are Bhutanese or Nepalese born and brought up in Bhutan (Mostly South Bhutan is known for Nepalese). And they stand/sit very close to you while making conversation without being sexually suggestive. They sure know how to take your breath away. So, a spare oxygen cylinder is a must!


I hesitantly entered the cool looking disco and perched on one of the wooden benches.
‘Hi, you from India” (20 % oxygen deficiency!)
“Yes” (Me, smiling but eyeing her diary knowing pretty well that it’s not me which has charmed her to me but the money I can bring to her bank account!. At this age, I can’t afford delusions.)
“Do you speak Nepali?’ (50 % oxygen deficiency!)
“No!” (though I actually wanted to say, “Babes, you are absolutely gorgeous!”)
“What? Why? Don’t tell me you can’t speak Nepali. Thoda sa to aata hoga? (You must know at least a little Nepali.)
“No sorry! Really sorry.Sirf Mohani lagla hai aata hai” (Me apologizing profusely as if I am born a Sherpa and still can not speak Nepali! Mohani Lagla hai is Nepali My Heart Will Go On! Yes, I have picked some Nepali.)
” You have come here alone? (90 % oxygen deficiency! Help!)
“Yayy, And I am missing my friends badly.” ( I actually did, the booze, music, dance made me wish I had come here with close friends.”)
“That’s sad. Aaawww. Aaawww. AaawwwAaawwwAaawww. (Girls everywhere have the same language. OK, crucify me for sexism.” )
“You want me to dance to a song? You choose the song and I will dance on it. (Eyes sparkling with excitement.But yet businesslike) You want Hindi song?”
“Yes, why not. You choose any Hindi song. How much to pay for 1 request?
“Rs.100 only”
Diary entry done. Business rendezvous over. Time to honor the deal.
She jumped on stage vivaciously. And waved to the in house DJ, sitting right behind me, next to live Bar. “HINDI, HINDI!’

Being a minority, I sat at the last bench to avoid any attention! But the screams of Hindi Hindi drew all curious eyes at me. (Woo Hoo, I am feeling like a foreigner!)
I looked odd, old, foreign, incongruous, lonely. Basically I stood out. Embarrassed, I pretended to behave and look like a Bhutanese. Just as my act was culminating into an epic fail (My face simply refused to mutate into Danny Denzogappa’s face!), the hit Bollywood ‘item number’ ‘Munni Badnaam hui” blared from the speakers and the attention shifted. I gave a constipated smile to no one. And I breathed.


The local Bhutanese, still gulping down their Red Panda beers and Druk 1000 beers, seemed to enjoy the Hindi songs more than the slow love songs in Dzongkha (Bhutanese). The stage had a huge mirror as its background with gaudy decorations (like cheap plastic flowers).The dancers looked like diva in their own right, their fair skin changing color in the reflected glow of flickering multi-hued lights and disco balls. I sat back and enjoyed the strange atmosphere I landed up in while politely declining other dancers who approached. Of course with a false promise of returning back the next day. Ah, the pain of ‘pardesi babus’ and their false promises.! They created a genre in 90s’ Bollywood.


As I complimented ‘my’ dancer for her spirited performance, I sensed a commotion as the clock inched towards 11:00 p.m. , the closing time. On weekends the drayangs are open from 6:00 p.m. to 12:00 p.m. It was the time for the last song which was a slow paced Bhutanese song (almost a lullaby!). Two semi-drunk (but still very well behaved) local Bhutanese boys joined the ladies on stage and merrily danced away till it was time to call it a day! Bhutanese sure know how to share bonhomie and good times!

It was one of my weirdest night. And I loved every moment of it. It was odd to see Bhutanese damsels dressed in a traditional ‘Kira’ and dancing gracefully on some crass Bollywood item numbers. The contrast was striking and amusing. As soon as the song ends, I stood up, avoiding eye contact, looking and feeling awkward. My disappearing act could beat that of a superhero. I emerged from the basement bar to face light drizzle and cool breeze. I gave a constipated smile to no one. And I breathed. Once again.

Locals dancing with girls

How to locate a Drayang :

Asking around might or might not help you. Most Bhutanese will be either unaware of it or will want to not discuss it. Avoid asking women about the location of a Drayang. They may get uncomfortable or may make you uncomfortable with their ‘You pervert’ look. But despite the fact that the drayangs are not sleazy or vulgar places, you will get stares and winks if you ask for one. These dance bars are rather innocent community clubs where young people just hang out and have a great time. (Though, there is always some reservation against it as being the hub of clandestine sexual networking, but I could not find any obvious signs) Best option is to ask college going young boys strolling on the Norzin Lam, the main shopping street in Thimphu. Don’t beat around the bush. Be honest, say, you are a tourist and simply want to see a Drayang.

The quirky Traffic booth in Thimphu at midnight!

Best time to visit a Drayang :

Most Drayangs are open from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. to 12 a.m. on weekends. If you are not a local, it’s best to visit at around 9 p.m. or 11 p.m. on a weekend since there is more crowd at that time and its easier to get lost and avoid awkwardness of being the centre of attention.

Some Drayangs I managed to locate:

1-  Gaa Teen Trophel Khang Drayang : Face your back towards Chula restaurant on Norzin Lam, opposite Taj Tashi. Now move inside the first narrow lane at your right. You will see some bored, grumpy youth playing snooker. Ignore them and take a left. The Sign board is very visible and you may even hear faint music. Take some 10-15 steps at the 1st floor in the building number 40.

2-  Wangyal Drayang : Located at Norzim lane, bang opposite the RICB office (Royal Insurance Corporation of Bhutan Ltd) near Taj Tashi. It’s easy to miss it since the sign board is not really flashy and it’s in a basement, though on the main road only. It’s lively and a popular choice for most. Easier to locate since its on the main road and the music often escapes the closed door.

3- Tashi Tagay Drayang : Located opposite the Taj Tashi on the Norzim lane.


Check out the short videos on Drayang I shared on my You Tube Travel Channel. Click link below to view:

  1. Bhutanese Women dancing to Munni Badnam hui

      2. Bhutanese woman dancing on slow Bhutanese song

You can read Richa Gupta’s version of Drayang here

I explored Bhutan with Bhuatn Bookings. Check them out for a hassle free vacation.


Me returning to my hotel alone in midnight!

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