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The border at Phuntsholing and a day in Bhutan


How about visiting Bhutan? You can do from Phuntsholing without a visa! The Kingdom of Bhutan in the Himalayas is for many travelers a country they would love to see. However, it is not easy,  as peaceful as it claim nor cheap to visit. You will need to join organized tours to enter Bhutan. However, there is one town in India where you can cross the border into Bhutan and sniff on the culture.

View from Bhutan to Phuntsholing
View from Bhutan to Phuntsholing

It's a true story, few travelers know it though. However, if you have a little extra time and you are in Sikkim, it is worth the extra effort to visit Phuntsholing. Admitted, Phuntsholing is nothing much. There's hardly anything worth to mention about this little border town.

Streets of Phuntsholing on the Bhutanese site and the border with India

The only attraction is that for a day (without losing your Indian visa) you can wander around in a couple of square kilometers of Bhutan.

temple in Bhutan Bhutanese monastry
Streets of Phuntsholing on the Bhutanese site and the border with India

So what can you see? In fact nothing much. There's a few Buddhist temples, which are very nice, and very different from other Buddhist temples I ever saw.

On one hilltop you have a nice view over the flatlands into Bhutan and, of course you can collect a little bit of Bhutanese money. However, Phuntsholing and some surrounding areas you will be able to get some Bhutanese money too, which is 1 to 1 used with the Indian rupee.

The colorful Ngultrum, the Bhutanese currency, this one is the equivalent of 1 Indian rupee
The colorful Ngultrum, the Bhutanese currency, this one is the equivalent of 1 Indian rupee

Bhutan is a quite closed country. The government only allows a certain amount of travelers a year and only in organized tours. But Bhutan is certainly not the peaceful country as many would love to see it.

Only in 1999 the Bhutanese were allowed to have a TV and internet. The background on the ban was that TV and internet would harm the traditional Bhutanese lifestyle and values.

In the few square km's you can visit a few temples:

Bhutanese temple

There is an immediate difference between the Indian and the Bhutanese site of the border. Where the streets on the Indian site are all messy, it's clean on the Bhutanese site. Maybe that is because the Bhutanese would like to create a good impression, it's hard to tell.

The colorful Ngultrum, the Bhutanese currency, this one is the equivalent of 1 Indian rupee

The border is remarkable easy going. Maybe this is because the locals do not need a visa (there is another checkpoint a few km away if you want to cross further into Bhutan and there's no way to sneak in).

The former king of BhutanOn the Bhutanese site the king of Bhutan is everywhere looking at you. Bhutan is certainly not the Himalayan paradise as it claims to be. In this part of India (Assam) there are estimated 100.000 Bhutanese refugees, never a sign that all of the country is in happy state.

But reformations are on the way. The King declared elections for an Upper (2007) and Lower house (2008) while the monarchy changed from an absolute into a constitutional monarchy.

Bhutan seems to be on the way to open its borders and embrace the modern world and at the same time it tries to preserve their ancient culture.

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