General Information About Phuntsholing
Phuentsholing is a border town in southern Bhutan and is the administrative seat (dzongkhag thromde) of Chukha District.
The town occupies parts of both Phuentsholing Gewog and Sampheling Gewog. Phuentsholing lies opposite the Indian town of Jaigon and cross-border trade has resulted in a thriving local economy. For example, the town serves as headquarters for the Bank of Bhutan. In 2005, Phuentsholing had a population of 20,537 and has been growing since.
The small, sweltering border town of Phuentsholing sits opposite the much larger Indian bazaar town of Jaigaon, separated by a flimsy fence and the much-photographed Bhutan Gate. It's a congested, noisy settlement bustling with hordes of traders, security personnel and migrant workers. Coming from India, however, you will notice an instantaneous improvement in municipal cleanliness and organisation.
Unless it's absolutely necessary to halt for the night, you'll find little reason to linger in Phuentsholing apart from clearing immigration. The air here is thick with vehicular pollution and it can get uncomfortably hot and humid in summer. That said, there are a couple of sights to occupy an hour or two and the backstreet bazaars are full of interest.
Best Time To Visit Phuntsholing
Each season has its own charm to relish in Phuentsholing. But last spring (April to May) when the surrounding valley is bursting with the vibrant colour riot of blooming flora and autumn season (October to November) when the weather is pleasant and soothing is considered the best time to visit Phuentsholing.
Unlike Thimphu or Paro or Punakha or Bumthang, Phuentsholing cannot be called as a major tourist destination of Bhutan. However, it remains thickly populated with tourists for a simple reason…. it offers a very easy route of entry and exit by road from Bhutan.
Phuentsholing is the border town of India and Bhutan, so a lot of Indians and foreign tourists who have been touring the dooars-darjeeling-sikkim sides prefer entering Bhutan via Phuentsholing. Once you reach Phuentsholing there would be formalities of arranging permits and doing travel bookings (if you have not done all this before) so sometimes it makes sense to stop over in Phuentsholing for a day at the beginning of your trip. There are some interesting places that you can see around Phuentsholing.
Zangdok Palri Temple & Park
Near Indo Bhutan border, Town Center
Open from 8 am to 6 pm. Admission: Free
Phuentsholing is a bustling city and has a slightly hurried pace of life. The Zanglo Peri Park containing the Zangdok Palri Temple stands right at the heart of Phuentsholing just a few hundred meters away from the border. The park contains a huge ball fountain, a smallish pond, prayer wheels and a lovely ambience of serenity that will soothe your soul.
This is like the social hub of Phuentsholing, lovers go for an impromptu date here, tourists have seen people watching and monks wander around... sometimes chanting their hymns loudly.
The Crocodile Breeding Farm/ Amu Choo Crocodile breeding center
Near Phuentsholing Bus Stand
Entry fee: 10 NU for Bhutanese, 20 NU for SAARC tourists, 50 NU for Non SAARC tourists
Open from 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
It will take you 15 minutes to walk to the Crocodile Farm from Phuentsholing town. The name Amu Choo is used as the farm is on the banks of the Amu Choo river.
First established in 1976, in a small pond, today the Norgay Crocodile Breeding Farm has developed into a major tourist attraction. I first visited this farm in 2010 when I was at Alipurduar for some work. From Alipurduar it took me 35 minutes by car to reach the breeding farm and I was awestruck by the giant size of the reptiles kept there. Now years later in my second visit, I could see the increase in the number of alligators and crocodiles kept on the farm.
Torsa River Side
If you fancy an early morning walk, then there is no place like the Torsa riverside. The Torsa river is also seen as you travel upwards from Phuentsholing to Paro/ Thimphu. The best thing about this place is that there is a walking path made alongside the river and vehicles are prohibited from running in that track.
So, you can easily walk along the riverside in peace listening to the chirping of the birds. This is also a great site for photography and you will see many photographers around trying to capture the lovely ambience around them. At the end of the walking path, there is a basketball court At one stretch two streams of Torsa join and that’s a popular place for putting up a tent. You can lie down listening to music and watching stars and have a nice camping experience.
You can also visit the Torsa Tea gardens …its about 15 minutes from the border. However, the visit is only worthwhile in summer, autumn and monsoon.
Karbandi Monastery/ Gompa
Above Phuentsholing Town
Timing: 07:00am - 06:00pm. Admission: Free
It will take you 30 minutes to reach Karbandi monastery from the Phuentsholing town (take a cab) and it is situated at the altitude of 400 meters on a small hillock. This was the former winter sojourn of the Royal Grandmother…Ashi Phuntsho Choedron. Inside the temple compound, there are huge statues of Guru Rinpoche, Shakyamuni Buddha and Shabdrung Ngawang.
The Gate of Bhutan at the Phuentsholing border has beautiful craftsmanship and represents the dazzling show of wood painting that you will get to see once you are leaving Bhutan (Phuentsholing) and crossing over the Indo-Bhutan border towards Jaigaon. Even if you enter Bhutan through a car or an airport, walking across the border is a good experience.
You will be amused to see the contrast between the two cities Jaigaon (dirty, indisciplined and prone to hooliganism) and Phuentsholing (scrupulously maintained and disciplined). Hundreds of Indians and Bhutanese cross the border every day and it’s a good place to mingle with locals, incidentally, the Bhutan Gate is the most photographed attraction of Phuentsholing.
Paro has the only international airport of Bhutan and is well connected by flights from Delhi, Kolkata, Kathmandu, Bangkok, Dhaka, Gaya etc. Thimphu which is the capital city and government seat of Bhutan with a population of approx. 100,000 people, occupies the western valley.
It takes about an hour to reach Thimphu from the Paro airport. March, April, October and November months are peak periods for touring Bhutan. If you are thinking of visiting Thimphu and nearby places in these months, you should book your air tickets and hotels at least three months before your trip in order to avail better discount on flight tickets. You can also reach Thimphu and Paro by road from India.
By Car or Taxi
If you wish to travel by road, you will get a total three border points in India for crossing over to reach Bhutan. One is Jaigaon/ Phuentsholing in West Bengal and the other two are Bongaigaon/ Gelephu and Darangamela/ Samdrup Jongkhar in Assam.
Out of the three border points, the Jaigaon/ Phuentsholing Border is the most preferred by travellers. It is easily accessible and there are facilities for staying as well as obtaining an entry permit here easily. Jaigaon is the Indian side of the border while Phuentsholing is the Bhutanese side.
Private Taxis are available from Bagdogra airport, NJP station and Siliguri stand and private buses from Siliguri to reach up to Phuentsholing. All these road routes meet the Sevoke road which connects to the National Highway NH10. Note that Indian transports and tourists are freely allowed to cross over the border and go 5kms into Phuensholling. Beyond that, a Bhutan permit would be required. On reaching Phuentsholing, You can take a taxi or a bus to Thimphu which takes about 5-6 hours (165kms).
The distance between Siliguri and Phuentsholing is 157 kilometres and up to Thimphu is a total of 322kms. The distance between Bagdogra and Thimphu is 333kms and from Kolkata the total distance is 875kms. It takes little over 4 hours to reach Phuentsholing by car from Bagdogra Airport and from Siliguri it takes 3 hours 45 minutes.
Travel by train
If you wish to travel by train, you have to travel to Kolkata, Siliguri or NJP (New Jalpaiguri) first as there is no direct connectivity of trains from any major cities like Delhi, Bangalore or Mumbai to Bhutan.
Many day-trains as well as over-night trains run from Kolkata to Siliguri and also further ahead to Falakata (both in West Bengal). The total rail distance from Kolkata to Siliguri is 558 kilometres and Kolkata to Falakata is 655 kilometres.
After reaching Siliguri or Falakata, you can hire a private taxi to Jai Gaon which is the Indian border town to cross over to Bhutan's Pheuntsholing. The road trip from Siliguri to Pheuntsholing takes nearly 4hours and the distance is 157 kilometres, and from Falakata to Pheuntsholing, it takes about 1.5 hours and the distance is 52 kilometres.
You can also opt to travel by Train to Hasimara and then by Auto, Shared Jeep or Taxi to Jaigaon/ Phuentsholing Border, then a taxi or bus to Thimphu - This is the easiest and most convenient way of reaching the border from Kolkata and your route would be as Kolkata - Train to Hasimara - Auto Rickshaw to Jaigaon/ Phuentsholing Border- Bus/taxi to Thimphu.
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