If someone asks how to go to Bhutan from India, the immediate response would be – take a flight. For any other country, this answer might hold true however there is lot of ifs and buts in case of Bhutan. Bhutan has only one international airport in Paro and number of flights are quite less. Thus the flights are ridiculously expensive and not everyone would like to that those. However Indians have a second option of entering Bhutan by road that too without worrying about getting visa in advance and this post will talk about that.
The gate visible in the above picture separates the two countries. Yes, you are seeing it right in this picture the two countries on two sides of this gate (Picture taken from Bhutan side).The town on Indian side is Jaigaon and town on Bhutan side is called Phuentsholing. There is a free movement across the border till a certain point in Phuentsholing and locals from both sides cross the border several times. If you are standing exactly at the center of gate, you can have one foot in India and one feet in Bhutan :-). There is a long wall along side this gate which forms the border between two countries.
To reach Bhutan from other parts of India, you can first fly till Bagdogra airport in West Bengal and then hire a taxi to reach Jaigaon. If you want to travel by train then you first need to take train till Siliguri and then reach further to Hasimara which is the nearest railway station to Jaigaon . Once you are in Jaigaon, you need to take permit from the neighboring town in Bhutan to proceed further. Indians do not need a visa to enter Bhutan but they do need a permit issued by immigration office in Phuentsholing to travel further towards Thimpu and Paro. Other foreign national will require a visa in advance.
To get the permit you either need to have a passport or voter ID card along with passport size photographs. The office opens around 9 AM in the morning from Monday to Friday. So plan to reach Jaigaon on Sunday evening so that you can get permit on Monday morning. Also try to reach early morning as it will get very crowded later in the day. At the office you will have to submit the application form (available at the office or near by xerox shops) and at the next counter your photograph will be taken to be printed on permit. Also remember to carry passport photographs which need to be attached on the form. The whole process may take a couple of hours so start immediately towards Thimpu/Paro once you receive permit.
The process to enter Bhutan by road is not as convenient as simply flying in but its a good alternative to the expensive flights. Moreover you get a chance to drive through the scenic route till Thimpu and thus has added advantage. It’s all about striking a balance among time, money and comfort. Take the route that suits you best.