A trip from Nepal to Bhutan is a journey to two countries that offers you the best of both worlds, and although Bhutan and Nepal are similar in many ways in terms of landscapes and cultures, they could not be more different.
Located on the southern edge of the Himalayas, Nepal and Bhutan, nestled between India and China, are very close to each other. The most convenient way to travel is to take the direct flight from Kathmandu to Paro International Airport in one hour. If you are looking for an exciting adventure, then a round trip from Nepal via India to Bhutan should be the best option. From Kathmandu, you will travel via Kakarbhitta (border with Nepal) to Panitanki (border with India) and via Darjeeling (central hub in West Bengal) to Phuentsholing (border with Bhutan). Afterwards, the trip can be extended to Tibet.
Nepal to Bhutan by Air:
By air from Nepal to Bhutan, you can only fly with one of the two Bhutanese airlines. Bhutan has only one international airport, in Paro, which is considered one of the most difficult to land because of the high mountains that limit the approach. The flights to Paro from Kathmandu cover a distance of almost 400 kilometres and take about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
To obtain a ticket with Druk Air or Bhutan Airlines, the only two airlines allowed to fly to Paro International Airport, a visit must be arranged in advance, as the airlines obtain a visa permit without which tourists are not allowed to buy airline tickets. The airlines offer only a few daily flights from Nepal's Tribhuvan International Airport to Paro, which takes just over an hour. However, if you fly on a Tuesday or Thursday, there is only one flight per day.
Flights to Bhutan usually cost around US$200 per person for a one-way economy class ticket, and you will be asked to book your return flight at the same time, as you will not be allowed to enter Nepal without booking your departure ticket. The average cost of a round-trip economy class ticket from Nepal to Bhutan and vice versa is about US$390-400 per person. On economy flights from Nepal to Bhutan, there is a free baggage allowance of 30 kg, food onboard, and free drinks (non-alcoholic).
Nepal to Bhutan By Road (distance: 787 km)
Travelling by land from Nepal to Bhutan is a little more complicated than flying, as you have to cross the Indian state of West Bengal to reach the main border crossing between India and Bhutan in Phuentsholing. If you travel to Bhutan by land, the main exit point from Nepal is in Kakarbhitta, in the far east of Nepal, on the border with the Indian state of West Bengal. There are direct buses, which cover the 457 kilometres from Kathmandu to Kakarbhitta daily and take about ten hours to reach the border town.
Once they have crossed the border, local buses from Panitanki to Darjeeling, the central traffic hub of West Bengal, take about three hours. From Darjeeling, it is possible to take a direct land bus to Phuentsholing in Bhutan, the main border crossing, and most comfortable access to the kingdom by land. Buses take about seven hours from Darjeeling to Phuentsholing, and once the immigration requirements are met, a car to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, takes another six hours. Therefore, you will need about 19 hours for the entire 787-kilometre overland journey from Kathmandu to Thimphu.
If you plan to travel by train from Nepal to Bhutan, you will see that neither Nepal nor Bhutan has a rail network. You will need a bus or a car to reach the border at Kakarbhitta/Panitanki, and the closest rail connection to Panitanki on the Nepal-India border is in New Jalpaiguri, near Siliguri. Buses frequently run to Siliguri, and from there you can get connecting train to New Jalpaiguri. From there the trains go to Phuentsholing in Hasimara and pass through Nagrakata on the way. The train ride from New Jalpaiguri to Hasimara takes approximately four hours to cover the 138-kilometre route and goes directly into the city without connection.
The journey Phuentsholing is almost 19 kilometres and takes about 45 minutes by cab, as there are no rail connections closer to Bhutan than Hasimara and, once in Bhutan, there is no rail network to use. However, this can be a little expensive as cabs cannot cross the border and will leave you at the roadside in the small border town of Jaigaon. Local buses go to Jaigaon and Phuentsholing, which cross the wall, but they start in Alipurduar, and you have to stop at the roadside in front of the railroad station in Hasimara to stop them when they cross the border. The advantage here is that they will walk to the immigration office in Phuentsholing, and it will only cost a few dollars.
Visa application procedure for Bhutan in Nepal
The application for a visa for Bhutan is not made through an embassy, it cannot be done online, and there is no visa service upon arrival. The only way to obtain a visa for Bhutan is to have booked a trip with a tour operator or travel agency that is registered with the Bhutan Tourist Board and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bhutan. Visas for Bhutan are obtained after booking the trip, and it is the tour operator or travel agency that uses the visa on your behalf.
Once you have booked your trip and paid the fees, the visa will be applied for at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bhutan through the Bhutan Tourism Office. The information in your passport includes your full name, permanent address and your nationality, occupation, passport number, date of issue and expiration of the passport as well as your date and place of birth. An electronic copy of the passport photo and scanned copies of the passport must also be sent to the tour operator for use in the application.
The visa must be applied for at least 30 days before the planned date of travel to Bhutan. Once the application is approved, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will issue a visa authorization number in the form of a letter. This authorization number is sent to the tour operator through the Bhutan Tourist Board and to the immigration terminals at Paro International Airport and Phuentsholing border post, as well as to Bhutan's two national airlines, Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines.
Only when your visa is granted, you will be able to book your flight to Bhutan. Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines require the registration number provided before booking, and the number must match the number provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Visa check-in usually takes about ten days, and you will generally receive your tour operator's check-in number at least ten days before your trip. The visa stamped in your passport upon arrival in Bhutan. You will also need to carry two passport photographs when entering Bhutan.
Travel and visa costs for Bhutan in Nepal
The standard visa fee for travellers to Bhutan is approximately US$40 per person and must pay at the time of booking the trip. Travel to Bhutan is calculating according to Bhutan's guidelines on the minimum daily package, which is currently US$ 250 per day from March to May and September to November, and only US$ 200 per day from June to August and December to February. The visa fee is the same whether you apply from Nepal or any other country in the world if you are not an Indian citizen. Please note that the tour operator will not submit the visa application until the full cost of the trip including the visa fee has been transferred to Bhutan's tourist office bank account or the tour operator's account linked and monitored by the Bhutan Tourist Board.
Validity, extension, and cancellation of the visa for Bhutan
You will get 15 days visa. However, if your journey through Bhutan is longer or shorter, the duration of the visa is usually equal to the period of your trip. The validity dates of the visa are declared in the visa clearing letter issued by the Immigration Department of the Ministry of Interior and Cultural Affairs in Thimphu.
You can extend the visa paying an extra fee. Your tour operator must provide you with the details of the extended itinerary, and you must transfer the additional daily package fees to the required bank account before approval. Visa extensions in Bhutan are requested by the tour operator as soon as you have made the payment, and the fee for the visa extension is usually about US$8 per person.
If it is necessary to cancel your trip to Bhutan, the cancellation policy depends mostly on the policy of the tour operator you are using. However, since most travel bookings are made approximately 30 days before the actual date of travel, no 100% refund is ever given. For the visa itself, as well as for visas from any other country in the world, no refunds are possible. Once the visa is approved, it cannot be cancelled.