Wednesday 22 April 2015

Druk Diaries - Process for a road trip for Indians

Here I am trying to capture the complete process that is required for an Indian to travel to Bhutan by road. I went through this process in April 2015 and these are my notes from these processes.
The very first things is to have all the documents ready. Ge tthe bhutan entry permit form as below.
Alongwith the form, keep one photograp ready and copy of passport or voter's identification card.
If you don't have the voter's id or passport, there is a process to use your PAN card and AADHAR card as well. For this process you need to go to Indian consulate in phuentsholling and get the ID attested by them. I did not go through this process so don't know much about it but it would definitely delay the process.
The office does not have any signages etc and it is very difficult to get any information related to the process. What one needs to do is to get to the first floor and get into the room immediately on the right after the stairs. The room has some seats and and curtain.
Don't wait for anybody to call, just take your forms alongwith the copies of ID proof and give it to counter behind the curtain. Then you wait and they would call your name. If you are part of a large group, they call group as a whole.
One by one, each member needs to be fingerprinted. Once finger printing is done, it should take less than 30 minutes to get your permits ready.
Please understand that these permits would only be valid for Thimphu and Paro. As soon as you get your permits get 3-4 copies made. You need these copies later.
Once one is ready with the immigration permit, immediately proceed to RSTA office. The map above shows the marker for both the immigration office and RSTA office. The RSTA process is completely undocumnted and complicated. Here I am trying to articulate what needs to be done for it.

  1. Have an application written on plain paper mentioning the vehicle number and the license number of driver. The application should request the permissiion for taking the vehicle into the Bhutan and driving it.
  2. The application should be addressed to RSTA. Following documents should be attached to the application.
    1. Copy of RC book/card
    2. Copy of PUC
    3. Copy of insurance
    4. Copy of driving license
    5. Copy of immigration permit
  3. Once the application is ready, go to the second floor, room number 4, titled ARTO. ARTO will look at the application and make some notings.
  4. Once the ARTO notings are done, go to room number 7 on the same floor. The officer there will also make some notings.
  5. Once these notings are done, go to the counter opposite room number 4 and pay the fees there. I had to pay Rs. 270/-.
  6. Once the fees are paid, go the ground floor to a small room titled Base Office. The officer there would create a permit form and keep some of the copies with himself. 
  7. Once you have the permit, you need to go to room 4 again to get it signed by ARTO.
When I went there, the base office officer went somewhere, and we had to wait for an hour. Be prepared for some delays because there are many officers involved and they all need to be present in their office for your work to get completed.
There is a potocopy counter in one of the ticket counters on ground floor. If I remember correctly it is counter 1.
Once you signed permit is ready make sure you show it at every checkpoint. You will see two types of checkpoints in Bhutan with barriers. Some are titled Forest Checkpoint, you don't need to stop there. Other checkpoints, you need to stop there. Many times nobody may stop you, still it is your responsiibility that your entry and exit are registered. You will encounter the first of such checkpoints immediately after you leave for Thimphu. Many of the attractions also ask for permits. It is better to have copies of all the documnets. Keep original in vehicle and keep a copy on your person.
Now that you have permit, you soon realize that this permit is only for Thimphu and Paro.
Permit Extension
The first morning you have in Thimphu, complete the permit extension process. In our case we had to go to the office three times, first they asked us to come after two hours, then after another hours and then after another houir. You want to make sure that this process gets completed as soon as possible. Atleast one person from the group needs to follow this up. Like in Phuentsholling, one needs to visit two offices to complete this work.
The immigration office is on Norzin Lam towards the end of the road. There is a route permit extension form available on Bhutan Government website but when we submitted that, they gave another form that we had to fill. The good news is that only one form needss to be filled per group. You can just say Mr. Leader + 14 for a 15 member group. Fill the form, attach copies of all the immigration permits received from Phuentsholling and then the lady would tell you to come back after an hour or two. You need to mention each municipal area in the list of places to visit, We listed following places in the form.

  1. Trongsa
  2. Bumthang
  3. Mongar
  4. Trashigang
  5. Haa
  6. Phobjika
  7. Lhuentse
We were told that permits to Lhuentse are not given, we requsted them to remove the name since we were anyway not having sufficient time to visit the place.
Hopefully you wiill have the permits ready in an hour or so, as soon as you get the permits, get few copies made. There is a shop just couple of shops adjacent to the immigration office where you can get photocopies. The photocopies in Bhutan cost Rs. 5/- per page.
Now armed with immiigration route extension, you need to visit RSTA office. Norzin Lam is oneway in wrong direction for the most part. So you can't just go back. You need to take a U turn on Norzin Lam and then take a left where the arts-craft shops end, Then take a right on Chang Lam. Continue on Chang Lam till the end. You will see two roads here, one going downwards and other upwards and then turns left onto a bridge. Cross the bridge and take a left immediately after the bridge. Just on the corner you have RSTA office. Park in the RSTA parking.
You need to find the Base office in RSTA. To go to Base office, find the stairs on the left of parking. There is a very rough access to the ground floor of the RSTA office which also serves as a bus station of intercity buses in Thimphu.
Once you reach the place where you see many ticket counters, the Base office is just on the entrance. You need to go the officer in base office, show him original RSTA permit, immigration permit and immigration permit extension. He will make a handwritten note on the back of RSTA permit allowing you to drive to all the place for which you have immugration permit. Depending on his wish, he may ask for a copy of immigration permit extension, so carry the copies.
All these processes depend on officers being available, so get these done on priority. Since all these are government officials, make sure that you have working days in Phuentsholling and Thimphu. For 2015, here is the list of holidays.
If you have accomplished the complete process, you are free to drive to places listed in the permit that  you have in your hand.
Strange Things abouut Bhutan Traffic

  • Many times the vehicle ahead of you will give turn indicator signal towards the curb, that means he want you to overtake.
  • Generallly drivers are very nice in Bhutan, if they realize that they are slower cars, they would ask you to overtake. You should do the same
  • The maximum speed limit that I saw in Bhutan is 50 with clear signage saying that speed detection cameras are in force
  • I was cautioned by a police officer in Bumthang because my car was parked facing the opposite traffic direction. He told me that even parked cars should face the direction of traffic otherwise he could fine me.
  • Be very careful of hill turns, these are very narrow roads and not in good condition many times. Also in Bhutan people don't honk on turns, so be slow as you are turning.
  • Don't honk
  • Buckle up.

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