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A day in Bhutan’s Oldest Town – Samdrup Jonkhar

A day in Bhutan’s Oldest Town – Samdrup Jonkhar

Until a couple of years back I never knew that there was another border gate between India and Bhutan. I thought Gelephu and Jaigaon were the only two though which you can go to Bhutan. So, when I came to know that we can also visit Guwahati to Bhutan by road and enter Bhutan through Samdrup Jonkhar, which was very near to where I now stay, it was only natural that one winter afternoon we found ourselves leaving Darranga behind and walking into the land of the Drukpas. The Last Shangri-la, as some also like to call it. Back then, we were hardly able to see the border town because we had reached quite late, with almost nothing in the name of information about this Bhutan entry-gate from Guwahati side and had to return too but I knew I would come back soon.

Beautifully decorated prayer-wheel, Samdrup Jonkhar
Beautifully decorated prayer-wheel, Samdrup Jonkhar

Day-trip to Bhutan – Guwahati to Bhutan by road

Fast forward to the first day of 2017, we again found ourselves driving towards Samdrup Jonkhar. With plans to spend the entire day there, we had started early and the fantastic highways leading to the border only helped in this matter. Now there’s something about Bhutan I had not failed to notice the last time I was there, even though for a very brief period and it was the first thing we noticed as soon as I set my foot in Bhutan.

A beautiful building housing shops and apartments - Samdrup Jonkhar
A beautiful building housing shops and apartments – Samdrup Jonkhar

What’s special about this Bhutanese Border-town?

On this part of the literal fence, everything seems to go about at its own pace which seems to be much slower than what we are used to. A far cry if you are coming from cacophonous and dusty Indian towns or cities. I would not be wrong if I say that time seems to have slowed down in Bhutan. While this easy-going vibe is something I have experienced in all the Buddhist towns I have been to, in Bhutan I find it to be more. People seem to be more chilled-out here and most of them never fail to give you a smile, be it the monks in a monastery or those on the roads, shops or offices.

The Dancing Monks - Samdrup Jonkhar Monastery
The Dancing Monks – Samdrup Jonkhar
guwahati to bhutan
The monk and the lady, Samdrup Jongkhar

The gorgeous architecture of Bhutan

The other thing about Bhutan which makes the country all the more beautiful is its architecture. Over the course of my travels to various Buddhist places I have learned to identify the nuances of Buddhist architecture. Bhutan follows Vajrayana Buddhism which is different from what is generally followed in India at places like Ladakh or Bylakuppe in Karnataka.

Zangdopelri monastery photos samdrup jonkhar
The Zangdopelri, Samdrup Jonkhar

Walking through literally speckless roads of Samdrup Zonkhar, we did not realize when the day started making way for dusk. We hurried (because no visitors are allowed in the border town after 5 PM) from the monastery to another gorgeous structure nearby unsure of what it actually was. Was it another monastery? Was it some government building (government buildings in Bhutan are as beautifully designed as monasteries)?

Chorten photo samdrup jonkhar bhutan
Chorten and the sky, Samdrup Jonkhar

There was no one there whom we could ask and the gate of the building compound was closed. I thought we will have to return without actually knowing what it was.

The Gorgeous Court of Justice of Eastern Bhutan - Samdrup Jonkhar
The Gorgeous Court of Justice of Eastern Bhutan – Samdrup Jonkhar

As I went closer to the gate, I noticed a small signboard under the foliage of a tree there. I peeked ahead and lo and behold, it said Court of Justice, Eastern Bhutan!! Which if I may draw a parallel, this was equivalent to our District Courts of India. It was so unlike a court nor were its surroundings any similar to what we have here. Oh and did I mention, it was totally unmanned? Not even a security guard to man the premises.

How To Reach Samdrup Jonkhar, Bhutan from Guwahati

  • The drive from Guwahati to Samdrup Jongkhar, Bhutan is pretty straightforward. Irrespective of where you want to start from in Guwahati, you will have to reach the mighty Saraighat bridge and, cross it. So, my driving directions to Samdrup Jonkhar from Guwahati will start from here.
  • Continue straight on National Highway 37 (NH 37) after crossing the Bramhaputra.
  • Take no diversions for the next 46-47kms, until you reach Rangia, a small town that falls between the National Highway 37 and the India-Bhutan highway.
  • Leave the highway and take a right (just after the village of Chepti. There will be a board telling you the same, not to worry) to enter the town of Rangia.
  • Be on the main road of Rangia until you find yourself on the India-Bhutan road (locally known as the Bhutan road).
  • From there again, it’s a straight drive to Samdrup Jongkhar.

Good to know

  • No passports or identity documents are needed to enter Samdrup Jonkhar from Darranga.
  • As of after the re-opening of Bhutan post-COVID, even Indians need either Voter Id Card or Passport to cross over. No other document is accepted.
  • No permits are needed to enter Samdrup Jonkhar from Darranga.
  • No permits are issued here and you cannot proceed toward Paro or Thimpu from here.
  • This is a valid exit gate if you have entered through Gelephu or Phuntsholing.

Have you been to Bhutan? Did you like it?

18 thoughts on “A day in Bhutan’s Oldest Town – Samdrup Jonkhar”

  1. Court of justice really – or the house of peaceful days? 😛 I just can get over the vibrancy of those pics! Bhutanese architecture is so unique and attractive and you captured the essence of it beautifully.

  2. Court of Justice you have seen there is Samdrup Jongkhar’s District Court. There is one district court for every 20 districts of Bhutan. And Bhutan’s High Court and Supreme Court are at Capital, Thimphu.

  3. So one cannot go from Samdrup to Thimphu? I am planning to enter through samdrup (flying to Gauhati) and exit Bhutan from Paro (to Calcutta by air).
    Very informative article by the way.

    1. Yes, you can. But for you to be able to do that, you will have to arrange permits beforehand, from Thimpu.

  4. Wow, very informative post! How can one get permits from Thimpu before entering Bhutan? Would you know?

    >>Yes, you can. But for you to be able to do that, you will have to arrange permits beforehand, from Thimpu.

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