A Bhutan Permit Almost Killed Me

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Having been unable to get permits on Friday we spent the weekend stuck in Jaigaon and Phuentsholing. On Monday I woke up at 6, reached the permit office by 6:20 waiting to pat myself on the back for making it early for an office which opens at 9.

Let’s do that again. The permit office opens at 9. I reached at 6:20. Early, right? Wrong. The queue had begun forming at 1 in the morning. Such was the desperation. You know shit is about to go down when people start queuing 8 hours in advance. It’s a goddamn permit, not mata ke darshan.

A token system was in place and a person keeping tabs of the token. Naturally we assumed the person to be an official. One member from each group had to write their names. We were 111th on the list. We assumed every group would have 2-10 members. Reasonably assumption, right? Wrong. We hadn’t realised tour agents had been standing in the queue long before us. Each agent had a minimum of 50 application forms with him. The concept of Master Ranks came to mind and I realised we were pretty much done for the day. It would a a miracle to get a permit before sunset. 800 applications to go.

We relaxed thinking that a secured place in a queue with a token number is anyday better than chaos. What we didn’t know was that the A4 sheet with all token numbers was quickly running out of space. Bring out another sheet, right? Wrong. This introduction of another sheet didn’t go down with people who had just started to arrive. But the list was official and has to be adhered to, right? Wrong. It wasn’t made by some official. It was started by an agent to deceive people into believing they had a chance at getting permits. Mind fuck. 

As the day progressed and the clock struck 9, the officials arrived. The crowd had started to swell. Initially where there was one queue, now there were numerous. I tried to count but someone pushed me from behind and I lost the count. The pushing got worse every 10 minutes.

The officials were aware this would happen and were yet utterly unprepared for this. They started by asked politely to an emerging mob to move back or no permits would be issued. Some had hotels booked in Bhutan, some had marriages to attend and some had taken a week off after months of a desk job. Desperation was in the air. The following day was a holiday for the office so the idea of not getting permits didn’t go down well with crowd. As the officials pushed the crowd behind, people surged forward. 

The queues melted into a throng of tourists exponentially increasing the size and force of it. Officials countered it repeatedly with their well tested but utterly useless strategy of pushing people in the front towards the back. Front of crowd got pushed towards the back without any warning to the people in the Middle. A number of people escaped injuries by pushing other people in turn. In this process I fell twice, and felt like a suffocating Jon Snow thrice.

A high ranking Indian Army personnel in uniform arrived with enough authority and swag to overthrow the Bhutanese government. The 400 odd crowd parted to let him through. I gave him way as well. Finally some semblance of peace. Great, right? Wrong. 4 hours hence I saw him making his way out and thanking guards saying “kaam ho gaya”. The asshole had application forms and permits in his hand. He had used his uniform to weed out the crowd. 

In the meantime Bhutanese officials found peace in coming out and making videos of the crowd which I am certain was hilarious to them. I am surprised no stones were flinged. In that moment I wouldn’t have objected to the idea of breaking their phone with a well aimed throw.

After 4 hours officials managed to get hold of ropes and barricades to control the crowd. Till then they just had batons and inefficient security. The inadequately trained security personnel failed to secure the ropes and create barricades to control the mob. They didn’t know how to form a barricade. Several security personnel resorted to shouting and pushing. Some of the officials received well deserved karma marks on their faces. One by my fellow traveler himself.

Amidst this chaos agents found their way in and submitted forms. Now they had to call their customers inside for verification. 10 agents had to produce 600 people ASAP. The 600 had to chart their way through the suffocated crowd of people who by now felt cheated. *Gulp*

What ensued was patently horrific. Mindbogglingly barbaric. I’ve seen mad dogs showing more civility. It was an almost broken bone for some, near death experiences for others. No one was moving from their place, so it wasn’t a stampede. But people were swaying in all directions imaginable giving tiny heart attacks to the ones standing at the corners of the stairs. It was at these corners I slipped twice. Add to that 600 people attempting to make way through the crowd. Even if a couple of them would have died, the incident would have become an opportunity to submit forms a tad bit quicker.

I made my way inside. Albeit with my specs flying away in several directions waiting to stomped on by certain social animals, a verbal argument with a guard and several lies on my part. Hoping to find an air-conditioned room and organised chaos. A hall stuffed with 250 people and two windows. Four air-conditioners which refused to work and six of the eight fans taking their day off. Every person was dripping with sweat. I witnessed humidity.  It was sweat evaporating from skin and condensing on roofs. Mind fuck. Add to that dropping levels of oxygen and it sounds like a scene from Saw.

Initially there was a single queue but as Bhutanese officials allowed customers of all agents to enter, things got out of hand and replicated what had happened outside. Several queues formed. The clock struck one and the counters started to close. Everyone was dumfounded. Inside we had formed queues (even if several), the emerging mob was outside, people were managing in the humidity humans are not designed to sustain under. So why close the office? Lo and behold the reason.

It was lunch time.

Giving up on Bhutan, we made our way out of the shithole.

In hindsight the officials should have demarcated queues themselves rather than asking the crowd to decide among themselves. If crowds could decide for themselves, they wouldn’t be called that. Security personnel with experience in crowd handling should have been used rather than baton wielding stormtroopers without the suit or the training. Lucky for the permit office no one was killed. Death was looming around the corner. Literally. Could have been a desperate applicant, could have been an innocent security personnel.

We are on our way to Siliguri now. Hoping to make our way to Namchi. An obscure hill station in Sikkim.

58 thoughts on “A Bhutan Permit Almost Killed Me

  1. "It’s a goddamn permit, not mata ke darshan…!!!" ha ha ha.. i understand your feelings.It's a common problem there.Hope this situation will be changed and the tourists who will go there in future maybe get more eisier way to get that permit.

  2. LOL this can be the bottom floor and its for the labor allow. first floor is for the tourer and alternative official work. therefore if you dont recognize what to try to to and wherever to square then ppl can build fool of you as there square measure immeasurable agents. I visit Asian nation each year for the tiger nest trek and work. As you dont recognize the military person got his allow from first floor in contrast to you were standing within the labor line lol. i behalf of my country would really like to apologise wateve u went through…but i wished to inform u audiotape Gregorian calendar month may be a season and it alys rush in our country.it would are a lot of higher if u wud hav console any agent ya any hotelman wherever u stayed.dey wud hav guide u okay.pls dont lose hope…n plss do visit Asian nation sumday once more sebaceous cyst u get time throughout march-august.god bless u.please check here:–

  3. If u r one of those bolero driving people carrying everything from rations and utensils to camping matrial this is a good lesson to come thru a travel agent. Contribute something to the local economy besides wastes.

  4. Had faced similar issuses last Dec. But with permit offered free, and such peace,generous people and amazing beauty, chaos alike can be easily ignored… To the writer: Do carry buffer time when ur travelling to permit free places 😀

    1. A free permit does not excuse the authorities to not do crowd management.

      I am sure tourists wouldn’t mind paying a nominal fee for the permit. But the fee is for Bhutan Development, not for Permit office development. Hence ease of issuance of permits should have no bearing on the price of the permit.

  5. i behalf of my country would like to apologise wateve u went through…but i wanted to tell u dat october is a peak season and it alys rush in our country.it would have been more better if u wud hav console any travel agent ya any hotelier where u stayed.dey wud hav guide u very well.pls dont lose hope…n plss do visit bhutan sumday again wen u get time during march-august.god bless u.

    1. I find it extremely illogical how people are telling me I committed a mistake by not consulting travel agents.

      Those agents are half the problem with the system. We need to get rid of them, not flourish their trade.

  6. The language thet you have used is not appropriate.. we should respect the country's code of law. If you want to avoid the crowd please take the flight. Suggestion for the author.

    1. In India we have Freedom of speech and expression. I expressed what I saw with my own eyes.

      Taking the flight implies ignoring the problem that lies with your system.

      Fix your system then suggest alternatives.

  7. You should have spent a little extra by routing through a travel agent if you wanted to avoid such a hassle. Guess what? Most hotels and lodges would rather not have any guest than having Indian customers. Guess why? Most Indians look for better service with cheaper spending, complaining there's no dal for the meal or it's not prepared as expected (for me visiting other country would be to try their cuisine, blend in their way of life since its not forever that you would be doing so, etc.) I'm not saying every individual Indian is the same but a lot are setting the precedence that does not go well in terms of having a well deserved service.

    1. Travel agents ruin the system. They infect the system by cheating genuine interested parties. Why not make your system as such that travel agents are not needed at all?

      Do enlighten me how Indians preferring their own food ina foreign land is a legi reason to ignore the incompetency of your permit office.

  8. This happens when an engineer is awarded the work on human surgery . Next time do kindly let the Bhutanese agent do the work for you. It Won't cost much than your whole accursed moment. Be generous enough if you really plan a holiday for your relief otherwise your disgruntled mind may take you to the hell before you die.

    1. Agents are not the way to go. Never. Agents bribe the officials, twists the rules, break queues in turn becoming the reason for chaos.

      Travel agents should restrict their work to planning the trip and forming itineraries. The permit office exists to issue permits; not agents.

  9. Maybe next time you should stop being a miser and fly into bhutan…you talking about chaos??? The place where you live is chaos enough..

    1. Countries all over the world have open land borders. I’ve crossed enough on foot to realise one doesn’t need to necessarily fly in.

      Also excellent way to take criticism. Speaks a lot about your country.

  10. Don't be cheap. When the rest of the world is paying 250usd per day, you want to get into Bhutan for cheap bargain. Should have booked through a Bhutanese travel agent and prepare to pay more. Otherwise it is not fair to dollar paying tourists.

    1. The rest of the world is not Bhutan’s neighbor. India gives more aid to Bhutan than anyone else and hence enjoys this privelege.

      Again, travel agents should exist only for planning travel. Issuing permits is not their job; it’s the permit office’s.

  11. The tour program should have preplanned and the tourist should have used the Bhutanese tour operators where the permits would have obtained easily and your tour made on time without any hassle. Most of the Indian tourist visiting Bhutan are looking for very minimum bugeted and always looking for cheap price. That's the reason one is facing difficulties in obtaining permits in the last minute and at times their tour are not able to make it on scheduled time. The narrow mind and the stingy attitudes of spending which are inborn within the Indian characters could be some of the reasons. If things are planed and routed through the authorized Bhutanese travel agents, the simple problem obtaining permits for visits to Bhutan would have easily solved and you would have got better experience of your vistits without any regrets.

    1. Sad, that my Bhutanese friends have started calling us names now. Notwithstanding that, I still love Bhutanese people and Bhutan. My memories of my two years spent are too close to my heart to think negatively about our friendship and love the two countries share. Long live Indo – Bhutan friendship. Tashi Delek.

  12. Bhutan has a role model in India. Everything we do is all taught by India. Ur reflection just makes my point clear. Corruption, lawless crowd n unprofessional government officials r now becoming a reality in Bhutan too. Indians n Bhutanese make good teacher -pupil relationship. So next time when u do come back to that place….we hope u will continue to shove,push and shout to make the concept of lawlessness and rioting clear to we Bhutanese.

  13. The underline is that we need to improve our system here in Bhutan. We cannot compare with India and other such countries. Even Indian wants to change the way India is but it is impossible with such population and diversity. Why deface their system and defend ours which needs improvement immediately. Lets create a better environment and process for both regional and international tourist. RCSC and Immigration department should pull their socks. What the hell are you doing? Wake upppppp?
    Indians should learn to behave a little better. There are civilized ones with great manners and there are those rowdies directly from the jungle, the ratio of which seems to be higher in this case.
    By the way, my dear writer/ blogger boy, over exaggeration will get you no where. Learn from this experience and become a better human. It is all said in good faith.

  14. Having read this, Im reasonably sure that this is an IDIOTS blog and hence aptly named. Having travelled to Bhutan multiple times, I can say with authority that there is nothing in Bhutan that will be a near death experience – certainly not the people of Bhutan.
    All the chaos – as explained in your blog – was caused by the visitors – which Im sure would have been Indians ( Im also an proud Indian and feel sad about when I see some tourists from India show no respect to the culture of another country bringing disrepute to our nation ) , some of them who are un-informed like you about visiting a country. The title shows that you are given to over exaggeration and that’s the tone of your blog. 
    Calling an officer in uniform an ‘AH’ shows your crass upbringing and attitude. It is an insult to the armed forces. It also shows your misplaced thought that a Defence job has only comforts associated with it. An officer in uniform will get preference and it is not called using his uniform. Ever travelled to inner line areas of India ?
    Is queuing up and a stampede justified if its Mata ke Darshan as implied by you ? Certainly not. Dolt
    Yes Im sure that the people/officials of Bhutan are not used to this kind of chaos – not their fault. Dolt
    By saying that you have seen mad dogs showing more civility – whom were you pointing at ? Dolt
    Like I said, definitely a Dolts blog and to be treated so only. Definitely no shortage of dolts in this world

    1. In a stampede the crowd is not blamed. The authorities are.

      "un-informed like you about visiting a country." And what is it that I was unaware of?

      "Calling an officer in uniform an ‘AH’ shows" He misused his uniform and hence deserves nothing more that this. Just because it happens in inner line area does not make it acceptable/

      "Is queuing up and a stampede justified if its Mata ke Darshan as implied by you?" The authorities are blamed every time, not the crowd.

      "Yes Im sure that the people/officials of Bhutan are not used to this kind of chaos – not their fault" This chaos is not unprecedented. It happens multiple times every year. The officials knew this would happen on that day and should have been prepared. Their carelessness cannot be ignored..

  15. Do you realise how the Indian immigration officials behave at the land borders of Bamgaladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. At Jaigaon you have to bribe the Indian Immigration to do their own work. And at the airports if we travel to Southeast Asia, Indian Immigration assumes we are or have traveled to China and start harassing the Bhutanese.
    What the Bhutanese police should have done is locked up the office and left for home.

    1. You are an idiot who can't take any criticisms and shameless person who writes without thinking or knowing anything. I had most easy going experience in Jaigaon immigration office which I have been 7 times.

    2. I also been to Bhutan immigration office in Phuntsokling for 7times, which was the most stupid offices work in there who are not even professional and incompetent of their job. Three times they stamped on my passport the wrong fucking stamp (instead of exit stamp they put the entry stamp) then they laughed about it. When the last time they did that I had a big argument with them and they threatened me if you I return to Bhutan again it would affect my visa. I laughed at them. Even I had 3 extra stamp on my passport which shouldn't there, they don't even admitting it they are fucking up. But here I am back in Bhutan and on your face you fucking rude officials in that office. Moral of the story is Bhutan need to improve they are training and attitudes of those officers and people like you should be able to take some criticism.

  16. LOL This is the ground floor and its for the labor Permit. 1St floor is for the tourist and other official work. So if you dont know what to do and where to stand then ppl will make fool of you as there are lots of agents. I visit bhutan every year for the tiger nest trek and work. As you dont know the army person got his permit from 1st floor unlike you were standing in the labor line lol.

  17. I have not see such barbarian people like Indian all over the world and that too with tourist. I was there personally witnessing the crowd and it was happy to notice that the police personnel were handling them professionally and politely. Had it been in India, Official would have been bribed for quick process leaving behind the person who came first. Police might kick them and tortured them with sticks,

    Thank god you went back, Indian tourist only contributes pollution to the environment, pee every where, spit everywhere. The Cheap tourist we do not welcome them. They ring their own cook so that they can prepare themselves and save money Now tel me which hotel in which country allows tourist to prepare heir meals in the room? some of our hoteliers does that because we are human to understand not animal like you………

  18. It is sad that you have to go through this problem but this is the problem when you plan your trip at the last moment…..i am sure if you had processed your papers well in advance you won’t have to go through this problem…..it also would have been much easier if you had used a Bhutanese tour operator….but then the problem is our people always think cheap is the best…..it comes at a cost as well….

    1. Permits are issued only in person and there is no online portal so getting work done beforehand by planning is not an option. Except getting an agent which were not going to do, This agent business is a form of corruption which makes travel tedious. It's not the money, it's the principle.

      Also agent only work when you buy the entire package from them. We wanted to travel by ourselves.

      1. Bhutanese officials are not very hard workers but these offices are open late till 10 PM and on weekends too I heard.
        Actually there is an easier option available if you can afford it. It is by entering Bhutan by Air from either Bagdogra, Gaya, Kolkota, Guwahati or New Delhi. Oh, the entry is so smooth and quick. Just mentioning and I understand the frustrations you must have felt. Especially after I viewed your videos. Namchi is fun I hear though.

  19. Yikes that's hardly being sensitive to a persons terrible experience . I've been pushed and pummeled too during my visit to a temple in India .But for me I guess I was just so grateful to being there ,I sort of forgot everything else .
    Crowd management needs systems and the Bhutanese Tour Operators should get sensetised on the processes.
    While I sympathize with you I can only imagine it was your frustration blogging when you forgot to mention our officials sitting in that 'shithole' surrounded by hundreds of people .
    I hope the next time your experience will be a happier one 🙂

    1. Being pushed and being a part of a stampede are totally different things.

      The officials didn't do any over time. They did't skip thier lunch, What special credit do they get for performing their job? The office staff was issuing permits to agents and the security was working as well; more than on their usual days.

  20. The Indians flocking in such numbers to our country is a recent trend but not very recent though:it started about a year ago. By this time, the concerned authority should have put everything in place but Bhutan being small populated country, crowd related problem is a very new thing. But I know for sure that the requisition for additional manpower including security personnell with good justification must have been put up but it is very difficult to create additional post in Bhutan despite the obvious need and growing unemployment rate.This is the problem na.
    But Indians are seen all over the place and we are seeing something very different from what we are used to from 250 US dollar/day paying tourists. Indians don't give a shit about others, shouts everywhere, climbs on sacred rocks, litters everywhere they go, blares horns every now and then… whole family putting up in one room and negotiating is understandable, we all want to go cheap ….

    My suggestion would be have some respect for others, their culture and traditions. Try to be Romans in Bhutan :). I had such wonderful Indian friends and we used to have such great time. We know Indians are good people, culturally sensitive, highly religious, friendly people.

    However, no tourist should undergo such hassel anywhere in the world in this 21st century. Immigration Department and RCSC should wake and employ sufficient staff immediately.

    1. The embassy promised to make the process online. That was last year..

      There was no trained security personnel, Only novice guards.

      If you believe Indians are the only who are loud then you couldn't be more wrong. It has become a stereotype because there are a lot of us. Yes, we are loud, but not the only ones.

      How does the culture play a role here?

  21. Do u kwn what's going on in your country n what your government official is doing to their own people? Don't open your dirty mouth, if u don't want to smell your own body. It's easy to say n to write. . .remember this. Our country n it's government is set of happiness, justice n young democratic nation of the world. . .not like yours, largest n dirtiest politics. When u can't sing the national anthem of your country, so don't waste your time. . .

  22. One question that you haven't asked is, who were doing the pushing, shoving and breaking of queues? Your fellow countrymen. Certainly dolts.

    1. Certainly Indians. Certainly Human Beings. Perhaps not as civilized as their European counterparts but Indians in this situation as barbaric as person of any other country would have.

      1. By your reasoning the same applies to the Bhutanese. Also human beings. Perhaps not as organized as some developed countries, but that is the charm of traveling to such places. Most of Asia is the same. Why grumble so?

        1. Bhutan is also perhaps the only country where you will not be asked for a bribe by officials stamping any paperwork. Corruption is rampant in India from top to bottom. Give me incompetence over greed and dishonesty any day.

          1. Corruption is not only monetary in nature. When you close permit office on weekends to sustain a town where you force people to get stuck, that\’s corruption. When you let agents do the work, that\’s corruption.

            I have traveled most of Asia. It\’s definitely not the same. \”So what if we are bad? Everyone else is bad as well\” approach does not make you any better. More so when everyone else is not bad at all. This is constructive criticism. Take it as such.

            This is not a Bhutan vs. India post. Don’t make it that.

            1. Not making it India vs Bhutan at all. If as a blogger you express your views, then you should also be willing to accept your readers’ perspectives even if they do not agree with your’s. Isn’t that the whole point of blogging? Interaction and agreeing to disagree. I notice that you are sarcastic and belligerent to any criticism. Just read your responses above.

    2. Any human would have done THAT !! The officials must be punished and better and quiker systems must be in place!!
      Something online visa

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