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Trip Report Home from Bhutan (A Brief Report by John & Judy)

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Home from N. India & Nepal Part 2 Bhutan
(Sorry to post so late!) We boarded a Druk Air flight in Kathmandu and arrived in Paro, Bhutan. People on the opposite side of the plane had terrific views of Mt. Everest, a situation to be remedied on our return flight from Paro to Delhi. We decided to book Bhutan through a local travel agent as outside agencies are required to book through a local agent per government regulations. We wanted to see the festivals in Thimphu and Paro and were booking very late. Seats on Druk Air seemed to be available one day, but were gone the next day. It turned out that the travel agent needed a wire transfer of funds to purchase the tickets as “holds” are not allowed. We were a little leery of this procedure, but it worked out well and it turned out the funds went into a government account that keeps the travel agents accountable. Bhutan is a small country (less than a million people) that is able to monitor most things. They do their best to ensure that the tourist are well treated as tourism is their 3rd largest industry. Traffic is never a problem as cars were not introduced to Bhutan until the 1950’s. Decent roads were recently added and it is impossible to find a traffic signal anywhere. The accommodations were more than adequate and the food was surprisingly delicious. We became addicted to the fresh chilies. Archery is the national sport and the religion of the majority of the population is Mahayana Buddhism.

At first several agents turned us down reporting that everything was booked at the time we wanted to go. We located Tashi Delek who runs Bhutan Festival Tours & Treks at www.bhutan-festivals.com on a website of a professional photographer who takes groups to Bhutan every year on photography tours. Tashi arranged everything and served as our guide for 8 days. After meeting us at the airport Tashi and our driver took us to Thimphu for the last 2 days of the Thimphu Festival. Tashi is an accomplished photographer himself, so he knew all of the perfect locations to stop for photos. The 3 of us all clicking away must have been a sight in itself. I thought that Bhutan might be a little boring after Nepal, but that was a false assumption. The people themselves were quite refreshing. The locals are quite willing to pose for photos and will actually thank you for taking their picture. In fact, they are very disappointed if you do not take their photo! Festival time is the best time as all of the locals dress in their finest traditional clothing. Women wear “kiras” and men wear “ghos” which are very festive. After the festival, many people change into “western” type clothing as Bhutan is slowly starting to change, so it is a place to visit sooner rather than later. The Festival itself has religious meanings and is very colorful with Buddhist monks and villagers dressed in traditional costumes “dancing” in the courtyard of the Thimphu Dzong (fort). There is so much to see not only during the performance, but just people watching among the packed audience.

After the festival we drove over the Dochula pass (3150 m) to Wangdi admiring the beautiful Bhutan Himalayas. In the Punakha and Wangdi valleys we visited monasteries, dzongs (forts), farmhouses, villages, and walked in the countryside. It was a wonderful experience. We returned to Thimphu several days later and did some sightseeing in the city. Then we drove to Paro for more sightseeing. Tashi loves trekking expeditions, however, for us the “big” trek of the trip was the climb up to Taksang Monastery “Tiger’s Nest”. Judy ran out of steam at the halfway point, so Tashi arranged for a horse to carry her the rest of the way up the mountainside. In total it is well over a 800 meter climb. Tiger’s Nest itself was awesome! Upon return to the hotel, a “stone bath” was arranged for us. Large stones are heated in a fire and then dropped into the front of a large wooden bathtub to heat the water. There is a divider so your feet don’t touch the hot stones as more are dropped in as the water cools. Very relaxing for $15. We flew from Paro to Delhi/Chicago/Los Angeles. Tashi made sure that we were on the view side of the plane(Mt. Everest) on the flight to Delhi. Tourism is a little down now due to the global economy, so Bhutan makes good travel sense if you are interested in a safe, exotic vacation. You can arrive by Druk Air from India, Kathmandu, or Bangkok.

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