Dogster ? Bhutan

Jan 17th, 2008, 03:03 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Aug 2003
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Dogster I really do appreciate all the info you are giving here. Even though I am feeling bad for opening up your wounds!!
I think it is great to hear all sorts of reports on trips not just the good so it is great of you to give us all this info.
A poor guide is a bad thing. My worst experience with a guide was actually with someone who was very well thought of in his field and I was so looking forward to gaining from all his experience and I was so disappointed so you just never know how or when it will happen. I just did not like the way he 'operated". As for the tipping thing I recall being in a very difficult position in Nepal when porters were threatening not to go on unless we gave them part of thier tips half way through the trip. This was with a very reputable trekking company so you just can't predict. (no they did not get any of their tips then as the group stuck together and truth be known I am sure they got lower tips than they could have got at the end of the trip)
I hope your report gives you some sort of cleansing! You really write very well & I am savoring it all.
Thank you.
jules39 is offline  
Jan 17th, 2008, 05:22 PM
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Reading this is just simply exhilarating. Thank you!
Jan 17th, 2008, 05:38 PM
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Even good guides drive me crazy sometimes!

I appreciate your candor.
Kathie is online now  
Jan 17th, 2008, 11:31 PM
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Obviously The Great Scenic Designer hadn’t yet made it to Wangdi. Town was a ramshackle line of shops perched along a ridge, old and faded and falling down, each one a little universe. I rather liked it. The shopkeepers couldn’t give a monkey’s nut about this tourist and his lumpen guide. They had nothing that we wanted to buy.

‘What a great little place,’ I said.

‘They’re going to demolish it soon,’ the guide said proudly.

I sighed. Wangdi was on the list too.

This dzong was a bit ratty. Imposing but a little run down. Like the one in Punakha it was all but deserted. There were three men sharing a joke on an upper story landing, two monks wandering down a corridor in the distance and six chickens perched outside a door marked ‘Storeroom’. I took their picture. The chickens, I mean. They would go well with my pictures of stray dogs and scaffolding.

The guide was off on his mobile phone. He paused, just long enough to grunt ‘No pictures,’ as I wandered out of the first courtyard and deeper inside. I passed two monks crouched on the floor in a side room. Above their heads hung skinny joints of meat, drying in the air. Both the monks and the meat had been there for a very long time. I took secret photographs until my guide reappeared and hissed at me.

Further in. A pod of monks rushed past me and swooped up a flight of steps leading to the inner temple. Did I detect the beginning of a cruel smile on my guide’s face?

He suddenly stopped dead and said ‘We can’t go in.’

No pictures. No admission. No information. No fun. Guide from hell. Another two weeks of this. More renovations, recreations. More driving, further and further away from escape. Something snapped.

I went very, very quiet. Those who know me recognize that this is when the dog is at his most dangerous.

‘Let’s go home then.’

Not a word was spoken on the drive back to Kichu Resort. My sightseeing in Wangdi was over. An hour later the wrestler was summoned to my table.

‘This afternoon,’ I said very slowly, ‘there is a change of plan.’

He began to babble.

‘Shhhhhh,’ I said calmly. ‘Listen. Don’t talk.’

You could have popped a ping-pong ball in his mouth. It hung open, a perfect little circle as I continued.

‘This afternoon – we will be driving back to Thimpu. You will book me a suite in the Druk Hotel.’

No explanation. No discussion. Dog was taking control.

His mouth opened and closed. Words came out. I ignored them.

‘I think we can leave in one hour.’

I was already packed. We were out of Kichu Resort in half that time.
The driver suddenly regained his command of English. He knew what was going down. The guide was still processing. He looked as if a baseball bat had hit him. He just didn’t get it.

I was calm and silent.

Now the trap was set. My guide was, like many large youths, a bully. He was a physically imposing presence. Dogster is built like a whippet. But smart. Having decided to cut my losses, having trusted my instincts to divert before things turned nasty, I knew that I had to get to a position of escape before I could negotiate – otherwise, if I had a row, I’d be stuck in the car with hostility for hours. I needed to get to Paro without Lumpy realizing what was going on.

Yes, he really was that stupid.

We made it to Thimpu in less than two hours. Surly staff at the Druk checked me in [I was, of course, paying extra for this]. Just as I walked inside I turned to the guide.

‘Tomorrow we will drive to Paro and you will book me into the Uma Paro for three nights.’

That little pink mouth popped open again.

‘But.. but.. ‘

‘We will leave at nine o-clock.’

And I was gone.

So was he, although still, incredibly, he hadn’t worked it out.

What I should have done was call the manager of the tour company and demand a different guide. I didn’t. I simply got in the car the next morning, travelled back down through the roadworks to Paro and checked in to the hotel. All I wanted to do was get OUT.

John Halpin, the manager, bounded up to me.

‘Welcome to Uma Paro!’ he said.

I was safe.

You know the rest. Am I richer and wiser for the experience? Certainly not richer - it cost me a fortune to buy my way out, let alone the pre-paid $$. Wiser? Mmmm, no, not really. Disappointed? Yup.

But, courtesy jules39 and kathie'ss innocent question, and this unexpected essay that has just written itself, I'm cleansed.

So I thank you for that opportunity.
dogster is offline  
Jan 18th, 2008, 05:57 AM
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Dogster I have actually totally "enjoyed" reading your report. It is so incredibly valuable to us all not only in reference to Bhutan but any journey we undertake. I do hope you really do feel cleansed!!
So were is your next trip?!!
Thanks again
jules39 is offline  
Jan 18th, 2008, 06:04 AM
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Congratulations on taking care of yourself and doing what you needed to do to get out of a bad situation. And thanks for telling us!
thursdaysd is offline  
Jan 18th, 2008, 06:51 AM
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You should send this to a travel mag and call it "The Dark Underbelly of Bhutan."

Thaks for telling us about your misadventure.
Kathie is online now  
Jan 18th, 2008, 02:23 PM
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I add myself to the chorus, thanks for posting. I agree with Kathie you really should send this to be published.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Jan 18th, 2008, 06:51 PM
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Thanks for those kind words.

Published? Naaaaah. It's more therapy than journalism - as I realized when I was writing it. Obviously I'd been sitting on that little experience for a few weeks, just waiting for someone to ask the question. Thanks again jules.

But it's over now. I'm planning the next trip. I've found some nifty deals on a Brahmaputra cruise in Assam;

so I might tag that with a return trip to Sikkim and Darjeeling and a side trip into Bangladesh. There's Kolkata to master as well. Then a swoop through India.

It's a damn fine, wonderful world - despite the sumo wrestler - and this old dog ain't dying till he's seen it all.
dogster is offline  
Jan 18th, 2008, 09:11 PM
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We saw the same deals and have been trying to work out how we could make it!

I'm currently working on a crazy itinerary for my birthday. I'm putting together a couple of frequent flier open jaws (SFO-ASB ATH-SFO BKK-SFO NYC-BKK) which with a couple of linkage flights will make two round-the-world, one for April/May and one for Dec/Jan.

We're definitely on for 2 weeks in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and we were thinking of flying from Tashkent to Delhi and on to Bhutan (hence the interest in yout trip) Then from Paro to Bangkok and then sometime on the beach.

Bhutan is a little up in the air for me at this stage, I'm not I'm enthusiastic enough, we are considering Sikkim and Glenburn but I generally prefer warmer weather. We could fly Tashkent to Bangkok so I'm considering something adventurous in South East Asia, not sure where.

The trip in Assam looks fascinating but I just can make it work with my Central Asia dates. If you go we'd love to hear about it.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Jan 18th, 2008, 10:05 PM
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The combination of Burma, Pandaw cruises [Bhamo or Chindwin particularly], Inle Lake and The Strand Hotel in Yangon is pretty hard to beat.

Similarly, think Nepal; try combining Kathmandu, Dwarika's Hotel, Hans Hoefer's extraordinary farm-stay,Apa Villa in Phulbari,a flight to Pokhara and a drive down to Lumbini.

And the Bagdogra/helicopter/Gangtok/Yangsum Farm/Glenburn/Darjeeling nexus [as discussed above] can be, with a bit of fine tuning, a very nice trip indeed. I confess to not knowing much about Sikkim before I dived in - I was very pleasantly surprised. The key to that lock is Glenburn. Great food and great scenery all the way through on this trip.
dogster is offline  
Jan 19th, 2008, 12:02 AM
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Thanks dogster, I'll definitely check out the links.

Glenburn sounds like a good possibility, and I must admit I hadn't yet considered Nepal. I have been casting my net so widely i would never have found these places.

Burma does sound fabulous but it isn't an option for us right now, suffice it to say we have an old friend who's an activist on this issue and we would hate to lose the friendship!

Thanks again for the links.
welltraveledbrit is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 02:45 AM
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Just discovered this wonderful read about your nightmare trip...good for you for ditching lumpen sumo!

Question: I had not realized this before my own recent trip to Vietnam, but don't local guides usually work on a freelance basis? Do any of them actually work full-time for one agency?? I had three in Vn and each were freelancers; maybe just coincidence..

That said, the company should have set you up with one that they knew was excellent rather than the dolt you got..

I must say you have squashed and flattened any desire I might have had to visit Bhutan in the near future.

ekscrunchy is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 06:17 AM
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ekscrunchy: I don't know how the guide thing works in Bhutan. Like the fool I was, I thought that by hiring a local company I'd be keeping it close and personal. Not only was I giving my money to locals, but my guide would part of the family. What a sweet, trusting sod I was.

Once I fled and hid at Uma Paro I went out each day with their guides - guys who work full-time for the company. The difference was astounding. I learnt more about Bhutan in one three hour jaunt with them than in my whole time with The Lump. They were a class-act - unlike the work experience youth I had.

In fact, acting on his own initiative, one of them rang up Blue Poppy Tours and abused him for 'betraying' a visitor to Bhutan.

Which sums it up perfectly.

dogster is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 07:40 AM
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Posts: 22,026 does pose a problem; how does one insure having a decent guide aside from interviewing them on the spot and then making a choice..

Maybe we should start a thread devoted to recommended guides in each city!
ekscrunchy is offline  
Feb 12th, 2008, 04:56 PM
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Excellent report(s) dogster, and they live up to your reputation for witticisms.

You are indeed built like a whippet, and more than able to savage and maul a bully-boy built like an elephant wearing a striped beanie!
Mitch04 is offline  
Feb 27th, 2008, 06:02 AM
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I jumped on this thread from Dogster newest adventure (the one related to white wine abuse), I would say this report is more addicting that the Fist Season of 24. Thanks Dogster! Hope your new trip to India won’t be like this one, but pls. make for us a trip report like this.
jcontreras is offline  
Feb 27th, 2008, 07:06 AM
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Awwww jcontreras: what a nice thing to say. I'm not quite sure what the 'Fist Season of 24' is; but I'm glad my adventures were even more enthralling.

I have a good feeling about this next jaunt. I can feel the planets aligning. But then, I thought that about Bhutan, too.

This time next week I'll be in mid-air, heading for just one night in Bangkok then, courtesy Pouilly Fume, Rex Harrison, my own idiocy and the kind words of perfect strangers in here; the great stumble forward into India. Yup, I'll report back.

dogster is offline  
Feb 27th, 2008, 07:23 AM
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Leap, dogster, leap - not stumble! Think positive... Actually, the best travel stories are always the result of something going wrong, but I'm hoping you have a smooth trip to make up for this one.
thursdaysd is offline  
Feb 27th, 2008, 07:52 AM
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Actually, thursdaysd, the BEST travel stories are way too lurid to write in here...

I fear for the mental health of the other contributors if I told ALL I know... but, an intelligent reader can, perhaps, read between the lines.

As for a smooth trip.. pigs might fly. If there's a stupid thing to do, a wrong turn to take, a monstrous traveller faux-pas to commit; dogster will do it. I'm probably not alone in my guilty little secret - it's amazing just how dumb I can be. Luckily, mostly, nobody but me sees it. Hence The Great Stumble Forward. I'd be lying to suggest it was ever anything else...

dogster is offline  

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