I returned a few days ago from a wonderful 16 day trip to Bhutan organised by Jamie Vaughan at Bhutan Your Way. After several months of very helpful communications Jamie (an American living in Bhutan) tailored a trip to my specifications. I chose the itinerary, the hotels and the places and activities I wanted to do, and if anything the trip exceeded my expectations. On arrival in Paro we went directly on to Thimphu for 3 days staying at Hotel Kisa right in the centre of town, and spent our time leisurely see the sites of interests with the highlights being the Painting school, the Weekend Market, a hike up to Tango Monastery and visiting the Zilakha nunnery. Following advice I received on Trip Advisor I took reading glasses to give to the nuns which they were so grateful to receive. I also gave reading glasses to monks at another monastery and nuns out at Bumthang.
Our next stop was Punakha, where rain forced us to change our plans for a homestay but a phone call to Jamie soon found us in a very comfortable cottage at the Dechewan Resort. At Punakha we trekked across the rice fields to Chimi Lhakhang (temple of the Divine Madman) and also visited the magnificent Punakha Dzong where work was underway to repair damage caused by the recent earthquake, in preparation for the upcoming Royal Wedding.
Leaving Punakha we drove to Trongsa where we stayed at the Yangkhil Resort and visited the historic Trongsa Dzong and museum.
We next spent 3 nights at Chokhor staying at the Jakar Village Lodge. We spent a day walking to a few of the very old temples and were especially honoured to be shown and blessed with some of the treasures and personal items of Pema Lingua., a weaving centre, Swiss cheese factory and the Jakar dzong. As a real treat in the evening we had a long relaxing soak in a hot stone bath.
Next day we set out for a picnic in the more remote and picturesque Ura valley. Firstly we went for a walk through a small village and on to visit a local school where we were enthusiastically welcomed by the children and invited into their classrooms, then we drove on to the quaint Shinkhar village for our picnic lunch. We were delighted when a local family invited us into their home but not quite so enthusiastic when hospitality dictated that we must have some of their home made wheat wine, ara.
Probably the highlight of our trip through Bhutan was our stay at the Ogyen Choling Guest house in the Tang Valley. This is a very rustic 16th century Manor house surrounded by fields and mountains. As the only guests staying at Ogyen Choling we were delighted with our suite of rooms that felt as though they had remained unchanged for several centuries. There is also a really interesting museum, which depicts the life and work here over the centuries.
After our stay in Bumthang it was time to head back west again. We drove to the alpine valley of Gantey where we stayed at the quite new Yulokoe Lodge. After a visit to the Black Necked Crane Centre then made the most of the lovely setting to go for a walk along the Nature Trail. We were very lucky to visit the Gantey Goemba when a Blessing Ceremony was taking place. There were at least 60 monks participating in the ceremony of chanting, playing a variety of instruments as part of a fascinating ceremony witnessed by many locals.
Another highlight of our trip was attending the Wangdue Festival. In Wangdue we stayed at the Kingaling Resort a short way out of town and set on the bank of a river. Our suite had a wonderful 180o view out of the river and surrounding mountains. For the occasion we decided to wear kiras to the festival and trying to get dressed with the assistance of a girl working at the hotel was quite hilarious. The festival was so spectacular with masked dancers wearing deer like masks and vibrant whirling costumes. Girls sang songs in a more dignified performance and through the afternoon there was a local story acted out by masked and costumed actors. The festival is the social highlight for each town and as well as all the bright colour and movement of the performers, all the locals were dressed in the best kiras and ghos.
The final stop of our trip was in Paro and a slow done in pace for 3 days. In Paro was stayed at the delightful Gantey Palace where we had a lovely typically old Bhutanese style room with great views over to the Paro Dzong. Our first day was spent trekking up to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. It was a very strenuous climb in the heat combined with the altitude but well worth the effort to visit this most spectacular monastery perched on the edge of the towering mountain.
Our final day was spent wandering around the shops in Paro, watching an archery tournament and to our delight our lovely driver Yuanten invited us to his home to meet his wife and daughter. Our final dinner was with Jamie our tour organizer then together with our guide Tsering Tashe and Yuantern our driver we he a fun night at a karaoke type club.
I can’t recommend highly enough Jamie Vaughan at ‘Bhutan Your Way’, who is also doing wonderful work in running a shelter for stay and injured dogs in Paro as well as working tirelessly to protect other animals including donkey’s and yaks. She lent us a phone whilst in Bhutan which was very helpful to keep in contact with her (Jamie checked in with us most days to ensure all was going well) and also to contact our families back in Australia. We couldn’t have asked for a better guide – Tsering Tashi who was so knowledgeable, caring and helpful or driver Yuanten who was an amazingly careful driver, very helpful and quite an amusing character. Having their company for the 16 days in Bhutan really made it such a special trip for us.
As I mentioned earlier on advice from Trip Advisor I took several pair of reading glasses which were received with so much appreciation that I can only recommend other travelers also take these as gifts. I gave our guide and driver a head torch, which they were both delighted with so would also suggest these as gifts. I was surprised to find out that batteries were hard to come by, very expensive and often the local batteries don’t work. So I would suggest people looking to take gifts might take rechargeable batteries and a battery charger. The locals loved seeing photos of Australia, my local area and me family. Gifts of nice smelling soaps were also very much appreciated by the nuns and locals and for the children I took lots of pencils.