We had a great time in Bhutan. Windhorse (http://www.windhorsetours.com), and generally the people of Bhutan, left us with a very positive impression of the country. The tour itself was done very well and it seemed to us, more than any other organized tour we have been involved with (Debbie and I are somewhat independent and tend to find our own way), that it suited our needs.
Tashi, our guide and Karma, our driver, were a wonderful team and were there for our every need. Karma was particularly cautious and there was not one single incident where any of us passengers felt at risk, even when Murray could look out the window of the van and see straight down 400 m. Karma was particularly quiet but if we engaged him in conversation he was always pleasant and knowledgeable. Tashi was, as far as we were concerned, a perfect guide. He was knowledgeable, flexible, and polite, he took care of us when needed and let us off on our own when we needed a break. He had a couple of attributes that stand out. His commitment to making sure Debbie’s dietary needs were taken care of at every stop we made. This saved her a lot of worry about the ingredients used in the preparation of the food and the fact that it may have a negative effect on her well being.
He has a vast number of connections and he was able to utilize the influence of those connections to an end that would ultimately enhance our experience in Bhutan. Tashi’s past as monk and his outward personality enable him to know and befriend people at every stop along the tour route, because of this we were admitted to some things that are not on the regular tourist trail or that were not accessible to other groups. He simply asked a monk, with whom he could identify because he was once in the monk’s shoes himself, to show us his shared room. The monk was quite proud of his abode and we were thrilled to actually step inside his room and see first hand how he lived. It reminded me very much of a Canadian university residence. There were other instances; like when we were admitted to a museum that was closed for the day but Tashi had studied with the monk in charge so we had a private showing. As far as I am concerned, this museum was one of the highlights of the trip and I feel very privileged to have been admitted.
In general, we found the accommodation in line with our expectations and completely acceptable (see our Bhutan Hotel Review post). For the most part the hotel staff at each location went out of their way to be gracious hosts and their actions were beyond what we expected.
Although in general, we would not consider the food exciting, it was overall very good. It would have been interesting to indulge in a local dish once in a while. Murray did get to try Ema Datshi (chilis and cheese) a couple of times and although he could not eat great quantities, he did enjoy the opportunity and the challenge. The buffet food was pretty standard and was as far as we could make out, was someone’s idea of what tourists should like. That said Murray did find comfort in the standard eggs and toast for breakfast.
The walks we went on were a needed break from riding in the car for so many hours. Both of us are in good shape and did not find the hikes (even the walk to the Tiger’s Nest) all that difficult. We had heard so much about how difficult it is and were mentally prepared to suffer, but actually found the hike to be quite a nice walk. We started earlier than most and the cooler air was a big advantage, although the lighting on the building would have been much better for pictures in the evening.
As Buddhism is the keystone of the Bhutan society we did expect to visit a lot of religious sites but after two weeks of dzongs they can start to run together. By the end of the second week we could not remember which feature we had taken in at which location. There were several diversions from the dzong/monestary itinerary, like the weaving places, the art school and hand made paper factory.
We went to Bhutan in October in order to take in the festivals. We visited two different festival sites each for the better part of a day. Unfortunately, as outsiders we were not able to discern the subtleties of the performances and a lot of the reason for the dance was lost on us. After the 3 rd or 4th dance of the day we had had enough.
One of the highlights of the tour was the museum at Trongsa. The installations are great and the adaptation of the building that houses the collection is the most interesting building we visited.
We believe that the people make the place, and that being the case, Bhutan is a place well worth the visit. All the people we met during our short stay were pleased that we could and would visit a country that they are very proud of. We will be telling our traveling friends to visit Bhutan. Windhorse has been stellar from the first time we contacted them until the end.