Debbie and I have a bucket list, or at least a short list, of where we want to go in the next few years. Ever since we read that Bhutan calculates its wealth on the Gross National Happiness Quota and not the GDP we have thought it would be a good place to see. Although after finding out there is a minimum daily expenditure required of all tourists, I think that the almighty dollar has taken on a little more importance than the Bhutan folks like to admit.
My retirement will now allow us the ability to travel on the shoulder seasons and about 6 months ago we started to discuss where our next destination should be. We shortlisted a trip to Peru and Bolivia, a bike trip to Spain and a trip to Bhutan. After a month or two of deliberation we both decided upon Bhutan on the same day (serendipity). Our thought; the number of tourists allowed to enter and the daily enforced spending amount will both increase in 2012 and if we do not go this year we will not go at all.
Bhutan does not allow independent travel. You must be on a tour. The tour can consist of two people but you must have a guide and driver and, and, and. Debbie and I discovered a few years ago, on a trip to the Tour de France, we are not exactly tour people. We were black sheep and often wanted to stray from the outlined itinerary, much to the chagrin of the tour operator. So the idea of another tour didn’t exactly appeal to us, but we have to suck it up or Bhutan is a no go.
After we decided to go, I spent several days on the internet bookmarking Bhutan sites. I included official sites from the government, sites from bloggers who have been there, general interest sites and sites of tour operators that looked of interest. The next task was to short list 4 or 5 tour operators with tours that would suit us. The length of the tour, the cost, the number of people on the tour, the places it goes and activities to take part in were all considered in compiling the list. We use this type of list and process for every trip we go on, sometimes for dive operators, sometimes for accommodation, whatever requires pre-planning and pre-trip booking. We then make up a list of questions we can email to the 5 groups on the list. We want to find out which trip will be the best experience for us. We also get an idea of the tour company’s personality; are the folks happy and how willing are they to accommodate our particular needs and whims? For instance, Debbie and I are not sticklers for detail but we do enjoy a group that has fun and loves what they do. So we try to gather in from the info collected if the crew is a happy go lucky lot. Once we narrow it down to a couple of groups we will often phone with another set of questions just to make voice contact. Emails can paint a very different picture from reality but the human voice is often very telling and it is good to have the second perspective.
In the mean time we had determined that we are not going to fly halfway around the world and spend 10 days in Bhutan just to get on the plane and come home. All that time and money invested we might as well explore a little. I was talking to a young fellow at work and asked if he had been to India, he screwed up his face and said he had traveled to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, not what most people consider India but part of the country none the less. He indicated that the islands were quite close to Thailand. He described a place with not too many residents, not too many tourists and really a bit of an undiscovered gem. The bells in my head went off and I started to research Andaman and Nicobar as an extension to our Bhutan trip. I found scuba diving there and it was a slam dunk. Just the kind of place Debbie and I like to spend our time exploring.
That bucket list I mentioned earlier also includes a long trip to India. On my list of places to visit in India is Darjeeling. Lo and behold if Darjeeling isn’t just a few miles west of Bhutan. We have a trip.
We sat down and sketched out a couple of itineraries that we could do. Considered were several issues including but not limited to; the length of the trip to that side of the world and how best to readjust to the time change, the altitude of Bhutan (Debbie had trouble in Tibet last year) and how to acclimatize, the flow of the trip (wanted to end the trip with chill time on the beach), and the ease of connections for required transportation.
From here we looked at what order to book things. There is no use having all the flights booked if the tour we thought we might like to go on is all booked up, or booking the tour just to find there are no flights to or from Bhutan on the dates we require. We thought the most critical part was the Bhutan tour dates so we started in the middle and are in the process of booking forwards and backwards in time.
After quite a few emails and a couple of phone calls to Wind Horse Tours, we decided they had the tour that best suited us. There is a maximum of seven people per group, the trip is 12 days long, it includes attendance at 2 autumn festivals (colorful and energetic undertakings), and several short hikes, enough to get us out of the car, a most confining space. Shortly after confirming our spaces with Wild Horse we were on the computer booking flights on Druk Air, the only airlines to have access to Bhutan. We have to enter and leave Bhutan on certain days so these flights are critical.
Over the next few weeks we will be piecing together the rest of the trip and I will try to update on semi regular basis. It is funny how Debbie and I start out without much of a plan and mostly due to the constraints of the transportation required, by the time we leave, our schedule is fairly tight. I once heard it said that, it is not the destination but the journey that matters, and the planning and scheduling of our trip is all part of the journey for us.
happy trails for now