Nature Tourism-Bhutan (email firstname.lastname@example.org), is a tour company based in Thimphu that provides excellent guides and service. During our 14 day tour in April of 2010 we managed to see 250 species of birds and amazing mountain scenery, from the city of Paro to the Lingmathang Road below Thrumsing La, Bhutans’s one highest road pass at 3554meters. The Lingmathang Road, while not for the fainthearted, provided us with splendid views of the Himalayas. And splendid views of the Satyr Tragopan, a gorgeous Himalayan pheasant.
Our small group of 9 persons wanted to mix birding with other cultural experiences, and Nature Tourism–Bhutan provided visits to museums, monasteries, Dzongs, a religious festival (the Paro Tsechu), the Thimphu market, and an archery competition. We were even treated to a morning’s visit to a small farm near Bumthang, where we experienced Bhutanese hospitality first hand and learned much about rural life in the Himalayas.
Accommodations, meals, and transportation during this tour were most pleasant, including the days we spent camping. The camp crew was remarkably efficient and the meals prepared were delicious. I remember especially the dark buckwheat honey!
Our group much appreciated the mix of activities put together by Nature Tourism–Bhutan, as it made for a richer and more enjoyable time in Bhutan. The mountains, the birds, the people, the Dzongs…….Bhutan is a remarkable and enjoyable country.
I heartily recommend Nature Tourism-Bhutan to travelers that want a similar experience during their adventure in this Himalayan country.
Bhutan – what is that? One of those gases we had to learn about in our chemistry lessons at school?
No, definitively not!
Bhutan – also called the “land of the thunder dragon” (Druk Yul) does really exist: a small kingdom, approximately the size of Switzerland, with about 600 000 inhabitants, located close to the Himalayan mountains, lies between India and Tibet, and covers altitudes between 150 m and 7397 m. Having become curious by an exhibition about this country, which has been presented in Vienna some years ago, I traveled there with my friend (Wolfgang) first in 1998. Thereby we made friends with Bhutanese people and this triggered our second journey in May 2000. The best way to reach Bhutan is by plane (Vienna-Delhi-Paro) and the tiny airplanes of Royal Bhutan Airlines (Druk Air) safely reach the narrow valley of Paro after a two hours flight with spectacular view to the highest mountains on earth.
In contrast to our first journey together with a group of tourists this second tour was much more individual and we enjoyed the perfect organization and welfare by our friend and tour guide Karma Jamthso. It was wonderful being back!
At a first glance nothing had changed, except for some more cars and electric cables. People are friendly but reserved, with a certain dignity. The national dresses (Kira for ladies, Gho for gentlemen) are colourful and are worn by kids and grown-ups. For regular days these are made from Yak wool, sheep wool or cotton, for holidays they are hand-made from silk and it can take up to 1 year to complete the weaving of one special piece. Therefore, it’s of no surprise that those wonderful textiles are kept within families from generation to generation and are worn with pride.
The country and its inhabitants are characterized by the allover presence of their religion (tantric Buddhism), which is also reflected in the character and attitude of the people. The monasteries and their monks are part of daily life and advice from the monks is considered for e.g. big decisions, selection of names for newborn babies, or construction of new houses or roads. The other dominating element is his majesty king Jigme Singye Wangchuk, owner of the raven crown. He is highly dedicated – on the one hand – to preserve the Bhutanese traditions (e.g. national dresses, religion and monasteries, arts, handicrafts), to maintain and protect nature (more of 80% of the country are covered with forests and there are strong rules with regard to wood cutting), but – on the other hand – also to allow for and encourage cautious progress (good education, traditional and modern healthcare, well regulated tourism).
Coming back to our tour: During 11 days we traveled by car from Paro in Western Bhutan via Thimphu (capital city) to Bumthang, which is located approximately in the middle of the country, and then back again. Speed is limited to 30 km/h, which is appropriate for the main road, which crosses Bhutan from West to East and is characterized by just one lane, and unbelievable number of turns, and lack of bridges.
The passes we crossed (up to 3400 m high) offered wonderful views to the snow-covered 7000ers and are nicely decorated with prayer flags and stupas. During our 3 days trekking tour we came across deep forests and lonely villages. Thanks to our 5 horses carrying tents, food and luggage it was not too hard to reach the pass in 3900 m altitude. Temperatures were pleasant (between 4 and 30 °Celsius), with sunshine most time and only two short rain showers. Reaching our camps for the night, we always were the attraction for the kids living in the villages close-by and were welcomed with dancing and camp fires. Bhutanese food is simple but very delicious: white or red rice, vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, onions, wild fern, fresh green asparagus!), eggs, cheese, chicken, fish, barely any meat, but lots of chilli. One of the most delicious dishes we ever had in our life was fresh trout, filled with garlic and ginger!
However, we were a little bit less in favor of the traditional butter tea.
After having spent 11 exciting days, saying “good-bye” was even harder than after our first visit: a wonderful tour with Karma, a visit to meet his wife Pema Sithey and their three lively kids, feeling that we found friends at the other end of the world.
We definitively will come again and very much hope that this country, which often is considered to be the last “Shangri-la”, will be able to maintain its beauty, its nature, its traditions and its independence despite all influences of modern civilization.
Do you feel like getting in touch with this wonderful country without traveling too far?
Bhutan is represented with a wonderful hand-made Dzong at the EXPO 2000 in Hannover!
“It was a pleasure meeting you last month. Thank you again for arranging an excellent trip. I was so impressed that you were able to find such a highly qualified botanical guide. He was ideal. Not only did he know the native plants thoroughly and where to find them, but he also showed us a lot of beautiful scenery, architecture, towns, and marketplaces and gave us a sense of Bhutanese history and culture. We really appreciated, too, his flexibility in being able to revise the schedule during the trip to accommodate our interests and unexpected difficulties, like the illness of one of our group members. The driver, too, was pleasant, funny, helpful, and all together a pleasure to travel with. Besides being an excellent driver, he did lots of little things for us that made the trip more enjoyable. We left with wonderful memories of your lovely country and hope to return someday.”
I’ve just returned from a 2 week trip to Bhutan that I put together for friends and family. Using Nature Tourism-Bhutan, I requested that they organize a trip combining bird watching and cultural tourism. This required a fair bit of travel (over 1000 km during the trip) and the arrangement of 7 hotels and 3 campsites. All the hotels were comfortable and the camping was easy with dining, bathing, and toilet tents erected for us.
I relied on Karma Jamtsho’s advice for the itinerary and it produced 223 species of birds, as well as 3 kinds of monkeys. He timed our trip to coincide with the annual religious festival at Paro, organized a visit to a rural farmhouse, and had numerous temples and monasteries included in the itinerary.
Our group was given excellent support from 2 guides and the camping staff had their daily routine down pat. Camp food was brilliant.
Our group traveled in a roomy Toyota bus and the driver supplied was excellent and cautious on the mountain roads.
I’m happy to recommend using Karma and Nature-Tourism Bhutan to organize and customize an adventure to Bhutan.
Howard Nielsen located in Phnom Penh, USA
With Cathy on sabbatical for the 2004-05 academic year, we decided to take a birding trip to somewhere best visited in the spring, a time of year during which we ordinarily cannot travel for any extended period. We were both intrigued by the idea of birding the Himalayas and set our sights on Bhutan, a remote mountain kingdom that is becoming a popular birding destination – unlike neighbors Nepal and India, Bhutan is politically stable, relatively free from western influences, and the natural environment is still largely intact. Bhutan regulates tourism by charging a flat rate of $200/person/day to stay in the country (all accommodations, food and local transportation are covered by this fee), and requires tourists to be accompanied by a Bhutanese guide at all times. We assumed initially that the only feasible way to bird the country would be to join a regularly scheduled group trip run by one of the major American or British birding tour companies, most of whom have Bhutan on their schedules. We were, however, reluctant to do this – we dislike group birding and also prefer that the money we spend traveling go directly to the residents of the countries we visit rather than into the pockets of western tour operators. Happily, a bit of exploration on the web turned up three Bhutanese tour agencies advertising custom birding tours led by Bhutanese guides. We requested further information, and ultimately chose Karma Jamtsho’s company Nature Tourism-Bhutan, whose sample itinerary was virtually identical to that followed by the major birding companies. We were very pleased with this choice and highly recommend Nature-Tourism to anyone wishing to bird Bhutan on their own. Karma runs an extremely professional operation and we never experienced even a minor hitch in any of our travel or housing arrangements – not at all the usual third world travel experience! Even with a $30/person/day small-group surcharge imposed by the Bhutanese government, our total cost (including airfare from Los Angeles to Bangkok) came to just $5000/person, a savings of over $3000/person compared to the fees charged by most major birding companies.
Cathy McFadden and Paul Clarke located in Claremont, CA,