Yonten Phuntsho is one of our senior most guide. And well versed on his business. Initially, he conceded an impression of a man of a few words but I was in for surprise with the knowledge of his job, great sense of humour and congenial personality- simply one cannot judge a book by its cover. His unwavering focus, dedication, knowledge and passion runs deep for the love of his works. His aptly quote Barbara Kingsolver “I do my best work if I think about what it is I have to offer”.
From the outset, he knew what he wants to do in his life. Right after finishing his Class 12, he enrolled for guide course for culture initially then extended few more month to complete course on Trekking as well in 2008. After doing free lancing for a while, he joined Wind Horse Tours in 2010.
For most Bhutanese, appeals that mountainous terrains throw in for an out door adventures are native. In the case of Yonten, it was no exception. He easily gave in to the temptation of Mountain biking with its advent. He explored and lead tours in his bike but his allegiance is more inclined to off road biking trips that leads to quaint villages. To explore the unknown and love for nature, these attributes that he cultivated while trekking the alpine highlands and wilderness in remote corner of country was what prompt him to readily agree to embark on audacious Haa to Phuentsholing on mountain bike, overcoming challenges of carrying bike in tough terrains, untamed vegetations and unexplored areas.
What Our Guest Says about the guide
RobynOct 04 -23, 2022
We had the privilege of finally taking the Above the Clouds trek we had booked before Covid. It was FABULOUS. I had expected three things: that the trek would be hard, that it would be beautiful, and that Wind Horse would take good care of us. I was not disappointed.
The trek was hard, but I expect, for me, it would have been hard at any age (I’m 67).
The scenery was spectacular. Chomolhari and Jichu Drake were elusive in the clouds early on, but by the end of the trip the sky was clear and blue and all the peaks were visible—and Yonten (our guide) made sure we went to places we could see them after the trek. Even in late October the wildflowers were abundant.
Wind Horse took great care of us. Yonten’s English, cultural knowledge, sense of humor, trekking experience and interactions with the locals were unparalleled. His consideration for our safety and comfort always came first. He patiently answered our every question, including all the (probably inappropriate!) personal ones. We could not have asked for better company.
The drivers were the BEST, regardless of the scary road conditions and traffic (dogs, cows, trucks) challenges.
The food was perfect: varied and plentiful, and the cook always made sure we had special treats for tea, drinking water and, at night, hot water bottles for our sleeping bags. The sleeping pads were thick and comfortable. The assistant cook was amazing in his strength and speed and ability to provide hot tea and lunch wherever we were on the trail.
The Bhutanese people along the way were the best part—calm, happy, helpful, smiling, curious. Even the ponies were a treat to step aside for! I’ve returned to the US with a new appreciation for the incredible kindness of the Bhutanese and hope I can reflect it in my own actions here at home. Thanks for the opportunity, Wind Horse!
Britta KuhlenbeckOct 08 -26,2019
Thoughts about Bhutan
Sometimes I am in awe and surprised that I really went to Bhutan and experienced what I did. I think it was absolutely amazing.
My heart and spirit already jumped on the flight from Kathmandu to Paro. I found the dust, pollution and traffic congestion in Kathmandu difficult to deal with. I tried to look at it as part of an experience, but not being able to breathe properly was unpleasant. It made me appreciate clean air though and reminded me that perhaps not even that can be taken for granted.
On the flight we saw the top of Mount Everest. Wow. At the Everest Base Camp in Tibet it was too cloudy to catch sight of it, so it was great to be able to see it from the top.
Arriving at Paro Airport brought a smile to my face – actually to many passengers on the plane. Paro airport looked like a village not like an airport to me, unlike any other airport. In addition, flying into Bhutan so close and in between the mountains was a spectacle, too.
I was the last to leave the airport after taking a few photos and changing some money. Then I was greeted with a Khada by Yonten and met the other members of my group. So far I have not been a group traveller.
Arriving at the hotel in Paro made me feel in awe (again). The views from the hotel and the architecture of the hotel itself were amazing. I liked the hotel’s texture of wood, stone, plants, and its colours. The rooms reminded me of the German word ‘Stube’, which is (stereotypically) a cosy room with wooden floors and rustic furniture and has the feel of age and generations having lived in it. I prefer this style to shiny surfaces of modern places. At the hotel I already felt as if I were in a special place. I also liked the fact that Yonten and others wear traditional clothes.
When we went to the festival in Thimphu and found a spot in the crowd I actually cried. I could not believe that all of a sudden I was ‘in the middle’ of this significant cultural event in Thimphu in Bhutan. The event, the crowds and the location felt like such a different world.
The trek was an absolute highlight – every day. Again when we traversed some of the passes we had tears in our eyes – not from the wind. The beauty of the landscape, being able to get there by walking, and the views of the mountain ranges around us where overwhelming – in my book anyway.
Our team almost felt like a family. The five Americans who all knew each other actually said they welcomed me into their family. But what was very indicative was the end of our trek when we had to say good-bye to each other. I mean saying good-bye to some members of our team with whom we spent the last 12 days, who looked after us, and who we climbed over the mountain with: Sushil and Lhote, the cook and his assistants and the horsemen. We all felt very emotional. I actually think that a trek like this brings people together more than a ‘cultural tour’, which has its own appeal. It is the challenges and the beauty of the landscape that bonded us together – in my view.
One book that was recommended to me by someone I met on the bus from Kathmandu to Pokara was ‘Ancient Futures; Learning from Ladakh’ by Helena Norberg –Hodge. It seems a bit of a ‘classic.’ You have probably heard of it or already read it. She wrote about a question that was on my mind when I was in the different countries in the Himalaya region, how is it and is it possible to get the balance right between ‘traditional culture’ and modernisation. On the one hand, it is simply beautiful (for a visitor) to be able to walk to a village like Gasa, no roads, no car traffic, just paths through the mountains. On the other hand, you can absolutely understand that people in the village would look forward to a road connection, which would make it easier to access and receive supplies and medical aid, and to get to another place perhaps with an even better equipped hospital. You can imagine that with the spread of mobile phones and internet new desires emerge. Difficult. It seems (to me) that Bhutan at the moment has found a balance (a bold statement to make after having been in the country for only a couple of weeks – you may know more or better) and the idea to measure the ‘success’ of a country in terms of a happiness index rather than the gross domestic product is visionary – in my view.
Regarding my personal journey, it was a celebration of health and fitness and my 50th birthday. I was looking for a change of routine from my working life and being thrown out of my comfort zone to find out how my body and mind would deal and cope with it. I was prepared to embrace every situation and be curious about the people I would meet. I am glad that I returned in good health and ‘happy.’ How quickly a situation can change is very obvious at the moment. A health pandemic, travel restrictions, airlines going into administration, lockdowns, closed borders and a trip like we did is no longer possible. It makes me appreciate it even more.
It was good to be able to spend some time in Germany with my family after the time in the Himalayas. That was the other aspect that was important to me as part of my long service leave – spending more time especially with my parents as we live on different continents now. They are getting older and although one cannot imagine that they will not live forever, nothing stays the same. It also seemed part of a balance; to spend time after an active and full itinerary by simply going with the everyday flow of sharing meals, shopping groceries, cycling (as we do) , going on some ‘cultural excursions’, such as theatre and exhibitions, and enjoying too many coffees with cake – anyway that is our way of spending days together.
I felt very rested and energised at the same time when I returned to Australia. I seemed to have managed to recharge.
Although I went back to my old job and was hoping for some changes there, too – there had been, in fact, some good news at the end of last year, but then everything changed again due to long complicated court processes and appeals. Currently, outcomes in court determine whether and when we can progress the development of a ‘new landscape’ for the Noongar people of the Southwest of Australia. I realised though that despite the setbacks that the work that needs to be done is important.
Perhaps I also have your words in my ear that one should just go with the flow, not have too many expectations and see what happens and ‘flow’ with it. Not easy though.
Travelling is also a reminder how many different ways of life there are and it makes you question your own. When I returned to my (second) home in Western Australia I did see my environment to some extent with new eyes, not taking everything for granted and appreciating certain aspects, such as clean air, the ocean, the sun…
I hope you are well.
I am glad I have met you and shared a couple of chai with you in the street.
And, of course, thank you again, for helping me crossing the border, finding accommodation, and sharing your thoughts about travelling and being a tour operator (amongst other things).
Penny S.09 - 20,July,2019
- My interactions with Wind Horse have always been helpful, informative with prompt responses including, whilst we were shaping up the itinerary.
- Wind Horse was well organised, meeting us from our flight to Paro and then assisting us with the onward connection to Bumthang where we were met by Yenten (guide) and Sonam (driver) at the airport.
- Yenten and Sonam’s attention to our comfort, safety and quality of our diverse experiences and adventures was outstanding. And Sonam is a very skilful driver.
- We achieved everything on our itinerary and more. Yenten and Sonam put in some long hours for us.
- As you know there were some changes in the itinerary, due to weather, one member’s incapacity to trek on foot and some altitude sickness. Wind Horse took prompt action to arrange for Pema to bring in the 4 horses and for Yenten then to organise the monastery overnight stay. We were also impressed that Wind Horse deemed these alterations as complimentary and with no further cost to us.
- Yenten’s (and Sonam) guiding and information sharing about their country, the positions of the royal family, government, economic and religious institutions was extraordinarily detailed. Yenten was very enthusiastic and provided great insights so we could consolidate and increase our knowledge about Bhutan and ways of living.
- The accommodation was very comfortable and to a high level. We also enjoyed the variety including farmstay and attractive hotels.
- The food was delicious, varied and plentiful. And it was great to have access to bottled water.
R. S.09 - 20,July,2019
Dear Windhorse Team,
Where to begin with insights into our wonderful Windhorse holiday in Bhutan in July 2019.
Rhonda20 - 25, March, 2019
Edward James06 - 22 Nov, 2018
Thank you for your time spent creating a wonderful Bhutan experience for us. Both the bike and trek experience worked well. The incremental adjustment to elevation worked well without any major AMS for any of us. Took Diamox for just a couple of days at Base camp.
Yonten is a wonderful man. Kind, patient and considerate. Full of history, traditions and geological facts. Unfortunately, his father was ill and died due to critical illness during the trek. We sent him off and completed the trek with the cook. Took on Tashi who graciously met us with Dawa after we pushed to complete the shortened loop by one day.
Dawa – great man, kind heart. Confident driver always eager to help and always smiling.
Bike trip- great for us as we are avid cyclists. May not be for everyone especially the rural road section (final descent) along logging road might be adventurous for some without off-road experience. YT and Densa good choices. Camping worked out well. Cook very good. Probhjika valley beautiful. Definitely needed a wide range of bike clothing. Bikes are ok. Terrible on the off-road. Maybe a wind horse upgrade with better suspension. Had a flat and fixed it. Not certain if the team would know what to do if a mechanical happened out there or even had tools to fix basics on the bike.
Paro , transition from bike to trek might be nice to have an extra day
Kichu not recommended
Trek – beautiful, especially at base camp and the pass up to 4900m. Reasonable day lengths. Didn’t like the second camp night so much. Days that time of year cool but pleasant, mornings and night cold. At least negative single digits. We were prepared with clothes and our sleeping bags. Would definitely advise cool wether clothing for guests (winter down, layers of pants and fleece, gloves, toques etc). Also would be too cold with provided sleeping bag and blanket only. Advise bringing own sleeping bag to -10C, camping pillow and inflatable sleeping mat.
Also, guests should bring snacks for themselves during day on hike and bike – bars, gummies etc as this is not provided.
Steph was sick with GI for 4 d if the trek. She managed to pull through ok. That’s why we pushed to end a day early. Likely food borne. Need to communicate to cook about food hygiene.
Back in PARO good visits to local sites. Watching Sedentary Indians climb to tigers nest was an impressive spectacle.
Delhi airport for 18 h. Didn’t leave to Aerocity hotel as we needed a VISA and our flight the following day was early.
Who can forget the Dogs of Bhutan! Ear plugs needed.
Thank you for the trip.
Enjoy your travels in Bhutan.
Maybe back in 8 years with Andrew for Tour if the Dragon.
Pat09 - 15, Sept, 2018
Thank you for reaching out. My daughter and I would like you to know that we had an absolutely fantastic time in Bhutan. The country is beautiful, the people are friendly, and there were many truly amazing sites to see. Our guide Yentin and driver, Mister Jetney, were both wonderful and very accommodating. We enjoyed our time with them, and were sorry to say goodbye at the end of the trip. The high point for us was of course the hike to Tiger’s Nest. What an awesome experience. We have no low points on this trip.
Thank you again for being so well organized and taking such good care of us. We will definitely recommend Wind Horse Tours.
Sherry M MillerFeb 18 -March 03, 2018
I am sorry for getting back to you so late. I started typing something up then never got back to it.
Our trip was great. Everything went as planned. The weather was a little cold and overcast at first, in Bhutan, but then warmed up as our trip went on. The Dzongs, temple and monasteries were amazing. The country was beautiful and we had some fantastic views while we were driving. Our guide for most of the Bhutan portions was Mr. Yenten. He was fantastic. He spoke very good English and was very knowledgeable. Our drive (also Mr. Yenten) was also great. The food was wonderful and it was fun trying all the different dishes.
Our time in Nepal was great too. I didn’t realize how big of a city Kathmandu was. The temples and monuments were amazing. It was sad to see there was so much damage from the earth quakes they had a few years ago. It would be fun to go back in 10 years. I don’t remember our guides name but he was very good.
Pablo Carrismimo30 - 10 April, 2018
Mark Russel FitzsimmonsJan 30 - Feb 08, 2018
Our journey in the mountains of Bhutan was richly rewarding. A gift not wrapped in paper but bound instead in the thread of discovery and the characters we were blessed to encounter along the way. A journey of reflection and life in focus – so generously mentored by the welcoming will and inspiring talents of the Bhutanese people, Like our fabulous guides Yonten and Pema, who helped us climb higher..beyond….as each new step took our breath further away. Thank you! And also thank you to all our amazing crew and the nine ponies … especially camera pony!
Everyone we encountered helped make our expedition an experience that will long be remembered as an outstanding example of living in the moment.. Thanks to Bas at Kimkim for making the arrangements so easy and to Wind Horse for organising everything on the ground. Thoroughly enjoyed this Bhut-Camp!
Richard Fedrick WilsonOct 10- 28,2017
I wanted to take a few minutes to add my personal thoughts on what Peter said about our Windhorse experience. Most importantly we all agree that in no way should our comments be judged a criticism of our guides Yonten and his crew. They worked very had to accommodate us and were always trying to enhance our experience. They were excellent!! Personally I was fascinated by and loved Bhutan and it’s people. It is a remarkable and beautiful country and I was very happy to have been able to experience it. Trekking is a good way to see that beauty. While I am glad to have done this trip I have to take a realistic examination of my total experience and that speaks to some of Peter’s points.
Trash anywhere is unsightly and trash along the trail was particularly saddening and detracted from the natural beauty. Perhaps the pony and yak herders could be compensated to pickup and haul out trash on trips where they return with unloaded livestock? The trash pits along the trail out of Laya were particularly unsightly given that this is a very scenic part of the trek, it seems far better to keep the trails picked up and trash taken out.
Maybe because our group was older we felt that there was not enough down time to enjoy our surroundings, we basically hiked all day, had dinner, went to bed, had breakfast and then hiked again all day. Shorter segments with more camp time would have given us more time to enjoy our surroundings, particularly since the bad sections of trail called for concentration of where we were putting our feet and not much time for looking around.
I very much agree that solar composting toilets should be considered where feasible. As tourism increases pit toilets will become untenable and hazardous for campers. As for camping I found the sleeping pads provided, very comfortable and the tents adequate when properly erected, sometimes the rain flys were not clear of the tent causing rain to seep through. Given that the evenings were quite cold some form of heating in the dining tent is needed. Speaking of dining, the kitchen crew did a great job! The food was plentiful, very good and the cook creative. The pizza and birthday cake were amazing and spoke to the cooks skill.
Your vehicles and driver were first rate he and Yonten worked perfectly together! In the bus we traveled safely and on time. Well done!!
My experience, (and it has taken me this long to process it), was that this was challenging for me. A lot of effort, but if I was 30 years younger I would be on the Snowman trek. I feel pleased that I was able to complete the trek. The memories of the mountain festival in Laya, the cultural insights we received in Paro and Thimphu, the beauty of Punakha will last a lifetime. Bhutan is a wonderful country and I wish it and you all the very best as we prepare for a new year.
Peter Michle BrigliaOct 10 - 28, 2017
Windhorse Tours – Above the Clouds Trek – October 2017
Our group of 5 from Seattle was hastily formed in late summer 2017 for an October trip. Windhorse did an excellent job of arranging our trip on such short notice. We took the 19- day Above the Clouds Trek that involved 12 days of trekking and 5 days of visits to cultural sites. The five of us joined three other trekkers to make a group of eight. Our guide, Yonten, and driver, Gudo, were both excellent. Yonten provided in-depth explanations of Buddhist practices and beliefs as well as information on Bhutan, its people and their lifestyle. Gudo was friendly, knowledgeable and transported us safely. Our hotel accommodations were comfortable and the staff at each place was friendly and attentive.
The trek passed through interesting villages and beautiful mountain scenery. We crossed two passes at elevations over 15,000-feet and one at an elevation of 16,400-feet. The total distance covered was over 90 miles and the total elevation gained was over 20,000-feet. The trek proved to be extremely arduous for our group of 60+ year olds, all of whom had spent considerable time hiking and climbing in the Cascade Mountains. The food on our trek was healthy, nutritious, tasty and filling (and extremely low-fat). Meals were a bit repetitious which was to be expected on a self-supported trek without refrigeration but our cooks came up with several delicious surprises: a birthday cake and pizza, to name two. The entire crew of our guide, two assistant guides, two cooks and two or three horsemen provided excellent support for our group of eight trekkers. The camping equipment supplied by Windhorse was very good – good quality tents and foam mattresses. Some additional training in the pitching of the tents should have been provided. Crowded campsites were a problem and several times we had to travel an additional hour or so because of a lack of space at a campsite. We experienced some logistical problems that made our first and last days of trekking very difficult.
Be prepared for muddy and difficult trail sections, camping areas that require careful walking to avoid manure piles and partially filled, old privy holes, strenuous trekking and very cold conditions once the sun goes down. It is necessary to be flexible and to be able to tolerate some adversity. Bhutan is struggling to accommodate high tourist demand. There is a lack of permanent facilities for trekking (campsites, tent pads, toilets) that results in some very primitive conditions. The tourism experience and its impact on the countryside could both be improved with some permanent infrastructure. Despite this, the trip to Bhutan and the trek were amazing experiences that all of us will never forget.
Amanda Burke LivingstoneMay 22- June 03,2017
Hi Anand – Thanks for reaching out! Overall we were overwhelmingly pleased with our experience with Windhorse. Our tour with Yonten was seamless. From the time we were picked up at the airport, to changing our trekking itinerary after our biggest hiking day, to finding us great pizza, then finally dropping us off at the airport – the experience was wonderful.
Yonten was very accommodating. We came in wanting to find our Uncle’s tsa-tsas in one of the caves on the way up to Tiger’s Nest so after 7 days in the mountains we asked Yonten to take us up to Tiger’s Nest before the crowds at 6am to avoid the crowds so we could have a quiet moment and hopefully a better chance of finding his ashes. Everything worked out perfectly and Yonten was really committed to making sure we found what we were looking for. We feel like we were really well paired with our guide.
The trekking experience was above and beyond what we expected. The team was on top of snacks, meals, our tents, hot water bottles – everything that made being in the mountains a lot more comfortable than we’re all used to. After our toughest trekking day we realized we probably we’re up to have another day of really tough trekking after it (which was on our schedule) and Yonten worked with the trekking team to make sure we had options that we were happy with.
We can’t thank you enough. Our trip to Bhutan was incredibly special for a number of reasons and I’m sure we’ll be back. Windhorse gave us a fantastic introduction to Bhutan – Yonten in particular.
Katie AnnNov 20-27,2016.
I traveled with 3 other adult family members to Bhutan in November 2016. We did a mix of cultural tourism and trekking in Thimpu, Paro, and Punakha over 7 days.
We are so glad we found Windhorse Tours in the Lonely Planet guide. We can’t recommend our guide, Yen Den and driver Mr. Jimmy enough. They were both incredibly kind, generous, and hospitable. Yen Den’s English was excellent, and we had great and inspiring conversations about life in Bhutan. The man is a walking encyclopedia of information. He can tell you anything about anything in Bhutan. We were in awe of how much he knew, which only enriched our trip and gave us deeper perspective on everything we were experiencing. Without that perspective, I think the trip would have been much duller. Everything he taught us about Bhutan only made us fall in love with the country more. We were also impressed by Mr. Jimmy’s driving skills. His navigation, especially of the sometimes hair-raising underdeveloped roads, was expert. We also have to sing the praises of our trekking staff. We chose a very cold time of year to camp, but our staff was nothing short of gracious, always in good spirits, and making sure we had hot tea, food, and warm water bottles for our sleeping bags.
Windhorse built a wonderful itinerary for us based on our interests. Some days we needed a little more flexibility, making minor alterations to our schedule, which Yen Den and Mr. Jimmy were more than willing to accommodate.
There was so much more to see in Bhutan. You could really spend weeks there. If we’re ever able to make it back, perhaps to check out a local festival, we will most definitely be using Windhorse. We know that they will 100% take care of us. In the meantime, we will be recommending them to all of our friends and family!
Oscar LMay 20 - 23, 2016
Dear Anand, We are back in our daily routines for sure, it’s been hectic but at least I have recommended Wind horse to two friends in Dhaka who are looking to go to Bhutan in the near future, So yes, we were very pleased with our trip and grateful that you guys were flexible enough to change plans along the way. It is not always that you want to follow a certain schedule to 100 %.
If we planned the trip ourselves fully we would probably have gone for a wider range of food, but the last day you accommodated our wish to eat momos which we really enjoyed!
So thank you for being flexible and listening in to how our preferences developed over the course of our trip. We hope to return to Bhutan and look forward to avail your services during future adventures too! 🙂