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Murray & Debbie S 2

Drukyul Walking tour with Tamshing Festival from Oct 03 – Oct 16,2011

Hi Jambay,
We were in India for 10 days after we left Bhutan so we are just barely getting back to normal. Our sleep patterns are now only about 2 hrs out of whack. I got up at 5am this morning and keep trying to sleep till 7. The good thing is I get a lot done before most people are even out of bed. I was composing a review of Windhorse when Debbie received your email so the vibes must have been in the air on both sides of the world.

Overall we had a great time in Bhutan. Windhorse, 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 ever been involved with (Debbie and I are somewhat independent and tend to find our own way), 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 I could look out the window of the van and see straight down 400M. 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. Simply by asking a monk, with whom which he could identify because he was once in the monk’s shoes himself, to show us his shared room we were invited to visit a young monk’s apartment. 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.

Murray & Debbie S 4In general, we found the accommodation in line with our expectations and completely acceptable. 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 I am accustomed to in the places we frequent.

The first hotel we stayed at set a very high standard. Hotel Druk in Phuentsholing was a very classy place. The reception staff was efficient, if a little bit formal, but nice enough. The room was well maintained and immaculate. The beds were extremely comfortable. The restaurant staff went a long way to help find Debbie food she could eat. This is a very good choice for your guests.

The Tenzinling Hotel, in Paro, is also very good. It is a bit remote from town but we were so bagged each night that going out in the evening was out of the question. Although simply furnished the room was very spacious which made for a pleasant stay. It was very clean. The staff was doting and took very good care of us. It was very quiet in the evening which made for good sleep. The buffet was good and different enough each night to make the meals interesting.
The Dochula Resort is slightly tattered but still a nice place to stay. The setting is outstanding and waking up to a view of the mountains is not to be missed. The bed was a bit hard but we slept well. The food was only OK, this is an area where the hotel could improve. The rooms were clean. Again the staff was super.

The guest house Hotel Gakiling in the Phobjikha Valley was the most ‘rustic’ place we stayed. Mr. Ugan had given us the heads up so we were prepared. If the accommodation left something to be desired there were a couple of plusses to the place. First, the staff was very nice and not so formal as other resorts, I found this pleasant, I personally do not believe it is necessary to be stuffy and do a good job at guest service. They served the best food we had eaten to that point in the tour, and the communal atmosphere of the dining/meeting room was great for meeting other travellers and swapping experiences and stories. I did notice the construction going on and presume the accommodation was being upgraded. The valley was most serene and for the sake of a little roughing it, this location should not be left off the itinerary.

The Mountain Lodge in Jakar, was overall, our favourite place. The biggest issue was the availability of hot water. If you did not have a shower at exactly the right time, and that time varied each day, having a hot shower was not possible. They were at least not cold so we didn’t have too much to complain about. The wood stove heaters could be a problem in the middle of winter but it was October and we did not have any issues with a cold room. The hotel was very quiet; we were able to sleep through the night easily. The internet at the hotel was the most consistent we experienced on the trip. The food was excellent and the staff dealt with Debbie’s food allergies very well. The rooms were cleaned each day and although it was not necessary we were provided with clean towels. We found the staff at this hotel to be particularly attentive, they knew us on the first morning we were around and learned our idiosyncrasies quickly. I really liked the 4 young people that worked the dining area at this hotel. Use this hotel on every one of your trips that extend into Bumthang!!!
The best feature of the Tashi Ninjay Guest House, in Trongsa, is the view, which was worth the price of admission. There is one thing that I did not like much and that was I could not find a fire exit. If a fire blocked the one exit, the windows were far too high to jump from and the exit at the end of the hall had no stair to the ground. The rooms were quite ordinary, but provided all the essentials. The food was in our opinion substandard and needs work.
In the Punakha hotel, the Y.T., we were boarded in a palatial suite. Again the view was outstanding. We had enough room to hold a party. Although the beds were twin beds, each was big enough to serve as a double. The rooms were very clean. The owner took special interest in the restaurant and floated from table to table greeting the guests personally. The food was noticeably good. The owner and restaurant staff were very good to make Debbie a special breakfast for the morning we hiked near the Dochula Pass.

The Phuentsho Pelri Hotel in Thimphu, is a high end hotel, that we found a bit pretentious. The shortcomings; first, they charge way too much for the use of the internet, to use the business centre, the charge was 6 Nu per minute, the internet café 50M from the front entrance charges 1 Nu per minute; and our bed was very hard, it was by far the hardest bed we experienced during our stay in Bhutan, that said our travel companions said they had a very comfortable bed. On the good side, it is centrally located and everything we needed during our 3 days in Thimpu was very handy. The rooms are well appointed; the furniture was appropriate and nice. Even though the hotel was located in the shopping area and there was a ‘club’ adjacent, it was very quiet after 10pm and we slept well. The heat worked and we used it for an hour each evening to take the chill out of the air before we went to sleep. There was more than ample hot water for our showers and we quite enjoyed the luxury while it was available. The restaurant was excellent. The food was good and the head waiter was extremely conscientious. He was diligent in finding food for Debbie and when our travel mate, Ralph, was feeling ill and did not show up for dinner the waiter put together a meal of bland food and took it up to Ralph’s room so he could at least try to eat something. That action was far beyond anything we expected.

Although in general I 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. We did get to try Ema Datshi a couple of times and although I could not eat great quantities I did enjoy the opportunity and the challenge. The buffet food was pretty standard and was as far as I could make someone’s idea of what tourists should like. I did find comfort in the standard eggs and toast for breakfast. When I was in China I could not face what was put out for breakfast and it was hard to go through the first part of the day without eating adequately. There were a couple of restaurants we ate in where the food was not up to standard. Both were in Thimpu, the food was at best, ordinary. I do not think any of the four of us enjoyed either place.

The walks we went on were a needed break from riding in the car for so many hours. Both Debbie and I 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 I do believe 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 2 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. It would be good to include as much alternative entertainment as possible. We went to Bhutan in October in order to take in the festivals. After visiting two different festival sites each for the better part of a day I would suggest that 2 half day visits is quite enough to get the idea of what they are about. Unfortunately, as outsiders we are not able to discern the subtleties of the performance and a lot of the reason for the dance is lost on us. After the 3 rd or 4th dance of the day I had had enough. Don’t get me wrong I would not have missed the opportunity to attend those functions, it is just I do not have the same commitment as a local person might have. One of the highlights of the tour for me 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.

I hope the comments I have made will be considered constructive. Any deficiencies I have mentioned had only a VERY MINOR affect on the entire trip. I do 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. I will be telling all my travelling friend’s to visit Bhutan and I will be passing on the contact information of Windhorse Travel. You folks have been stellar from the first time we contacted you until the email we received the other day.

If you want to get an idea of impressions we had of Bhutan as they accumulated you could read our blog that we did daily as we travelled. You can find it at http://havecarryonwilltravel.com.

Hope you can enjoy our musings.
Tashi DelekMurray & Debbie S 5

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