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The Oriental Caravan's 

Postcard from Bhutan...

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bhutan itinerary

 dancing archers video

Christmas 2002

Dear All,

The Oriental Caravan has just returned from a truly magical journey through the unspoilt and enigmatic  kingdom of Bhutan. There, far beyond the snowy folds of the Himalayas, we found a country of spectacular landscapes and overwhelmingly friendly people - the last place on Earth where Tibetan Buddhism as a national religion is able to flourish freely. 

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Schoolgirls in Gangtey

Landscape near Chorten Kora

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Monks at Trongsa Dzong (a Dzong is a monastic fortress)

Farmer from the Bumthang valley 


" I am not so much concerned about the Gross National Product as I am about the Gross National Happiness" 

                                                        - remark attributed to Bhutan's king, Jigme Wangchuk


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Caravaneers assembled at Pele La pass

Sue and young monks at Wangdue Phodrang

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Trongsa Dzong, mightiest in Bhutan

Mt Kangchenjunga (lit. Mountain of the Five Great Snow Jewels) as seen on the flight to Paro airport

Since opening up to the outside world in the 1970's Bhutan has deliberately kept foreign visitor numbers to a minimum. This enlightened policy has helped protect Bhutan's unique culture, a culture which has in turn, thanks to Buddhism's respect for all forms of life, helped preserve the country's natural environment, and in particular its fauna.
From Nepal's capital Kathmandu we took a plane to Bhutan's only airport, Paro, on a short mountain flight considered to be the most spectacular in the world. Making them appear almost close enough to touch the plane flew parallel to some of the highest mountains in the world including Mts Everest (8848m), Lhotse (8501m), Makalu (8463m), Cho Oyu (8103m) and Kangchenjunga (8586m). Eventually, as we approached Bhutan, the beautiful Mt. Jomolhari came into view, the country's most sacred mountain (and a TOC trek destination for 2004!). Landing in Paro was like landing in another world.

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Walking through lush forest to the Phephe La Pass in Bumthang

Girl with wooden camera, Taktshang hermitage

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Girl near Kunzangdrak Goemba (goemba is Bhutanese for monastery), Tang Valley

Woodcarver in the Phobjika Valley

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Trekking in the Bumthang Valley

The Oriental Caravan campsite near Ngang Lhakang

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Kurjey Lhakang temple in Bumthang, famed for its body imprint of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava - 'Lotus Born') bringer of Buddhism to Bhutan

Looking out towards the Tang Valley

After exploring Paro and the country's sleepy capital, Thimpu, The Oriental Caravan travelled east towards Bumthang. There, deep within  Bhutan's cultural heartland, we were blessed by fine late Autumn weather which provided the ideal conditions for some great hiking. 

We also made the short hike up to Taktshang, an ancient cave hermitage perched precariously high up on a steep cliff near Paro. Guru Rinpoche, the bringer of Buddhism to Bhutan, is said to have meditated here for three months after arriving on the back of a flying tiger.

At the end of our trek in Bumthang we were privileged to meet anthropologist and world authority on Bhutan,  Francoise Pommaret and were very kindly guided by her around Ugyen Chholing Palace - and given a rare insight into the complexities of Bhutanese life. Thanks in great degree to Ms Pommaret's hard work and dedication the once neglected Palace is now a remarkably well-presented museum of rural Bhutanese life. 


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Taktshang (Tiger's Nest) hermitage - badly damaged by fire in 1998 the temple buildings have now been almost completely restored

Bhutanese boots

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The Wheel of Life - wall relief in Punakha Dzong 

Hiking up to Taktshang

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Sangay and Peter -  our guide and driver

Francoise Pommaret 

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Archery target - to learn more about Bhutanese archery and view a short (and entertaining!) video of dancing and singing archers CLICK HERE

Prayer flag and pole

En route to Bumthang we spent one night at Gangtey in the Phobjika valley. This area is winter home to the rare and endangered black-necked crane and watching (and hearing!) them 'regroup' at dusk on the valley's wetland floor was an unforgettable experience. In Spring the birds return to their summer home in Western Tibet - the only other place they are to be found is at Caohai Lake in China's Guizhou province. This strikingly elegant waterfowl is highly respected in Bhutan and the subject of numerous folk tales and village songs. 

That's about it for now. Its been a great year for all aboard The Oriental Caravan. We hope you've enjoyed the e- Postcards. 

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and many Happy Travels for the New Year!

Best wishes,

from Phil and all aboard The Oriental Caravan

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Bhutan's National dress (the gho for men, kira for women) is compulsory

An old lady threshing barley near Paro 

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Nepalese style stupa en route to Bumthnang

Young monks at Wangdue Phodrang Dzong


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Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon itinerary

Next journey :  17th November 2003


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             Revised and last updated: November 20th 2013. Links