Bhutan Through the Eyes of One of Our Own
Nikhita Ambre is the Expeditions Manager at Nomadic Expeditions. She spends her days planning spectacular and memorable trips for clients, but when it’s time for her own travels, where does a professional travel planner go? She looks within her own company, of course! Nikhita, along with her husband and two young children, traveled to Bhutan with Nomadic Expeditions. “Bhutan is known to be the happiest place on earth and I wanted to experience it for myself…to see what it really means to live in the land of happiness,” she explains. Nikhita offers us a peek into her experience below.
Q: What did you expect and what did you discover?
A: I expected to see beautiful valleys, meet amazing people, learn about Buddhism, and sample local cuisine, but Bhutan certainly exceeded our expectations. Bhutan is a magical sheltered place hidden in between mountains. Bhutan exudes charm, mystery, and excitement with thick coniferous and deciduous forests, colorful prayer flags, dzongs, monasteries, and rice and paddy fields dotting the valleys and the countryside. The landscape and the way of life have remained unchanged for decades. The isolation of Bhutan from western influence and tourists and their strong effort towards conserving the environment has helped preserve their spiritual and cultural values that makes it a special place on earth. It was a privilege to be able to explore this mythical kingdom with my family and the access to off the beaten path destinations and interactions with Bhutanese that only Nomadic Expeditions offers were truly memorable.
Q: You traveled to Bhutan with two young children. Is Bhutan a family-friendly destination?
A: I traveled with my husband and our two children (4 and 18 months). My 4-year-old son Neel enjoyed riding a horse and climbing up to Tigers Nest. It was rather impressive to see him climb up to the top on his own! He enjoyed talking to many other travelers that we met along the way. He also enjoyed crossing the suspension bridge over Po Chu River near the Punakha Dzong, spotting a takin, Bhutan’s national animal, at the Zoo, as well as visiting a local family in Paro.
Our guide Chencho and driver Gette were most patient with our kids. Local Bhutanese are the most gentle and friendly people I may have ever come across. It is not easy to be in a restaurant with an 18 month old and the local staff made us feel at home and took extra care of us and tried to entertain the kids during our meals.
Q: What are some engaging activities while visiting Bhutan?
A: There are many activities for kids that include moderate to light hiking, rafting in Punakha at Mo Chu and Po Chu rivers, visiting local families to experience their culture, and visits to the black-necked crane center. Some resorts, such as Gangtey Goenpa, also organize private archery lessons.
Q: What were your favorite moments?
A: There are so many! Climbing the Takhtsang Monastery was definitely the highlight of our trip. I was surprised to see my 4-year-old make it to the top!
Visiting the National Institute for Zorig Chusum in Thimphu, known to teach 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan, and seeing a class in progress was a wonderful experience. Visitors have an instant access to classrooms where students learn to master Bhutan’s traditional artwork such as weaving, painting, woodcarving, gilding, embroidery, and sculpting, etc. The school was built in an effort to preserve Bhutanese culture.
We spotted many black-necked cranes in the Phobjikha Valley. The cranes arrive in the valley sometime in late October and are known to circumnavigate the Gangtey Monastery three times before they land in to the valley.
We also visited one of the tallest Buddha statues gilded in gold in Thimphu. The construction is still ongoing at the site but this is considered to be the tallest sitting Buddha in the world. The views from this location are spectacular.
Another unique experience our Nomadic Expeditions guide arranged was a visit to a three-story local family farmhouse in Paro, which offered a glimpse inside traditional Bhutanese lifestyle.
Q: Did you purchase any unique mementos?
A: There are many opportunities to shop in Thimphu and Paro where souvenir shops sit side by side and occupy an entire street. Some unique finds are rattan baskets, prayer wheels, beautiful thangka paintings, and silver jewelry.
Make a quick stop at the post office in Thimphu and get postal stamps with your picture on them. These stamps can be used to mail postcards back home to your family and friends!
Q: What surprised you the most about Bhutan?
A: The people, valleys, mountains, and architecture were captivating. We felt completely safe at all times.
Q: What are your recommendations to travelers considering Bhutan?
A: Bhutan is a great destination for both cultural and adventure seekers. Plan your trip well in advance, as Bhutan is known for its “low volume and high value” tourism, which means a restricted number of tourists are allowed to enter the country each year. There are limited flights from Bangkok, Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Bagdogra, Dhaka, Kathmandu, and Singapore. Hotels and flights tend to sell out well in advance, especially during a festival.
The views of the Himalayan mountain range including Mount Everest are the best when traveling through Delhi. Check with your airport check-in staff if a seat on the left side of the plane can be assigned to you, as the views are spectacular from the left.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for families visiting Bhutan?
A: We opted for a cultural trip as opposed to a trekking journey, which made it easier and enjoyable with kids. Cultural trips have a slower pace and are better suited to families with younger children.
Allow your kids to acclimate to higher altitude. Allow at least two days at each location, so you have enough time to explore. If you plan to travel all the way to Bumthang, plan to return back to Paro via a domestic flight. The roads in Bhutan tend to have a lot of bends and curves and the drive back from Bumthang is very long (10-12 hours). If you or your children suffer from motion sickness, please carry appropriate medication to ensure a pleasant drive. Allow time for delays along the way as road-widening project is currently underway and certain portions of the road may be shut down for construction.