We thought it might be a good idea to check in with you, now that we’re back from our trip. We are still many hours out of sync and a little jetlagged, but thought we should communicate while it is still fresh in our minds.
All in all, it was a most worthwhile trip and we are very glad we did it.
Perhaps we should divide our comments into two sections: the Bhutan part and the India part, and give you our comments together and as individuals where they differ. Marina is writing this first and John will add his comments in italics.
As you well know, the quality of guidance in an unfamiliar country is crucial to the experience. In Bhutan, we were very pleased with the choice of BTS and especially of guide Kunzang Namgye. He was not only full of relevant information, but he was responsive and extremely personable as well. Towards the end of the trip, he introduced us to his wife and we feel we have made a connection with them that will continue. (They own the only children’s bookstore in Bhutan, and there is a project afoot for Marina to write and illustrate a book for Bhutanese children.) The car was comfortable, the driver extremely competent. (I mentioned the night before we were to leave for Punakah that I wished I’d brought a pillow to ease the stress on my back over bumpy roads. The next morning Kunzang had brought a perfect one from his home.) I am very glad that we went as far as Bumthang, even given the long and sometimes rough road. It was interesting to see the change in the landscape, and we felt that we were getting much more of a feeling of the country than we would have had if we were to remain in the Paro-Thimpu area.
We now know why very few people travel in India “off season.” On one level, it’s very pleasing to be able to visit the very popular Buddhist sites without always being part of a huge crowd. Our visit to the Taj Mahal on a Sunday was a small taste of what a trip on-season might be like, although the crowd we experienced was mostly all Indian families. But the heat was very oppressive and although it didn’t interfere with my visiting the places I’d hoped to see, John found it challenging.
That first day at the Taj Mahal was very good. The car was comfortable, the driver competent in driving, if not exactly fluent in English. But the guide we were assigned once we reached Agra was excellent and made the visit memorable. (Gopal sends his best regards to you.) The fact that our Delhi-Paro flight was diverted to Kathmandu by weather means we lost a day in Bhutan . . . but these are the risks of travel in that area. By coming late to the Paro Festival, we happened to arrive just as the King and Queen were leaving, and we were standing about three feet away as they stopped to chat with one of their subjects; an unexpected delight.
On our end-of-trip return, we had an equally fine guide in Varanasi and felt well taken-care of there. In fact, we were expecting to find our own way from the International to the Domestic terminals in Delhi but were very pleasantly surprised to be met by the same young man from your local office who met us on our first arrival. He said he simply told his boss we were elderly people who shouldn’t be left to find our own way on the shuttle. The guides in Kushingara and Rajgir were there, and they recited their speeches very well. The guide in Bodhgaya was much better and quickly determined that our interests were not just general touring. He made a point of showing us the varied national monasteries and temples, and was very informative. We understood that the driver we were to have had was unable to do the trip. His wife suffered an accident the evening we arrived and the substitute was an excellent driver but, as in Delhi, not very intelligible in English.
We would certainly recommend Third Eye Travel as the starting point for anyone interested in visiting Bhutan and India.
Hope to see you at the Himalayan Fair.