“No amount of stopping, wandering roadside to observe the wildlife and plants, was ever too much trouble for our guide and driver.…”
Bhutan has been on our radar for a long time. As we are usually independent grassroots travellers it was important for us to ensure that any tour met our needs.
After seeing ATI travels advert in the Dominion Post, we decided to contact Joji to ascertain what ATI had to offer. An initial meeting was held where we expressed our requirements, especially the need for a guide who had an interest and knowledge of flora and fauna, would be prepared to flexible with the set itinerary and would be prepared to undertake a couple of day treks. Obviously, all the key main cultural sights were also included at Thimpu, Paro, Punakha and Trongsa. Our trip spanned 16 days, and we went from West to East, which is rarely visited, finishing in Trashigang and then flying back to Paro. As flights can be cancelled or delayed due to weather, it pays to allow a little leeway around them at the end of the trip.
Joji came up with an itinerary which basically covered all those facets. As there was only the two of, it was customised to be tackled at a pace that suited us. That is something which is not possible if we decided to go with an organised tour, though costs are quite comparable over the two options.
No amount of stopping, wandering roadside to observe the wildlife and plants, was ever too much trouble for our guide and driver. Our guide provided us with a bird list, which we filled in daily and had specialised books with him for reference on plants, butterflies and rhododendrons. They were both always courteous, willing to help and punctual. Early morning starts were scheduled when wildlife is most active giving us the opportunity to stop frequently. The walks along the roadside were particularly of interest. We even got them into “ momo “ mode after a few days, with the guide seeking out local restaurants for us to enjoy this delicious snack. Hotel food was a little bit westernised, but again our guide tried to ensure that if local variety and spiciness were available, such dishes would be also brought from the kitchen. All accommodation was excellent and easily above our normal levels of service, even though we were only at the three-star end of the spectrum.
I know that Joji was in regular contact with the Tour office in Bhutan and also checked in with our guide on a regular basis. The overall planning was faultless, and the trip far exceeded our expectations. No major changes were necessary though I am sure that if there had been any issues, they would have been sorted straight away.
When considering highlights, it is difficult to pick one out as there were so many. The dzongs at Punakha and Trongsa are both spectacular, the walk through the village of Ura was divine and the changes in vegetation that one experienced going from sub-tropical vegetation to conifer forests over the period of a few hours made for interesting viewing. The scenery was always changing. We believe the need to have some flexibility in the itinerary allowed us to gain the maximum from our trip.
We would not hesitate to recommend ATI Travel to anyone contemplating a trip to Bhutan.
Kapiti Coast, New Zealand
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