First of all let us say that our trip was a huge success for all of us. Having been on tours with bigger companies I would say the main advantages in using your smaller company are:
You personalized our trip for us and changed things as we asked for them. We got to do what we wanted to do after discussing options with you - the expert in these countries. And your last minute restructuring of the Bhutan trip when government officials preparing for the King’s wedding preempted all of the lodging in Punakha was excellent – we really enjoyed our stay at the top of the pass in the Dhochu La Resort.
You were right there for us during the trip as well helping to solve problems, specifically intervening in a positive way when we realized that our Tibet tour guide was not adequate. In fact having the local head of your company, Taschi Norbu, along for the last day of the tour was a huge benefit. He gave us an extraordinary tour explaining so much as we went along. He was friendly and helpful and offered information. We only wish he could have been with us the whole time. He is a treasure like Ratna and Vishnu.
This trip was so much more real than others we have been on. We got to see the real countries, not glossed over for the tourist. We saw the good and the bad.
We felt like we stayed in the best possible places. While they were sometimes not as clean as Americans prefer, we also went to some places that many tours would not consider.
We loved being just four people. We got to ask all the questions we wanted and spend as much or little time on things as we wanted. Our guides in Bhutan and Nepal understood our desire for knowledge about the culture, government, and religion of each country and gave us clear, detailed responses to our queries.
We were so lucky to be on the trip in October even if we did miss the rhododendrons of spring. Every region was harvesting and it was a treat to watch and smell. But the best was to be in Tibet in October after crops were in and to see the many, many people from the countryside who were making their pilgrimage to Lhasa. We couldn't stay away from the sights of the Barkhor and those beautiful faces so we visited it 3 or 4 times.
We loved how warmly and personally we were treated by Ratna - Bhutan guide, Suman – Bhutan driver and Vishnu – Nepal guide. They each made our trip so special.
We loved the walk to the Rinchengang village and Chimi Lakhang Temple in Bhutan. The smell of the ripe rice was intoxicating and the cut rice was laid to dry in beautiful patterns. We also got to see a woman roasting rice and got to taste it. What a treat!
Tiger's Nest was an incredible experience, surprisingly moving and very beautiful as well as challenging. We did make it all the way to Paradise and are so glad we did.
Now for some suggestions:
The only day we wish we could have eliminated was the second day in Kathmandu. The Everest flight was phenomenal (a bit cut short because of time schedules and fog at the airport but still beautiful). However, we thought that Patan and Boudnatha Stupa were too similar to the day before. When added to the number of temples we saw during the whole trip, we felt we could have skipped one or two of those as redundant. But not the Bungmati Village. We realize these are cultural treasures that many will want to see – just not us as we had our fill of Kathmandu.
Everyone loved our visit to the Himalaya Hotel in Lhasa for the cultural dance show by the Tibet Shol Opera Troupe. The food there was extremely interesting - very much a taste of Tibetan food. The show was excellent particularly at the end when they showed costumes from various areas of the country. We had been seeing them on our numerous visits to the Barkhor and loved the explanation by region.
Our trip on the last day of the tour outside of Lhasa was another not to be missed highlight. What an interesting place - the Drak Yerpa Hermitage! And our first chance to see a sky burial site that we had read about.
Your email explained the problem you face in obtaining guides in Tibet. Perhaps you should be a little more specific in your pre-travel itinerary notes about how to evaluate guides during the first day or two of their tours and how strongly your clients should complain if not satisfied. For example, since our guides were so good in Bhutan and Nepal, we did not understand that you were required to use the Chinese syndicate system for hiring guides in Tibet and that you needed to take the guide assigned unless we experienced problems. We did experience difficulty understanding our guide during the first two days and told Taschi Norbu of the problem. You warned us that the Tibetan guides might not be as fluent in English so we did not demand a change. And during those first two days, we failed to ask as many questions of our guide because his answers were short and lacking in detail. Therefore, we really didn’t appreciate the fact that the guide did not understand our questions until our road trip. And unlike the guides in Bhutan and Nepal, he did not explain things as we traveled – instead he talked to the driver or slept. It didn’t take me long to realize that one of us needed to sit in the front passenger seat so we could see better and keep him awake. Finally, we told you of the issues with the Lhasa Kitchen as the lunch place chosen by our guide and the failure of the guide to monitor our service or leave the restaurant when our food failed to arrive in a timely manner. Your management team in Lhasa needs to find several other locations near the Barkhor with decent food for future clients and insist the local guides use those facilities. And the food at our restaurant at the Kyichu was much better than the Lhasa Kitchen. So we hope can find a way to help future travelers understand the issues you face in Tibet and how they should communicate with your on-site management team (what to say and how strongly they should complain) to quickly resolve guide problems.
We found the rooms on the higher floors of the Kyichu Hotel in Lhasa to be cleaner and farther away from the smoky courtyard. The smoke smells and incense were way more tolerable on the higher floors. But the location of the Kyichu is outstanding as we could walk to the Barkhor, the Bank of China and the supermarket. And the staff there, particularly one of the women, couldn’t have been more welcoming.
We loved Chitwan - the rhinos, the people, the walks, the birds, the dugout canoe, the alligators, the jungle and especially the elephants. It would be a wonderful thing if the guide there could have a camera and printer so that someone could take pictures of people on the elephants and sell them to the riders, just like they do at the ski hill for skiers. We don't know if that is feasible because of the poverty of the country but thought it would be a great way for someone to make some money. We know if anyone can figure out how to do it, it would be you. All your friends worked hard to make us feel welcome. We really felt like we were special friends.
We loved Sanctuary Lodge. The walk there was so hot and then there was this lovely sanctuary and the nicest young man with a cool drink. Everyone there was especially hospitable and kind. Vishnu took us on the most wonderful hike into the foothills. We had beautiful views and an exciting walk back down through the rice and barley fields. We didn't want to spend a lot of time trekking but that hike was a perfect mini-trek and a lovely experience.
The resort at Dhochu La Resort was another great experience. While our hot water didn't work at first, two lovely girls came right away to fix it. They finally told us to turn on the cold water in the sink to get hot water in the shower, laughing all the time. The room was so charming with all the hangings covering the inner doorways and the views of the Himalayas were exquisite. The best surprise of all was the food. One of the best dinners of all time for us. We are so glad that we didn't stay in Punakha.
We were so fortunate to be in Punakha right before the royal wedding. The dzong was in beautiful shape and we enjoyed watching the preparations for the wedding.
Finally a question. We took thousands of pictures but have a couple hundred that are our favorites. Do you want copies for you website? If so what is the best way to get them to you?
Thanks so much
Karen and Alan S.
Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal Tour, Oct 2011, Colorado, USA