When we first started considering a visit to one of the Himalayan countries, I contacted several birding friends who I suspected had made trips to that region. Sure enough, one woman reported that she had traveled to Bhutan twice and strongly recommended that country. She further recommended the tour company she had used, Bhutan Birding and Heritage Travel.
I heeded her advice and contacted Hishey Tshering the owner of the tour company. Over the next five months I must have exchanged 25 e-mails with Hishey seeking detailed information about the country, logistics, wildlife and related subject. His responses were always prompt, accurate and very helpful. Also, I could not help but notice there was never a single error in spelling or grammar! This is simply remarkable for a person who does not have English as their first language!
Upon Hishey’s recommendation, we flew to Delhi, then on to Guwahati in Assam Province. There after a night in a first class hotel, we were met by our guide, Sonam Dorji, who with an Indian driver took us into southeast Bhutan at Samdrup Jongkhar. This was the beginning of an exciting and rewarding fourteen day trip across the country from the east all the way to Paro in the west.
Dorji turned out to be more than one could reasonably expect as a guide. Yes he knew his birds and yes, he knew exactly where to find them .And of course he could spot birds in thick cover where we could not find them. But he was a virtual human Wikipedia of knowledge about just about any subject where we had questions: culture, history, dress, architecture, the environment, the works. There was hardly a single question for which he did not have the answer. This made for fascinating conversation. But more that all these, he had a raucous sense of humor which allowed us to josh with each other even when things were otherwise boring.
Our driver, Penjor, was a friend of Dorji’s who is a freelance driver. He supplemented Dorji in spotting birds because he has an excellent pair of eyes and a keen interest in helping. As a driver, Penjor was an expert. The East-West “highway” in Bhutan is hardly an interstate. It is a twisty-turny road, unpaved in most places. It is also exceptionally dangerous if one is not paying attention. Penjor was ever alert and we felt safe with him behind the wheel even in the worst driving situations..
The tour itself was extremely well planned and organized. Hishey left nothing to chance. We wanted to see some of the most important cultural sites and we did: the Dzong at Punakha, the 108 stupas at Dochu La, the elaborate dancers at the spring festival in Paro and the giant Buddha overlooking Thimphu. We stayed in beautifully appointed lodges where we could relax comfortably after a long day in the field. We enjoyed a sumptuous lunch with Hishey himself when we arrived in Thimphu.
We can heartily recommend this tour company for anyone contemplating a visit to Bhutan. Hishey and his people really know how to treat a tourist like every tourist would like to be treated but often is not.