I have travelled to Europe, Australia and most parts of Asia… but none can compare to the natural beauty of Bhutan. Travelling to Bhutan is akin to embarking on a (spiritual) journey of self-discovery. Before my journey started, I was disillusioned with life – so much suffering and fighting going on… is there such a thing as happiness on earth? I asked myself. And the answer is “yes!”. In Bhutan, smiles are aplenty. Visit a Dzong, and cheeky and friendly monks will greet you. Visit a school and the kids will talk and play with you like you are an old friend… at a restaurant, it’s common for the proprietors to chat with you while you enjoy a delicious meal of chillies, cheeses and fresh seasonal vegetables. And in the villages, the locals will happily pose for pictures for you. Yes, Bhutan is indeed a Kingdom of Happiness! I’ve learned a lot on this journey and made new friends. I now look at life differently, more confident and hopeful. Bhutan has given me a renewed sense of hope and happiness. I want to take this opportunity to thank Keys to Bhutan, especially my guide and friend, Anan, for making my Bhutan journey such a wonderful and unforgettable experience… I will definitely be back! Andrew, Singapore
Unforgettable Experience
Bhutan was originally recommended to Jeanette by her yoga teacher in Phuket, who had spent a month in the country traveling around. I recognized the name Bhutan from having watched the Michael Palin series ‘Himalaya’ and so it didn’t take much convincing for me to want to go. I set about researching Bhutan on the internet and very quickly understood that we couldn’t travel independently in the country but needed to book with a travel company. We chose Keys to Bhutan for a number of reasons. Principally the professional look of their website, which gave me confidence that we were dealing with a company that was professional and had an eye for detail, secondly the itinerary and amazing slideshow on the site for the ‘Castles in the sky’ tour which looked exactly what we wanted. Many friends and family were sent the link for the tour and we looked through the slideshow a number of times over the weeks before we traveled, keeping our enthusiasm for the trip. Anan kept in close email contact with us throughout the lead up to our trip, answering our questions and tailoring the itinerary to any specific places that we wanted to visit. During our time in Bhutan both Anan and Gelay, who own Keys to Bhutan, as well as Raju, another member of the staff guided us. We found everyone to be helpful and attentive ensuring that we received a personal service. Understandably, in a country like Bhutan the quality of the accommodation can be quite basic, unless you opt to stay in the $1000 a night Aman resorts! But the focus of such a trip is certainly on the stunning scenery and architecture rather then where you rest your weary head of a night. The local people were all amazingly friendly and genuinely loved to have foreign tourists experiencing their land and culture. I dressed in a traditional Bhutanese warriors costume at Taktstang, much to the amusement of the local staff, and played a game of ‘kuru’ the Butanese darts game with the hospitable manager of the hotel in Jakar. Needless to say, despite his encouraging remarks, I was clearly a beginner, putting any local wildlife in more danger of the giant sized darts than the target ever was. These experiences, along with meeting Her Majesty, Queen Ashi Tshering Pem Wangchuck, whilst on our hike to the ‘Tiger’s Nest’ certainly made our time in Bhutan memorable. They say that you can’t take a bad photo in Bhutan. We have many incredible images of both the people and the landscape. I think that Bhutan is the most photogenic country that I have visited to date and certainly Anan and Gelay are useful guides for any budding photographer as they are both keen on photography and have taken many of the postcards on sale throughout the country. We became used to flipping over postcards in shops and seeing one or other of their names on the back. We would happily recommend KeystoBhutan to anyone else thinking of traveling to a country which is still the road less traveled in comparison to so many other worldwide destinations. Our only hope is that one-day we can return their hospitality and act as tour guides for them in the UK. Matt & Jeanette
Professional
Anan, you are the best tour guide in Bhutan… Thank you for taking us to so many special and unique places. We have had an absolutely wonderful time and we will treasure these memories for ever. We look forward to sharing our photographs and stories with our friends and encourage them to visit through keys to Bhutan. We look forward to welcoming you to Sydney soon. Margaret, Miriam, Janette & Angelika Sydney Bush Walking Club, Sydney
Best Tour Guide in Bhutan
Keys to Bhutan’s well-designed and user friendly website caught my attention in the initial stages of planning my trip. After making some enquiries I chose them over other tour companies for their appreciation of my interests and needs as a photographer and their willingness to guide me as an individual traveler. It’s always a challenge to learn something firsthand about a culture in the short space of a couple of weeks – never mind to try to convey that in a photograph, but I found my guide Anan’s knowledge of both photography and Bhutan really made the difference to my experience. As a guide, Anan ticked all the boxes. His English is excellent, he was interesting and knowledgeable on a wide range of topics from Buddhism to Berlin, and I thoroughly enjoyed his company. And because it’s often the small exchanges with locals which teach more about a culture than history books, I appreciated the insight and humors he added to discussions as much as the photographic opportunities he was able to facilitate. Traveling in Bhutan was unexpectedly easy. My trip was tailored to suit my needs, accommodation throughout was charming and comfortable, and the scenery, sights and people beautiful. Thank you, Keys To Bhutan, for an unforgettable trip! Rebekah Bowman, Scotland (Photography tour)
Individual Photographer
As we alighted from the plane onto the tarmac of one of the smallest international airports in the world, a picture-perfect sight greeted us. A quaint airport terminal surrounded by green mountains, so tranquil and beautiful even on a wet, grey morning, it simply took our breath away. We had landed in the Kingdom of Bhutan, one of the most isolated nations in the world with more than 70 per cent of the harsh terrain under forest cover. We were a group of six women from Chennai(India) who had landed with a mission — to catch a glimpse of the tallest Himalayan peak in Bhutan, Mt. Jumolhari. It is considered the abode of the mountain goddess Chomo and is hence inaccessible to tourists. The closest view we were told is from the base camp at Jangothang at 13,222 ft. in the Jigme Dorji National Park, to which point we would need to trek. Stepping into Bhutan is like taking a step back in time. Their monarch first introduced the concept of measuring a country’s progress by the Gross National Happiness generated by the people, and it is no wonder that their country tops the list… The 21st century might never have happened. Yet, the younger generation is not unaware of the world outside. Our holiday was luxurious enough for the first couple of days in Thimpu and Paro. We saw the national animal, the Takin, and the Dzongs that serve as the administrative and religious nerve centres. In the Thimpu Dzong, we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of Bhutan’s religious head, the 71st Je Khenpo. Put to test We were put to test soon enough on a half-day trip to Taktsang, the most revered temple in Bhutan. The temple is perched high on a granite cliff some 800m above the Paro Valley and the walk through beautiful forests of poplar and pines is about 10 km in all. It gave us an idea of the terrain we would be up against and it possibly helped reassure our trek guide, ace photographer Gelay Jamtsho. For the first time, we encountered the ingenuous Bhutanese system of using running streams to power a rotating prayer wheel and a tinkling bell… a sight we would come across frequently in the countryside. The next day, armed with walking sticks, light jackets, sun caps and high spirits, we set off. Enjoying the sunny weather, we walked through small villages and scenic farmlands on our way into the wilderness. For the first three days our trail followed the fresh water river, the Paro Chhu, through forests of blue pine thick with the dangling Spanish Moss that is believed to be an indicator of the level of oxygen in the air. The mountains were never far away in this stunning scenario. The diversity of landscapes we encountered on the trek was spectacular. The changes were so unexpected; we were caught unawares every time. As we gained altitude, we saw the autumnal yellows and browns of the maple and larch trees. Beyond the tree line at about 13,000 ft. was alpine pastureland that the yaks grazed on, surrounded by the awesome snow-capped peaks and the rugged, rocky ridges. We came across vast tracts of moraines as well, on our way to the Bontey La that was at about 15,080 ft. We were in more than one sense, on top of the world! Tough trek We needed to remain focused on our walk though, as we were covering around 16 km a day. This trek has been classified as moderate to strenuous and requires a minimum of five to six hours of walking a day. We took water breaks, snack breaks, photo breaks to ease the strain, and we seemed to get better every day. Some days were tougher than others and some paths were more challenging. The paths that were covered with boulders took a lot of concentration as the ones that were steep descents. But it was the uphill climbs that proved most challenging. The sounds of silence amplified the natural beauty around us. For days we saw no one — we seemed to have whole mountain ranges to ourselves! On the way to the base camp we came across an Indian Army camp and we stopped for a cup of tea. The jawans welcomed us but were plainly apprehensive about our adventure. One was less diplomatic; “Pagal log!” was his reaction! The “Jumolhari-Yaksa” trek is an eight-day trek from Paro to Jangothang and back, through Yaksa. This trek is usually recommended for those who want to trek in the Bhutanese Himalayan ranges, but do not have the luxury of going on the longer Laya Lingshi trek. Preparing well Being properly equipped is very important on such a trek. It can make all the difference between struggling to do what you have to and enjoying the whole experience. Good trekking shoes, walking sticks, non-bulky warm clothing and good sleeping bags are absolute necessities. The temperatures ranged between 18 C and – 6 C, so we alternated between being too warm in the day and too cold at night. It is also important to eat well and keep yourself well-hydrated on the mountains. So we indulged ourselves on cheese and chillies (the national dish of Bhutan) red rice and vegetables, peanut butter and protein bars without a care. Suffice to say that we walked more than 130 km but did not lose any weight! Bhutan is not about treks alone. It has so much more to offer. There is enough for the cultural tourist in the many Lhakhangs (temples) and Dzongs. There is enough for those interested in adventure in small doses too — such as the day treks. If the weather is clear, the flight into Paro too can be an adventure, for, the plane flies over the Everest, the Kanchenjunga, Jumolhari and other Himalayan peaks. But Bhutan is essentially for those who can savour the peace and quiet of an unobtrusive civilisation. “Kuzu Zongpa” (hope you are well in mind, body and spirit) to our Bhutanese friends! © Copyright The Hindu, written by Rupa Srikanth for The Hindu, Inida’s National Newspaper. This article appeared in the Feb 04, 2007 edition of the Hindu. ( Click here to view the original article ) Rupa was on the Jumolhari Yaksa trek with 5 of her friends
Stark and Stunning
Bhutan had been a dream travel destination for us since early 2004. The first time we had heard about this mysterious kingdom was via a Travel article in the New York Times and what an amazing first impression Bhutan made on us! We were simply swept away by the lush pictures and wonderous descriptions and were instantly hooked. We were hungry to learn more about this tiny mountainous country, more about the real Bhutan experience. Hence we took up the opportunity to tailor our tour and focus on Bhutanese life/culture/food & drink, experiencing Bhutan the way locals do. We count ourselves extremely fortunate to have Anan as our guide. He was nothing short of friendly, polite, knowledgable and informative right from the word “Go!”. Be it while trekking up to Taktsang Monastary or over cups of the local brew ‘ara’, we would happily discuss Bhutan’s socio economic landscape, switching easily from local dating/relationship practices to economic prospects and the ruling monarchy. Food and markets being of particular interest, we stopped at every market we came across and opened our eyes to a whole variety of local food products: mushrooms, orchid buds, tea leaves, yak meat and cheese-on-a-string. We were also delighted to try many local dishes and especially took a liking to ‘ema-datsi’, the fiery chilli and cheese dish served at every meal, while constantly marvelling at the Bhutanese’s ability to power through mountains of red rice at one sitting. Another notable highlight was the visit to a village family in Tang Valley. It was a real privilege to share their life that evening, sipping warm ‘bangchang’ and chatting quietly to the father as he tended the stove while mother prepared buckwheat pancakes for dinner and daughter nursed her infant at the edge of the stove light. It is just one of many unique moments in the tour that we will treasure for many years to come. Anan, Gelay and Keys to Bhutan made our trip an unbelievable journey from start to finish with their depth of experience, broad knowledge and delightful companionship. They certainly reinforced my belief that as a top boutique travel operator, they displayed a level of service that is unmatched by their peers and we would not hesitate to return to Bhutan again with them. Wern Lim – Singapore Shaunna Chang – Malaysia Kang Lung – Australia
Experience Extraordinaire
I have enjoyed my solo travel to Bhutan very much. My tour guide Jigme explained to me in details about the history, religion, culture, politics and scenery of Bhutan that I was happily taking down notes. I am very amazed by how the Bhutanese can preserve the tradition and environment, while absorb the new technology and modern life simultaneously. Bhutan is indeed a paradise on earth. The people are very friendly and I feel safe. Lanny Widjaja Nationality: Indonesian Permanent Resident: Singapore
Enjoyed my solo travel and felt safe
We have traveled extensively over 30 years and have never been so impressed by such a high standard of service and personal care as we experienced from Keys of Bhutan. Their care and attention was exceptional. Throughout our trip we felt every effort was made to ensure we had the best of times and believe me, we did! We cannot recommend them enough. They provide a truly delicious taste of Bhutan!
Anni Mountjoy and FriendsAustralia
As well seasoned travelers we think Keys to Bhutan are the best tour operator we have ever dealt with. Their service was second to none and nothing was too much trouble. The staff were knowledgeable and happy, responding to all our wishes, they did really demonstrate the personal touch. Our guide, Loja, was passionate about Bhutan and showed us so much more than the excellent itinerary by taking us off the beaten track – a memorable silver wedding anniversary trip. Ross & Tracy Brice, UK
The best tour operator we have ever dealt withMy Co.
We chose to go to Bhutan for our honeymoon. When deciding which tour operator would organize our trip, Keys to Bhutan proved to be the most professional. They always replied quickly to our e-mails and took into consideration every suggestion we made. It gave us a very good feeling that everything would work as planned once we arrive in Bhutan. When we arrived we were welcomed by the most competent and friendly guide, Jigme. He knew everything, from religious tales, Bhutanese history to all the mountains in Bhutan. We learnt a lot about Bhutan, its culture, traditions and history thanks to him. We even learnt quite a few words of dzongkha. We did a trekking tour and then headed south to Pobjikha valley. The trekking was pretty strenuous at times but of course all effort has its rewards and the scenery was breathtaking. The trekking tream was amazing. Contrary to our expectations (a friend of us having told us that during a trekking food was boring), the cook, Rinchen, was a real chef ! He managed to cook up something different and tasty twice a day. We had fruit and veggies every day. We were taken care of as if we were kings ! We enjoyed being spoiled after a hard day of hiking. Key to Bhutan was willing to accomodate every wish we had. We got to spend a night with a Bhutanese family in Pobjikha valley. We cooked and ate with them. Real Bhutanese food, with lots of spices, not westernized. They let us sleep in the altar room which is a sign of respect for the guests. It was an amazing experience that we will never forget. We managed to communicate somehow with our few words of dzongka and our lovely guide helped to bridge the language barrier. All in all our experience in Bhutan was unique and unforgettable. We will always remember the crew of Keys to Bhutan, their professionalism and their kindness. Kadrinchhela ! Cheers, Zarife
Most professionalHowes Team
Dear Keys to Bhutan: My wife and I visited Bhutan for the first time in March 2009. It was an excellent 10-day vacation for two simple reasons – one, the culture, landscape and people of the country are exceptional, and two, the efficiency, skills and quality of our tour company – Keys to Bhutan. We initially selected Keys to Bhutan based on their informative and professional website. We were not disappointed. The planning and booking of the visit was smooth and effortless. At all times Keys to Bhutan responded to our email inquiries in a timely and friendly fashion with direct answers and clear information. The arrangements for our flights, visas and hotel reservations were flawless. Keys to Bhutan also provided us with a wonderful guide and driver for our Bhutanese adventure. Our guide, Jigme, was professional, friendly, enthusiastic, very knowledgeable about all aspects of Bhutanese life, culture and history, and sensitive to all our needs and preferences. We were also delighted with our driver, Ram, who always drove safely with great concern for our comfort and well being. Jigme and Ram from Keys to Bhutan provided a wonderful mixture of professionalism, integrity and delightful personality. Our visit to Bhutan was undoubtedly enriched by our guide and driver. Overall, Keys to Bhutan delivered everything they promised and more. The tour itinerary was well planned yet flexible, the logistics were organized in detail and our feedback was continually sought to insure our satisfaction. We were impressed with the choice of hotels, the diversity of locations visited and the variety of activities. The pace of the tour was just right and Keys to Bhutan clearly have the experience and ability to provide tours customized to individual preferences. Our visit to Bhutan has left us with so many good memories. One of these memories is the quality of our tour company – Keys to Bhutan – an excellent host with the personal touch and the professional delivery. It was a privilege to visit Bhutan and we sincerely thank Keys to Bhutan for the exceptional services that guaranteed a most rewarding and enjoyable visit. David and Kathleen Owens Singapore
Excellent vaccation for two simple reason…
In 2013 I visited the magical Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon for the first time with Keys to Bhutan. From the beginning I felt welcomed and at home with their professional employees who would continue to look after my well-being and safety with great detail and dedication during the entire trip. The drives were very pleasant and the driver took extreme care. He clearly knew what he was doing and carefully considered road conditions at all times. I felt very safe with him behind the steering wheel. The guide would fulfill my every need and displayed a lot of flexibility around my personal preferences. His explanations were always to the right level of detail without it being either too superficial or with too much detail. The knowledge he displayed about all sites we visited was impressive and enthused me time and again. My introduction by them to their beautiful country and especially the gentle, professional and at the same time friendly way with which they did it made me decide to return a 2nd time which I did early 2014. I would not even consider any other agency than Keys to Bhutan. Also this 2nd trip lived up to my every expectation. As I had insisted to travel with the same employees the trip became even more enjoyable as they had become my true friends. However, this would not stop them from being the professionals that they were the year before and I could again enjoy the flexibility, friendliness and kindness that had so positively surprised me the year before. Whether it was a mountain bike tour, a hot stone bath or personalized stamps, they made it all happen for me and always with a smile! I was sad for my 2nd trip to finish but I have already decided that I shall return a 3rd time to Bhutan and I shall only consider Keys to Bhutan and again their same employees to do so. There is no single reason for me to change either tour operator or employees. I have no suggestions for improvements to Keys to Bhutan, I had the two most wonderful trips for which I cannot thank them enough. I can recommend Keys to Bhutan without any doubt to any kind of traveller and I look forward to working with them again in the very near future. Jan J. Vankrunkelsven Chemin des Ecaravez 11 CH – 1092 Belmont Switzerland
I Shall return for the 3rd time with KTB
We have traveled extensively over 30 years and have never been so impressed by such a high standard of service and personal care as we experienced from Keys of Bhutan. Their care and attention was exceptional. Throughout our trip we felt every effort was made to ensure we had the best of times and believe me, we did! We cannot recommend them enough. They provide a truly delicious taste of Bhutan! Anni Mountjoy and Friends Australia
They provide a truly delicious taste of Bhutan
How could you not love this country? Bhutan gets under your skin. It’s a gentle green balm of forest and misty mountains for the soul. Quiet, fascinating and yes, happy. No one is trying to foist anything on you, just peacefully going about their business. Arriving in Paro was like stepping into a time machine. We had an absolutely wonderful 2 weeks, spoiled by the team at “Keys to Bhutan”. Their hospitality, friendliness, knowledge and organization were exemplary. We assembled a team of 10 from around the world, nothing was too difficult to arrange. Our trip ran like clockwork, with the right amount of flexibility to explore hidden treasures and plenty of time to relax and enjoy the wonders of Bhutan. I can highly recommend a visit to Bhutan and “Keys to Bhutan” are just the team to tailor your holiday to your desires. Go, if you can, for it is a privilege. Nick and friends around the world
We were spoiled by the team of KTB
As a seasoned travel consultant for 18 years, whose specialty is to introduce people to indigenous cultures worldwide, I feel qualified to recognize a good travel agency. Keys to Bhutan goes beyond the “good” moniker. I recently spend two weeks “Velcroed” to Anan Loza as we criss-crossed this magnificent country designing new tours for my company. I was impressed by Anan’s knowledge of Buddhism, of the depth of his interest in Bhutan’s history, and of his enthusiasm for Bhutan’s burgeoning travel industry, even after ten years of being in the trenches of his country’s tourism business. Keys to Bhutan is a sophisticated Bhutanese tourism company that is qualified to organize, lead, and manage small, high-end international groups. Susan Connell SECA Expeditions, USA
I feel qualified to recognize a good travel agency
For a while my family and I wanted to go to this mysterious kingdom but we didn’t really know how to deal with it. “Keys to Bhutan” was not only one of the many agencies but became a real partner in planning our dream trip. Not only are they doing a fantastic job during the preparation but once you are there they always treat you like a special guest. The team is very dynamic and always concerned with your well being. Traveling with them is just a dream as they are more than professional; you can feel that all the members of “Keys to Bhutan” like their country and even better, like their job. Our driver and guide was the best team ever and on the look out to surprise us with some extra unexpected site, story, food or hike. What we appreciated above everything was the feeling of not just being tourists doing the trail. They were always a step ahead for the visit, the small surprises, the meals… Not many people know about Bhutan so when you find an agent who can help and provide the kind of services we received just go for it! I would definitely rate “Keys to Bhutan” as the best travel agency you can meet. I myself will go back to Bhutan as it was an incredible country and a real treat for us. Our Gross National Happiness with “Keys to Bhutan” is 200%! Olivia Delobel and family Bhutan est un paradis sur terre et cela n’est nullement exagéré. Ce qui a été par-dessus tout incroyable pour nous ce fut le professionnalisme, le dynamisme et la gentillesse des membres de « Keys to Bhutan ». Ce n’est pas juste une agence parmi tant d’autre, c’est l’Agence qu’il faut pour ce voyage. Les membres de « Keys to Bhutan » n’adorent pas seulement leur pays, ils adorent surtout le faire découvrir. Ils ont fait un travail remarquable durant la préparation de notre voyage mais une fois arrivés sur place cela a été bien au delà de nos espérances ; ils ont été tout simplement géniaux, attentifs, prévoyants et ils avaient toujours une longueur d’avance. C’était un vrai plaisir de voyager en compagnie de notre guide et de notre chauffeur. Nous n’avions pas du tout le sentiment d’être des touristes conduits d’un endroit à l’autre mais, plutôt des amis rencontrant d’autres amis pour faire un bout de route ensemble. Je recommande à 200% « Keys to Bhutan » pour tous les voyages vers le Bhutan, ce sont réellement des gens exceptionnels. Olivia Delobel
Traveling with them is just a dream as they are more than professional