CORNER BROOK, NL, CANADA– Imagine a country that places happiness above all else, where every policy must pass a Gross National Happiness filter to be enacted. Imagine trekking through lush green mountainous valleys of a remote Himalayan kingdom where yak herders greet you with smiles as the chanting of monks echoes from ancient cliff-side monasteries and colorful prayer flags ripple before snow-capped peaks.
Welcome to Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon.
A company devoted to active travel adventures designed for women only presents for 2018 its brand-new itinerary in this distant land that time – almost – forgot.
Wild Women Expeditions, the pioneer in women-only travel adventures, introduces Spirit of Bhutan on three brand-new 2018 hiking departures: Sept. 20-Oct. 2, Oct. 11-23 and Nov. 12-24.
Only over the past 50 years have visitors been allowed to visit Bhutan, land locked in the Himalayas between Tibet and China to the north and India to the south. It is still also time locked, only early in the 21st century opening to Western influences. Bhutan, despite the encroachment of the internet and hand-held devices, remains steeped in ancient traditions with overlays of powerful Buddhist mythologies. How spirituality and myth translate into 21st century life in this 750,000 population is a focus of Wild Women Expeditions’ quest.
“Bhutan is a shining example of how spirited adventure tourism can be truly sustainable,” underscored Jennifer Haddow, visionary Owner/Director of Wild Women Expeditions. “Bhutan’s commitment to being a carbon neutral country comes to life in its approach to tourism, where travelers take great care to minimize their footprint on this wilderness Shangri-la.” She personally researched and helped craft this tour of west and central Bhutan — with the highest standards of ecotourism at heart.
The per person rate is $4,495 inclusive of ground transportation, including airport transfers; 12 nights accommodation (lodges, inns, a luxury resort and one night camping); meals throughout the trip; services of an experienced Bhutanese English-speaking female guide and of porters; camping equipment for a hiking expedition to Tiger’s Nest; entry fees and permits; and domestic air fare from the gateway, Paro, one way to Bumthang, the spiritual heartland of Bhutan.
Visits to monasteries or dzong perched on cliffs overlooking traditional rural life reveal that these fortress-like cloisters historically served as lighthouses, sending warning signals against potential marauders. An afternoon of river rafting coincides with a visit to the imposing Punakha Dzong (Palace of Great Happiness). Built in 1637, it is strategically placed at the confluence of two rafting rivers (Po Chu and Mo Chu). Guests also visit Taktshang (Tiger’s Nest) whose lore and location epitomize Bhutan’s spirituality and beauty. One day guests walk for several hours through a forest of rhododendron and hemlock to meet some 30 nuns in contemplation and seclusion at one of the oldest (early 9th century) of seven nunneries in Bhutan.
Guests can anticipate walking up to16km on mountain pathways through blue pine and juniper forests. One trek leads to Bumdra Monastery and a meadow laced with chortens (stupas) and prayer flags. Here women camp under the stars with a nearby 4,000m peak beckoning the hearty.
Each glimpse of a dzong brings high-altitude vistas of mountains gouged by deep river valleys and rice fields, together comprising the country’s 60 percent of land designated national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Forests covering over 70 percent of the landscape are themselves resources. For example, guests visit a family-owned incense factory that utilizes juniper, rhododendron and cypress to make incense. They are served tea during another family visit; they experience the restorative properties of a hot stone bath followed by a lesson in Bhutan’s national sport, archery.
A day trip to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, features the weekly market and revered Memorial Chorten that underscores the importance of the country’s two-party constitutional monarchy. The Changangkha temple, since the 12th century overlooking Thimphu, is a study of devotees flocking here to circumambulate and turn the prayer wheels. The temple contains beautiful wall paintings and hundreds of religious scriptures written in gold. A huge golden statue of Buddha Dordenma commands a view of the valley. His three-story throne holds several chapels; the body itself is filled with 125,000 smaller statues of Buddha. On an earthly note is a visit to a nearby weaving center where local women create intricate fabric for the traditional Bhutanese garment of gho (for men) and kira (for women).
“Wild Women Expeditions gives women the opportunity to empower themselves amongst other women, connect with the natural world and make a positive impact in the communities we explore,” says Haddow. “When women adventure together in the wild, it is transformational.”
For trip details see https://wildwomenexpeditions.com/trips/spirit-of-bhutan/.