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One of the most unique travel experiences you could ask for is attending a Bhutanese festival or tshechu as they are known as in Bhutan. There really is nothing that compares and I was over the moon to spend a day at a festival last year in central Bhutan.

So what makes a Bhutanese Tshechu so special? Tshechus have been celebrated in Bhutan for hundreds of years. Celebrations begin on the 10th day of the Tibetan lunar calender and continue for 4 days. They take place in Dzongs which are both the spiritual and administrative centre for the area. Different dances are performed on each of the days by monks dressed in elaborate costumes.

The dances depict historical events and captivate the audience.

The dances are quite mesmorising as the monks twirl.

Often a huge tongdrol or thangka is unravelled on the last day!

The musicians!

These festivals are an incredible opportunity to experience ancient ritual.

Half the fun is meeting the locals at tschechus.

Beyond The Clouds Journeys almost always include attending one of Bhutan’s unique festivals. Do remember that flights and hotels get booked up months in advance prior to the bigger festivals at Paro, Thimpu, Punakha and Wangdue. It is a good idea to contact us as much as 6-12 months in advance to secure your place.

For more information: www.beyondtheclouds.org.nz

Email: info@beyondtheclouds.org.nz

First impressions of Bhutan

Bhutan has always been on my bucket list! It is one of those countries that you always dreamt of visiting but believe it is simply just too expensive and hard to get to as tourist numbers are limited. Myth number one! There are now no restricted numbers and although all tourists must pay a minimum fixed daily rate, a trip to Bhutan does in fact represent good value for money!

I travelled Beyond The Clouds to see Bhutan for myself.  The first surprise was the architecture. Having flown in from Kathmandu where ugly concrete buildings rise haphazardly, the Bhutanese are encouraged to build using traditional methods. Even the airport terminal building showcases Bhutan’s stunning architecture.

Approching Airport 2.jpg

The next reminder that you have arrived in the mystical kingdom is the currency: The Bhutanese Ngultrum.  I change money and head into Paro which is more of a small town than a city. Rows of neat beautifully decorated houses line the streets. The stunning mountain scenery, green meadows and clean fast flowing rivers remind me of Switzerland. Men in Bhutanese national dress, a kind of tunic worn above the knee, compete in archery matches with crossbows. They break into a strange ritualistic dance every time they hit the bulls eye. I feel I must have landed in some kind of Buddhist fantasy land as red robed monks carry ornately decorated butter lamps across ancient courtyards.

Travelling by car with my highly knowledgeable Bhutanese guide I am transported into the land of myths and legends.  Buddhism was introduced to Bhutan inthe 7th century when Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tiger to what is now knows as Tiger’s Nest Monastery. This is Bhutan’s most iconic tourist attraction and I was eager to see it for myself. What I was not prepared for was the stunning scenery of unbroken forest (70% of the country is forest), rhododendrons in bloom atop which was one of the most spiritual Buddhist sites in the world. Cut into the rock, the ancient monastery clings miraculously to a sheer cliff, rising 1000 metres from the valley floor.  The views are magnificent over the Paro valley, and the only sounds to be heard are prayer flags blowing in the wind.

The standard of hygiene in Bhutan is very high and hotels offer extremely comfortable accommodation.  I could not believe that my room at the Naksel Boutique Hotel and Spa just outside Paro was really for me. I literally revelled in the gorgeous pine clad room, beautiful bed linen and luxurious bathroom. As part of tour packages, tourists eat buffet style in their hotels. I wanted to get out to explore a wider range of eateries which turned out to be fabulous in Thimpu, the tiny capital which still has no traffic lights. While, the Bhutanese national dish ‘ema datshe’ is chillis and cheese, this is a little challenging to the western palate. I was therefore delighted to try other local specialities such as lightly braised asparagus, ferns and red rice.

Deep in central Bhutan, I discovered Bhumthang cheese and yoghurt made at a cheese factory started when the Bhutanese advertise in a Swiss newspaper for a cheese maker. The Swiss gentleman who answered the advert, arrived to find no cows and had to introduce Jersey cows into the lush Bumthang valley. Now his grandchildren run the bucolic Swiss Guest House renowned for its fresh home- made bread, yoghurt and cheese and famous fondue evenings. Set in a beautiful apple orchard, the guest house serves delicious home cooked meals in the charming restaurant.

 In the historic town of Trongsa, I was walking down the street when I was invited to join ladies dancing at the investiture of the new governor of Trongsa. Before I knew it, the Governor and I were posing for pictures together and discussing global events. Amazingly I ran into my new friend a few days later at a festival in the Bumthang valley. The ‘tsechu’ or festival is one of those once in a lifetime cultural immersion experiences. I was lucky enough to watch the show from the special room reserved for head monks, royal family and of course my chum the governor!

Sadly it was time to leave Bhutan. I have yet to reach the remote Haa valley over the highest pass in the country. I will just need to return again!

Beyond the Clouds runs a full range of journeys in Bhutan. All profits are used to fund its vital work in post earthquake Nepal.

The Beyond The Clouds new blog!

January 10th, 2016

There is so much happening at “Beyond The Clouds ” that I hardly know where to start. But I thought for this first posting that I would focus on why we do what we do. After all everyone has a reason for being in business, but our reason is a little unusual. When Durga and I founded First Steps Himalaya in 2008, we had no idea just how big the organisation would become. Recently, our New Zealand based trust has gained international recognition for its work in rural Nepal, supporting improved early years education projects in numerous villages. More recently cameras turned to our ‘earthbag building’ that surived the massive earthquakes of April/ May 2015.

So why ” Beyond The Clouds”? We wanted our supporters to have authentic Himalayan experiences whilst raising vital funds to run our organisation. The tiny trust that built one early childhood centre has grown into into an organisation that is rebuilding earthquake damaged schools, training teachers, refurbishing classrooms, providing resources and much more. To keep the wheels oiled, we need to generate income. By running fundraising tours, First Steps Himalaya would be able to keep going and grow to serve even more childen.

A brilliant idea came to us when talking to our good friend Maureen McKain, yoga teacher from Nelson. She could lead a ” Yoga Adventure” to Nepal which would show people our projects and raise much needed funds. Maureen told absolutely everyone about the trip and before long the first yoga group came to Nepal. Other yoga groups followed, people booked treks and families joined Durga, myself and our twins on ‘ Family Adventures’.

In 2015, we branched out and now have fabulous tours in Bhutan and Tibet too. ‘Beyond The Clouds’ is here to stay. We are here to provide you with top quality Himalayan tours with heart and soul! All profits support our work in Nepal.