Bhutan | Why Blue Poppy Tours & Treks is the local knowledge you need

Rafting 5

It’s fair to say that a land as mysterious as time requires the knowledge and knowhow of one who knows it. In my final instalment of Bhutan I look at Blue Poppy Tours & Treks, set up by Choki Dorji. The company specialises in bespoke tours of the Kingdom. With offices in London and Thimpu the tour operator focuses on cultural, trekking and special interest tours such as bird watching and textile trips for independent travellers. Such is their commitment to personalised service that Blue Poppy will arrange requests such as private meditation sessions and home-stays.

Bhutanese owner and director Choki hand picks local guides with expertise in each field. He takes great pride in the personal and tailor made aspect of his tours. Choki’s philosophy and humble beginnings have seen the company grow from just himself and his wife to 30 employees in Thimpu. Choki has this to say of the company’s ethos and success:

“Blue Poppy was set up towards the end of 2004 with huge help from my wife.  I would say that the ideas I have learned from her and from living in the western world have helped me to build a successful business.  I have learned many things by living in the UK, such as how to think for the future, be efficient and how to provide service to others and this is how we extended our business and we now have Blue Poppy PVT. Ltd which is a holding company for other tourism related businesses as well.”

Eastern tour - Weaving
BHUTAN, Eastern Bhutan Ranjung: woman weaving in her grocery shop. ©Josef Polleross

Accolades

In 2009 Blue Poppy partnered with a travel marathon agent to develop the first marathon in Bhutan. It’s still held annually with around 160 local and overseas runners. The company has also helped develop an exciting trail running experience which attracted runners from around the world.

Blue Poppy has continued to grow steadily in its 14 years; from 80 clients in 2006 to over 650 in 2017. It is now in the top 20 list of local operators by number of clients. It sits at number 15 out of 300 by number of nights tourists spend in Bhutan; a credit to its quality of service.

With unparalleled local knowledge and a triumphant journey of personal transformation Blue Poppy Tours & Treks offers wanderers an opportunity to unlock the secrets of an intriguing land. You can rest assure that it will be the most splendid isolation you will ever experience no matter if you’re *chasing angels or fleeing demons in the mountains.

 

 

 

For more information visit: Blue Poppy Bhutan

Index:

https://girl-travelsworld.com/2018/09/05/bhutan-interview-choki-dorji/

https://girl-travelsworld.com/2018/09/07/bhutan-why-you-need-travel-ancient-kingdom/

 

*Chasing angels or fleeing demons, go to the mountains.
― Jeffrey Rasley, Bringing Progress to Paradise: What I Got from Giving to a Mountain Village in Nepal

Bhutan | Why you need to travel to this ancient kingdom

Druk Wangyel Tsechu 3

The Kingdom of Bhutan has captivated me always. Its venerable way of life, ancient traditions, proximity to celestial parts of the earth, such the Himalayas and Tibet, and its governing principle of gross national happiness have influenced my enchantment. The country is located on the ancient Silk Road but was unaffected even though the route significantly impacted the spread of religion, literature and cultures of all other nations along it. Bhutan is the last Buddhist kingdom. Furthermore, it has never been colonised in its history. In this second part of my series on Bhutan I delve a little in to the culture and landscape to explain why you need to travel to this ancient kingdom.

Culture

Bhutan’s heritage has remained unscathed because of its retreat from an ever evolving modern world until recently. Agriculture and farming being the main occupations the population is concentrated in rural areas. As mentioned in my previous post traditions are  deeply rooted in Buddhism and much of every day life is focused around seasons and religion.

National dress is highly respected and many wear it as formal attire.  The gho, a knee-length robe tied at the waist is worn by men and women wear a kira which is an ankle-length dress, clipped at the shoulders with two identical brooches and tied at the waist.

Trekking

Bhutan has a climate that varies with altitude. The southern border near India is tropical, hot and humid. The Himalayan mountains northwards are snow-covered all year. Spring time trekking between March to May is popular; days are warm and the mountain peaks visible. Daytime temperatures remain perfect for long treks between 17 to 22 degrees Celsius. Eastern Bhutan is particularly suited for treks due to its drier climate. If trekking in autumn, between September to November, much lower temperatures, especially at high altitudes, can be expected.

Cultural Tour Taktsang
The Tiger’s Nest

No visit to Bhutan is complete without a journey to Paro Taktsang or The Tiger’s Nest. This ancient monastery, built in 1692 around a cave, clings, 3000 feet above sea level, to a mountainside of Paro Valley.

Trekking is the only way to get to the monastery and takes around five hours both ways. You will be accompanied by locals, prayer flags, prayer wheels and the occasional donkey along the way. The scenery, as expected, is said to be unforgettable.

More information on trekking tours can be found here: Trekking tours

Festivals

Tshechu, meaning day 10 are annual religious festivals held in every district of Bhutan to honor Guru Rinpoche and his introduction of Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. Festivals are social occasions as much as religious.

It’s believed that anyone who watches a Tshechu earns religious merit and will be granted great luck. Before a Tshechu begins, prayers and rituals are carried out to evoke deities. Masked dances and dramas are typical and are accompanied by traditional music. Energetic dancers, wearing colourful masks and bright costumes depict gods, demons, animals and caricatures of people. To expereience a Tshechu is to experience Bhutan at its finest.

Full list of festival dates for 2019 can be found here: Festival dates 2019

Look out for the final instalment of this series for more on this alluring, mysterious land that left time behind.

 

For more information visit: Blue Poppy Tours & Treks

Bhutan | Why you must travel to this ancient kingdom

Druk Wangyel Tsechu 3

The Kingdom of Bhutan has captivated me always. Its venerable way of life, ancient traditions, proximity to celestial parts of the earth, such the Himalayas and Tibet, and its governing principle of gross national happiness have influenced my enchantment. The country is located on the ancient Silk Road but remained unaffected by it. A rarity on a trading route which impacted the spread of religion, literature and cultures of nations along it. Bhutan is also the last Buddhist kingdom. Furthermore, it’s never been colonised in its history. In this second part of my series on Bhutan I delve a in to the culture and landscape to explain why you must travel to this ancient kingdom.

Culture

Bhutan’s heritage has remained unscathed because it retreated from the evolving modern world. Agriculture and farming being the main occupations the population is concentrated in rural areas. As mentioned in my previous post traditions are  deeply rooted in Buddhism and much of every day life is focused around seasons and religion.

National dress is highly respected and many wear it as formal attire.  The gho, a knee-length robe tied at the waist is worn by men and women wear a kira which is an ankle-length dress, clipped at the shoulders with two identical brooches and tied at the waist.

Trekking

Bhutan has a climate that varies with altitude. The southern border near India is tropical, hot and humid. The Himalayan mountains northwards are snow-covered all year. Spring time trekking between March to May is popular; days are warm and the mountain peaks visible. Daytime temperatures remain perfect for long treks between 17 to 22 degrees Celsius. Eastern Bhutan is particularly suited for treks due to its drier climate. If trekking in autumn, between September to November, much lower temperatures, especially at high altitudes, can be expected.

Cultural Tour Taktsang
The Tiger’s Nest

No visit to Bhutan is complete without a journey to Paro Taktsang or The Tiger’s Nest. This ancient monastery, built in 1692 around a cave, clings, 3000 feet above sea level, to a mountainside of Paro Valley.

Trekking is the only way to get to the monastery and takes around five hours both ways. You will be accompanied by locals, prayer flags, prayer wheels and the occasional donkey along the way. The scenery, as expected, is said to be unforgettable.

More information on trekking tours can be found here: Trekking tours

Festivals

Tshechu, meaning day 10 are annual religious festivals held in every district of Bhutan to honor Guru Rinpoche and his introduction of Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century. Festivals are social occasions as much as religious.

It’s believed that anyone who watches a Tshechu earns religious merit and will be granted great luck. Before a Tshechu begins, prayers and rituals are carried out to evoke deities. Masked dances and dramas are typical and are accompanied by traditional music. Energetic dancers, wearing colourful masks and bright costumes depict gods, demons, animals and caricatures of people. To expereience a Tshechu is to experience Bhutan at its finest.

Full list of festival dates for 2019 can be found here: Festival dates 2019

Look out for the final instalment of this series for more on this alluring, mysterious land that left time behind.

For more information visit: Blue Poppy Tours & Treks

Bhutan | Interview with Choki Dorji

Choki Dorji

I am happy to declare that I’ve now reached a point in my career where I am blessed with opportunities to connect with those I may have previously only met whilst travelling. In the past year I’ve had the good fortune to connect with travellers, dreamers, chefs and wanderers who’ve made it against the odds. One recent memorable encounter was with Choki Dorji, owner of Blue Poppy Tours & Treks, who specialises in bespoke tours of Bhutan. How does a boy born in the hillsides of Tashi Yangtse, speaking a dialect that is only spoken not written, come to own one of the top 20 tour companies in the country? Welcome to my three part series of Bhutan, possibly, the most captivating place on earth. Read my interview with Choki Dorji for a personal story which proves that the greatest adventure you’ll ever have is life itself.

Early Family life

Choki was the first born in a family of four. The small town of Tashi Yangtse had been his ancestral home for generations. Choki’s first language is Dzalakha, a dialect spoken only in the east of Bhutan. Village life centred around the temple Chorten Kora which was built in 18th century by Lama Ngawang Lodrö, to quell a demon. Choki’s father took care of the temple daily and was a learned Buddhist scholar despite the lack of a formal education. His mother coming from a farming family never learnt to read or write. Choki says of his parents,

When I was young I did not have any dream of doing anything and I am sure my family was worried as I am the oldest son and their expectations would be very high.  I always wanted my parents to be proud of me and I wanted to be able to give back to them as well.  In the end, they don’t actually have much idea of what I do and where I live and go as they can’t really imagine the world I inhabit now from the remote village life that they still lead, but I am sure they are very proud of me.

Buddhism in Bhutan

Like the majority of Bhutanese, the Dzalakha observe Tibetan Buddhism which has been strengthened over thousands of years. Visits from Tibetan, Nepalese and Indian Lamas over centuries have strengthened the community’s ties to its teachings. The Dzalakha identity is enmeshed in the history of Buddhism and traditions are deeply steeped in Buddhist heritage. As such, Choki started school at the age of seven whilst his brother trained to be a monk.

Early life and career

Leaving school, aged just 14 years, Choki was driven to seek out opportunities that would enhance his life and those around him. At first, he became a messenger in the district court. Then, following in his mother’s footsteps, trained to become a farmer. Whilst farming, an opportunity arose with the Bhutanese government; Bhutan was expected to receive electricity between 1997 – 1998. Choki trained to become an electrician.

Despite a myriad of occupations Choki was not satisfied that he had found his life purpose. He knew for sure that he loved his country and the company of others. So he made the bold move to work in a local hotel and learned Japanese to communicate with tourists. Following on from this Choki progressed on to become a trained a guide and worked for one of the largest travel agencies in Bhutan. His speciality?  Trekking and cultural tours.

Move to the UK

It was on one such tour that he was destined to meet his future wife who was visiting Bhutan on holiday. They fell in love and were soon married. In 2001 Choki crossed the oceans and moved to live in the UK where next stage of his life started to take shape.

A young Choki learned English at SELS College, Covent Garden and trained as a cinematographer at Kings College, London. During this time, identifying a gap in the market for a traditional Bhutanese tour operator with a base in the UK, he set up Blue Poppy Tours and Treks in 2005. True to his nature he chose the blue poppy as a name after the national flower of Bhutan.

Today, Blue Poppy is incorporated as Blue Poppy Pvt Ltd and expanding into the hotel industry.  There will soon be a four star hotel in the west of Bhutan and a three star boutique hotel in Tashi Yangtse. As life would have it, things have come full circle and brought the boy from the hills back home; this will be the first hotel to open in Choki’s home town.

Despite his journey so far the young man from Tashi Yangtse remains humble and says of his achievements:

I feel like I still have a long way to go to achieve everything that I want to in life, however at the same time I am also proud of what I have been able to do so far to help my family, friends and the local community.

Look out for my next post on culture and festivals of Bhutan and why this enigmatic land will continue to enchant travellers for centuries to come.

 

For more information on bespoke tours in Bhutan visit: http://www.bluepoppybhutan.com/en/