I'm just back from a month in Bhutan in February/March. When people tell me how lucky I am to have the dream job of travel writer I normally roll my eyes and mutter something about how hard it is to get a good cappucino in Lhasa. But when it comes to researching Bhutan there are no excuses; it's simply the best job in the world.
This was my third trip to Bhutan and this time I focused on the centre and east of the country. There are plenty of up and coming places in Bhutan just begging to get in the new edition of the Lonely Planet guide. Manas National Park is now open for business and the four day trek through the forests from north to south looks fabulous. I had a great day hiking to monasteries in the hills above Mongar and did made it out to a fine meditation retreat above Shingkhar and to the remote Luege Rowe and Shugdrak retreats in the Bumthang Valley. I got as far north as Dungkhar, the ancestral home of the royal family, where I ran out of road, and made a fine hike to the fairytale chapel of Dechen Phodrang in Bomdeling Wildlife Sanctuary in the remote far northeast.
February was chilliy in the Bumthang Valley but it was worth suffering some cold to catch four festivals into four weeks. The Punakha Dromchoe and Tsechu was the most spectacular but also had the most tourists. The Buli tsechu was fantastic because there were only about 50 people there and no foreigners when I was there. The Chorten Kora festival was also excellent and attracted people from Merak, Sakten and Arunachel Pradesh in India. The Nomad's Festival in Bumthang was less authentic but still had some great moments, including some great traditional games and masked dances.
Only another four years to go until the next trip! Now the rather less fun of actually writing the guidebook...
Click on the slideshow below to see larger pics.