Bhutan | © Marvin Peguese

An Epic Journey to Bhutan

Natural World Safaris

Marvin Peguese

19 Jul 2019

NWS client Marvin enters the Land of the Thunder Dragon

For once I'm almost at a loss for words as I write a blog post for NWS. The poetry of my amazing trip to Bhutan is in the dazzling content of pictures I took, and remembered images beyond my cameras' capabilities. Its magic and grace lay in fleeting human moments felt more than articulated. Surprising sensations – fresh forest rainfall, lilting morning birdsong, or the vibrant tastes, smells and sounds of new spices and dishes – can't be fully conveyed with my limited writing skills. But I want to come up with something to celebrate about my first, and hopefully not last, trip to Asia. Something that describes its indescribable aspects. So I'll try.

Bhutan | © Marvin Peguese

The week in Bhutan was bracketed by two layovers in Delhi, India. A flight delay landed me in this sizzling hot, bustling city just in time to see it bathed in a golden light that made its rich tapestry of colours pop. I went from the airport directly to Humayun's Tomb, where the guide and I were practically alone. As he recounted the fascinating Mughal history of this monument, I was awed by its present majesty. With a mix of respectful contemplation and wonder, I roamed the quiet grounds thinking, "If this is India, I definitely want to come back for more."

Humayun's Tomb, Delhi, India | © Marvin Peguese

After a few more stops, including a visit to a lively Sikh temple during what my guide referred to as "religious picnics" common across faiths at Delhi's holy or historic sites, and to India Gate just as it lit up with the colours of the country's flag, I arrived at the very imperial Imperial Hotel. At dusk, it was the cool refuge from the afternoon's heat and throngs that I needed.

Gateway of India, Mumbai | © Marvin Peguese

The classic hotel room, restaurants and services were impeccable. But, the heart and soul of the place reside in the many vintage prints, paintings and ornate artifacts that fill the halls of this art deco palace. The fact that much of it recalls complicated and turbulent periods in India's history doesn't detract from the sheer beauty of the craftsmanship. So, Scotch in hand, I spent a restless evening, anticipating the next leg of my journey, viewing as much of the brilliantly curated collection as I could before going to bed.

© Marvin Peguese

At breakfast, a sumptuous buffet spread across a restaurant's elegant main dining room, I realised one could spend as much time enjoying this "museum" as touring the city outside. But, Qutub Minar and other Old Delhi attractions beckoned on the post-Bhutan layover. And, once again, the gritty, technicoloured pageant of diverse humanity and dazzling historical sites made me hope for a deeper exploration of this country someday.

Qutub Minar, New Delhi, India | © Marvin Peguese

Bhutan was one of those mythical faraway places I read about as a kid, but never dreamed I'd visit. To me back then, it was all remote sky-high temples reached by treacherous hikes into the clouds, set in a serene and stunning landscape where ancient rituals, aesthetic cultures and ways of life remained vital on purpose, proudly as a matter of national identity. This captivating trip filled in the contours of that old image with vivid encounters that were both spectacular and intimate.

Bhutan | © Marvin Peguese

When I began this trip, I didn't think the Bhutanese people would make as much of an impression as the country's signature attractions. But, they did. We were probably seeing each other in person for the first time, with mutual curiosity and respect. Elders and youngsters encountered were less self-conscious, and I actually appreciated that. Others had questions about my home town, unique insights to offer about theirs, or just wanted to practice a few words in English. Some of my favourite images of the trip are the resulting portraits of welcoming or sly inquisitive smiles, averted eyes caught innocently staring, or just a direct gaze from a wide-eyed young or wise old countenance.

Bhutanese man | © Marvin Peguese

Epic hikes took us to a couple of those fabled Buddhist temples that originally sparked my imagination about Bhutan. Steep climbs to reach them, 8,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level (or over 250 flights of stairs according to somebody's Apple watch), left me feeling a real sense of achievement that I'll always remember. The meandering path to the Floating Goddess Temple was the wildest, running through quiet, pristine moss-covered forest along a cascading river that seemed right out of a fairy tale. And we had this alpine Eden all to ourselves.

Bhutan | © Marvin Peguese

The climb to Tiger's Nest, on the other hand, was festive and busy: local teenagers in school uniforms darted past us blasting pop music and hip-hop; pilgrims from several regional countries tentatively made their way in multi-generational family groups; and monks hauled supplies up to temples with an ease that put all of us clumsy, sweaty novices to shame. The reward, besides just reaching the top, was accepting an invitation to silent reflection in one of Buddhism's most sacred sites, and some of the best panoramic views of landscapes in the world.

Tiger's Nest, Bhutan | © Marvin Peguese

More casual walks took us through picturesque villages and rice paddies or to community temples where welcoming locals briefly engaged us as they got on with their lives. The pleasures here were more simple, but no less rewarding than the exhilarating temple treks. We paused to notice nature's little seasonal jewels and the weathered, simply decorated structures of everyday life, or to just watch the world go by.

Bhutan | © Marvin Peguese

This satisfying trip fulfilled all of my expectations. But I can't conclude without mentioning how great it was to begin and end days at COMO Uma Paro and COMO Uma Punakha. The Paro staff called Punakha heaven (they were right!) and the spectacular drive out there took us through scenery that would convert an atheist. The accommodations, meals and services at both hotels were among the best I've experienced in my travels anywhere. Kudos to the teams who made my stays such a pleasure. We were sometimes sky-high in altitude, but in getting me the perfect airplane seat to view Mount Everest, they showed that the sky's the limit when it comes to COMO’s hospitality.

Bhutan | © Marvin Peguese


Contact one of our Destination Specialists to start planning your journey to Bhutan. Please note we recommend a budget of from £7,000 / $10,000 USD per person for our style of trip to this destination.

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