February 22 – March 11, 2022 (18 nights)
Fly home evening of March 12.
Join us on a fabulous 18-night textile tour of Bhutan [and a bit of India] to see exquisite weaving, pristine wilderness and stunning Buddhist temple monasteries! Since we’ll be in the area when we arrive, the fabulous Taj Mahal will be our first destination, before we arrive in Bhutan.
Traveling from east to west, our group will start out by meeting in New Delhi. We’ll spend three nights in India, to see the fabulous Taj Mahal and the heart-warming SOS Wildlife Bear Rescue Center. Our jet-lag conquered, we’ll next fly to Guwahati as the jumping off spot for Bhutan. A quick drive brings us to the border and the Bhutan adventure begins!
This trip reflects authentic Bhutan. I’ve traveled to sixty-odd countries searching for textiles, and NOWHERE have I seen weaving as fine and intricate (and labor-intensive) as in Bhutan. We’ll visit many textile villages and centers around the country, each with a distinctive style and motifs. Lunch and tea with several weaver families will give us an insight into their techniques and dye materials too.
We’ll attend a festival called a tshechu which the local people attend, showing off their best handwoven, traditional clothing. Costumed monks perform didactic Buddhist legends, wearing carved wooden masks and brilliantly embroidered outfits. Travelers on the previous tours loved the ultra-decorated buildings, the crisp air, the festival dancers, the dark green forests, and the stunning handwoven clothing. And we’ll meet warmhearted people, stay in pretty hotels, and eat delicious new foods.
I (Cynthia) accompany all the BTSA trips, and already reserved for our 2022 adventure are the guide and driver that I love to travel with. These two are charismatic and cheerful, and they go far beyond their usual job descriptions to make our trip delightful. They’ll make us laugh and teach us many things as they tell personal stories about their families, traditions and customs. Scroll down to see their profiles here: Trip Leaders.
Land of Happiness
Bhutan is a small landlocked country in the eastern Himalayas, with a progressive young king, and a beautiful queen who promotes the traditional textiles and weaving. The Bhutanese have safeguarded their Buddhist culture and ancient way of life, and it’s the traditional aspects that lend great charm and value to the country. We’ll spend the most time in the less-visited and more rural eastern regions where the weaving and little villages are spectacular – but the roads are bumpy! However since Bhutan has been in serious lockdown for the past year, road crews have been able to improve many routes.
As we travel, we’ll traverse lush rice paddies in the valleys, and then hills covered with thick forests. Because of an avid Forest Management program, protected blue pine, spruce and cypress forests cover over 70% of the country. Bhutan’s government did not allow outsiders to visit for centuries, but now the people welcome travelers. The infrastructure of Bhutan improves annually; there are now better roads and hotels than in past years.
We’ll start our adventure in the eastern, less-traveled part of Bhutan, visiting several towns and many villages along the way, where the art of weaving is paramount. The whole eastern region is relatively undiscovered compared to the west, and it’s the area famous for the high quality handwoven textiles of Bhutan. We drive to Trashigang, then back to Mongar and north to a weaving area. Then we head for central Bhutan and fly from Jakar to Paro, thus avoiding many hours on a large section of road known for being under construction and full of switchbacks.
We’ll visit both the town of Paro and see the Tiger’s Nest Monastery nearby. Then we’ll visit Thimpu, the capital, and see the excellent and modern Textile Museum, started by one of the Queens in the Royal Family. We’ll check out a weaving center, and the Handicrafts Center where they sell various crafts plus handwoven fabrics. In the west we’ll also attend a colorful festival or tsechu, with masked dancers in brilliant embroidered costumes.
Tiger Nest’s Monastery Details
One day we’ll climb to the famous Tiger’s Nest (Paro Taktsang) Monastery in the forested mountains outside of Paro. The day-trip to the cliff monastery begins in Paro and we return to our hotel for the night. It was constructed on the side of a cliff in 1692, near the cave where Guru Rinpoche first meditated. It’s said that he’s the person who introduced Buddhism into Bhutan. A legend relates that Rinpoche flew from Tibet to this steep cliff on the back of a tigress, thus giving it the name “Tiger’s Nest.”
The trek to the monastery will be optional with the ascent either on foot or horseback. Horses climb only to the tea house at mid-point up the trail; you’ll have a good view of the Tiger’s Nest from here, if you decide not to hike all the way up.
The horses are healthy and don’t have to wear a bit, so they can pick their way along the rocky trail to find the best route. Many people walk up the rocky trail, so if you are fairly fit, it’s possible to climb up the trail on foot. (Good hiking shoes are essential for this rocky path.) For the last and steepest part from the tea house to the monastery, the guide will walk with those who want to climb.
Meanwhile, the rest of us can sit below at the tea house, relaxing among the prayer flags, drinking milky chai (spiced tea), and staring upward at the beautiful structures on the cliff.
It’s necessary for everyone to hike back down from the tea house on foot. The descent isn’t bad if we go slowly; some people might want walking sticks for this part. And if a mountain trek isn’t your cup of tea, you can relax at the hotel or explore Paro instead!
In 2005, the Queen Mother of Bhutan created The Royal Textile Academy that we will visit in Thimpu. She encouraged weaving centers so that the country’s youth may learn to appreciate, conserve and promote the weaving and fabric arts done all over the nation. She writes that “…the thagzo or art of weaving is a symbol of national identity that continues to play a significant role in all religious, official and social events. Weaving represents the very heart and soul of the country…” It’s interesting to note that while the women weave the clothing and fabrics, it’s often the men who embroider and appliqué items such as temple hangings, saddle covers, shoes, hats, and ceiling canopies.
In the past, Bhutanese citizens followed an imposed dress code. Everyone wore handwoven traditional clothing: the gho for men and the kira for women. Nowadays that has changed, and it’s required only for government and office workers, and for school uniforms. Some young people have begun to adopt jeans and sweatshirts, but many people still proudly wear typical outfits everyday. And for festivals and special occasions such as weddings, everyone dons their very best and latest styles of handmade national dress.
Traditional Dress for Men and Women
Men wear the gho, a wrapped knee-length robe with deep white cuffs, tied at the waist by a woven belt known as kera. The pouch which forms at the front traditionally was.used for carrying food bowls and a small dagger. Today men store their cell phones and wallets in the pouch; see photo below of men in gho, with bulging front pouches.
Women wear the kira, an ankle-length dress made of handwoven panels, wrapped around the body and pinned at the shoulders. Over the kira they add a satin or brocade outer jacket known as a tego, with an inner blouse or layer called a wonju. However, people of ethnic groups such as the Bramis and Brokpas of eastern Bhutan generally wear traditional clothing that differs from the rest of the Bhutanese population.
We’ll visit many weaving households and some larger weaving organizations in various towns, learning about the incredibly labor-intensive techniques. Women’s wrap dresses called kiras constitute the most spectacular weaving form, but men’s clothing and other pieces are also important. The best place to see the women showing off their newest and most exquisite outfits is of course at the Buddhist celebrations that we will attend.
As they weave, the women pick up warp threads (usually two at a time) with a pointed stick or their fingers, and interweave the weft in complex ways. The technique sometimes involves wrapping or twining the weft around the warp in specific patterns. This is called trima, and often looks like a chained embroidery technique. Because a finely detailed kira (above) can take almost a year to weave, a very intricate piece can cost several thousand dollars. Belts are stunning too, and more affordable. As we visit the weaving centers, we’ll appreciate the huge variety of designs and color combinations, and perhaps find some textiles to buy!
(March 11 is the last included night of hotel; we’ll fly back to New Delhi [DEL] airport to connect with homeward flights on March 12. Details later.)
Fly home in the evening on March 12; details and suggested flights to come.
TOUR COST: $5695
Single Supplement: $750
- Includes visa for Bhutan (see below)
- All accommodations: 18 nights in comfortable hotels in double/twin rooms with private bath
- All meals (often buffets in our hotels) and some picnic lunches in villages
- All soft drinks and bottled water with meals
- Airport transfers for arrival and departure flights
- Short domestic flight TBA depending on final festival itinerary
- English-speaking Bhutanese licensed guide during the trip
- All in-country ground travel by good Toyota mini-bus with professional driver
- Bottled water available in the van at all times; roadside tea breaks included.
- Natural dye workshop at village center to dye yarn or roving.
- Horseback transport to Tiger’s Nest Monastery tea house; everyone must walk down.
- Entrance to Royal Textile Museum and all other sites on the itinerary
- An 8″ x 11″ photo book documenting your trip after you return home.
Not included: International airfare, INDIA visa, alcoholic beverages, *tips for guide and driver (count on about $150-200 total for both), personal items such as laundry charges and any between-meal snacks or drinks.
Plan your flights to arrive in NEW DELHI on February 22, in the morning if possible. We will meet you at the Delhi airport with a sign with your name! Details about flight possibilities will be sent as soon as available after you sign up.
We will arrange the BHUTAN visas for you; the cost is included. You will need to send BTSA a scanned colored copy of your passport which will be sent to the Bhutan agent handling the visas. When we enter the country at Paro, they scan your passport and you are already in the System! Bravo, Bhutan!
YOU will need a MULTIPLE ENTRY VISA for India; cost not included. Wait on this one; the visa requirements change often, but are easily fulfilled. Once you sign up, you will be sent the website link to get your one-year INDIA e-visa online. Or if you want a 10-year visa, you can fill out the forms and send your passport to the nearest visa office; you can do this any soon as long as you won’t need your passport for about 2 weeks; they are quite fast and generally efficient. More info about visas and how to apply once you have signed up.
All photos by Cynthia except festival with masked cat by Shutterstock. Tiger’s Nest, and me on a horse, by Sudhir Joshi, who traveled with me to Bhutan the first time.