Why Bhutan? Called the Land of the Thunder Dragon, the Kingdom of Bhutan is the last intact, completely Buddhist nation and society in the Himalayas. Sunday, January 13, 2013 in a New York Times article called “The 46 Places to go in 2013,” Bhutan was featured as #5, titled: “A pristine Buddhist enclave opens, with care.” And on November 2, 2014, the New York Times featured a 9-page article on the Kingdom . In 2018 Bhutan also made the New York Times’ list at #9 of 53 places in the world as “compelling and travel worthy.”
A pristine and serene land known for its profound Bhutanese hospitality, generosity, kindness and unique architecture, Bhutan only opened up to television and to the internet in 1999. Most Bhutanese speak four languages, including English, and so there is an ease, visiting and conversing with the locals, in markets, monasteries, and in the villages.
Three of Bhutan’s most important contributions for outsiders to experience are:
Their Gross National Happiness (GNH) concept and initiatives, launched forty years ago, which is now being pollinated and embraced in the world: it is the filter through which the Bhutanese assess all development projects and opportunities. The Bhutanese have rejected offers from the Chinese and Japanese, for tens of millions of dollars, to open mountaineering to their highest peaks. No amount of dollars or gold can change this society’s commitment to honor the sacredness of the Bhutanese Himalaya. Climbers are simply not allowed to climb peaks where the deities have lived for eons.
Bhutan’s very special and gentle “secular Buddhism” and approach to compassion and mindfulness, which has vast wisdom and secular applications for us Westerners, in finding The Middle Way. At the same time, Tibetan Buddhism is well preserved in Bhutan, has great strength and is practiced in all its full, rich complexity, and is available in an auspicious way, to all curious pilgrims and travelers to the Kingdom.
Bhutan’s stunning landscapes (three micro-climates: alpine; temperate; and sub-tropical) and vast national parks, are populated with lush, broad-leaf forests, cloud forests, immense bio-diversity: 300 species of medicinal plants, 5,400 plant species altogether; 46 species of rhododendrons; a great variety of birds, with 670 bird species recorded; and an abundance of protected mammals with wildlife corridors, including Bengal tigers, snow leopards, Himalayan Black bears, pandas, many varieties of primates, blue sheep, musk deer, water buffaloes, and yak. Yaks in the road … sitting and sunning themselves, on the “national highway.”
It has been said that “Bhutan could become just like any other country, but no other country could be like Bhutan.” Many of our past tour participants have characterized their experience with us in Bhutan as “transformational.”
The 5-Day Rare Retreat Theme, “Witnessing the World with Bodhisattva Heart and Mind – Opening the Heart with Unshakable Compassion • Cultivating Fearlessness and Altruistic Intention”
A rare “conversation” dialogue between Western teachers and highly respected English-speaking Bhutanese lamas, monks, and scholars.
Gaelyn Godwin Roshi, Abbot of the Houston Zen Center, will be participating fully throughout the Pilgrimage and the Retreat. The September/October 2020 Bhutan Pilgrimage and Retreat will offer meditations, mindfulness movement experiences, teachings, dialogue, and group processing activities.
The 5-Day Retreat will include an optional morning sit before breakfast, two morning teachings approximately 1-1/2 hours each; two afternoon sessions approximately 1-1/2 hours each; and an early evening check-in assimilating the day’s teachings into participants’ practice. In addition, there will be related sightseeing during retreat week to sacred sites, keeping the integrity of the retreat week boundaries and continuity of teachings.
The retreat will include accessible meditation teachings, Dharma talks and practice, and ceremonial practices indigenous to the kingdom of Bhutan.
Awakening our connection with all sentient and all living beings, and cherishing them;
Cultivating fearlessness and altruistic intention;
Self-compassion as the basis for compassion for others and for the world; How to access our inner reservoir of courage;
The experience of the awakened heart, bodhicitta, and its cultivation in meditation;
Invoking the power of the Divine Feminine to cultivate compassion, Selfless compassion as an engaged path of Integrity and Responsibility;
Social compassion in Bhutan’s spiritual ecology of Gross National Happiness.
Bringing compassion and Wise Action back home to heal our global community and ecology. Applying the retreat lessons in all our relationships.
Konjin Gaelyn Godwin, Roshi
The Abbot of Houston Zen Center, Setsuan Gaelyn Godwin, is connected nationally and internationally with Buddhist teachers and organizations, and, in addition to her own travels to lead Zen retreats, she brings nationally recognized teachers to Houston for Dharma teaching. She received ordination as a Zen Priest in 1991, from Tenshin Reb Anderson, Senior Dharma Teacher at San Francisco Zen Center. She received Dharma Transmission, also from Tenshin Reb Anderson, in 2003, and was appointed Kaikyoshi (formal recognition from Japan) in 2005. Her Zen lineage is Soto Zen, through Dōgen Zenji, and, ultimately, through Suzuki Shunryu Daiosho, founder of San Francisco Zen Center.
Training: She trained monastically for more than 12 years at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, plus 6 years in residence at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center. Her Zen training began at San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC) in 1985. Additional Zen training: She trained in Japan, at Hosshinji with Harada Sekkei Roshi in 1991–92, and at Zuioji in 2005; and with Robert Aitken Roshi of the Diamond Sangha in Hawaii in 1995–96.
In 2018 she was appointed as the Director of Soto Zen Buddhism International Center, North America, a department of Soto Zen Buddhism, headquartered in Japan. She is a member of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association, headquartered in the US, and served as the President of the Board. She is also a member of the American Zen Teachers Association, serving on the membership committee, and the Association of Soto Zen Buddhists.
Geshe Dorji Damdul
Geshe la is the Director of The Tibet House, in Delhi, the Cultural Centre founded in 1965 and sponsored and supported by His Holiness, The Dalai Lama. Geshe la, a Tibetan monk and scholar, and is a close associate of the Dalai Lama, and his primary translator for many of his works.
In his own right, Geshe la is a highly evolved teacher, and Marla and I benefitted in being in his teachings for seven days, at the Deer Park Institute last month, after Bhutan, when Geshe la presented Masters’ level course from ancient 5th Century Nalanda, on the Heart Sutra, compassion, and taming the Mind.
Geshe la will continue the Retreat Theme: “Witnessing The World with Bodhisattva Heart and Mind”, pursuing the nine Buddhist topics outlined above, with his own inclusive style of thought provoking robust dialogue, inviting in threads of questions and answers. Geshe la, in working over the decades with the Dalai Lama, and also with his own disciplined training in logic and discourse, is a master. We are in good hands, with the unfolding of his teachings. Again, these three days of retreat will follow the template of the first two retreat days, outlined above.
Khenpo Sangay Wangdi
Khenpo Sangay is a very perceptive and approachable practitioner, and also highly realized contemplative, eager to share his wisdom, grounded in practical, engaged Buddhism. Khenpo talks on Two Truths, our precious human life, and accomplishing peace and happiness. ‘Khenpo’ is the highest academic title, given in Bhutan, and Kenpo Sangay has taught in Nepal, India, Bhutan, and the United States.
Acharya Ani Namgyel Lhamo
Acharya Ani Namgyel Lhamo, a progressive nun versed in Buddhist scriptures with a Master’s Degree in Buddhist Philosophy, and a leading light in the Bhutan Nun’s Foundation’s initiative in promoting nun’s education and welfare.
A fresh and passionate voice, Ani aims to “empower and educate Bhutanese girls and women, and to improve living conditions and economic vitality of rural villages, in turn helping to preserve the country’s rich Buddhist culture in the face of rapid economic development.”
The Bhutan Nuns Foundation wants nuns to be socially engaged participants in society, with opportunities to maximize their personal potentials. In our eight years of being in Bhutan, Ani Namgyel offers us an awakened window into the contemplative society of Bhutan, and especially women’s challenges and opportunities.
Dr. Karma is Bhutan’s first Ph.D., Cambridge educated, and Khenpo Tashi is the former director of Bhutan’s National Museum. Please view their information in the Teachers’ page link.
Among sacred sites during retreat week, we will visit Cheri Monastery, also called Chagri Dorjenden Monastery, established 1620, established by Ngawang Namgyal, founder of the Bhutanese state. Cheri Monastery is home to many sacred relics, located north of Thimphu. Cheri is a meditation center for higher level Buddhist studies, accessible by a gentle hike through the forest. A visit to Cheri is spiritually purifying. Many young reincarnated masters study here.
The Cheri Monastery site was visited by Guru Rinpoche, the precious saint of Bhutan, who introduced Buddhism into Bhutan, and who is also called Padmasambhava, in the 8th Century. He flew into Bhutan on the back of a tigress, his consort.
There will be deepening conversations about bringing compassion, altruism and resilience into your professional and personal practice.
How Much does it cost? The 14-day Tour costs $5,895.00 per person, with double occupancy. For individuals traveling alone, who might prefer double occupancy, we will endeavor to find you a roommate.
The 5-Day Retreat costs are included in the registration fee, which covers six teachers’ honorariums, their travel cost, their in-country Daily Tariff of $250.00 a day, rental of the two Monastery Prayer Halls for the week, and contributions to benefiting charities.
Inclusive pricing is driven by the official Bhutan daily visitor Tariff of $250.00 a day, part of which pays for universal healthcare and universal education for Bhutanese citizens. The Daily Tourist Tariff is included in the $5,895.00. Most of the rest of the $5,895.00 goes to the Bhutan travel company, Bhutan Wisdom Tours, for their operating costs and guides, hotels, micro-bus rentals, and meals.
This is all-inclusive, and includes all meals and lodging, government tax, and English speaking Bhutanese guides. The tour package price also includes all in-country ground transportation, airport transfers, fees to our Bhutanese tour-travel company, all presentations, museum and temple entry fees, honorariums for the seven presenters, lamas, monks, and scholars; and donations to the host monastery and to local nunneries and monasteries.
Danna and Tipping. Danna, or making a contribution from the heart, to the teachers at the end of the retreat, is an expression of generosity. Your gratitude for their teachings can manifest in however much you wish to donate.
Separately, on the last evening together at our Farewell Dinner, we will pass the hat or an envelope acknowledging the care and attention our tour guides and drivers devoted to us. Our participants ask what is customary. A guideline for a good experience, to express appreciation might be $5.00-10.00 a day per participant.
This money will be given during the Farewell Dinner to the owner of Wisdom Tours, with whom we have worked since 2012, and we know of their integrity, to distribute these tips to their guides and drivers.
Single occupancy add $895.00. For individuals traveling alone, who might prefer double occupancy, we will endeavor to find you a roommate. The price does not include $40.00 Bhutanese Visa, nor does it include airfare from the U.S. to Bangkok round-trip, nor does it include airfare from Bangkok to Paro, Bhutan, which is historically approximately $900.00 We will know the exact amount at the end of May, and this amount will be reflected in the final Invoice.
Nor does it include travel insurance, which is required. We can send you links to reputable travel insurance companies. In 2018, Marla and Charles checked the travel insurance desired box at checkout, for purchasing our airfare. It was a total of $328.00 for the both of us, which was quite affordable for the coverage.
Obtaining travel insurance when you purchase your international airline tickets might be the most effective and affordable coverage. You may also look into what travel insurance your credit card offers.
We encourage you to use frequent flyer miles, if you have them, to Bangkok. Currently U.S.–Bangkok airfare is approximately $800.00 to $900.00 per person, and fluctuates, depending upon your departure city and also the time you purchase your ticket. The sooner you can purchase your airline ticket, the less you will be paying. There are additional “gateway cities,” in addition to Bangkok, and these include Singapore, Kathmandu, Nepal, and Kolkata, India. Please contact us if you plan to enter from a gateway city other than Bangkok.
Booking your flight. We encourage your looking at two airline websites that are hundreds of dollars less, and offer all the major air carriers to Bangkok. They are: www.justFly.com and www.skyScanner.com.
We encourage arriving early in Bangkok, preferably at least two days, to acclimate to the time zone changes and to ensure making the flight to Bhutan September 27th, if you have unexpected travel delays in reaching Bangkok.
Bangkok lodging. We prefer that our group stay at one of two Bangkok boutique family owned hotels that are 10 minutes from the International Airport. The hotels are The Orchid Resort at the International Airport (Please note there is a Sheraton Orchid but that is an hour away from the airport). The other is called Pongsakorn Boutique Resort. Both are approximately $37.00 per room night. Both are in the Lat Krabang district of Bangkok.
We can provide a list of self-touring spectacular and memorable Bangkok destinations, if you come in extra early.
Departure Bangkok for Bhutan: We plan to have all group participants fly Bangkok, Thailand to Paro, Bhutan, together, arriving in Paro Saturday morning, September 27th.
Passports. Anyone considering this Tour must have a valid passport, and their passport needs to be valid for at least six months after date of return. Travel insurance, though very rarely needed or used, is for the possibility of trip interruption or a traveler becoming ill during a tour or any hospital and medical expenses are the traveler’s responsibility.
Bhutan Tourist Visa. The Bhutan Visa costs $40.00 and we will invoice you for this during your final Invoice. Your Bhutan Tourist Visa will be applied for after final trip payment has been received. We will need a color, high-resolution, scanned copy of your passport details information page containing your photo, and the adjacent signature Passport page, with your deposit, in order to start the Bhutan visa process.
Payment Schedule. To reserve your place, a deposit of $1,500.00 is required, per person, Double Occupancy. For Single Occupancy, $1,900 deposit is required, to reserve your place.
Travel insurance is required. We can make recommendations.
Checks are to be made out to Two Truths LLC, and mailed to: P.O. Box 70233, Tucson, Arizona, 85737.
Payment by PayPal. Those who wish to pay by PayPal and possibly gain travel insurance and mileage points through their credit cards, please contact us. Paypal charges 3% for this service. *The way this works is once you indicate to us that you wish to make payment via PayPal with your credit card, we prepare the PayPal Invoice for you, and send it to you via your email address. It is that simple.
Please note that we will be competing for limited Bhutan airline seat reservations, and limited hotel space, since September and October are a very popular travel season in the Kingdom of Bhutan. Please see our Detailed Itinerary.
Participants outside the USA can make international bank wire payments. Contact us for details.
At the time of your registration, we will need for you to also email a scan (hi-resolution) of your color Passport page (in color), with the adjacent signature page to us for Bhutan Visa application. We will send your passport scans to the Royal government of Bhutan, along with your payments.
We can guide you on the phone, as to your flight options into Bangkok, and assist matching up fellow travelers together where possible, leaving from their departure cities. Some tour participants wish to travel together, wherever possible. The Bhutanese air tickets (Druk Air and Bhutan Tashi Air) and travel documents/Bhutan visa will be issued prior to departure from the U.S.
We are requesting that the Bangkok–Bhutan airfare be paid by August 1 (in order to secure limited seats) in a check to: TwoTruths LLC. This will enable us to make one wire bank transfer to the Bank of Bhutan, to cover everyone’s Bangkok–Paro roundtrip airfares. No one is allowed to board the flight from Bangkok–Paro, Bhutan without having a Bhutanese Visa, to be issued as a group boarding, to Two Truths. These are the Bhutanese Royal government’s rules to enter the Kingdom. We will be sending a second wire transfer of everyone’s hotel reservations to Bhutan over the summer.
Return Flight Information. For your return planning purposes, as you shop for roundtrip flights to and from Bangkok, please note that for our return, we depart Paro, Bhutan Friday, October 10th, 2020. Please do not schedule a flight onward that day, as we do not yet know the times flights arrive back in Bangkok. Typically, they arrive back by 4:30 pm … some arrive back in Bangkok in the evening. We suggest you schedule your return flight for Saturday, October 11th.
Cambodia Post Trip: For those of you registering for the Cambodia–Angkor Wat Post Trip, we depart for Cambodia Sunday morning, October 11th. (Cambodia. Tour limited to 16). We return from the Cambodia Post Trip, back to Bangkok, the evening of Sunday, October 15th. You can make your international return home reservations anytime beginning the morning of Monday, October 19th.
For any reason, tour payments will be 100% refundable with written notice, prior to July 1st, less $150.00 administrative fee per person.
If written cancellation notice is received between July 1 and August 20th there will be a 50% refund and also a $150.00 per person administrative fee.
Effective August 21st, payments are 100% non-refundable, as we are required to purchase your Bangkok–Paro air tickets as soon as your deposit is made, and these tickets are non-refundable. Deposits to hotels, and ground transport will already have been committed. Please note that airline seats and hotel rooms can be very limited in Bhutan in October.
Clothing, Currency, and Special Needs. We recommend packing layered clothing, for comfort walking, touring, leisure time, and hiking. September and October day temperatures in western and central Bhutan ranges between 60–70 degrees, depending on location, and evenings from 50 to 60 degrees. Day temperatures in Bangkok can reach a humid 90 degrees and evenings, a balmy 75 degrees. We have an enchanting self-guided Bangkok destination activities list to share with you, for the days before the beginning of the Pilgrimage Tour.
The 18-seater Toyota Cruisers are very comfortable, and have been a great option for those not wanting to walk or hike short distances, or to nearby destinations. We will be in various temperature zones in October, briefly passing through mountain passes and much of the time in valleys and high valleys. Bhutan typically has only four days in October with light brief showers.
We are committed to a small group size travel experience and limit micro-bus occupancy to 15-16 tour participants. Because of the widespread interest in Bhutan and the Retreat, more than 15 individuals will participate in this tour. Each micro-bus will travel autonomously and visit sacred places, markets, and restaurants independently. We will gather at the Retreat as a whole community creating sacred togetherness.
Regarding Health and Traveling: We each have our own unique body and possible health challenges, and we encourage you to consult your healthcare provider and or your local international health travel office.
Having said that, here is what we have found:
Hepatitis. A vaccine is recommended by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for most travelers including those with “standard itineraries and accommodations.” Hepatitis A is transmitted through contaminated food and water and via person-to-person contact.
We will not be in areas of Thailand where there is identified risk for malaria. There are available malaria prophylaxis drugs, if you choose, prior to departure.
Typhoid vaccine is recommended for “adventurous eaters”… i.e. “street food,” although we do not recommend eating “street food.” Typhoid is transmitted through contaminated food and water. We recommend drinking only bottled water. Please bring a re-useable bottle/ container from home, for water, so we can refill in the mornings at hotel trustworthy water sources, reducing the utilization of plastic bottles (waste). Additional bottled water will be available on our touring vans, during the day.
The estimated risk for malaria for American travelers in Thailand and Cambodia, is “low.” There is no risk of malaria in Bhutan. There is also no risk of malaria in Phnom Penh, and Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
There are no mandatory health requirements: No immunizations for Yellow Fever, Dengue, Hepatitis, etc., are mandated for either Bangkok or Bhutan.
We will be visiting Battambang, Cambodia, known for its heritage and sacred sites, where malaria exposure is possible. You may want to consider Atovaquone-Proguanil or Doxycyline.
Again, consult your medical provider regarding applications and possible side effects. We will wear long sleeves and long pants and socks in the evening, and use mosquito repellent in Bangkok and Cambodia.
If you believe you might have difficulty with elevations of 7,500 feet in Bhutan, you may want to research prophylaxis treatments for possible altitude sickness. Typically, we will be sleeping in lodges below 7,200 feet.
We look forward to safe, healthy, and rewarding travels with you.
Who Comes? Mostly, participants ‘self-select’, meaning our participants are ready to be immersed in a uniquely spiritual culture, and are open to awakening in the process of self discovery. They may be well traveled, and their nature is to embrace the unexpected. Local circumstances and delightful surprises may arise in Thailand, Bhutan, and Cambodia. From time to time, the printed itinerary may be slightly modified, depending upon locations and opportunities.
Participants come for all kinds of reasons: Bhutan is on their bucket list; curiosity about the last intact Buddhist nation, and also the world’s youngest democracy. Or, a desire to hike in pristine old growth forests; or taste Bhutan’s expression of spiritual ecology; or a glimpse for beginning meditators; or “coming home” for long-time meditators and Buddhists. We endeavor to support each person’s aspiration in Bhutan, including separate itineraries or secular activities for spouses and partners.
The Bhutanese currency is keyed to the Indian rupee, since India is their major trading partner. There are a few ATMs in-country and also Bhutanese currency can be bought at the Paro airport and re-sold back, also at the Paro airport, with no commissions or penalty. Numerous shops in Paro and also in the capital, Thimphu, accept credit cards.
We are sensitive to individual physical abilities, regarding walking and hiking. As mentioned, travel will be in a comfortable temperature-controlled modern vans, and we pride our tours in accommodating individual needs for resting, walking, diet, and special needs. The 6-Day retreat will be held at 2,195 meters altitude, which is 7,200 feet. Please consult your physician about altitude issues. Travel itinerary does not include rigorous exercise. Any walking is leisurely, and at your own pace.
We shall provide a detailed list and narrative, as well as an elaborate bibliography and recommended reading list of Bhutanese and Himalayan culture, Buddhism, archeology, arts, and Bhutan travel information, to each tour participant, upon receipt of their deposit.
Wi-fi is prevalent and cell phones work surprisingly well in Bhutan. All hotels have Wi-Fi, although many only have connectivity in their lobbies. Many participants bring iPads and communicate back home via FaceTime. Some participants conduct business, as, for example, Bhutan is 13 hours ahead of Tucson, Arizona.
See the Detailed Itinerary for specific days’ activities. Your days can be as filled, or as restful and contemplative, as you wish.
We will be sending additional information in July and August, regarding what to expect with airline baggage allowances, electrical adapters for your devices, a list of hotels and contacts for your people at home, and shopping and cultural tips. At that time we will also send a participant questionnaire, so we can best support your time in Bhutan.
Many thanks and please don’t hesitate with your questions: charles@ twoTruths.org or (520) 331-8338 in Tucson, Arizona.