Bhutan & Kashmir: From Sufism to Buddhism- Paradise Regained in Two Himalayan Kingdoms April/May Dates to be announced soon 2017

From Sufism to Buddhism

“If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this”. from Persian poet Jami

The tour commences in the legendary Kashmir Valley, “Jahangir’s Paradise”, where you are based in Srinagar. After a life-long wish, Marieke ventured there for the first time in 2012 and discovered a myriad attractions: placid mountain-backed Dal Lake with its slumbering houseboats, famous Mughal gardens, the historic wooden mosques of the old town and a remarkable wealth of home-grown handicrafts, including exquisite Papier-mâché and hand-loomed pashminas. Ironically, years of insecurity and underdevelopment served more or less as a sort of nature conservancy scheme, leaving the place in reasonably good shape and largely unspoiled, melting glaciers aside. The new peacefulness though is proving appealing to Indian domestic tourists and bringing with it a transformative building boom and new wealth. None the less, Srinagar holds a special allure and mystique and her people, a reminder of the piety and gentleness of a country which has more sufi shrines than almost anywhere else in the
Muslim world.
 Kashmir may also be undertaken as a stand alone program, or you may rather join us for the exciting program being offered in June as a trekking holiday accessible to all who feel they are confident adventurous walkers.

The 11-days in Bhutan can be undertaken as a discrete package, for those without the time to also include Kashmir. Over previous trips, we have built a special association that can ensure for our guests, many exclusive features that sets this program apart from most others. Introductions to Bhutanese Royalty and civic Leaders, special entrée to sites not normally allowed to tourists, and private cultural performances will immeasurably enrich your experience.
We have also secured the highest (though sometimes simple) standards of accommodation available

This is a special program for adventurous travellers seeking unique experiences, who come with an open mind, an interest in ancient and precious craft traditions and pack their patience and a sense of flexibility and understand that standards of comfort and luxury and road conditions are not always the same as in the west. Visiting these countries is both adventurous and leisurely, allowing the traveller to experience tremendous beauty, charm, peace and magic, very far removed from the hectic pace of Western urban life. Although there is very little arduous physical activity nor much entertainment, this program has been designed to give you the opportunity to visit the important places of interest, and also give you ample time to enjoy a rare peacefulness.
 A memorable journey for the mind and the senses! 

Contact us to plan your trip to this special destination.

HIGHLIGHTS:

 

John Isaac photo

The People.

Kashmir has been romanticised by everyone from the 16th-century Mogul emperor Jahangir (who, when asked on his deathbed if he wanted anything, whispered "Kashmir, only Kashmir") to Salman Rushdie (who spoke of "the lush valleys, the lakes, the streams, the saffron meadows – the intense physical beauty and culture of enormous harmony") and Led Zepellin ("Ooh my baby, let me take you there").
Most Kashmiris live an agrarian and simple life. Srinagar with its semblance of mod cons is hardly the norm. Overall the people are extremely gracious, generous, unfailingly hospitable and sweet. The last decades of strife have brought much grief, pain and suffering, yet they embrace visitors as friends and begin to dream of a new golden era, independence and sovereign control over their own resources.

Bhutan is a country like no where else and a still relatively unexplored destination. For centuries, Bhutan has remained shrouded in a veil of mist and very little about it was known to the outside world until the 1970's. This isolation has given the proud people of this country the opportunity to view the world in a unique and still spiritual way. Many consider it the last Shangri-La: an exciting, soulful, soothing and wondrously beautiful, unique destination.
This is a country that mixes tradition, myths and legends with new learning with comfortable ease. The people are inquisitive, well-educated, vibrant, fun-loving and the overall mood within the country is very relaxed, happy and welcoming, as well as extremely safe. They are also grappling with immense change and modernisation.

Astounding Natural Beauty.

Bhutan is the size of and as glorious as the Swiss Alps, (with soaring Himalayan peaks separating Bhutan from Tibet) with fertile lush valleys, abundant forests and dramatic peaks and passes. In Spring expect blood red rhododendrons, soaring white magnolia tress and large drifts of perfumed luburnum and carpets of primula to be in flower.

Kashmir is an incredibly lush valley nestled in the lower hills of the Himalayas that forms the headwaters of the Indus River — a massive river that is one of the main water sources for Pakistan and the heart of their primary agricultural valley. The emerald valley is carpeted with rice paddies, strung with fruit and nut orchards and ringed with mountains. Almost every Kashmiri I have met refers to it as a paradise. But this paradise depends on water.

   

Remarkable Art + Craft Traditions.

The artistic genius of the Kashmiri people has for centuries been expressed in the fields of literature, poetry, literary images, shawl-making, embroidery, embroidered floor-coverings, wood-work and wood-carving, papier-mâché, metal-work and carpet-weaving. These traditions continue to be practised today at the highest levels and have both spiritual and symbolic meanings as well as being economically significant.

Arts and crafts are exuberantly and widely practised throughout Bhutan. Ancient skills in bronze, wood, clay, iron and silver have been preserved. Festivals, religious ceremonies, and folk traditions are represented in dance. Painting, sculpture, weaving and embroidery of textiles continue in high order. Bhutan also boasts one of the most vibrant remaining textile traditions of any country in the world. Its highly decorative architecture also boasts unique charm.

 

Ancient Spiritual Traditions.

An understanding of Bhutan's Buddhism will immeasurably enrich your experience of the people, the cultural institutions, monasteries, and temples. Fluttering prayer flags, whirling prayer wheels and imposing hilltop dzongs are everywhere a reminder. Fundamental to their beliefs and way of life is the sanctity of life, protecting nature for future generations, not exploiting the earth, and maintaining culture and heritage. Increasing population, a difficult terrain that limits farming land, modern infrastructure and communications now all challenge these precepts. Television and the internet are recent arrivals set to change the country permanently. Bhutan represents the last unspoiled remnants of the quickly disappearing Himalayan culture.

Kashmir has a rich spiritual heritage of all faiths and has been a land of  Sanskrit scholars, Seers, Saints, Savants and Sages- some belonged to the Buddhist faith, some advocated Shaiva philosophy, some were Sufis and some were saint-poets or nuns. Today the state itself is made up of three distinctive regions with different religious and ethnic compositions: Jammu is about 65 percent Hindu, mainly ethnic Dogras;
Ladakh being about 50 percent Tibetan Buddhist with significant Muslim communities and the
Kashmir Valley about 90 percent Kashmiri Muslim (mostly of the gentle mystical form). Shrines, relics, temples and mosques are widely venerated.
Some Kashmir researchers are of the opinion that many inhabitants of Kashmir are descendants of the Lost Tribes who were exiled in 722 BCE. and wandered along the Silk Road into the countries of the East, Persia and Afghanistan until they reached the Kashmir valley and settled there. Others believe Christ is buried at Rozabal.

Trip Features:
Sacred Sites
Astounding scenery
Expert local guides
Introductions to and interactions with art and craft practitioners
Entree to private homes

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What Guests have said: 
"Dear Marieke,
I'd just like to say a very big thankyou for another wonderfully memorable adventure ...... it's only now that the wonderful images of the trip are coming back in more detail. What a truly magical little kingdom Bhutan is - the natural charm and openness of the people, the scenery, the whole spirit of the place.
Of course your magnificent attention to every detail, Durga's inimitable style and the heart with which you put into each journey is one of the reasons I just keep coming back!"
Judy Olsson, Melbourne

And so to Paradise......Land of the Thunder Dragon...
I haven’t stopped raving since I returned...and have been wondering why I came back...
I so appreciated the silence , beauty and tranquility of the land and its people.
Have had a very brief look at some pics on disc bringing back the wonder of it all ... I found myself smiling at the screen...it will be a long time before the images start to fade.....
Thanks to you, the fabulous Bhutan team and the Indian import, another magical journey has been safely completed ever -so -specially and filed away in the memory box as one of life’s unforgettable and wondrous adventures that I am confident cannot be matched.
And now to dreams of happy smiling faces, flags fluttering in the valleys of rhododendrons and magnolias. a place at peace and prayer.
Love
Suzanne Halliday

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