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Our world is under a lot of pressure these days.  This is true on either side of the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans.  I’m unsure what’s happening to be honest except everyone is beyond stressed and no one can say anything right.  If you want an escape from the madness, there is a tiny little Buddhist Kingdom at the base of the mighty Himalaya Mountains called Bhutan.  Some refer to Bhutan the Last Shangri-La.

You know you’re in a special place even before landing at the airport in Paro.  Pilots skillfully navigate between massive mountain ranges as if they are meandering on a mountain road.  It’s incredible.  If you’re lucky enough to sit next to a window, you’ll have a delightful landscape show that you’ll never expect.

You’ll also know you’re in a one of a kind destination when you pick up your luggage from the one and only carousel in the airport terminal.

Your Bhutanese experience will only continue to get better day by day.  What I’m really saying is you won’t have a bad experience in Bhutan.  The Bhutanese are beautiful, peaceful and well beyond friendly.  Their smiles will make you melt.  Do keep in mind the Bhutanese enjoy their quiet so keep your Western voices down to a minimum.  

Schedule your journey to Bhutan to coincide with one of the many festivals that take place throughout the year.   You’ll be treated to traditional Bhutanese music and dancing.  The most intriguing part of any festival is the display of devotion to Buddha and the Buddhist ceremonies that take place.  

Typically, festivals take place at a town’s dzong, which in olden times were large fortresses.  Today the dzongs are home to local government councils and offices.  Besides the glorious Himalaya Mountains that surround you in almost any place you find yourself in Bhutan, the Bhutanese architecture is just as grand and incredible to see.  Be sure to pay attention to the minute details as most buildings feature brilliant woodcarvings and intricate painting designs.

Allow yourself enough time to travel beyond Paro and Thimphu, the capital city.  Once your driver takes you past Thimphu, you’re basically on Himalayan mountain roads.  Believe me when I say – you’re in for a ride of a lifetime.  There is no straight smooth road through the mountains but the scenery is well beyond anything you’ve ever seen.  And if you’re lucky, you’ll find your head in the clouds as low clouds move in at dusk.  For me, having my head in the clouds was surreal and one of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve ever had in my life.

It was in Bhutan on the long uphill trail to Tiger’s Nest when I first realised selfies had grossly infected society.  I was only a few hundred yards from the pinnacle when a youngish American tourist whipped out his phone and declared – “It’s time for a selfie.”  Needless to say I was taken back and in disbelief that someone would think to take a photo of himself before considering he was at one of Bhutan’s most sacred sights.  Since then, of course, selfies have become more than common and might I add more than annoying.  Tiger’s Nest, however, remains a majestic sight and well worth the three hour trek it takes to reach it.  You can’t be disappointed, nor will you be.

Consider these iPhone travel photography tips so you can capture the best possible travel photos during your next adventurous journey.

LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

Few styles of photography grant solace to the wandering soul like landscape photography. It invites us to seek out the wild, lonely places of the world. It can also be challenging to do well.

SHOOT DURING THE GOLDEN AND BLUE HOURS

Any professional photographer will tell you that lighting is one of the most important elements to landing a great shot, and with landscapes the most superb lighting occurs during the golden and blue hours of the day. The golden hour is the hour just after the sun has risen or just before setting, when the light is warm, soft, and creating pleasant shadows. The blue hour is the hour just before dawn or just after sunset, when the light is fading but not yet fully dark. This is when some of the most glorious sunrise/sunset effects happen. It’s also the best time to photograph cities, as there is still light in the sky yet the lights in the city are also on. Both of these hours will make for stellar shots. Conversely, the worst time to shoot is at noon (unless it’s a cloudy day), as you’ll get some harsh, unwelcoming light.

INVEST IN A TRAVELER’S TRIPOD

Some of the most dramatic landscapes can only be captured with longer exposures.  Blue hour, night time, and HDR photography will all need some form of camera stabilization, yet traditional tripods are both heavy and bulky.  That’s where a traveler tripod comes in.  Traveler tripods range from the small, flexible like the Gorilla Pod(which will fit in a small daypack), to the larger, near full-size tripods that are built light and collapse into a small bundle meant for traveling.  Which tripod you choose to add to your travel photography gear will depend on your budget, photography style, and the types of places you like to travel to, but having one will open up huge vistas of photographic opportunity for you.

DON’T FORGET TO USE THE FOREGROUND

It’s often challenging to capture that beauty in a 2-dimensional photo without something in the foreground to help put things in perspective. Incorporating a strong foreground into your photo will not only give context to the larger scene, it will also lend a sense of depth to your image that can be the difference between a flat, boring snapshot and an exceptional photo. Look for leading lines, interesting rocks, hill formations, or even just flowers. Just make sure that the elements you want to be sharp are in focus (which might mean using a higher f-stop).

ARCHITECTURAL PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

If you love traveling, you’re probably not immune to the immense beauty that lies in some of the world’s human-made structures.  Whether you like the technical aspects, the culture it represents, or just admire a fine building, it’s hard to avoid wanting to land some great architecture shots.

WATCH YOUR LINES

One of the most challenging aspects to photographing buildings is making sure the lines go where they’re supposed to.  Often we’re looking up at architectural elements, and that can cause the vertical lines to start to converge, making the building look like it’s falling backwards.  If you find this happening, try stepping back from the building or moving to a higher point of view.  Also make sure you edit your photos in a program that fixes lens distortions.  This will often clear up lines that you thought were straight but came out crooked once you’ve clicked the shutter.

DON’T FORGET THE HUMAN ELEMENT

Most travel photographers try to avoid having people in their architectural images, yet including them can really add a whole other dimension to your image.  After all, buildings were designed for and by people, and if we really want to capture the spirit of a place, then it makes sense to see it from the perspective of those living and working in it.  On a practical level, including people will lend a sense of scale and depth to the image.

EXPLORE THE DETAILS

If you’re looking for a more unique shot, trying capturing the individual elements of a building.  There are often plenty of details and geometric patterns in even the simplest of structures, whether built in or a product of light and shadow.  Notice how the lines interact with each other, how the light illuminates textures, where the shadows fall.  A little bit of exploration might not only grant you some fantastic shots, but may also lead you to discover something new or interesting about the building’s construction or history.

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

Street photography and traveling are pretty much a match made in heaven. Wandering the streets of a strange town or city is one of the primary pleasures of traveling, and capturing the real-life stories of the streets can be some of the most meaningful photos you bring back.

Contrary to popular thought, one of the most tried and true methods of street photography is to find an interesting spot, compose your shot, and spend time waiting for something interesting to happen. One of the early masters of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson,  often waited hours for what he called “the decisive moment.” But whether you wait for half an hour while you sip a coffee or lie in wait for hours, you’ll probably find this style of street photography less invasive than other forms, as the subject will be entering your space, not the other way around. You’ll also be more prepared, which means more opportunity to land the shot successfully.

BE RESPECTFUL

While capturing truly candid moments is at the heart of most street photography, it’s important to remember that not everyone wants their photo taken or to have their image bouncing around on social media.  So while everyone in a public space may seem like fair game (which is legally true in the US), both individuals and cultures as a whole may not appreciate the “shoot from the hip” method or other forms of surreptitious photography.  From focusing on the whole scene to creating a connection with your subjects, there are many unobtrusive ways to capture real life on the streets, and if you are in doubt about a shot, try and talk to people that are identifiable and ask their permission if you plan to publish it.  It may not always be practical, but it something to consider.

HAVE YOUR CAMERA EASILY ACCESSIBLE

There’s nothing like seeing something amazing (or even merely interesting) happen directly in front of you and not being able to get your camera out in time to capture it.  The solution?  Always have your camera handy.  If you’re not wanting to lug around a bulky DSLR, consider investing in a lighter camera—the best street images aren’t amazing because of their megapixels, but because of their content and composition.  Conversely, if you love your DSLR, try investing in a camera bag that gives you super-quick access.  

BE SURE TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT GEAR

Believe it or not, drones actually do come in a size that you can take with you on a trip, but you’ll need to do your research to find the one that’s right for you.  The larger, more expensive ones will be able to take better photos, but tend to be, well, large.  (And therefore hard to pack.)  If you want one that fits in your bag, consider models like the DJI Spark or the GoPro Karma.  Both are reasonably priced and can fit into just about any travel bag.

STAY CHARGED UP

Like with any electronic device, having enough battery power and some to spare can prevent a lot of mishaps.  While a single battery can cover a lot of territory, it’s always a good idea to have at least one backup.  This give you peace of mind.  You’ll also want to remember any travel adapters or converters you’ll need for juicing up in other countries.

PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY
LOOK YOUR SUBJECT IN THE EYE

The eyes are a great place to focus your photos – whether you can see them or not!  By focusing on the subjects eyes and capturing the light you help bring life to the image and if taking portraits of children get down to their eye level to produce a more natural shot (rather than them looking up).  You can experiment with having your subject looking directly into the camera or looking at something beyond the camera to create a sense of intrigue, or removing the traditional ‘eye’ element completely whilst still focusing at eye level (below).

BACKGROUNDS AND FRAMING

The background can make a huge difference in a portrait shot.  Bright colours, stark whites, muted blacks etc but the background doesn’t have to be everything.  If you can’t find what you are looking to use try and incorporate branches or other natural elements in the foreground of the frame for a different effect.  If you can’t find either, be sure to use a wide angle lens and a longer focal length to blur your frame so all focus still falls on your subject. 

GET CLOSE TO YOUR SUBJECT

You’re allowed the break the rules of composition (shoot with reference to the rule of thirds) when it comes to shooting portraits.  Placing your subject away from the middle of the frame can create a dramatic effect.

 

How does a gentleman travel?   The answer is simple.  A gentleman travels the easiest and most convenient way possible.  In the literal sense, a gentleman travels by commercial plane, private plane, his own plane, a friend’s plane, big boat, small boat, privately chartered boat, SUV, chauffeured driven car, Business Class and First Class, over mountains, over oceans, up and down escalators, on foot, subway, train, metro, cable car, and even a camel or a mule.

In a deeper sense, a gentleman travels to discover the world.  The sights, sounds, aromas, tastes and touch of an unfamiliar place expand the knowledge of anyone who travels.  You can travel across your neighbourhood, your city and even around the world.  No matter where you go, you’re sure to receive an education you’ll never find in a classroom or a book.  You can learn a wee bit from television tho’ television really is a black hole that steals your time away from more meaningful things in life.

The cultures and the people we meet along the way teach us that we are all just trying to make it.  We simply try to make it in different ways.  But everyone you meet along the way will teach you something you didn’t know before.  If you’re lucky, you will learn a lot about yourself as well.

Travelling around the world with my camera I am afforded stunningly beautiful opportunities to capture what is before me.  I am often awestruck at man-made structures.  I’m often in complete wonderment being amongst Mother Nature’s magical creations.  But, what moves me most are the genuine souls of varying cultures who unconditionally help to uncover special parts inside of me.

Whether a divining wind sways me, or a guiding hand shifts me, I always find myself in the path of strangers who sequentially become my brothers or sisters.  Perhaps this is sheer luck.  Perhaps I have a sign on my back that says – “Hey!  I’m a nice guy.  Come talk to me.”  Perhaps not knowing why is of no great importance and I accept my good fortune without question.  

There is a peacefulness with this which I hold very close to my heart.  Quite honestly, these are moments never obtained with the click of the shutter.  These moments of building new bonds stay etched in my mind.

Travel is one of the most rewarding and powerful gifts we can give ourselves.  You can obviously give the gift of travel to others.   I’ve said this many times throughout this blog tho’ I’ll say it again.  Travel is one of the best educations you can ever receive.  There is no substitute for travel.

So, how does a gentleman travel?  A gentleman travels with an open heart and an open mind.    He travels with eyes wide open.  He rarely travels with a set agenda.  A gentleman travels with few expectations.  And, he takes each day as it comes.

 

 

The year that was in travel is the year that is.  And, it’s the year ahead in 2020.

Every 31 December we ask ourselves – “Where did the year go?  It feels like January was just yesterday”.  Why does time feel like it slips by so fast?  

Is it because technology steals so much time from us?  Our work days find us in front of computer screens and in our spare time we are always tip-tapping on our mobile phones or tablets?  Our meals are delivered to us quickly in restaurants.  And, we better hurry because “this deal” won’t last.  It seems as if we are continuously in a race against time. 

Is time the friend of anyone amongst us?  Time is certainly no friend of mine.  There is never enough time in my days, weeks or months to check off my to-do list.  I’m fairly certain my to-do list grows faster than the things I get done.  Is there anyway to slow time?  Is there any way to make 2020 move slower so we can savour the days?

2019 was a remarkable year in more ways than one.  I use the term remarkable as it can refer to both good and bad.  Everyone’s year is filled with both good and bad so I can’t very well say my circumstances are special.  They are unique to me, however.

People come and go from our lives.  Life becomes fresh as new and interesting people come into our lives.  There is a lesson to learn from every person who crosses our paths.  It is up to us to decide what to do not only with the lessons but the people we meet.  

Richard Bach said it best in his book, “Illusions” – one of my favourites.  Bach said, “Every person, every event in our lives is there because we have drawn them there.  What we choose to do with them is up to us.”  

I read the book and the quote more than twenty years ago.  The words made such an impact on me, I remember and use them today.  The quote refers to the good people in our lives, tho’ unfortunately, the bad people as well.  I won’t go into details but I can say I’ve been betrayed, told I was loved when I wasn’t, used, taken advantage of and  lied to as well.  At one point it got so bad I had to question what is happening in our world.  Where did all the good people go?

I still wonder and sadly I’ve had to become weary and cautious.  I’m a genuine sort of guy who prefers to see the good in people.  I’m kind and I’ll do almost anything to help you, if I can.  I won’t change they way I live and see life.  I’ll simply be smarter in 2020 and beyond.

When you travel like I do, my travel experiences are also my life experiences.  I talk a lot about opening your mind and heart while travelling.  Throughout the blog I talk about the good people I’ve met.  I stay away from talking about the not so good people I meet along the way.  Today I’ve chosen to only refer to the bad seeds.

Instead of harbouring feelings of anger and hurt, I turn to myself.  I’m always comfortable with who and what I am.  I’m also aware I can always be better.  What can I do to improve?  I take stock of myself and take steps to become a better person.  I want to be better not only for myself but for the people in my life as well.

All that said, how can I put a year of travel into one video?  Over 4,000 travel photos – all with an iPhone – in one fast paced video.  Four minutes and thirty seconds.  That’s a lot of time in our fast-paced world.  Thanks for taking the journey with me.  I hope you enjoy.

Best of Luck to Everyone in 2020.

No matter how, when, why or where you travel around the world you are sure to receive one of the best educations of your life.  The lessons you learn may be small and unnoticeable or they may be huge and life changing.

A foreign culture may make you realise something you didn’t know about yourself and sometimes even move you to tears.  My visit to Bhutan took me to a state of peacefulness I’ve not found anywhere in the Western world.  I can’t begin to describe the effect the tiny kingdom had on me except to say when I viewed photos and video from the journey, tears rolled down my cheeks.  It’s a mystery to me why the tears came even today.  All I know is Bhutan touched me beyond measure.

The taste of new food, aromas, colors and even travel sounds can leave an impression on you well after you leave a destination.  The sensory elements of travel may inspire you to add them to your own creative adventures in cooking or music or handicrafts.

You may be in awe of Big Ben or Mont Saint Michel glowing against the night sky.  Istanbul’s Blue Mosque or the Old Medina in Marrakech send your senses into sensory overload.  A sunset on a beach in the Caribbean or Bali may change the way you look at the world.

But most of all, it is the people you meet along the way who will touch you in ways you never though imaginable.  Maybe you’ll understand that we are all just trying to make it in this world.  We just happen to speak differently or pray a little different.  Inherently, we’re all good people.

And so when I wanted to show the many places I’ve travelled throughout the world, I decided to do it in one go in one epic video presentation which I’ve titled “Travel Around The World With The Gentleman Wayfarer.”  There are approximately 3000 photos in the fast-paced presentation that span all the way around the world.  The places and people I’ve included have impacted my life in one way or another.  This is my tribute to every one and every place that has made a difference in my life.

Travel with an iPhone or any mobile phone is very common today.  If you are keen to improve your travel photography skills, a mobile device is a great way to do it.  Phones are easily accessible, they fit in your pocket and you really don’t have to think too much.

Consider these iPhone Travel Photography Tips during your next journey.

1) Strengthen your travel photos with different focal lengths.

The iPhone is equipped with two lenses, a wide-angle 28mm and a portrait lens, 56mm. Different focal lengths tell different stories. A wider angle generally gives a better sense of place, while a telephoto brings the viewer into the details of the subject.  Consider this while you’re shooting and experiment with both.  And remember – one key element to great photo composition is filling your frame.

2) Keep Using Your iPhone in Low Light

Some of my favorite images have been shot well after the sun has gone down.  I love the challenge of low light photography.  In the past, I would have put my iPhone away thinking the images wouldn’t be usable, but now with a new sensor and faster aperture (f/1.8), the iPhone autofocuses and captures substantially better in low light.

3) Be In The Moment But Also Think Ahead

Travel photography is about capturing the unknowns and unexpected.  Always be looking forward, and consider using the iPhone’s burst mode so you don’t miss a moment as it happens.   To use burst mode, press and hold the shutter button until rapid fire begins.

4) Buy An Unlocked iPhone So You Can Switch to Local SIM Cards.

Communication is super important while traveling.  If you’re roaming internationally, the cost can be astronomical.  Buy a local SIM card as it allows you to make new plans, call someone, google something, and more, while you’re on the go. In photography, this means your GPS data will be recorded with your photo.  The iPhone’s memories feature can organize your images together by location and create simple and fun video vignettes.

Later, you can also look on a map in Photos and see exactly where you captured different photographs.  I use this feature as I don’t always remember the names of the places where I’ve taken photos.

5) Bring a Small Tripod

A small, compact tripod can be helpful and is a great way to capture time-lapses, low-light images, and more. While the iPhones now all have a stabilizer built in, the extra support from a tripod can be especially helpful with the iPhone optical zoom.

Keep in mind that shooting with a longer focal length, like the iPhone optical zoom, amplifies camera shake.  You’ll find it will naturally be more difficult to get a sharp clear shot while shooting with 2x, especially in low-light environments or unstable foundations, like a moving vehicle.  To compensate, use a mini-tripod or experiment with burst mode. Sometimes I’ll shoot a 20-shot burst just to ensure that I have the sharpest shot possible.

6) Upload Your Photos to the Cloud Daily

Thanks to a the iPhone’s water-resistant feature, you won’t be losing our pictures during accidental swims, but it could be left at a hotel, or worse, picked from your pocket, which happened to me in Ecuador. At the end of the day, the iPhone can be replaced, but your pictures can’t. Don’t get two weeks into a trip only to lose them all in a moment.

If you don’t have your laptop because you’re traveling light, consider a SanDisk iXpand.  It’s essentially a USB flash drive with a Lightning connector, so you can quickly and easily off-load your images each day.  I love mind and take it everywhere I travel.

Be sure to keep your backup and your iPhone in separate bags for extra safety.

7) Play it safe.

Don’t put your iPhone—or any valuable—in the tray when going through security. Instead, put it in a pocket of your bag before sending it through the x-ray.  This way it’s protected from being accidentally—or intentionally—carried off before you get through the metal detector.

8) Play To The Strengths of the iPhone

One of the greatest strengths of the iPhone as a camera is its agility.  You can focus on getting to the best shoot spots instead of worrying about lugging gear. Don’t weigh it down with a bunch of unnecessary DSLR lens adapters.

Try leaving your DSLR at home and travel super light.  The iPhone  doesn’t replace your DSLR, but it’s plenty powerful and a really fun way to experience and capture the environment around you.  You’ll love leaving the extra chargers, batteries, lenses, and big tripod at home for a change.

Bhutan, Land of The Thunder Dragon, is tucked amongst the Himalaya Mountains.  The country is remote making it one of the last few untouched places in the world.  Bhutan is almost wholly Buddhist and they measure their quality of life by Gross National Happiness.  To visit Bhutan is akin to taking your soul on a journey of self-discovery.  It is by far one of the few places in the world I have found myself in complete peace and all cares go away.

There are many reasons to love Bhutan and the Bhutanese.  This is my list of 14 Reasons to Love Bhutan:: 

::  Happiness is the key to life.  Instead of Gross National Product (GDP), Bhutan adheres to Gross National Happiness.

::  Colorful festivals including the Paro Festival, which I’ve included in a previous blog post.

::  The Bhutanese love quiet moments and so do I.

::  Bhutan treats is traditions with respect and faithfully follow what came before.

::  The ancient architecture is simple, yet stunning.  Newer construction complements the old very nicely.

::  Majestic Dzongs, or ancient forts, grace every town throughout Bhutan.

::  Bhutan is the Last Shangri-La.  Bhutan, or the Land of the Thunder Dragon, is the only remaining Buddhist Himalayan kingdom.

::  If you love trekking, Bhutan offers epic excursions throughout the Himalayan country.

::  When you visit Bhutan, you’ll be met with rugged and pristine natural wonders everywhere you go.

::  As you drive through the high Himalayan mountain passes, you’ll literally have your head in the clouds.

::  Bhutan’s cultural legacy will touch deeply within you.  Sometimes you don’t realise how much Bhutan touches you until well after you leave the tiny kingdom.

::  Bhutan is pure.  The air is clean and there is an endearing innocence to the people you don’t find in western societies.

::  Bhutan is authentic and genuine.  When a Bhutanese gives his word, you know it’s true.

::  The quiet in Bhutan and the quiet nature of the Bhutanese people show peace is indeed a virtue.  You’ll be at ease during your time in Bhutan.

::  Picturesque monasteries, such as Tiger’s Nest, will leave you speechless.

That’s 15 reasons to Love Bhutan.  I got carried away.  If you have questions about visiting the Tiny Kingdom of Bhutan, send me an email.  I’ll be pleased to help.

My affection for Bhutan cannot easily fit into words.  When I returned from this tiny kingdom, I couldn’t view my photos without tears falling.  Something beneath the surface happened while I was in Bhutan and to this day I can’t explain what it is.  Is it the decided ease and peace I felt; one I hadn’t felt before or since?  The idea of this is absolutely possible.  

Few places in this world take a tight hold on me and touch deep in my soul.  Bhutan is one of the places and to this day, it has not let go.

If you have a Bhutan story to tell, please do share.

Destination:  Bhutan

Travel Destination – Bhutan.  Paro Festival.

My introduction to Bhutan was the Paro Festival, one of the largest festivals in Bhutan.  The Bhutanese travel from all over the country to be a part of this sacred event where a “Trundal” from over a thousand years ago is lifted for a few hours before sunrise.  The Bhutanese queue to be able to walk, and touch the enormous embroidered Buddha, watch traditional Bhutanese dances, and be blessed.  For the Bhutanese, this is life and an important part of living as a Buddhist.  For me, this was a visual extravaganza not only observing the Bhutanese culture for the first time, but to see a people so colourfully dressed as they would any day, and interact with each other in ways not often seen in the Western world.

It has taken some time to be able to get what I experienced out of my mind, meaning to be able to express in words.  Bhutan is a very special place for me, not because I am a Buddhist, but because I often wondered if there is a place in this world where people could treat each other with genuine kindness, and civility.  There is, and the place is called Bhutan, a country relatively untouched by the outside world.  

I often think of returning to Bhutan or even taking someone who needs to experience what a truly peaceful place.  Being a firm believer that peace comes from within, I will say inner peace cannot be found here, but its seeds can most certainly be planted here. If you are looking for a travel destination and an authentic adventure that will touch your soul, add Bhutan tour your travel list now.

And if you’re thinking of attending the Paro Festival (Paro Tsechu), you might find this information interesting::
Paro Tsechu is one of the most popular festivals in Bhutan. Featuring dances performed by trained monks and laymen in amazing masks and costumes, Tsechus (festivals) are one of the best ways to experience the ancient living culture of Bhutan. A Tsechu is a Buddhist festival in honour of Guru Rimpoche, the saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan. A highlight of the Paro Tsechu is the unfurling of the silk Thangka – so large it covers the face of an entire building and is considered one of the most sacred blessings in the whole of Bhutan. The ‘Thangka, known in Bhutan as a ‘thongdroel’ is a religious picture scroll and is only exhibited for a few hours at daybreak on the final day of the festival enabling the people to obtain its blessing. This holy scroll “confers liberation by the mere sight of it” (the meaning of the word ‘thongdroel’ in Bhutanese). 

Map Showing the Location of the Paro Dzong, where the Paro Festival Takes Place ::

Prayer flags are symbols of Buddhism and are widespread throughout Bhutan.  Prayer flags are hoisted for happiness, long life, prosperity, luck, and to offer good karma to all beings with feeling.  Make a wish on a coloured prayer flag or view a memorial white prayer flag honouring those who have passed onto the next life.  They are colourful rectangular pieces of cloth inscribed with prayers, mantras and auspicious symbols.  Buddhists believe that the prayer flags generate spiritual vibrations that are released when blown by the wind and the prayers are carried in the air like silent prayers.  Any person and place touched by the wind will be happier and uplifted.

Prayer flags are raised outside homes, hung on bridges, hilltops, and places of spiritual importance, for a very special reason. Prayer flags give the wind the opportunity to move them and activate the blessings. The wind is considered an expression of mind and mental energy which activates them,” said the scholar. When the shadow of the prayer flag falls on streams and rivers, it is carried to larger water bodies like seas and oceans and benefits the marine fauna.  There are five different colours and each represents the five basic elements:  Blue for space, white for air, red for fire, green for water and yellow for earth.  Buddhists believe balancing these elements brings harmony to the environment and good health to the body and the mind.

Buddhists believe prayer flags benefit in four different ways:  through sight (Thondroel), sound (Thoedroel) of the fluttering flags, thought (Dendroel) and touch (Regdroel). They are fastened to wooden poles vertically or sewn on to ropes horizontally (in case of chudhar). Yellow, green, red, white and blue colours are used in Lungdhar, depending on the element (fire, water, wood and earth) one belongs to.

One common belief while passing by the prayer flags is that one should keep the flags to the right.  It is believed that prayer flags embody the Ku, Sung and Thu, (speech, body and mind) of the saints and circumambulating a prayer flag earns merit in the same way like when we circumambulate a Choeten, lhakhang or a dzong.  When the prayer flag print fades, it should be properly disposed or burned.  Tearing down the printed cloth or contaminating it is a sin.

Prayer flags can be found almost anywhere in Bhutan as they are dotted along the mountainsides, bridges and other areas. Interestingly, near Tiger’s Nest, prayer flags are stretched from one side of a mountain to another by bow and arrow.  That’s precision.  Prayer flags are also used to appease local spirits and gods.  Hence, prayer flags are hung in places where they may reside like mountains, lakes, streams and valleys.  To view another Bhutan video, you might like Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon.

Destination:  Bhutan

You might like the Gentleman Wayfarer Journal Series, a collection of large blank writing journals with Bhutanese Prayer Flags on the cover.

From Bhutan to Tokyo to Thailand and Bali.  Highlights from some of the most idyllic places in Asia.

Honestly, before travelling to Asia, my only exposure to Asians relates to tourists I’d see in other places across the world and Las Vegas.  This sounds odd and silly but it’s true.  Asia and its culture were always completely foreign to me.  Perhaps it was discomfort for the unknown that kept me away for so long and unsure when I arrived.

My uncertainty about travelling to a place is remarkably stunning given the fact I typically have no problem jumping into a foreign culture with eyes closed and arms wide open.  Immediately after arriving, however, I knew I arrived home.

Tokyo is nice though there is a barrier simply due to the language.  Words and feelings don’t translate easily in Japan.  Once I reached Bangkok, everything changed.  The Thai people are some of the best in the world.  Their smiles are infectious and their humour melts any apprehension away.  Bangkok itself is a bit chaotic but her people make up the difference.

I’ve written extensively about Bhutan on this blog and expect to see more soon.  Bhutan is a land that touched deep within my soul.  Even today when I view photos or think back to my experience, tears of happiness come to my eyes.  When a place touches so deeply like Bhutan has done for me, you know it is not only special but a place worth a re-visit.

And then Bali.  I visited Bali on a whim and without a thought of what I’d do once I arrived.  In my quest to find an authentic experience in Bali, I met Wish.  Wish took me to his home, biking through rice terraces and motorbiking through the countryside.  Had I not met Wish, my interest in the Island of Gods wouldn’t have been strong enough to draw me back.

I’ve mentioned time and time before to travel with an open mind and an open heart.   Asia is part of me now and its philosophy of life is one I will explore more in the days ahead.

Destination:  Bhutan, Tokyo, Thailand, Bali

Bhutan can mean many things to visitors.  It is safe to say a journey to Bhutan will open an entirely new world to you.  From the spirituality of Buddhism to the majestic Himalaya Mountains and the ancient fortresses, Bhutan will touch you in ways you never imagined.

The following advice will help you have the best experience in Bhutan. 
The tiny kingdom of Bhutan is mostly untouched by the modern world.  Yes, there is phone service and faint hints of the internet, but you will not find corporate chain stores anywhere.  For those travellers who are weary of being bombarded with marketing, the lack of the familiar is a very very good thing.

The Bhutanese are kind.  Very kind.  You will find the Bhutanese to be mindful, thoughtful and generally at peace.  They also enjoy the quiet, so if you tend to be loud, tone it down a bit.

Everything you see and the experiences you have in Bhutan are real, genuine, authentic and probably everyday life.  Their daily dress is normal for them.  Nothing is for a show just because you are visiting.

Be respectful in the Temples.   Bhutan is almost wholly Buddhist and each monastery and Temple is active even if they are near a thousand years old.

Go with the flow.  Expect your itinerary to change.  Follow the advice of your guide.  And yes, every visitor to Bhutan must have a guide.  

When people ask me which are my favourite places I’ve visited?  I can only answer by naming those I would return to.  Bhutan is high on my list of places I love and where I would return.

Consider these interesting facts about Bhutan – 

:: Bhutan is one of the last countries in the world to introduce television to its people. The government lifted a ban on TV—and on the Internet—only 11 years ago.

:: Anyone found guilty of killing a highly endangered and culturally sacred black-necked crane could be sentenced to life in prison.

:: Bhutanese manners dictate that you are to refuse food whenever it’s offered to you. The tradition is to say the words “meshu meshu” and cover your mouth with your hands. You can give in, though, after two or three offers.

:: At 24,840 feet, Gangkhar Puensum is the highest point in Bhutan—and the highest unclimbed mountain in the world.

:: Bhutan is the only nation in the world where the sale of tobacco is banned.

:: Thimpu is one of just two capital cities in Asia that does not have a single traffic light. (The other is Pyongyang, North Korea.) There was such public outcry when local officials installed a single signal that it was quickly removed, and a traffic officer was re-assigned to the intersection.

:: One-third of Bhutan’s population is under the age of 14; its median age is 22.3 years.

:: Bhutan is the first country in the world with specific constitutional obligations on its people to protect the environment. Among its requirements: At least 60 percent of the nation must remain under forest cover at all times.

:: The word “Bhutan” translates to “Land of the Thunder Dragon.” It earned the nickname because of the fierce storms that often roll in from the Himalayas.

:: One of 43 landlocked countries in the world, Bhutan is about half the size of the state of Indiana.

Destination:  Bhutan