Kingdom Of The Heart: A Buddhist Pilgrimage Tour

Kingdom Of The Heart (11th Feb. 2019 – 25 Feb. 2019) is a meditation and Buddhist pilgrimage tour of Bhutan, lead by Martin Alyward (www.martinaylward.com). The group consists of 16 committed dharma practitioners on a 15 day trip to Bhutan in February 2019, passing through Bodh Gaya, the site of Buddhas’ awakening, on the way.

Note: Two members of this travel group recently cancelled their participation due to unavoidable circumstances. If you would like to join this tour group, we have space for two person. Please write to us at breathebhutan@gmail.com


Martin’s Story

Martin has been practicing meditation intensively for more that 25 years and has been teaching and supporting individuals and groups in their practice since 1999.

Martin went to India, when he was 19, on a one-way ticket with no luggage. He spent most of the next 4 years in Asian monasteries, retreat centres and Ashrams where he developed a formal meditation practice based on Vipassana / Insight Meditation, while also exploring many different teachings and practice forms.

He spent several months with Ajahn Buddhadasa at Wat Suan Mokh in Thailand and sat annual month-long retreats all through the 1990s at the Thai Monastery in Bodh Gaya with Christopher Titmuss. Christopher encouraged him to begin teaching after 10 years of practice. Martin has also studied and practiced with various Buddhist teachers and traditions, including the Vajrayana practices of Mahamudra and Dzogchen.

He also spent 2 years living with Sukhanta Giri Babaji, a Hindu sadhu, at his hermitage near Dharamsala and has lived and practiced with various other Indian Sadhus and Himalayan hermits. Martin has also been a student of the Diamond Approach of AH Almaas since 2005.

In 2001, Martin co-founded the Dharma Yatra pilgrimages through France, with more than 200 walking in silence for several weeks, sharing teachings and practices and camping together along the way. He has led wilderness retreats in France and the USA, and occasionally takes small groups of Dharma students to practice in India at the various places associated with the Buddha’s life.

Martin is a pioneer in offering online Dharma and meditation teachings and today teaches online through a number of different platforms: Martin created Work Sex Money Dharma in 2011, running courses to support people in integrating transformational practices and meditative insight into daily life. He is also founding and guiding teacher of Worldwide Insightwhich offers weekly free, live and interactive dharma teachings online, and a director of Realize Media, where he runs regular in-depth, month-long courses, as part of a faculty of internationally renowned teachers.

Martin is also the founding teacher of Moulin de Chaves, a residential retreat centre in South West France, where he has lived and taught for the last 11 years, and where his children grew up.

Martin is co-founder, with Mark Coleman, of the Mindfulness Training Institute They run year long professional Mindfulness teacher trainings in Europe and the US, and the Institute now has more than 100 graduated Mindfulness Teachers. He is also visiting faculty on the MSc in Mindfulness-Based Interventions at UCD, Ireland.

Some frequently asked questions and answers related to traveling in Bhutan and specifically related to Kingdom Of The Heart – a Buddhist pilgrimage tour to Bhutan. We have tried to put together the most common questions. If you have any further doubts you can write to us at breathebhutan@gmail.com and tshewang.breathebhutan@gmail.com. We will get back to you at the earliest.

Some frequently asked questions:

Q. Does the package include airfare from my home country to Delhi ? Can you help with air tickets from my home country to Delhi?

The package does not include airfare from your home county to Delhi. We e will not be able to help out with ticketing on this leg of the trip, as Bhutan does not have access to foreign currency.

Q. When should I arrive to Delhi?

The group tour starts on Monday, 11th Feb. 2019 so you can either arrive Delhi on the 11th Feb. 2019 or arrive earlier but the package only covers 11th Feb. 2019 – 25th Feb. 2019.

Q. Can Breathe Bhutan books hotels in Delhi, before 11th Feb. and after 25th Feb?

We can help you with identifying hotels but we recommend you to book the hotels yourself since our banking system does not allow us to make payments online at the moment.

Q. How rigorous is the trekking for a non athletic  but able and enthusiastic hiker ?

The two day trek to Bumdra is a moderate hike/climb. The campsite is only 4 to 5 hours of hike. There is another 1-2 hour hike to reach the sky burial but you can opt out of the second leg and stay back and relax at the campsite. The hike on the second day of the trek is downhill and it will take about 2 hours to reach the Tiger’s Nest.
Q. Would we need travel insurance?

All visitors are advised to get their insurance coverage from their own country.

Q. What currency should I carry?

Most currencies are exchanged by banks here. The most commonly accepted currencies are US dollars, Australian Dollars, Singapore dollars, Euro, Pounds, Japanese Yen, Swiss Franc, Canadian Dollars and Indian Rupees. Most handicraft shops accept US dollar, Australian Dollar, Euro and Pounds. You can even exchange these currencies in some local shops. They give you a better exchange rate than the banks.

Q. Can I use credit cards in Bhutan?

The major banks now have ATMs and you can withdraw local currency via Visa & MasterCard credit & debit cards & Cirrus/Maestro endorsed bank debit cards. The ATM’s don’t always work and usually you’ll only be able to draw small amounts in any single transaction, so back up cash in USD on Indian Rupees is advisable.

Q. What kind of travel guides can I expect?

Licensed Bhutanese travel guides will introduce you to the many facets of Bhutan and its culture. The English-speaking guides undergo regular training and, where required, specialized guides will lead you on bird watching, meditation or other special tours.

Q. What is Bhutan’s electricity supply like? Can I use electrical appliances in the hotels?

Bhutan uses a 240 v system. Electrical supply is generally good but can be less stable in the smaller towns outside the capital, Thimphu. If you are using laptops and other sensitive equipment, be prepared for fluctuations and power surges. Many rural areas are still without electricity although some farms have solar electrification.

Q. What type of electrical plug is used in Bhutan?

Bhutan uses the round pin sockets as shown in the picture (Type C and Type D). You can also buy other types of power socket converters in many of the hardware shops in the capital, Thimphu.Q. Can I access the internet in Bhutan?

Internet access is usually available in hotels in the room and their lobby. Only some hotels charges for internet usage. In central Bhutan, tourists may have to pay for internet access in the hotels. For a list of hotels with internet connectivity, please refer to our listing of recommended hotels in Bhutan.

Q. How is Breathe Bhutan different from other travel agencies?

Breathe Bhutan not only features the popular attractions and programs but we go out of our way to make sure that you get a wholesome experience of Bhutan. Breathe Bhutan is constantly exploring new and out-of-the-box activities and experiences. We have already started exploring several unique activities which other travel agencies do not provide.

Also, Bhutan has over a thousand licensed Bhutanese tour operators; some handle more than 10,000 tourists a year and many don’t even get a single tourist. If it is not your cup of tea to be one of those 10,000 tourists who are treated like a retail commodities and are forgotten immediately after they depart, get in touch with Breathe Bhutan. We will treat your holiday with passion. You will be remembered, and we will make sure that you too remember us and your travel experience in Bhutan.

Q. What if there is a change of schedule for Druk Air/Bhutan Airlines flights? Or what if the flight is delayed?

For passengers heading to Bhutan, both the airlines will ensure that you get on the next available flight to Paro. For passengers who miss their flight due to late check-in, passengers can pay Druk Air an admin charge of US$50 to get on the next available flight.

For travellers returning from Bhutan, airline staff at Paro will assist you with all arrangements in case of a flight delay. They will also attempt to contact your connecting flight airline to inform them of a delay. Should you not be able to take your connecting flight on the same day, they will arrange for your accommodation in your transit port.

Any other fees and charges incurred will typically have to be borne by the travellers. You are advised to acquire your own travel insurance.

Q. Is tipping expected in Bhutan?

Tipping is not an ingrained culture. Hotel & waiting staff do not linger around expecting a tip. However, guides and drivers will expect a tip at the end of the tour.

Q. What’s the cancellation policy for travel to Bhutan?

For a trip booked and subsequently cancelled, the following apply.
More than 60 days before start of travel program, USD 150 flat rate/per person.
Between 30 – 10 days: 45% of the package cost retained as cancellation charges
Within 10 days – 75% of the package cost retained as cancellation charges

Q. For air tickets issued and subsequently cancelled, the following apply.
75% refund permitted for tickets cancelled more than 30 days from the date of travel.
50% refund permitted for tickets cancelled between 30 – last 10 days from the date of travel.
25% refund permitted for tickets cancelled prior to 03 (three) days from the date of travel.

For Drukair tickets issued and subsequently rescheduled, the following applies.
USD 40 rescheduling fee or equivalent local currency for every flight reschedule less than 72 hours prior to date of travel. No charges for business class passengers.

Q. Are cigarettes available in Bhutan?

There is a ban on the sale of cigarettes in Bhutan. Smoking is also prohibited in public places, hotels and offices but each person is allowed to bring in 200 sticks or a carton for personal consumption.

Q. Can I buy antiques in Bhutan?

The export of antiques is prohibited by law. Tourists should buy only artefacts that have been certified for sale and for export. The government provides an official seal to certify that artefacts can be taken out of Bhutan.

Q. When should I pay for my tour?

It is best to pay for your tour at least four weeks before the date of arrival. This will give enough time for the Royal Government of Bhutan to clear your visa formalities (which is done only after the payment is received). For visits during the peak season in March, April, May, September, October, & November, it is advisable to make your payment 12 weeks in advance. This is to enable us to make a confirmed booking for you on the airline since seats are in high demand during these months.

Q. What is Bhutan’s currency and can I buy it before arriving in Bhutan?

Bhutan’s currency is the Ngultrum (NU) and is equivalent to the Indian rupee which is widely accepted in Bhutan. You will not be able to purchase ngultrums outside Bhutan, but you can easily buy ngultrums at the Paro airport, at Bhutan National Bank and the Bank of Bhutan, and at major hotels in Thimphu and Paro, all of which accept traveler’s checks and/or dollars and various other currencies. It is advisable to carry ngultrums when visiting smaller towns as it may not be possible to exchange your currency there.

Q. How secure is my advance payment for my trip?

Your payment is secured as it goes directly to the visa issuing agency (Tourism Council of Bhutan), which is a government organization.

Q. What documents are required to apply for a visa?

All we need is a copy of your passport and we will apply for a visa using the online visa applying system created by the Government of Bhutan.

Q. How will I receive my air tickets?

Airlines do not issue paper tickets any more. Breathe Bhutan will purchase your ticket and email the e- ticket to you.

Q. Is there any likelihood of delays in flights?

Flights can be delayed in departure and arrival especially in the monsoon season.  It is advisable for passengers with onward connections after leaving Bhutan to keep at least one day’s gap before the next flight.

Q. Are there any immunizations I should have before visiting Bhutan?

There are no vaccination requirements for entering the country. You may, however, wish to talk to your doctor about receiving immunizations against certain preventable diseases. The US Center for Disease Control has up-to-date travel information about which diseases you may want to immunize yourself against when traveling to Bhutan.

Q. Is altitude sickness a common problem?

Although most visitors have no problem adjusting, altitude sickness may be a problem for certain people. Signs of altitude sickness include headache, nausea, loss of appetite and fatigue. If you happen to be at a higher altitude than you are used to, descend immediately until you begin to feel better.

Q. What about crime? How safe is it to travel in Bhutan?

There is very little crime in Bhutan and it is safe for women travelers and solo travelers to tour the country.

Q. Is there recommended attire for visiting temples and institutions?

The Bhutanese people wear their full traditional dress and formal wear to Dzongs, offices and places of worship. While visiting these places visitors should wear long pants (any kind of trousers) while shirts should be full sleeved, and skirts should be long enough to hide your knees. Slippers and sandals are discouraged. Sun caps are also not permitted inside Dzongs, offices and places of worship.

Q. Does Bhutan welcome gays and lesbians?

People’s sexual preferences are considered a personal matter and do not bother most Bhutanese. The Bhutanese people are, however, not used to intimate behavior in public places.

Q. When is the best season for trekking?

In Spring and Autumn. Hence, the months of March, April, May and September, October and November.

Q. Is there a limit to the baggage I can bring along if I am trekking in Bhutan?

While on a trek you will be accompanied by a trekking guide, a cook, an assistant cook, horsemen and several horses. We recommend you to limit baggage to one day-pack and one extra duffel/bag which will be carried by a horse. All other logistics like food and tents are provided by Breathe Bhutan.

Q. Where can I leave my belongings that I do not take on a trek?

After you have packed for your trek you can leave the rest of your belongings with the travel company. They will be safely kept.

Q. Will I be carrying the entire luggage myself?

You will carry only basic things in your back pack while heavier items will go into duffel bags which will be carried by horses.

Q. Do I get a sleeping bag for hire for trekking in Bhutan?

Yes but we recommend you bring your own if can. Extra blankets and mattresses will be provided by us.

If you have questions which are not covered here, we are more than happy to answer them via email. You can reach us at breathebhutan@gmail.com