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Behind the Scenes: A Jacada Research Trip to Bhutan

In preparation for the launch of our bespoke Bhutan tours, founder Alex Malcolm set out on an extensive research trip. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at his journey and what Jacada Travel clients can experience as a result.

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Throughout the year the Jacada Travel experts regularly set out on research trips to the countries they specialise in, keeping their knowledge of the destination fresh and making sure every aspect from the hotel rooms to the tour guides are up to the exemplary Jacada standard.

“Our guests rely on our first-hand knowledge of the places we go,” managing director and founder Alex Malcolm says, explaining why these trips are so vital. “It’s very important for us to forge relationships with the people in a destination from the guides themselves to the lodge owners. We try the experiences to see which of them, as well as the lodges and destinations, are going to suit particular clients. And we make sure when people are there, they get the same high level of service they come to expect from us wherever they travel to.”

These research trips also transform the planning process of each person’s vacation, while providing travellers with the best possible personalised service on the ground. “We can give really good first-hand advice and we develop contacts with people who can take guests off the tourist trail.”

Before launching Bhutan as a new destination to offer Jacada Travel clients, Alex embarked on a research trip himself. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at his journey.

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Bhutan’s great appeal

“Bhutan is a fascinating country to visit where control is used to promote the happiness of the people, and where they pioneered the concept of Gross National Happiness. The Buddhism intertwined with this makes it a rewarding country to visit for anyone interested in culture.

“It’s a beautiful country with every building built in the traditional Bhutanese style. There’s a huge effort to preserve traditional culture. Bhutan is unique in the lengths they go to in protecting their own culture; The homes, and the dress in many cases, is the same as it was hundreds of years ago. In Bhutan very little is staged. It’s really authentic, which is what makes it so special.

“Almost without exception the journeys through Bhutan are beautifully scenic. As you drive around you have amazing views of the mountains, pine forest and valleys, making the journey a part of the experience.”

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Memorable moments

“The greatest highlight for me was watching the sunrise in the morning in Gangtey as shafts of light shone through the mist and hit the monastery on a ridge overlooking the valley from where I was staying. I also enjoyed having a home-cooked lunch at a homestead in Bumthang as it’s really rewarding to be able to connect with the local people.

“In terms of achievement, I enjoyed trekking up to Tiger’s Nest in Paro. People in Bhutan are genuinely devout Buddhists, so the temples you go to are not just tourist attractions. Tiger’s Nest is no exception. There was a full moon when we were there, so local people and monks were making the pilgrimage up to the temple. That made the experience at Tiger’s Nest special.”

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The guides

“On the ground, I got to know each of the specific guides. If we know them and they know us, the guests have a much more rewarding experience. Our guides always know about the specific clients ahead of time, so they can add personal touches along the way.

“Certain guides are universally good for any trip as they can adapt and understand what the clients are interested, while coming up with new ideas. They need real energy and knowledge, and they’re storytellers. A really good guide makes sure things come alive and become a part of the story themselves. Often the guest will be just as interested in the guide as they are in the places they’re showing you around.”

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Experiences

“We’ve forged relationships with some of the monasteries in Bhutan, so you can go and talk to the monks there who want to practice their English while you get to know them. We can arrange for clients to meet a member of parliament or a Bhutanese author too. Wherever you go, our guides provide you with these interactions.

“Travellers with Jacada can go to the main festivals around Bhutan, but we can also plan a visit to a small village festival where they will be the only tourists. Although it might be less spectacular, it is a more intimate experience.”

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A unique stay

“We visit each of the hotels to see if they are a high enough standard and to see what the service is like, as well as which of our guests they would suit and the finer details such as which room has the best view.

“We’re also setting up Bhutanese-style luxury camping, enabling people to stay where there isn’t any other accommodation, while they go hiking in these regions. Alternatively we can arrange homestays with people in those areas. When you’re done hiking you can have a traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath with local herbs and minerals.

“As we travel around the country, we talk to people about what their hometown and forge relationships with the lodges to make sure our guests get the best service and experience possible. That’s what Jacada Travel is about: personal connections and giving our clients the benefit of those connections.”

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All images in this article are by Alex Malcolm.