Bhutan Bound: Megs' Fly-Fishing Adventure


Hear from Pelorus' Sustainability Manager, Megs, about her recent fly-fishing adventure to Bhutan with her father.

From the moment we landed in Paro and took in the new surroundings of Bhutan, I was overcome with the gentleness of the country. Being ushered into the most beautiful airport I’ve ever seen and being met by kindness felt like a stark contrast from the cold and unfriendly airports I’d found myself in on the long journey out.

My dad, an adventurous fly fisherman, had always been intrigued by the rumours of trout in the Himalayan rivers of Bhutan and we both share a love for seeing a country from the banks of a river. So here we were, in early springtime, on our second adventure together having fished the banks of the Aberdares in Kenya a few years before. Meeting our guide for the week, Kinley Dorji, and hearing his fishing stories over those first few meals, we knew this was going to be the trip of a lifetime.

Bhutan is a small country in South-Central Asia, wedged between Tibet and India. With jungle to the south and the Great Himalayas to the north, Bhutan’s innermost deep and beautiful forest-covered valleys feel like a secret garden lost in time, enchanting those who are lucky enough to find themselves within. With a population of 700,000, a strong Buddhist religion and a promise to always keep 70% tree cover, the country feels, to its very core, good, peaceful and progressive.

Beginning our journey in Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, visiting various temples and museums, we were introduced to Bhutan’s unique culture and forward-thinking vision, based upon ancient values which somehow seem to get forgotten in our busy worlds. Kindness, interbeing, environmental protection and careful development. All of which contribute to Bhutan’s increasing Gross National Happiness (GNH) index.

From Thimphu, we wove our way through the hills to Punakha, a small village centred near the Punakha Dzong, a 17th-century fortress and monastery at the confluence of the Pho and Mo Chhu rivers. The latter was our first fishing location, and with special permits in place, fishing its waters was one of the first exceptional experiences that our guide Kinley had lined up.

The crystal-clear waters and stony riverbank were set against the backdrop of paddy fields and ancient farm buildings with goats tethered in the garden and hay stores in the roofs, with the distant sound of bells on horses from high-up villages. An easy afternoon floated by and, as is often the way when fishing, one lucky last cast landed the first brown trout, gently released back into the river a few moments later. Being a Buddhist country, barbless catch and release is the common practice for fly-fishing here.

From Punakha, we wound our way up through the mountains to the Pobjika valley, a vast U-shaped valley in central Bhutan, sitting at an elevation of about 3,000 metres, marked on one side by the Black Mountains that separate western and central Bhutan. The valley is covered by grassy pastures where cattle and horses graze, and alongside the Nakay River, the marshy land grows dwarf bamboo which attracts the endangered, black-necked cranes. These birds are threatened by human and climate-change-induced habitat loss, and of late also by free-ranging dogs in their breeding areas and food shortages in wintering areas. As a result, they are currently listed as ‘vulnerable’ in the IUCN Red List. Arriving from Tibet towards the end of October, the birds are much-loved visitors and the centre of local folklore, most notably for their ritual of circling the Gangtey Monastery three times when they arrived for the winter and three times before they leave again.

Fishing here was peaceful, gently dappling flies into the slow meandering upper course river and waiting. Interspersed within this were moments of bated breath; your line landing on the other side of deep pools amongst a scurry of flies on the surface and the look that passes between you and your guide seconds after a rise. Lunch was served on the side of the riverbank, delicious dishes of spicy vegetables, chilli cheese, Bhutanese red rice and flasks of chai, recounting stories of the morning’s excitement with sparkling eyes.

That evening, in an earthy outdoor building lit by a sole candle, I tried my first hot stone bath, a centuries-old Bhutanese tradition deriving from ancient Tibetan medicine and Indian Ayurvedic practices. To prepare the bath, stones from the river are heated in a fire until red hot. When the stones were placed in the water, combined with essential oils released from freshly picked artemisia leaves, the rocks crackled and steamed, releasing minerals into the water which are believed to harmonise the body and mind with their therapeutic and healing effect. Relaxed and easing off the aches of the days’ fishing, I followed the traditional custom and drank ara, the local Bhutanese rice wine from a bowl, hot, with an egg scrambled within. 

In between fishing, we had time to wander the Pobjika Valley’s expansive landscapes and dusty pine woodlands, rich with flowing lichen and the first speckles of red rhododendrons. On our walks, we’d stumble upon stupas, flocks of white prayer flags fluttering from bamboo stalks, chattering children making their way through the fields with a football in hand, and kettles of vultures.

Leaving Punakha, we returned to the Paro Valley to fish the beautiful Paa Chhu river in its middle age. With dusk settling and the last reaches of sunlight projecting a pink light on the tops of the surrounding hills, the fish began to jump and with much elation, we both caught our biggest fish yet: a half-pound trout.

Later, in the quiet of the evening, sitting around a bonfire under the illuminated Rinpung Dzong fortress with a local larger in hand, we recounted the story of each catch, the kind of tales that I imagine will become well-worn over the years to come. How funny we laughed, that fishing is all just about perspective really, with our ‘big’ fish in fact being really quite small indeed.

On our last morning, we followed a steep old mule path through an ancient pine forest, passing by water-powered prayer wheels, up to Paro Taktsang, a monastery known as Tigers Nest, which perches precariously on a cliff edge at 3120 meters. As we reached the top of the hill, the air thin with altitude, we descended again – down one hundred steps or more and ventured across a precarious bridge beneath the crash of a thousand-foot-high waterfall. It truly was the entrance of fairy tales.

As we removed our shoes and entered into a cool stone prayer room with a cave on one side and a small window overlooking the hidden valley of Paro below, we found ourselves imagining the world of the 8th-century Guru Rinpoche who is believed to have come to this exact spot and meditated, defeating the evil spirits that ruled the Paro Valley. It is another moment within my journey through Bhutan, which left some kind of indescribable impact upon me which I am still trying to unpick. What I do know, with absolute certainty, is that I feel different leaving this country than when I arrived.

There aren’t many places in the world that have the power to move you to tears when you leave - perhaps home is the only one - but as I left Bhutan on a Sunday morning, I felt it. When it came to saying goodbye to Kinley, who, in such a short amount of time had become like an old friend, we managed to tell him that we couldn’t have asked for a better guide before our words began to fail us and he took over, telling us that we’ll meet again on the banks of another river, whether that be here or up there.

As Kinley seems to be able to find the words when I can’t, I’ll end on his: “Surrounded by the majestic peaks of the Himalayas, to the serene rivers where we cast our lines, every moment has been a testament to the beauty and wonder of this remarkable country. Immersing in the vibrant country, sharing stories or simply taking in the breathtaking vistas around every bend, each day brought new adventures and cherished memories.

“Beyond the thrill of the catch, what made this trip truly special was the camaraderie and laughter shared among us. Together we formed bonds that will last a lifetime, united by our love of fishing and our appreciation for the wonders of nature. As you bid farewell to Bhutan, carry with you not only the catches but also the spirit of adventure, gratitude and friendship that has defined our trip. Until we meet again on the banks of another river, tight lines and tight friendship.”

Inspired to visit Bhutan?

Get in touch with Megan and our Travel Team to start planning your own unforgettable experience in Bhutan.

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