If I could give our guides / porter / driver 6 stars here I would. My fiance and I just concluded two tours with Breakfree Adventures starting with (1) a 9 day Cultural Tour of Bhutan and (2) an 11 day Annapurna Base Camp Trek in Nepal.
Im so glad I found and booked with Breakfree Adventures due to their excellent TripAdvisor reviews and value for money. But what really stood out for me was the warm service provided by their amazing staff all around.
Bhutan is a beautiful, unique and sparsely populated country and we were so glad we got to go while many of its customs are still preserved. Sometimes while standing in a medieval village surrounded by green hills and pine forests or inside the walls of a medieval dzong (Bhutanese fortress / temple / palace) I felt like I was in an Asian version of Game of Thrones. No dragons of course but they do have mythical-looking takins, an animal that looks like a moose with a guinea pig face.
Our guide Kesang Tenzin and our driver Tandin made our trip wonderful. They took care of everything and all we had to do was follow them, eat when told to eat, etc. Kesang is really funny and extremely knowledgeable about Bhutans culture and fantastical history, we nicknamed him the “Divine Madguide.” We were also lucky to have Tandin as our driver (he was subbing in to help his brother), since he has excellent English as well and we got to talk about things like American movies and TV shows and generally get a perspective on how young people in Bhutan view the future. As Kesang says, Bhutanese mens hemlines are getting longer while womens hemlines are getting shorter.
We loved every sight and activity but our top favorite experiences were: (1) Visiting the Punakha Dzong during a once in a 400 year event when the Zhabdrungs relics were on display for the first time and hundreds of Bhutanese were on line to see them and hundreds more were inside the dzong courtyard chanting beautifully in unison. (2) White water rafting on Class III+ rapids in Punakhas male river (my fiance fell off the raft while riding over a set of rapids called Buddhas Wrath!) (3) Trying their national sport archery and eating a delicious traditional dinner with locals and other tourists at a 300 year old farmhouse in Paro.
We are excited to go to Bhutan again in the future and will probably explore the much less touristed eastern region with Kesang.
Kathmandu is an overwhelming place to land in for the first time (esp. coming from tiny, quiet Paro), so it was great that manager Bharat and our awesome guide Ramesh Duwadi picked us up from the airport and from then on helped us with anything and everything we wanted or needed in Nepal. On day 1, Ramesh helped us rent and buy our gear for the trek in Thamel. Giving realistic and good advice on what we need and dont need.
We are hopeless New York urbanites and this was our first mountain trek, and of course we chose to spend it in the highest mountain range in the world! Going from ~1000m to 4130m and back in 7 days.
The ABC trek itself was difficult, A LOT of up and down stairs for most of the ascent and descent days (days 2, 3, 4 and 5 were the hardest for us) but well worth it. Seeing the snow covered peaks was the highlight but we also had fun at the lower altitudes seeing all the Gurung villages, cute farm animals, relaxing at Jhinu hot springs and picking / eating elderberries. Noticing that my fiance was picking tiny wild strawberries, Ramesh introduced us to elderberries. The bushes are tall and full of thorns though both Ramesh and Dipak had no problem climbing up and picking handfuls of berries for us. They both went out of their way to make sure we were safe and had fun every day.
Ramesh warned us about stinging nettle at the start of the trek. Nevertheless, on day 2 I touched it accidentally when retrieving my dropped poles. I freaked out at the intense pain and Ramesh immediately found and picked a local plant, created a paste and rubbed it onto my fingers which neutralized the pain and he did this again later in the day when the pain came back. Later on the trek I got unpleasant stomach troubles which made me weak and in pain for 2-3 days, Ramesh gave me antibiotics from his first aid kit and even helped carry my day pack when i was struggling up a snow covered hill approaching ABC. The grips of my sneakers were worn out and I fell or slipped almost a dozen times on snow, mud or slippery rocks. I dont like asking for help but Ramesh helped hold on to my arm over particularly slippery stretches. And Dipak helped me up a few times even with a wobbly 30 kg on his back. Just for fun, my fiance and I tried on Dipaks pack and walked uphill for a minute. So tough! Incredible how Dipak carries this all day long, walks twice as fast as us and never loses his balance (even without any poles) and is never out of breath. It must be the legendary power of dal bhat! By day 6 we had soreness in our knees from all the descending and Ramesh led us in a nice mini yoga session. Definitely ask for him if you would like a yoga + trekking tour.
Every night at the tea houses (lodges), we would collapse from exhaustion. We never had to wait for a room and our guide worked hard to make sure we would get a large room and not have to share with other trekkers for more comfort. Our guide and porter would patiently wait and make sure to serve us dinner before they would eat. Ramesh would cut us fresh fruits every night for dessert. None of the other guests would have this. Also these guys are hilarious, we would play Nepalese card games for hours every night: dhumbal which Dipak would suspiciously beat us at almost every time and donkey which results in a lot of slamming the table and each others hands (sorry other guests!). Day after day, they were becoming our good friends.
We were not the easiest customers because on day 1 we requested to change the itinerary so that we could stay 1 night at Annapurna Base Camp, meaning we had to be at least 2 hours ahead of the trekking schedule in the days before. And very last minute on the evening of day 6 we requested a change again to take the bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu one day early in order to spend 2 nights in Kathmandu instead of 1. Our guide Ramesh executed the plan immediately, he made a lot of calls (while we were still in a mountain lodge) to change hotels, cancel our bus and even arranged a heavily discounted private car to take us to Kathmandu on the afternoon of day 7. We were so glad he helped arrange all of this so that we could have a full day to explore Kathmandus top sights.
Ramesh and Dipak made our experience in Nepal seamless. While the 3-8 hours of hiking up and down every day was difficult (even for a marathon runner like me), everything else was made easy thanks to the wonderful people of Breakfree. In addition to the trek, we also had a fun tour of Pokharas top 4 sights and a nice farewell dinner on our last night in Kathmandu, both were with Ramesh. We want to come back to Nepal later to do the more challenging Everest Base Camp and will definitely request to have Ramesh and Dipak again, theyre the best.