Asia, including the Orient, is the quintessence of exotic—an exuberant mélange of fascinating ancient cultures, many of the world's most compelling antiquities, and a range of unparalleled cuisines. Add to this a wonderfully vibrant diversity of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, and plants, and the first or even fifth-time visitor to Asia is inspired to return time after time.
Asia is vast, and ranges from the highest and most imposing mountains on our planet to grand expanses of grassland steppe. It contains some of the loveliest and most botanically biodiverse lowland rainforests on earth (Borneo, Sumatra, and the Malay Peninsula); upland deserts such as the Tibetan Plateau and the great Gobi Desert of Mongolia; bird-rich montane forests of the Himalayas; lowland deserts of western India; the tiger havens of the Indian subcontinent; and endemic-rich islands of eastern Indonesia. There are few other places in the world where you can travel so easily and stay as comfortably as you can in Asia. And nowhere else in the world can you encounter daily such an alluring kaleidoscope of peoples, antiquities, and nature at its very best.
Asia hosts nearly 2,800 species of birds and a range of mammals that often astonishes our tour participants. Imagine more than 30 species of hornbills (including such huge species as the spectacular Rhinoceros and Helmeted hornbills), tigers, herds of Asian elephants, 27 species of pitta (once eloquently named "Jewel-thrushes"), 11 species of broadbills (their vocalizations alone are worth the price of admission), hunting packs of dhole (Asian wild dog), giant flying-squirrels, and that most ancient of primates, the orangutan.
VENT has been conducting tours in Asia and the Orient since 1978. Our Asian tour program, largely developed by David Bishop, has blossomed with the addition of Dion Hobcroft. This leader duo is remarkable for their individual skills at finding birds and enthusiastically showing them to others. In leading tours across the continent, they regularly make significant contributions to the ornithological knowledge of the region, such as the rediscovery of the mythical bird-of-paradise, Wallace's Standardwing. David wrote the definitive book on the birds of Wallacea and has contributed to many other field guides published on the region's birds. Characteristically, they are highly competent at handling the logistical challenges of tour-leading and, in addition, speak many of the languages of the countries visited, thus greatly enhancing your overall experience.
Over the last 15 years we have witnessed tremendous developments in ecotourism in Asia, including the opening of many superb lodges and the publication of modern field guides. Asia now boasts first-rate field guides to the birds of every major country, in addition to a host of new country/regional guides to the mammals, reptiles, and butterflies.
Thanks to the dramatic growth of international travel, an increased choice of airlines and schedules has made the journey to Asia significantly easier and more comfortable. Our tours to India are widely regarded as the most innovative within the industry. Each of our India departures offers an intimate survey of the marvelous wildlife that characterizes the subcontinent. Far too big and diverse to explore on a single tour, VENT has carefully crafted a program of tours that affords you the opportunity to see a representation of the most biologically and geographically distinct parts of the country. And because India is also home to fabulous plant communities, colorful indigenous cultures, and spectacular antiquities, our tours deliver a broad spectrum of travel experiences that supplement the birding, including:
- Gujarat and Western India – home of the Gir lion, wintering Gray Hypocolius, huge numbers of wintering waterbirds, shorebirds, and attendant raptors, and magnificent forts
- Northern India – including such world-class sanctuaries as Bharatpur and Corbett National Park, in addition to the western Himalayas and, of course, the sublime Taj Mahal
- Assam in the Northeast – regarded by many as the "Serengeti" of Asia, with its teeming numbers of large mammals and birds, many of them globally endangered
- Central India – Kipling country personified and the domain of the Bengal tiger, arguably the most spectacular predator on the planet
- South India, Sri Lanka, and the Andaman Islands – lush and green and home to a broad collection of endemic birds and mammals
Finally, our highly acclaimed train trips, the Palace on Wheels, Deccan Odyssey, and Royal Rajasthan, permit a rare opportunity to travel through India in a delightful, comfortable, and singularly distinct manner.
Few countries can match the mountain kingdom of Bhutan for its extraordinary combination of Himalayan scenery and glorious montane forests garnished with great vistas of flowering rhododendrons, magnolias, and spectacular birdlife. Imagine babblers of every hue and shape imaginable (including seven sprite-like wren-babblers), Ward's Trogon, Satyr Tragopan, fortified monasteries, and immense, snow-clad mountains. VENT has been visiting Bhutan since 1994, often twice a year. Our tours are the most comprehensive offered by any company and we are widely regarded as THE Bhutan experts.
The most recent addition to our Asian program, our tours to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan take us to the heart of Central Asia. We will offer this tour in alternating years with a very special tour of Mongolia. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan offer unparalleled opportunities to explore fabled antiquities (such as at Tashkent, Samarkand, and Bukhara) while at the same time gaining enduring insight into each country's culture and natural history. If wide open spaces; dinosaur remains; elegant cranes, handsome swan geese, and bustards in addition to some interesting and little-known mammals, grab you as they do us, then this is the trip for you.
China is an awakening giant on many levels and this is no less true of its role in the bird-tour realm. VENT's tour of Sichuan is an outstanding beginning, but only the tip of the iceberg. And what an iceberg it is! Undeniably impressive scenery hosts some fabulous birds, not least of which are a plethora of fancy pheasants, parrotbills, laughingthrushes, rosefinches, and, of course, the giant panda and other wonderful but lesser- known mammals. Plans are in progress to expand our China program, and over the next few years we plan to visit Yunnan and Taiwan, and return to Tibet.
Japan is home to a culture and landscape distinct from the rest of Asia. It is a land of beautiful woodlands set against classic volcanic mountains and some of Asia's greatest avian spectacles–huge Steller's Sea-Eagles gathering in winter, and tens of thousands of cranes feeding only a few feet away are prime examples.
We visit Southeast Asia through an exciting variety of tours that includes: Thailand – arguably the easiest and most comfortable tour of all, it is a great destination from which to commence your exploration of Asia. And of course, the food is exquisite; Cambodia – only now is it possible to see such nearly mythical species as Giant and White-shouldered ibises in juxtaposition to the truly fabulous antiquities of Angkor Wat; Vietnam – notably friendly and regarded as the safest tourist destination in Asia—is home to the largest number of endemic birds in mainland Southeast Asia including such gems as Bar-bellied Pitta and Siamese Fireback; Malay Peninsula – developed and sophisticated, yet still boasting gigantic areas of untouched forest full of birds and other wildlife, plus delightfully cool hill stations which host a distinctive suite of Himalayan species, in addition to others such as the gaudy and peculiar-sounding Fire-tufted Barbet, Silver-eared Mesia, and the evocative sounding Siamang. We also occasionally offer tours to Myanmar (Burma), a large country harboring 1,000 plus species of birds and wonderful Buddhist temples.