The best of ... Bhutan
Landing at Paro airport in Bhutan is quite the experience as it’s one of the shortest landing strips in the world and the airport is surrounded by 5,500-metre-high mountains. Such a spectacular arrival sets the tone for this dazzling country. Here are just a few of the highlights of my trip to Bhutan.
In Bhutan, every main town has a dzong where both the spiritual and administration work is done. At first they look quite fortress-like with tall outside walls, but once you step inside they are beautifully decorated, have quaint courtyards and embellished temples as well as offices and accommodation for the monks.
Buddhist monks, Punakha dzong
Arguably Bhutan’s most beautiful dzong, the Punakha dzong is set alongside the Mo Chhu river (meaning ‘mother river’) and is framed by the Himalaya. Constructed between 1637 and 1638, Punakha was the second dzong to be built in Bhutan. Its name translates as ‘the palace of great happiness’. Until the mid-1950s it served as the capital and all of Bhutan’s kings have been crowned here, which shows its prestige. As I visited in spring, the flowers and jacaranda trees were in bloom and there was a distinct smell of honey. We walked around the dzong’s walls where I was shown the bees’ nests and heard their hum as they went about their honey-making.
Not only did I taste and love momos – steamed or fried dumplings stuffed with either vegetables or meat – but I also learnt how to make them at a cooking class in Paro. Originally from Tibet, these delicious doughy dumplings are also found in north-western India and Bhutan. I personally prefer them steamed as they are not so hard (and healthier!). The most common flavours are potato and cabbage, cheese and diced vegetables or meat, usually chicken or mutton. They are also a key component in momo soup – a clear broth made with onions, carrots and either meat or vegetables, depending on the flavour of your momo.
Climbing up (and down) to the renowned Tiger’s Nest monastery. The scenery was stunning and despite seeing numerous pictures, it’s amazing seeing the temple hanging off the side of the cliff in real life. The walk took approximately 5 to 6 hours and wasn’t too difficult, although I would recommend good walking shoes. On the way up we stopped for tea, then on the way back for lunch, which broke up the journey. It is best to start the hike early in the morning before the sun gets too hot. For those that struggle with walking, you can ride up to the café, which is approximately an hour by horse or two hours on foot. What impressed me the most was the peaceful energy of the place: it was so quiet, despite the large number of visitors.
Tiger's Nest monastery
The Amankora Punakha Lodge was built by a former Je Khenpo – chief abbot of Bhutan – as a summer palace. Originally a rural farmhouse, it has amazing views over rice terraces, the Mo Chhu river and an orange orchard. The hotel can’t be reached by car, which adds to the serenity of the place. Cars can reach the suspension bridge that you then need to cross. From here, you will be picked up by the Amankora tuk tuk and taken to the hotel. The hotel has a very chic, minimalist design with high-end, soft furnishings. The original kitchen of the farmhouse is now a stylish spa with a swimming pool – one of the few hotels in Bhutan with one.
Amankora Punakha Lodge suite interior
Favourite lasting memory
Travelling to Bhutan in April was a great time to go as the valleys and paddy fields were a brilliant green. It was so tranquil walking through the valleys, which were covered with colourful flowers. At this time of year, the rhododendron season is in full swing and the magnolia and cherry blossom trees are beautiful hues of pink and white.
Paddy fields, Bhutan
Cox & Kings’ escorted group tour Bhutan: The Dragon Kingdom visits Punakha and Tiger’s Nest monastery. Alternatively, if you are interested in private travel, please either call one of our specialist travel consultants or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.Share: