The Land of The Thunder Dragonpeace, happiness and devotion to the well being of all
Bhutan imbues peace, happiness and tranquility from the moment you arrive at the tiny Paro airport. It’s palpable at every level of society and it’s infectious.
My first visit to Bhutan in 2012 was fascinating and inspiring. To travel in a country where Gross National Happiness is considered to be far more important than Gross Domestic Product was admirable but as an economist by profession I felt somewhat sceptical about the practical application of this.
I enjoyed my time there particularly the walking, architecture and learning about the deep cultural traditions of a country that is true to its Buddhist beliefs. The Uma group of hotels hosted us and this experience was exceptional.
Trekking to the Tigers Nest
One of the highlights of this trip was the Tigers Nest trek which was challenging because of the altitude but delivered a wonderful sense of achievement when reaching this magnificent monastery high in the mountains. The colleague I was travelling with chose to take a donkey ride to the top which for me would have been far more challenging than the trek!
The Tigers Nest
I returned to Bhutan in October 2019 and I was looking forward to the flight across the Himalaya and the decent into Paro. When I flew this journey in 2012 only 7 pilots in the world could land at this airport. With the expansion of flights from a number of Indian cities, Singapore and Bangkok I’m sure the numbers will have increased significantly since then. This flight did not disappoint and the mighty Himalaya range was a sight to behold.
The trip was to reacquaint myself with this ancient Kingdom and look at new developments, particularly new accommodation in the luxury category. My first stop was the capital of Bhutan, Thimphu where I was astounded by the growth in the size of the city. In spite of this the city still had the same busy vibe but the growth didn’t seem to be detrimental.
I enjoyed two nights in Thimphu at the stunning new Six Senses property. This outstanding brand of hotels fits seamlessly into the Bhutanese landscape and culture. Everything about this hotel was exquisite. From the delicious food, sensational staff and jaw dropping views across Thimphu, it was faultless. The added bonus for me was to catchup with a colleague who had managed the Aman hotel in Siem Reap for many years and was now General Manager for the five Six Senses properties across Bhutan.
Thimphu’s best museum is part of the Royal Textile Academy. I loved visiting this museum in its new building where it features a stunning display of ancient and modern textiles exploring the rich traditions of Bhutan’s national arts of thagzo (weaving) and tshemzo (embroidery). The ground floor focuses on royal ghos, including the wedding clothes worn by the fourth king and his four wives. The upper floor introduces the major weaving techniques, styles of local dress and types of textiles made by women and men. No photography is allowed – so sorry no images.
Six Sense Thimphu
From Thimphu we drove on to Punakha over the Dolcha La Pass at 3300 metres stopping for a magnificent picnic along the way.
Dolchula Pass and 108 memorial chortens
My guide Rinzin and driver Wangchuk without doubt made this trip special and memorable. Rinzin had studied tourism and hospitality in California for three years after a group of four travellers to Bhutan from the Napa Valley offered to pay all his costs to live and study in their home town. He loved his time there but was committed to return to his home country to support its tourism industry and offer his newfound knowledge and experience.
Punakha and the Punakha Dzong is one of my favourite places in Bhutan and arriving early in the morning to catch some quiet time there was perfect. We did however have to wait until the resident cows had vacated the premises after their overnight stay.
The Six Senses Lodge in Punakha was quite different to Thimphu located in the quiet hills with beautiful views over the valley below.
Six Senses Punakha
On returning to Paro we visited the spectacular Paro Dzong had an overnight stay at the Heritage Zhiwa Ling hotel – a magnificent property built along traditional lines.
This rooster was a gift to the Paro Dzong
View from my room at the Zhiwa Ling Heritage hotel Paro
On this trip I didn’t have the opportunity to trek to the Tiger’s Nest but my memory of this from 8 years earlier is firmly embedded I did however have the great pleasure to have dinner with the Manager of the travel partner I am now working with in Bhutan. It was a fascinating evening with the discussion stretching from politics in the western world to the philosophy and practice of Gross National Happiness in Bhutan. On this journey my scepticism around this concept flew out the window. I could totally embrace the significance of an approach that placed happiness above material possessions, protection of the environment over development and humanity above all else. It is not only a philosophy in Bhutan it is how life is lived and one can experience it everyday while travelling through this beautiful kingdom.
The final highlight of this extraordinary journey was this view of Mt Everest from the window as we flew to Delhi via Kathmandu. One doesn’t need to climb Everest to experience the majestic power of this mountain range.