6 Days In Bhutan: How To Have An Authentic Experience In The Himalayan Kingdom
1/6 Day 1: An unforgettable arrival to Bhutan
It's not hyperbole to say that nowhere could rival Bhutan’s captivating welcome. Descending into Paro Airport, the main gateway into the Land of the Thunder Dragon, we were cruising through a clear blue sky when, in what seemed like a split second, we were surrounded by mountains on all sides. Only eight pilots in the world are certified to fly around these majestic peaks and execute one of the most dramatic landings possible.
As the last bastion of Vajrayana Buddhism, you can sense the spirituality as soon as you land. It also informs the establishment of the country's Aman. The saying “the journey is the destination” is what the luxury resort Amankora had in mind when it opened in 2004. Kora, which means circular pilgrimage in the Bhutanese language (Dzongkha), also refers to Aman’s inimitable style of exploration; they encourgage guests to visit their five lodges in different valleys—Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Bumthang and Gangtey.
2/6 Day 2: Begin Your Kora In Paro and Thimpu
We began our six-day sojourn with a brief stop at the Paro lodge. A dense pine forest marks the welcome at Paro—one must walk through it, every step releasing an intoxicating aroma from the carpet of pines, until the lodge finally reveals itself. Indoors, I was greeted with an exquisite cup of masala chai tea, which I sipped while taking in the view of Mount Jomolhari through the picture windows.
The first full day was spent in Thimphu, the capital city an hour’s drive away from Paro. The design of the Thimpu lodge, as with the other four lodges, is said to have been inspired by the architecture of dzongs or temples. In the hands of Kerry Hill Architects, the lodges are an intelligent interpretation of Bhutanese tradition; they also constructed the structures to be earthquake resistant. While every lodge varies in size and appearance, Kerry Hill designed for a consistent experience. Many of the rooms have the same layout, for example, which ensures a seamless journey as you hop from one lodge to another.
3/6 Day 3: Drive on the Dochula Pass and prepare for a surprise
"Be gentle on my curves"—read a sign along the winding, mountainside road as we made our way to our next stop, Punakha. It is one of many creative (and often rhyming) pronouncements of safety that you will find on the drive between valleys. The Dochula pass, in particular, was a revelation. From the vantage point of 3,000m high, you will encounter a majestic panorama of the snow-capped Himalayas. You will be hard‑pressed to stop taking pictures but it is worth savouring the feeling of being hugged by mountains and breathing in the freshest air (one of the many things I wished I could take home).
On our visit, we were also treated to another surprise—a chance to participate in the local Druk Wangyel festival where we got to meet and speak with Princess Ashi Sonam Dechen Wangchuck. It was the highlight of this scenic drive to Punakha, a valley best known for its beautifully preserved dzong (the second oldest and second largest in Bhutan) and the charming river that runs through it. If driving is not your cup of tea, Amankora also recently launched helicopter transfers.
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4/6 Day 4: Embrace the bucolic life in Punakha Valley
At just over 1,000m above sea level, a few days in Punakha helps one acclimatise to the altitude as well as embrace the country’s languid pace. The lodge sits close to the banks of the Mochu river; in fact, one has to cross a footbridge lined with prayer flags to get to it. While the lodge sits on expansive grounds, the structure itself is notably smaller than Paro and Thimphu. It is, however, more exposed to the elements—resident dog Chungku and the village cows seemed to enjoy the open layout as much as the guests did.
The day we arrived we enjoyed an intimate riverside picnic lunch against the natural soundtrack of wind rustling through leaves, chirping birds perched on trees, and the placid flow of the water below. With the sun shining above and a spread of fresh salads and grilled dishes in front of us, it was the epitome of the perfect picnic and one of the meals I treasure most during my visit to Bhutan.
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5/6 Day 5: Immerse yourself in local culture
From cooking classes and archery lessons to a visit to the Punakha dzong, there is plenty to keep you busy here. However, don’t leave without a hike up Khamsum Chorten. The gentle hike through the rice paddies ended with a picnic at the summit, featuring a spread of local delicacies paired with refreshing Bumthang apple juice.
Aman also offers optional immersion experiences, which I highly recommend. Go for the visit to a village farmhouse to see how the Bhutanese live, as well as to enjoy a typical home-made meal including dishes such as buckwheat noodles, radish and pork, chilli and cheese accompanied with Bhutanese tea or a wheat or rice-based spirit called ara.
6/6 Day 6: Hike up to Tiger's Nest
Our kora was drawing to an end and we are finally ready to conquer the most iconic part: a whole day hike to Tiger’s Nest, a monastery that sits on a jagged rock atop a towering peak. It took almost three hours plus a lot of sweat and determination to climb up the mountain, and even for a non-Buddhist like me, this felt like a spiritual pilgrimage.
There is a Bhutanese proverb that says, “The temple may be ancient, but the meaning is always modern”. It couldn’t be truer in this case. Once inside the temple, you are on top of the world—or at least precisely 3,120m high—you are reminded of what really matters: the here and the now. After seeing how little we really need to lead a full life, you leave Bhutan with a new perspective and a greater appreciation of living the moment.
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