The country of Bhutan cares for one thing: happiness. a spirit filled place where joy is the pastime and soulful living a career, this little known Himalayan paradise is a welcome respite for wanderers with its secluded and sprawling resort in the hills called Amankora.
The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan famously calculates success via Gross National Happiness, where one’s wealth is measured in joy rather than currency. This haven is home to a family of ethereal lodges – individual sanctuaries within the pristine Land of the Thunder Dragon. Scattered amidst sloping crags and forests are the Amanresorts’ prized collection of Amankora Lodges. Travel + Leisure has twice in as many years named Amankora among the best resorts in Asia and visitors have marveled at the instant soothing peace experienced at each location. Jaunts in small regions or across the entire country provide a variety of experiences and landscapes with one very clear constant – you have a truly harmonious holiday ahead of you.
A single highway winds east to west between the lodges, meandering up magnificent peaks and through valleys speckled with quaint villages. Massive forts and small shrines emerge from between the untouched forests. The lodges are placed in the most historic and picturesque areas of Bhutan, separated by valleys and hills, but designed to be experienced as a whole. They act as guideposts along a path of discovery, rejuvenating the body and soul while illustrating the country’s rich tradition and Buddhist influence. Amankora Thimphu Lodge, secluded at the edge of the country’s capital city, resembles a fortress on the exterior, but the soaring ceilings and stone walls are warm and welcoming. Usually the first destination on a tour of Bhutan, the surrounding attractions offer insight into both the ancient and the modern. Centuries-old national culture is on display in handmade crafts and textiles at the nearby National Textile Museum and Folk Heritage Museum. View the royal seat of government, the Trashi Chhoe Dzong, and the Pangri Zampa training school for astrology – both buildings date to the 16th century.
Perched above the Phobjikha Valley, the Amankora Gangtey Lodge in central Bhutan overlooks the Black Mountains National Park, one of the country’s most important wildlife sanctuaries. The nearby Royal Society for the Protection of Nature is home to the Crane Center for conservation and research of endangered black-necked cranes that migrate to the valley. In the winter you can view the rare game from the Crane Center’s hides. For an adventurous discourse with nature in the epicenter of tiger territory, navigate thick brush and fallen logs on the Tiger Trail from Gangtey to Rukubji village. Brief encounters with the majestic striped felines are not uncommon.
With a name meaning “beautiful valley” it is not surprising that a trek through surrounding farmlands and river valleys reveals the Amankora Bumthang Lodge amidst a peaceful apple orchard. Across the valley from the lodge, a landscape of Bhutan’s most revered temples and monasteries can been seen. Steps away from your retreat sits the Wangdichholing Palace, an 18th-century palace that is now occupied by a small congregation of monks. Next door, there are five chortens, square shrine-like buildings that house huge water-driven prayer wheels.
The low-lying Amankora Punakha Lodge sits in the sacred center of the country, in close proximity to the massive Punakha Dzong. This fortress monastery is the winter home of the head of the monastic order and houses a maze of prayer rooms and serene courtyards. Visit the nearby 5th century Chimi Lhakhang fertility temple for a fruitful blessing and hear one of many legends involving the eccentric and lusty Lam Drukpa Kuenley. The lodge itself is just as intriguing; the former farmhouse is reached via a striking suspensionbridge. Surrounded by towering blue pines above and a bed of needles below your feet, an inviting calm sweeps you along the path to the Paro Lodge. Typically the final stop through Bhutan, the rustic setting mingles with posh décor as a reminder of the commune with nature and spiritual refresher you have experienced. Hike to the revered 7th century “Tiger’s Nest” or Taktsang Lhakhang, following the trail of one of the most frequented pilgrimages in the Himalayas.
A treasure trove of adventures and discoveries grant bliss through simplicity. Share an intimate dinner with monks of all ages in their monastery home, or dine on gourmet chef selections surrounded by silent spuds in a candle-lit potato storage shed. Commune with monks and spiritual leaders and receive a soul-cleansing Buddhist fumigation and one of many sacred blessings. It’s easy to abandon all stress and connect with the environment on bike trails, pony-back rides and a never-ending variety of hikes through the pristine farmlands, woods and ranges.
Your soulful journey is not without indulgence – exceptional Aman spa services and amenities await at each lodge. Achieve balance and healing after hiking excursions with reflexology and intense massage, or simply savor a steam treatment and traditional hot stone bath. Center yourself while surrounded by a stunning landscape in the glass-walled yoga suite. The Amankora are inclusive of excellent cuisine and libations; ara rice wine and a traditional milk tea known as ngaja are in constant supply.
Sublime tranquility and euphoria are just a few of the intangible souvenirs that return with you from Bhutan. Perhaps the happiness stems from a culture that seems to be unaffected by material desires, or the pristine landscape that gives off a contented aura of its own. Whatever its origin, the joy felt throughout Bhutan will permeate your spirit so you, like previous travelers, feel at peace when recalling your odyssey.