THE Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is one of Earth’s most fabled destinations – a place of pristine natural beauty and cultural authenticity, where happiness is valued more highly than monetary gain.
Justifiably wary of the outside world and its fast-paced modernity, the sole-surviving Buddhist Kingdom was cautious in opening its doors to the rest of the world. Only a trusted few helped launch its fledgling tourism industry in the early 2000s, and Aman was the first international hotel collection to be granted permission to operate within its borders. Beautiful valleys score the Kingdom’s mountainous terrain, and Amankora’s five intimate lodges (Paro, Punakha, Gangtey, Bumthang and Thimphu) facilitate a kora, or ‘circular journey’ of discovery throughout central and western Bhutan.
Amankora guests can choose a journey entailing all or a combination of these lodges, ensuring a seamless unveiling of this remarkable Kingdom on top of the world.
Combining pared back luxury with exceptional cuisine, cosseting spa treatments, one off cultural encounters, unique sightseeing and breathtaking adventures in nature, Amankora continues to open up ways in which to discover and experience this unique destination. Amankora has introduced new helicopter transfers between lodges, a series of Michelin-starred chef residencies at Thimphu Lodge, a unique helicopter breakfast experience at Twin Lakes, forest and prayer flag bathing experiences, immersive wellness retreats with visiting specialists, four new suites and a swimming pool at Punakha Lodge, poppy treks and a matsutake experience.
Amankora Helicopter Journeys
With elevations in the thousands of metres, Bhutan’s beautiful valleys are accessed via winding mountain passes offering breathtaking views and dramatic drop offs. The transfers between Amankora’s five lodges are an integral part of the Amankora journey, yet when time is of the essence, covering the same distances by helicopter allows for more exploration on the ground. Aman has partnered with Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services to offer Amankora Helicopter Journeys from lodge to lodge revealing awe-inspiring Himalayan vistas and a new perspective of this remarkable Kingdom.
The Short Loop Journey of seven nights offers a three-valley experience with two nights each in Thimphu and Punakha, and three nights in Paro, while the Classic Loop Journey of nine nights enables a four-valley experience with two nights each in Thimphu, Gangtey and Punakha, and three nights in Paro. The Country- wide Loop Journey of 12 nights facilitates an experience of all five valleys: Starting in Thimphu, and journeying east to Punakha, Gangtey and Bumthang, before returning back to Paro.
Michelin-Starred Guest Chef Series
Amankora is delighted to present a series of culinary evenings at Amankora Thimphu this July, August and September, hosted by three renowned Michelin-starred chefs. These gastronomic feasts will each include a multicourse degustation menu prepared by Chefs Bryce Shuman, Joshua Brown or Shinobu Namae together with Amankora’s own culinary team. Drawing inspiration from the Kingdom’s mountainous environment and the abundance of fresh local produce, each Chef will bring their own distinctive style to the Kingdom, ensuring a unique experience all round.
Showing off the creative flair that garnered him a Michelin star, three stars from The New York Times, and Food & Wine Magazine’s ‘Best New Chef’ accolade in 2015, Chef Bryce Shuman of the acclaimed Betony in New York City was at Amankora Thimphu on the 13 and 14 July. The 10 and 11 August will welcome Chef, Joshua Brown of Wolfgang Puck’s Spago and one Michelin-star restaurant CUT in Singapore. Two-Michelin-starred Chef Shinobu Namae of The Fat Duck and L’Effervescence will round off the series on the 14 and 15 September.
Breakfast at Twin Lakes
Experience the morning sun gilding over Bhutan’s second highest peak, Mount Jomolhari, during a sumptuous breakfast in the crisp morning air. A short helicopter ride from Amankora Paro takes guests up the Paro Valley over lush forests and remote hamlets before embracing stunning panoramic views of the Himalayas along the Bhutan-Tibet border. The breakfast spot rests between two turquoise lakes above the Jomolhari Base Camp at Jangothang, where views of this 7,300-metre monolith – sacred to Buddhists as the abode of Earth protector Jumo – are unparalleled. After breakfast, guests can explore other sacred sites nearby including Jomolhari Temple, the meditation caves of Milarepa and Gyalwa Lorepa, and the spirit lake of Tsheringma. The return flight takes in stunning views of Singye Dzong, the legendary Lion Fortress.
New Suites and Swimming Pool at Punakha Lodge
Visiting Bhutan in the winter (September to February) is appealing for many reasons: days are crisp with cobalt blue skies; nights reveal a universe of twinkling stars; temperatures are a pleasant 12-20°C during the day; occasional snowfall on the mountain peaks makes for breathtaking vistas across the valleys; and the magical morning light is ideal for photography. As March melts into May and spring becomes summer, Bhutan’s temperate climate sees daytime temperatures climbing to 26°C – ideal weather for relaxing in the sun and swimming.
Aman’s first swimming pool in the Kingdom will open in mid-June at Amankora Punakha, the mid-point of a circular pilgrimage incorporating all five lodges. The 30-metre infinity pool is surrounded by rice paddies and fruit plantations and boasts 360° mountain views. Occupying a traditional Bhutanese farmhouse near the Mo Chhu River in one of Bhutan’s most fertile valleys, the eight-suite lodge is also presenting four brand new, additional suites this summer (mid-June).
Forest and Prayer Flag Bathing Experiences
Amankora’s unique outdoor bathing experiences employ no bath towels, soap or water. In fact, they simply involve being in the present moment, alone, in nature. Forests lend themselves innately to quiet reflection, and the Himalayan Forest Bathing experience involves slow and tranquil walking through the pristine forest wilderness. Drawing its name from the Japanese phrase shinrin yoku, meaning ‘absorbing the forest atmosphere’, the practice is effortless, whilst the forest itself bestows its peaceful rewards through sight, sound, smell and touch.
Prayer Flag Bathing shares this simplicity and soul-boosting outcome, but its focus is on listening to the sound of prayer flags flapping in the wind – often the only sound present. Mounted for happiness and longevity, luck and prosperity, prayer flags represent the Buddhist belief that prayers can be carried by the wind, and that any person touched by this wind will be uplifted. Bathing in the rippling sound of fluttering prayer flags is deeply calming – a spiritual immersion in the manifested well wishes of those thankful for every blessing.
Wellness Retreats with Visiting Specialists
Each of Amankora’s lodges offer a peaceful spa, but it is their tranquil natural settings that provide the real frame for regular immersive retreats. Hosted by renowned wellness experts from around the world, these retreats are designed to balance body and mind through different practices, whether yoga, meditation, discussion, silence or therapeutic work.
From 15 to 22 September, Dr. Buathon Thienarrom will be leading a retreat entitled ‘Enriching Life’ based on the concept that awareness of the body can be a tool for transformation of the mind. A highly regarded holistic practitioner from Thailand, Dr. Thienarrom has an extensive knowledge of alternative and Tibetan medicine, as well as Taoist practice. She uses her signature method ZenNaTai to help the body release tension and generate the flow of qi, unlocking positive energy from within. The retreat includes three nights at Thimphu, four nights at Paro, a 60-minute spa treatment and all meals, road transfers and sightseeing.
Amankora will also host ‘The Inner Light Immersion’ from the 1 to 31 October. Designed to reveal the ever deeper and richer layers of our spirit selves, to discover inner wisdom through a series of spiritual healing treatments. This highly personalised immersion includes two nights at Thimphu and Punakha, and three nights at Paro, all meals, three 90-minute specialist therapies, one 60-minute Amankora holistic massage, one 60- minute traditional hot stone bath, a Buddhist blessing and ceremony, a 108-butter lamp offering at Taktsang Monastery and all transfers and sightseeing.
Poppy Treks and Matsutake Season
Bhutan’s white, red and pink poppies are a rare sight to behold, carpeting the landscape at elevations of 3,000 – 4,500 metres in one of the world’s most inaccessible terrains. This year, from the 1 June to 15 July guests of Amankora have the unique opportunity to witness this seasonal display of Bhutan’s national flower. Guests will trek through the remote and untouched Haa Valley and spend either two (Red Poppy Trek) or three (White & Pink Poppy Treks) nights in tented accommodation as well as two nights at Amankora Thimphu and Amankora Paro lodges.
The highly sought-after matsutake mushroom is another seasonal delight that emerges in in the Bhutanese wilderness countryside in the late summer. This year, from the 1 August till 15 September, guests of Amankora will have the chance to observe and indulge with a four-night tour at Thimphu and Paro lodges, which includes an exclusive trip to the hamlet where the mushrooms are traded, plus all meals including matsutake menus, and a private driver and guide for traversing this fascinating country.