Where Prayer Flags Flutter
With the appointment of five new Six Senses lodges across Bhutan, it’s never been a better time to get under the skin of this fascinating country. The five lodges are spread out across the width of Bhutan and offer a chance to explore a different areas. The lodges each have their own identity, with five different design concepts, that fit seamlessly into their environment. Expect to be wowed by a ‘palace in the sky’, a ‘flying farmhouse’ and a ‘birdwatching bridge’.
This journey across Bhutan, visiting Six Senses properties in Thimphu, Punakha, Gangtey*, Bumthang* and Paro showcases a land shrouded in mystery where the sun rises over skyscraper mountains, forested gorges and monasteries wrapped in prayer flags that cling unfeasibly to cliffs. On your way, Bhutanese people and orange-robed Buddhist monks will warmly welcome you and open your eyes to their ancient way of life.
A Palace In The Sky
Start in the capital, Thimphu, a blend of old and new, and see government ministers who wear traditional national dress called gho. Explore rhododendron-strewn hills outside of town where you can walk across one of the country’s oldest cantilever bridges to Cheri Goemba where the Kingdom’s first monk community was based.
The largest Six Senses property ‘palace in the sky’ is located here and looks out over the Thimphu Valley to a 170ft-high statue of Buddha. A highlight here is to enjoy an early breakfast at the lodge’s Apple Shed to watch the sunrise over Thimphu. Before you leave for Punakha, receive prayers and blessings from Six Senses Resident Monk who will wish you a safe and enlightening passage along your journey.
The Flying Farmhouse
On a clear sunny day the drive to Punakha will capture dramatic views of the Himalayan peaks at Dochula Mountain Pass. You’ll see striking cloud-capped valley views and Buddhist shrines which flutter with prayer flags. The lodge at Punakha, known as “the Flying Farmhouse Among the Rice Fields” overlooks lush green vegetable terraces, and its rustic-luxe interiors nod to agriculture with wicker furnishings. In summer, warm weather in the Punakha Valley means you can relax by the outdoor pool or try the traditional sport of archery. Explore hiking trails in the area to discover Buddha statues, small local communities, and Punakha Dzong, which means “the Palace of Great Happiness” before returning to the lodge for an evening of meditation, and a footbath at the spa.
From here, you’ll pass along steep-sided ravines to the Phobjikha Valley, to the picturesque settlement at Gangtey, and your next lodge. At an elevation of almost 10,000ft on the western slopes of the Black Mountains, the glacial valley is a designated conservation area. The property’s large glass observation deck or ‘bird-watching bridge’ is a look-out for spotting migrating Black Necked Crane. You can hike or ride a mountain bike through miniature forests of dwarf bamboo and across fish-filled brooks.
The Cultural Heartland
Tranquil Bumthang, located within an evergreen pine forest, is the most easterly of the Six Senses lodges. This area is the cultural heartland of Bhutan. On the drive here, over the Yotong La Mountains and down into the Chhume Valley, you’ll see terraced farmland, deep river valleys and precariously-perched farmhouses. Saddle up and go horse-riding to one of the most beautifully decorated monasteries in the Kingdom which is now a Buddhist learning institute. Have lunch on the banks of the river before returning to the lodge for a traditional Bhutanese Hot Stone Bath. Rise up to a new day and enjoy an al fresco breakfast by the forest, before getting in the saddle and riding to Bathpalathang Airport for the short 45-minute flight back to Paro Valley. It’s not every day you ride to the airport on horseback!
Where Tigers Nest
The property in the Paro Valley, built next to the ancient stone ruins of a fortress is perhaps the most scenic, and the best base to explore the Tiger’s Nest, the country’s most well-known and photogenic monastery. Hike the steep climb to the Tiger’s Nest, following colourful prayer flags that lead the way through pine forests and waterfalls. At the top, marvel at this architectural feat as chanting monks pray and mist swirls around the mountain views.
*Reservations are being accepted for the lodge in Thimphu from February 1, 2019 and for the lodges in Punakha and Paro from March 1, 2019. The lodges in Gangtey and Bumthang are targeting openings for May 2019.