Bhutan - A family affair

by Suraj Melwani | June 24, 2013 | 0 Comments

3 Weeks ago marked our first trip with my wife and her family. All of us have had this inexplicable fascination with Bhutan for a long time now. It's an intriguing place where religion truly coincides with culture. With my wife recently heading down a Buddhist path as well as our love for a little peace and quiet, it was no surprise that Bhutan hit a nerve when we threw out a list of destinations. 
Bhutan is no easy place to travel to. It requires a little more planning than usual due to the limited travel/transport options. We hooked up with the Aman Resorts and devised a 5 day travel itinerary to maximize our trip. We boarded a 4-hour Druk Air Flight from Singapore to Kolkata. A short transit (45 minutes) in Kolkata and we were back in the air on our way to Paro International Airport in Bhutan. 
The Flight closing in on Paro was unlike any other. Never have I witnessed scenery like such. I had also taken a little time before to Youtube the landing into Bhutan as I heard it was one of the more trickier ones. This stuff truly fascinates me. Flying through mountainous terrain has an eery feeling and this was one of these experiences. We travelled pretty low through the valleys with some people's houses regularly visible through our windows. Finally we entered the lowest point before landing and this was the best part. With a valley on the left and another ahead on right side, our Pilot cooly eased the plane on to the right and then masterfully positioned it left heading towards the runway with us coming as close as possible to some of the houses on the valley. A surreal experience on it's own. 
Once we disembarked the plane, we were greeted with cool, fresh air and a view of the mountains and valleys that we had just navigated through. That alone was worth the ticket price. 
At the airport, we were greeted by two gentlemen from Amankora; one was a Guide/Host and the other was the designated driver throughout the trip. Bhutan travel trips booked through hotels generally follow the same structure. They pair you with a Guide/Host who knows every square inch of the country. Our guides were excellent from the get-go. They were warm, hospitable, and downright knowledgable. The trip then follows an itinerary starting from Paro/Thimpu and then throughout the entire country and back. The Aman Group have quite a few properties you can choose from. It's a pretty flexible journey. 
Bhutan's Architecture was mind-blowing. Although we didn't really understand the Architecture the way a trained eye would, we were certainly impressed by the visuals. Older Bhutanese Farmhouses on the Amankora property were flanked by buildings from famed Aussie Architect Kerry Hill. His design of the Amankora property in Punakha Valley involved using Parched Earth Concrete to form the building exterior. It fit in perfectly against the surroundings. Truly unobtrusive and intelligent architecture. 
We visited quite a few monasteries from the 17th Century and beyond. Truly unreal how they have take care of some of these holy sites. 
Other interesting points to note; The Phallus is a symbol of fertility, hence the reason it is visible throughout the country. We also visited the fertility monastery to have a further look and got blessed by an 11 year old monk. 
Weather; Chilly when we went with temperatures dropping to about 16 degrees in the evening but nicer in the day. 
Internet; not widely available but consider it as a reason to completely switch off. 
Prayer flags; be sure to buy some and tie them up from the trees. This was a really heartwarming experience. 
Eat; Local Bhutanese food was real spicy. Don't pass up trying a few of these dishes. Perfect in that cold weather.
Guide; The guides on hand to escort us around town were excellent. Don't feel bad about asking a thousand questions as they were highly knowledgable and always willing to share. They are passionate about their country. Service was phenomenal.
- SM

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