|Dobji Dzong, built in 1531, is believed to be the first such monastery fortress in Bhutan.|
Travel agents who have been in the game for years may think they have the world mastered, but as one member of the Tourism Council of Bhutan puts it, “I bet they’ve never seen us.” If you are looking to sell the next frontier of travel, you ought to look at Bhutan, which is a remote and virtually untouched location, yet accessible to the U.S. market.
The government of the newly democratic country has picked up tourism as a source of revenue and is eager to work strictly with the travel agent community. Wedged between India and China, Bhutan is easy to get to, with daily flights from Bangkok and multiple flights a week from Calcutta and Delhi. This makes the country ideal for either a stand-alone vacation, or as an add-on destination to India, Southeast Asia or China.
Bhutan is a trekker’s paradise that sits in and at the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains. Roughly 72 percent of the land is covered by forests. Climate ranges from cold in the northern Great Himalayas to sub-tropical in the southern foothills. More than 1,000 miles of roads run through the country from east to west, and a domestic air service flying to eastern Trashigang, central Bumthang and southern Gelephu took off this year.
Aside from the fact that Bhutan is the only country in the world to measure its wealth with Gross National Happiness, it is rich in natural, cultural and wellness-inspired attractions. Isolated in mountain country, Bhutan offers unexplored beauty across multiple valleys, 11 rivers and dense forest cover. Nature lovers and adventure junkies will have a wealth to choose from in terms of rafting, trekking, kayaking, fishing, golfing and more.
Each year, around 40 local cultural festivals are organized across the country. One such event is the Jakar Tsechu Festival, to be held this November, in which dancers wear ancient, magically charged masks and costumes that depict compassionate and wrathful deities.
Holistic travel is a major niche market in Bhutan, a country steeped in an ancient system of traditional medicine. For centuries, it has been a center for spiritual healing and the spa market is expected to explode as more and more luxury properties debut. Sites such as the Taktshang Monastery, the country’s most iconic temple and sacred spot, sits 3,000 feet above a valley, will appeal to spiritual travelers.
Where to Stay
Travelers have their pick of accommodations throughout Bhutan, ranging from modest hiker lodgings in the mountains to the more luxurious brands recognizable in the U.S., such as Amanresorts and Taj Hotels. There are approximately 2,000 beds available across three- to five-star hotels.
There are five Amankora lodges throughout Bhutan: Amankora Paro, Amankora Thimphu, Amankora Punakha, Amankora Gangtey and Amankora Bumthang. To book, agents can reach out to John Reed ([email protected]), general manager, or Julie Beattie ([email protected]), reservations manager. The telephone number for both in Bhutan is +975-2-331-333.
Most visitors to the country begin their journey at Amankora Paro or Amankora Thimphu. The 24-suite lodge in Paro is a veritable pine forest retreat just 30 minutes from the international airport. Using this lodge as a check-in point, guests can venture off to visit the 17th-century ruins of Drukyel Dzong, one of several monastery fortresses built to protect the country against invasion. Farther afield but worth the visit is Dobji Dzong, built in 1531 and believed to be the first dzong in Bhutan.
Amankora Thimphu is a 16-suite lodge near Bhutan’s capital city, Thimphu. The property’s spa has three treatment rooms, a steam room, changing areas and a wealth of holistic treatments. From this lodge, travelers can explore the capital city and also trek into the surrounding forests.
Across the Mo Chhu River sits Amankora Punakha, an intimate eight-suite lodge with onsite spa, living room and library. Suites are individually heated during the cooler winter months and air-conditioned in the summer. The Punakha lodge is a great starting point for excursions into the Punakha valley, which can include trips to Punakha Dzong, the second oldest and second largest of Bhutan’s monastery fortresses.
Amankora Gangtey is one of the country’s most remote properties. It is in the Phobjikha Valley, one of Bhutan’s most important wildlife reserves. Here, visitors can see more than 300 black-neck cranes, which make the valley their home each winter. The lodge has eight suites as well as an onsite spa with two treatment rooms.
For a touch of history, we suggest Amankora Bumthang, whose courtyard is next to the Wangdichholing Palace, the birthplace of Bhutan’s monarchy. Bumthang is home to 29 temples and monasteries, as well. The lodge has 16 suites in four separate dwellings. Each has two suites on the ground floor and two on the upper floor. Amankora Bumthang also offers a spa with three treatment rooms and a steam room.
Another lodging option in the capital city is the Taj Tashi, Thimphu. With 66 rooms and suites, this five-star hotel boasts five dining facilities, as well as Taj’s Jiva Spa, and is just a short walk from the golf course. Because Thimphu is 7,500 feet above sea level, guests have sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and township. Agents can address questions to Sales Manager Bikramjit Bhangoo (+975-2-336-699, [email protected]).
On the Horizon
PATA continues to support Bhutan as its popularity rises. The third annual PATA Annual Adventure Travel and Responsible Tourism Conference & Mart will take place in Paro, February 3-7, 2012. It will be the first B2B travel trade event ever held in Bhutan.
Note: There is no U.S. Embassy or Consulate in Bhutan. According to the U.S. Department of State, travelers can obtain updates on travel and security in the country from the American Embassy in New Delhi or any other U.S. Consulate in India.
A visa is required to enter and exit Bhutan. All visas are approved from Thimphu. Applications for tourist visas are submitted via tour operators.
|Amankora Thimphu near the capital city features 16 suites, a spa and public living/dining area.|