Friday, December 31, 2010

Travel TidBits: Guesthouses in Bhutan

Traveling in a remote country which only opened to foreign tourists rather recently, I have been asked what the accommodations will be on our Festival and Photo Tour to Bhutan in October 2011.  Since we will visit some of the same towns and villages that I traveled to in the Spring of 2010, here are some samples of the wonderful guesthouses that we will stay in.  Most of them are built in the Bhutanese traditions, but will be comfortable with modern amenities.  On occasions, the electricity may not work but dinner by candle light keeps everything in balance.  You can also find my images of Bhutan and its people and culture on my web gallery.

Gangtey Palace in Paro was a royal palace and it is beautifully painted in the traditional way.  It is located above Paro with a great view of the Paro Valley.

The inside of the hotel is painted with traditional symbols.

and artifacts adorn the wall.

We reach the Dewachen Hotel in Phobjika Valley after visiting Gantey Monastery.  This monastery is perched on top of a small hill that rises from the valley floor.  After our visit there, we will hike through the valley of Gantey first through a wooded area and then through fields, until we reach Phobjika, a small village.  The Gantey valley is famous for its black cranes who migrate here from the high Himalayas to winter in the warmer climate.

The Dewachen Hotel stands quite in contrast to the humble village.  The view of the valley from here is magnificent and I can only imagine the black cranes flying here in the winter.

In Jakar, we will stay at the River Lodge.  Jakar is located in a smaller valley and our Guesthouse is built above the valley floor.  When I was there in 2010, I had a clear view of the valley.  In the late afternoon, I watched the local soccer team in their practice while the farmers led their cows and animals home for the night.

Jakar Valley

River Lodge, Jakar

A hot cup of tea greeted the traveler upon arrival, 
and the meals were yummy.  The Bhutanese cuisine is spicy with lots of chili's,
but we are also served dishes that might suit our Western palette a bit better.

 As we travel on to the Tang Valley, we will reach the end of the road at the river from where we hike up to Ugyen Choeling Manor.  It is a steep hike and we will only carry what we need for the night.  The guesthouse is part of a royal palace that also houses a museum, and it is run by a relative of the former King.  We will have a wonderful view of the surrounding valley and mountains. Time permitting we will visit the surrounding village.  During my last trip, I was invited into one of the homes and was privileged to observe the family in their daily activities.  The warm welcome that I experienced everywhere and the offered tea or wine showed the incredible hospitality of the Bhutanese people.

Our host serves a tasty meal.

Since the evening was chilly, we gather around the wood stove.

and the hot tea is welcome.

Yak hair rug

I slept well and warm under the thick cover, but my wood stove burned out during
the night and I woke to a frosty morning. 

In Ura, we encounter a colorful guesthouse decorated with a myriad of blue, green, red, yellow, and white prayer flags.  The Ura Festival - Tchechu - was happening and the village was preparing for the yearly gathering at the monastery with its colorful dances and ceremonies.

Our meals are served in the cozy main room next to the kitchen.

In Bhutanese traditions, all room doors are covered with handmade curtains.

The Ura village is located at around 12,000 ft altitude and the night was chilly.

Everywhere I went I found a warm welcome, friendly people and enjoyed the hospitality of my hosts.  We had lovely meals that were mostly vegetarian but with the occasional meat including yak meat that tasted like beef.  As in Asian tradition, we ate lots of rice and potatoes, both grown on the terraces fields that we had traveled through.  I specifically liked the variety of potato dishes with cream and cheese sauces.  All in all, I did not lack anything while traveling in Bhutan and wished that I could have brought some of the recipes home with me.

For more images from my travel in Bhutan, please visit my web gallery.  My upcoming Festival and Photo Tour to Bhutan describes the next trip.  I am welcoming you to join and experience this remote mountain country - a once in a lifetime adventure!