The most scenic of the Amankora lodges, Gangtey offers stark beauty, nature, fauna and flora including the black neck cranes.
We arrive at an awe-inspiring wide open glacial valley; the dark green floor stretches into wilderness, the end of which is covered with low mountain hugging clouds. The air is crisp and light, we are at 2,900m, but it is as fresh and sweet as drinking spring water. Once beyond the reach of roads and electricity, there is still peace here. The locals call it the Phobjikha Valley. For me it is the end of the world.
Look We arrive at Paro and drive past small villages, some with solar panels on rooftops to power electricity in the night. “It doesn’t always work,” Tenzin, the village boy, told me. “The locals put their faith in the prayer flags.” He points towards the fluttering flags on the valley top. “Every time the wind blows, it takes our prayers straight to the heavens,” he says. “No solar panels required.”
At the Amankora Gangtey, hidden behind a forest, we find a different world. It is warm, comfortable and there is electricity. Cocooned behind huge glass windows, I find it difficult to relate to the outside world of simplicity. The world as it is, the world as it was and the world as it should be.
Stay My room is heated by a traditional wood burning stove they call ‘bukhari’. I find comfort in the terrazzo-clad bath before I spend the evening at the bar, which is stocked with local and foreign beverages. And I sleep well.
In the morning, a shaft of sunlight slants across my room through the open window. The view overlooks the forested hills and sweeping meadows of the valley below. It is September, the sky is clear and I sit outside drinking Darjeeling tea. As I look deep into the valley, I am filled with memories of my past and am at peace with myself. It is my first day in this beautiful world and I am already transformed.
Dine Dining in Aman resorts is on demand. In most cases you have a suggested menu but the chef discusses with you what you like and the cuisine is tailored to your liking. There are no fixed timings. You can eat when you like and where you like.
Explore I spend my day walking up the hills with my guide, sometimes searching for the black-neck cranes. But my guide tells me that we may be a bit too early to see the cranes. Between October and March, black-necked cranes migrate from the Tibetan Plateau to Bhutan, mostly to Phobjikha, the Himalayan Kingdom’s largest wetland area.
Experience On our last day we set off early for our 8-hr drive back to Paro but not far from the village, we have a flat tyre. “There is a reason for everything,” my driver says and sets about replacing it. Suddenly I see Tenzin coming round the corner and with a big smile he offers to help. On my flight back home, I think about the flat tyre and wonder; was it a co-incidence or because I had to meet Tenzin again? The answer to which, I will never know.
Relax In Amankora Gangtey, spa treatments focus on relieving tensions from the drive by concentrating on joint flexibility and re-hydration through herbs and hot oil. Not only warming, a hot oil massage also includes Himalayan herbs targeted at relieving joint stiffness.
One More Thing The drive from Punakha to Gangtey (recommended) can be slow and bumpy or even a torturous 10 hours if you are travelling there from Bumthang. Either way, it will be worth the effort getting there.
Flights to Bhutan are either from Bangkok or New Delhi. You will need to buy a return ticket before you can apply for a visa. Bangkok is the best place to connect if you are coming from North America, Australia or Asia. Delhi is the best place to connect if you are coming from Europe, Middle East or UK. You can also fly to Bhutan from Kathmandu.
We will arrange your flight tickets and visa clearance details and forward them to the Druk office at which the flight originates. All flights arrive at Paro from where it takes about 1-hour drive to Thimphu. Transfers within Bhutan can be arranged by AwimAway with an English speaking guide. Our representative will meet you at the Paro airport and transfer you to the hotel (additional cost).
Aman Villa Suites combine a bedroom and lounge, and feature a king-size bed, a reading chair and a window banquette. A traditional bukhari is positioned between the bedroom and the bathroom. The suite’s interior features wood panelling and chocolate brown walls. The spacious bathroom opens from the bedroom and provides twin vanities, separate shower and toilet, hanging space and a terrazzo-clad bath with twin vanities and views across the valley. Size: 52 sqm
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Experiences The Phobjikha Valley is part of the Black Mountains National Park and one of Bhutan’s most important wildlife sanctuaries. It is home to about 350 endangered black-necked cranes which arrive here from the Tibetan plateau during winters. The best time to see the cranes is between November and March.
For those interested in Buddhist history, art and culture could visit the Gangtey village and its 16th century old Gompa. You could also visit a local house or generally build up conversation with the locals to understand their perspective of happiness. The locals are very friendly and easy to start a conversation.
What to do Nature walks and treks are offered throughout the Phobjikha valley. You can either take short day treks around the valley or organise an 8-day trek to/ from Thimphu. Trekking is organised on a private basis and you stay in tents with basic services. Other activities include archery, fishing and white-water rafting.
Almost every village has archery competition. Ask the concierge at your hotel and they will organise an archery lesson or allow you to participate in the local competition. You may have to wear the ‘Gho’, the traditional kilt like dress, dance and cheer like the locals.
Tipping Hotel and restaurant bills include service charges amounting to 20%. There is no need to add anything further to this. Tipping of your guide, driver and trek crew is a purely personal matter. The bottom line in determining whether or how much to tip is to ask yourself how much our representatives did to make your Bhutan travel experience more enjoyable.
Visa & Health British nationals require visa and this is generally arranged by our country agent in Bhutan. Individuals who are travelling to Bhutan from an endemic area will require yellow fever certificate. We recommend that you contact your doctor to check for any inoculations required.
When to go Winter in Bhutan is from mid-November till mid-March, and at this time of the year the climate is dry and sunny for the most part, temperatures peaking at around 15c. in the daytime and falling below zero at night. During the spring months of March, April and May, Bhutan offers warm days and cool nights. It is a great time for treks and to watch the flora and the many birds of Bhutan.
By the middle of June, clouds begin to build up for the monsoon that arrives in July. By mid-September the monsoon clouds have all but dried and the skies begin to clear. The two-month window between October and November offers clear skies but it can be cold in the night. It is also a good time for trekking deep into the Himalayas, sitting around a camp fire and seeing the high Himalayas in the morning and evening golden light.