Amankora Bhutan, the lodges

A continuation and completion of the numerous activities offered at the five Amankora Lodges in Bhutan.

Amankora Gangtey
Truth be told, my love of Gangtey is close to the Amankora Punakha Farmhouse for different reasons. Gangtey truly provides a look at a very typical Bhutanese life: agriculture and farming; as the lodge is surrounded by potato and turnip fields.

Views from my Soaking tub at Amankora Gangtey, Bhutan

The eight suite Amankora Gangtey provides an exclusive hideaway, with broad sweeping views of the stunning valley landscape, fields of dwarf bamboo and potato crops, the 16th century Gangtey Goemba Monestary is in the nearby village. The lodge accommodation and guest areas are encompassed in one rammed-earth building with a combined living and dining room filled with cozy chairs, sofas and family style dining tables, with phenomenal views through the floor to ceiling windows over the valley and surrounding mountains. The spacious suites are identical in layout to those of Amankora Thimphu, with an open plan living and bedroom area, and have stunning views across the valley. There is a small spa at Amankora Gangtey with exceptional offerings. Floor to ceiling windows frame majestic views, you’ll wake, dine and bathe with these breathtaking views, leave your shutters open to wake with the exquisite morning lite. Meals are enjoyed inside and on a massive sunny terrace, soak in deep tubs with expansive valley views from the patchwork of small local farms to the blue pine forest that towers from the mist.

Authentic hot stone wooden soaking tub set amidst a turnip field near Amankora Gangtey, Bhutan.

The Gangtey village is home to the ancient altars and ramparts of the massive Gangtey Goemba. The massive wild rhododendrons grow in forest size plots, spring time blossoms set the hillsides ablaze in color. The list of activities is varied including hikes, romantic dinners in an authentic potato shed, a hot stone soak in a wooden tub, situated in a candlelit stone hut on a hill, a ten-minute walk from the lodge. You have the unique opportunity to soak in a wooden tub out in the open and enjoy this traditional Bhutanese healing experience. The sliding bamboo doors allow full privacy yet offer open views of the magnificent Phobjikha Valley. Your body will benefit from the minerals in the heated stones and the healing effects of the local Khempa herb. Sit back and unwind in the bath for as long as you wish as you sip on a cup of hot apple cider and watch the sun set.

Our Travel Group dinner in a hand built Potato Shed, Amankora Gangtey, Bhutan.

If you are looking for a picturesque hike through some of the most beautiful parts of Gangtey, this is the one. A 30 minute drive will take you to the starting point in Longtey village, and the hike takes about 3 – 5 hours. The trail initially takes you through a small village where the Nomad yak herders put up their camps in the winter. Seeing the Nomads was part of my enchanting visit to Bhutan, the story of their Himalayan mountain life, small villages inhabited by locals who live pretty much off the grid, happy in their pursuits of herding yak and wandering the high mountain passes and arriving every fall to sell their Yak based products.
From here you continue upwards through mystifying old-growth rhododendron forest. For the next two hours or so, you might feel like you are in the settings of Lord of The Rings surrounded by towering ancient trees which appear to be living creatures surrounding you. The last section through the forest is slightly steeper uphill until you reach the pass with impressive views of the Gangtey Goemba, the Shedra (monastic school), the lodge and the rest of the valley. This is a lovely spot for lunch before you continue on the path as it slopes down the valley towards the idyllic Kumbu village. Many days we would pass locals enjoying picnics or taking a moment for, as my guide Sangay explained ‘”taking a sun bath, Aum Gwen.” Living in the moment is a traditional Bhutanese lifestyle.

The Phobjikha Valley is part of the Black Mountains National Park, one of Bhutan’s most important wildlife sanctuaries. Each winter it is home to a flock of 300 rare black-necked cranes which arrive from Tibet. The arrival of the cranes carries much symbolism in Bhutan.
Bhutan is a country shrouded by religion, superstition and ancient myths. Rules of social behavior are age-old. Ancient methods of conducting rituals and caring for their environment and for each other as well as the codes of behavior, manners, sensibility and religion haven’t changed much in lifetimes. We hiked above the valley nesting grounds and heard the honking calls to the flock.

One of the local turnip farmers, I met her walking back from my soaking tub at Amankora Gangtey, Bhutan
We came upon beautiful surprises every day on our explorations with our guides. This dancer at Wangdue Phodrang dzong was perfecting his skills before his dance master monk left on a three year retreat.

Amankora Bumthang
A five-hour drive on a mostly paved road through dizzying mountain passes, dramatic landscapes and plunging gorges, precariously perched farmhouses and temples on the country’s only east-west highway. Pass through these impressive landscapes to Bumthang and stop to visit Trongsa Dzong, the middle point and a wonderful picnic location at the ancestral home of Bhutan’s Royal family. The drive with gaping canyons, cascading waterfalls, small rest stops crosses two mountain passes: Pele La at over 11,200 feet and Yotong La at 11,236 feet. A pre-modernization view of this road can be enjoyed by watching an old film “Travelers and Magicians”, an award-winning Bhutanese film. The film is a tender reminder of the gentleness of the Bhutanese, we went to Karaoke with our drivers and guides, most of the songs were sweet Asian love songs.

Along the drive, there is a surprise at every corner in Bhutan, if you are a photographer, a 2 hour drive can turn into a 5 hour drive!

The 16-suite Amankora Bumthang sits across a sunny terrace from the Wandichholing Palace, built in 1857 as the Kingdom’s first palace that served as the Royal residence until it was moved to Thimphu in the 1950s. This is now the residence of a small monk colony and you will often catch glimpses of them walking across the orchards.

Amankora Bumthang sits across a sunny terrace from the Wandichholing Palace, built in 1857. Neighboring monks pass through the orchards. Our archery field was adjacent to the Palace at Amankora Bumthang.

The four valleys of Bumthang – Choekhor, Tang, Ura and Chhume offer numerous experiences whether you want to hike, bike, discover temples, watch wildlife, or learn more about the Bhutanese lifestyle and culture. You should not leave Bumthang without experiencing at least a few of them, Amankora provides an extensive list on visiting shops where the locals make hand made paper, hiking, personal experiences, bird watching..a plethora of activities.

Have you milked a cow? To get real insight into how farming is done without machines and modern technology, get an early start and visit one of the local farmhouse in the valley. First, you will be given the opportunity to take part in milking the family’s cows. Back in the farmhouse, you will get to see and participate in butter churning and local cheese processing. You will also get the chance to taste the freshly made dairy products. If you wish, the farmhouse owner will prepare a traditional Bhutanese breakfast for you.

Bhutanese name giving ceremony at Sey Lhakhang. Coming to Bhutan is an enthralling experience and getting a Bhutanese name is a onetime opportunity. Should you wish to have a Bhutanese name from Sey Lhakhang, we can arrange a small ceremony followed by name giving by Lama. You will have to provide your date of birth. After Lama receives your date of birth he will perform a Buddhist name calculation and present you with a name. Then he will explain the meaning of your name. With the new name and blessings, you will light the butterlamps for wellbeing. This blessing will take place in the private altar room of the monastery. Monks will serve you some milk tea with Bhutanese snacks.

Among the many hikes offered here, this one is a favorite. Shugdrak is one of the four holy cliffs which every human being should visit during the course of their lifetime. The hike up to the temple is easy and the view from the top is beautiful beyond words. The drive to the starting point for the Shugdrak hike takes you along the river down Choekhor Valley. The trail starts shortly after passing Thangbi Goemba on your left. Initially, you will walk upwards through flower meadows before catching a smaller trail which leads towards a handful of farmhouses. It continues past an old water mill and then straight up to Shugdrak, beautifully situated on a cliff overlooking the surrounding valleys. Steps imprinted in the mountainside lead up above the roof top of the temple where hermits reside in a charming farmhouse surrounded by prayer flags, and with spectacular views in several directions. This is the perfect spot for a picnic lunch before continuing on your journey back to the lodge.

Visit a local farmhouse to understand Bhutanese life and enjoy a home cooked lunch prepared by the owner. If you wish to experience not just traditional Bhutanese food in authentic surroundings, but also Bumthang specialties made from local products such as buckwheat, we would like to take you for a very different lunch experience. The family you will visit has cooked for the Royal Family for generations, and their idyllic farmhouse is located in Dorjibi village nearby the river further into Choekhor valley. By the time you arrive at their house, the lady of the house, Aum Tshomo, will have spent the entire morning preparing a range of local dishes, including some of the Royal Family’s favorites for you to enjoy along with a taste of their homemade local wine, ara.

Red robed monk along the road anticipating the arrival of a famed yogi from India. Bhutan

Amankora Paro

Take a short flight back to Paro and end your Bhutanese adventure here, the climatic Tigers Nest hike awaits you. Amankora Paro offers elegant dining which takes places either in the communal dining room or outside in the grounds surrounded by open fires and beautiful views. Paro is one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan. Sited in Balakha Village, just a 20-minute drive from Bhutan’s International airport and Paro town, Amankora Paro lies beneath the shadows of the imposing ruins of the 17th century Drugyel Dzong (fortress-monastery), nestled within a blue-pine forest of glistening conifers. The 24 suites are designed and built in a traditional Bhutanese style with natural rammed-earth walls, gently sloping roofs and wood-paneled interiors. Each room has a contemporary yet cozy feel, comprising of a king-size bed, traditional bukhari wood-burning stove and large terrazzo-clad bath.

Paro’s administrative center, Rinpung Dzong, is one of the most sacred Dzongs of Bhutan, and in this beautiful valley you can find some of the earliest temples in the Kingdom such as the 7th century temple Kyichu Lhakhang. Adjacent to this temple is a unique round building where you can lite 108 Butterlamps, a traditional ceremony.

Amankora Paro, Bhutan.

Again Amankora offers their top ten list of local activities, one could spend a month in Bhutan, hiking, biking, temple hopping, museums, and enjoying instructional classes.

Local Bhutanese man who is well known for his hand made prayer flags. Make your prayer flag with him to extend on your Journey to Tiger’s Nest. Amankora Paro, Bhutan

Bhutan talks more about Gross National Happiness (GNH) than Gross National Product. Gross National Happiness is considered to be the measurement of performance for the well-being of all Bhutanese. This concept was introduced by the fourth Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the early 1980s and has been considered revolutionary by the global leaders around the world. We can arrange for a private lecture with Khenpo Phuntshio Tashi, director of the National Museum, who is an expert on this topic.

For biking enthusiasts, we recommend that you follow the main road about 6 kilometers downhill to Zhiwaling Hotel. From here, turn right and conquer the steep hill upwards before turning left after a small chorten. Continue on the gravel road parallel to the main road which takes you thru tranquil village surroundings and provides insight into the valley’s farming traditions and rural life. After 14 kilometers, you will end up in town where you can enjoy a beer and momo (local dumplings) in the frequently visited Sonam Trophel restaurant.

Lighting of108 Butterlamps in one of the Bhutan’s oldest temples dating back to the 7th century, Kyichu Lhakhang is an experience of a lifetime. The Butterlamp or karme represents the dispelling of the darkness of ignorance. The lighting of butterlamps is an offering of light to the deities and is one of the most common means of increasing one’s merit. It also helps to focus the mind and aid meditation. The sacred and incredibly beautiful Kyichu Lhakhang is located a 20-minute drive down the valley and is a tranquil and appropriate location for this ritual. The 7th Century temple is beautiful, and the courtyard has rare orange trees, the only area of Paro where oranges grow is in this sacred courtyard.

Butterlamp lighting at 7th Century Temple Amankora Paro, Bhutan

Tiger’s Nest is one of Bhutan’s most revered monuments. It literally hangs off the face of a cliff 10,240 feet above the valley floor. The legend states that Guru Rimpoche flew from Singye Dzong in Kurtoe to the present day Taktshang on a mythical tigress and meditated in the cave before bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. Hence, the Taktshang Goemba is built around this cave. The four-hour round trip offers spectacular views of the Goemba and the valley below. Horses or mules can be arranged on request to help lighten the journey.

I enjoyed many of these experiences combined with massage treatments, shopping for local crafts and antiques and cooking classes.

Bhutan’s Amankora Lodges are truly marvelous, it’s not only their unique locations, their distinct architecture and amazing guides, it’s a combination of the authentic inspired lodges, the genuine cultural offerings at each location and the warm Bhutanese people that make a trip to Bhutan so memorable.

The Bhutanese people are particularly quick to laugh, share their culture and welcome visitors. After all, Bhutan has been ranked number one in the world for Gross National Happiness.

I ended my Journey wanting more of this unique Kingdom.

Amankora Bhutan 2 by 2

Amankora has five lodges spread through the Kingdom and each lodge is a subtle suggestion of the white walled Dzongs. The Bhutanese architecture is very colorful and replicated in farmhouses, temples and local shops. Amankora has kept it clean and simple, why try to compete with the majesty of the Himalayas, the bedecked local homes and the elaborately painted Temples.Our pilgrimage begins with a Journey east into the booming metropolis of Thimphu.

Whether your interests are in seeing the traditional Bhutanese Buddhist sites – the splendid Dzongs and Monasteries, or simply hiking or walking every day on an array of relaxed or challenging trails, we will curate a bespoke Journey linking these amazing Amankora properties to ensure you make the most of your time in Bhutan.

Amankora Thimphu, Bhutan

Local activities include shopping and sightseeing in Bhutan’s capital and trekking into the region’s wilderness. Thimphu is home to many attractions including the National Textile Museum, Folk Heritage Museum and the bustling Changlingmethang Market.

Amankora uses local handmade paper at each property outlining the suggested activities. It includes hikes, spa treatments, unique activities at each property at Thimpu I was offered three pages of options of the Top Ten Suggestion including a Longevity Blessing (Tshewang Ceremony). Tshewang is a one-hour ritual performed by five to six monks to promote long life. It involves ample prayers, mantras and final blessings using Dorji (Thunderbolt) as well as sacred scriptures touched to the head.

 Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory in Thimphu, Bhutan
Thimphu National Textile Museum, Bhutan

This elaborate ceremony can be arranged in one of the monasteries in Thimphu valley. Meditation sessions. Hiking through Tokuenselphodrang, where wild boar and deer still roam and the flowers blossom with pride. It is an ideal place to go biking or for a leisurely walk. You will also be able to get a view of the tallest statue of Buddha in the world, a must-see sight in Thimphu, or play high altitude golf, situated at 7,700 ft. it is one of the highest golf course locations in the world. The altitude gives your strokes the extra mile as balls fly further in the thin mountain air.

Charming architecture includes the one ‘traffic signal’ policeman booth in downtown Thimphu, Bhutan

Amankora Punakha – Traveling to Punakha through some of the Kingdom’s richest agricultural land and dramatic river valleys. Truly, if I had to pick, Punakha is one of my favorite properties, built around a charming traditional Bhutanese farmhouse, with tranquil views and stunning scenery. To begin, Amankora sets the stage with your arrival, crossing a dangling suspension bridge over the Mo Chhu river to reach the enchanting property. The lodge compound is arranged around a traditional Bhutanese white and hand-hewn wood beam farmhouse built as a residence by Her Majesty the Queen Mother to manage the surrounding rice fields and fruit orchards. This grand structure, featuring vegetable dye wall paintings, has several combined collective guest areas including the cozy ground floor dining room. The upper floors offer intimate casual reading areas and a traditional altar room for prayers or meditation. The tree covered courtyard of the farmhouse is used for alfresco dining in Punakha’s moderate climate. Adjacent to the courtyard is the intimate Tea Pavilion which was once the kitchen of the summer palace. The property feels ancient and authentic and one gains a true sense of Bhutanese farm life here.

Amankora Punakha, Bhutan

Eight suites, located in three rammed-earth buildings, are surrounded by rice paddies and fruit plantations, and situated in an orange orchard with views across the fields to the Punakha Valley and beyond. The suites are cozy, featuring wood paneled interiors and a traditional wood burning bukhari stove. The four new Mo Chhu Suites are in a separate building and two feature separate living areas. The suites can be combined to offer two 2-bedroom units. Did I mention the swimming pool and the lovely courtyard of the communal dining space? Cows graze around the grounds, one in particular greeted me as I returned to my suite. I love the new suites, with sweeping views of the river below.

Amankora Punakha archery range with view of snow capped Himalayas!

The Top Ten list of activities include morning yoga, cooking classes, rafting and kayaking and many day hikes some may take you to ancient temples. Visit Giligang, a 300-year old temple and a pleasing path to escape other travelers and see an authentic side to Bhutan. Needing a long 4-5-hour trek, add on a visit to the Khansum Yulley Namgyal Chorten and Butterfly Trail and the Giligang Temple, finishing up at Changyul Bridge.

The call to evening dance and song Amankora Punakha Bhutan

Prayer Flag Hoisting at Chorten Nyeabu. A short and peaceful hike to this special 15th century temple to see the largest statue of Jowo Jampa– the Future Buddha, and Gum Shing– ‘the upside-down tree’ can be combined with hoisting of prayer flags and lunch on the temple’s scenic hilltop. Prayer flags are hoisted for happiness, long life, prosperity, luck and merit, to clear ones’ sins, and to offer karmic merit to all sentient beings. When the wind blows, it is believed that it carries the prayers on the flags, blessing all beings. Find the spot where you want to hoist your prayer flags, a local monk will accompany you to consecrate the hoisting. Chorten Nyeabu can be reached by a 40-minute car ride, or a combination of a 30-minute car ride and 30- minute walk uphill to the temple.

Along the way – fluttering prayer flags sending prayers through the skies, Bhutan

The Punakha Dzong is considered one of the most important and also one of the most beautiful Dzongs in the Kingdom. It was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1637 and was the seat of the government every winter until Thimphu was established as the permanent capital in 1955. It is still the winter residence of the Dratshang (Central Monastic Body). Take time to admire the impressive, colorful and detailed artistry of the surroundings, including huge statues of Buddha, Guru Rinpoche and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, as well as paintings of one-thousand Buddha’s.


If you are feeling adventurous and looking for a little thrill, you can take a walk across one of the longest suspension bridges in Bhutan. A short walk from the Punakha Dzong the bridge is built over the Pho Chhu river.

Evening prayers at a Buddhist Monastery is something you should do at least once on a Journey of Bhutan. You will witness monks, young and old chanting traditional prayers, helping them prepare for meditation.

Every where you look in Bhutan, there is a celebration or religious event taking place, we happened on an enlightening experience several times a day. Amankora guides are aware of programs and celebrations in each community.