Published: February 2009
Himalayan High Life: Bhutan
Aman's regal lodge circuit takes visitors into the heart of mystical Bhutan; plus, dynamite Dolomite downhill and off-the-grid Mexico.
Text by Features Editor Mike Benoist
Bhutan
A cushy pilgrimage in the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

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In the kingdom of Bhutan, even lodges have a royal pedigree. Take Aman’s 16-room retreat just outside the capital city of Thimphu (100,000 people, no stoplights), which shares a forested hillside with the residences of four queens. Or its pastoral eight-suite inn in Punakha, which was once the royal family’s farmhouse and remains surrounded by terraced fields of red rice. In fact, each of Aman’s six properties (including the new one in Trongsa, opening this spring) occupies regal real estate in this Switzerland-size Shangri-la.

Aman’s lodge circuit is meant to be experienced as a whole—retreats are spaced between two and five hours’ drive apart, and a private guide, 4x4, and driver are provided (doubles from $9,600 for eight nights, including meals and transfers; aman.com). Wending through the Himalayan foothills past forests of prayer flags, you’ll see only hints of Bhutan’s efforts to modernize: a solar panel here, a cell tower there. Otherwise, by order of the king, the country looks much as it has for a thousand years. Farmhouses are built in traditional style; citizens wear knee-length ghos and floor-length kiras. Your kora, or journey, may include private audiences with reincarnated lamas, VIP tours of 17th-century dzongs (fortresses), or—if you’re up for it—an overnight trek in the shadow of 23,996-foot Jhomolhari. But that assumes you’re willing to forgo the royal treatment back at the lodge: a seven-course feast of braised yak and homegrown leeks, and a traditional hot-stone bath.

Need to know: Bring reading glasses for aging monks who can’t read their prayer scrolls. The karmic payback will last a lifetime.

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