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Home in the Himalayas

<< Back to Robb Report, Robb Report November 2014

Bhutan’s new Gangtey Goenpa Lodge is as singular as it is secluded.

It has been more than six hours since we left the airport in Paro, and still we plunge deeper into the kingdom of Bhutan. Namgay, my guide from the new Gangtey Goenpa Lodge, steers our vehicle over roads that twist and turn along the steep slopes and vertiginous passes of the eastern Himalayas, at long last stopping in front of a collection of timber-and-stone structures perched on a grassy hillside. Passing through heavy wooden doors, I am greeted immediately with a pair of soft slippers and led to a crackling fireplace for a much-needed sup of warm apple cider.

Gangtey Goenpa, which opened on a slope overlooking Bhutan’s Phobjikha Valley last November, is nothing if not remote. In this tiny kingdom sandwiched between the behemoths of India and China, the monastic lodge is surrounded by little more than grassy valleys, misty pine forests, and the occasional monastery or farmhouse. The country’s dzong temples—with their ochre-hued wooden beams and stacked stone walls—served as inspiration for the lodge, although any sense of austerity ends at the front doors. 

The Australian designer Mary Lou Thomson, whose work includes the spa at the Aman Sveti Stefan resort in Montenegro, outfitted each of the 12 guest rooms with heated stone floors, Swiss-made glass-fronted fireplaces, and Albion copper bathtubs that face large bay windows. Bespoke nods to Gangtey Goenpa’s surroundings include wall sconces that resemble prayer wheels and a four-panel mural of the valley created by local monks. 

Tempting though the lodge’s luxuries may be, its majestic surroundings are the main draw. Escorted by Namgay, I visit the nearby village of Gangtey’s 17th-century Goenpa monastery, where monks in cascading amber robes perform their prayer ceremonies among hundreds of gilded Buddha statues. A two-hour hike through the valley follows, with Namgay leading me to cloud-covered peaks dotted with rare black-necked cranes in their annual migration to Tibet. In a flat clearing overlooking the valley, he gives me a lesson in Bhutan’s national sport of archery, taunting me with a song and dance—as Bhutanese men are wont to do—when I fail to hit the bull’s-eye. 

Following a massage back at the lodge, I head to Gangtey Goenpa’s dining room for delectable plates of Tibetan-style dumplings and pork with spicy red chilies. Most satisfying, however, is the warm bath awaiting me in my room after dinner. Soaking in the water, engrossed in the views of the golden valley below, I feel completely at home in the middle of nowhere.  

Gangtey Goenpa Lodge, +975.1716.0666, gglbhutan.com

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