The Kingdom of Bhutan, the Land of the Thunder Dragon, hidden in the Himalayan Mountains, is a small landlocked country with a culture that hasn’t changed for centuries. The Blue Pine-covered hillside emits aromatic scents that beckon the armies of perfume ‘noses’ from haut parfum companies in search of the lowlands blanketed with wild flowers and unique trees. It’s also rare opportunity to breath in unpolluted fresh air.
Bedroom view of the mist covered mountains
Since the Bhutanese are known for their patience, it isn’t difficult to find a place for contemplation and learning about serenity, watching the moon rise and the sun set.
Opened in November 2004, the five star 20 room, 9 villa Uma Paro Bhutan Hotel (part of the COMO Hotel & Resorts) is surrounded by mist covered mountains. The hotel is deliberately small protecting the pristine environment and the quiet Buddhist way of life. In fact, the 800,000 Bhutanese are still wearing the national dress. The biggest change for the country will be the first democratic election to be held in 2008.
Located north of India and south of Tibet, the terraced hills and towering mountain range are introductions to this unspoilt destination waiting to be discovered. Paro, Bhutan, the main centre of culture, is not the capital. That’s Thimphu, 65 KM (37 miles) away and which takes about 1 ½ hours by car over narrow dirt roads. With the help of India, they are in the process of building new highways.
And Paro is the only city in Bhutan with an international airport. The national carrier, Druk Air, flies to and from Kolkata and Delhi.
The serene large bedroom
Formerly the deteriorating Druk Hotel, COMO Hotels & Resorts took two years to renovate and relaunch the 38 acre complex and emerge in its new persona as the Uma Paro Bhutan. The traditional hand painted cornices and walls are seen throughout this very spacious and airy building with the traditional Himalayan roof design. Blue Pine wood beams and other architectural elements reclaimed from floor boards of Bhutanese farm houses adorn the lobby and the COMO Shambhala Spa areas. It’s hard to find a better mix of old culture and clean line modernism working as well side by side.
After walking through a slate and marble floored hallway and passing the very classic library cum business centre filled with leather sofas up one flight of stairs, I was delighted and felt fortunate to find I had a room facing the mountains-only to discover that all the rooms have terrific vistas.
Over the bed on the pure white walls was a bouquet of hand painted traditional floral motif mural which continued on to the ceiling. Certainly not flamboyant, but in perfect taste, the details and touches of indigenous carved wooden window frames and intricate carved doors shows the integrity for retaining Bhutanese culture. The balcony was the best place to be very early in the morning where I could see the mist rising from the tall mountains. My ideal day started with room service and breakfast perfectly served and placed on the table near the balcony overlooking the Himalayas.
Amenities in the rooms are signature brand called Invigorate. It’s the COMO Shambhala spa’s original substantial range of products with a blend of Eucalyptus, Geranium, Lavender and Peppermint essential oils. The well sized marble and ceramic tiled bathrooms have heated towel racks and in-room yoga mats.
Nine private separate villas have either one or two bedrooms and all have private treatment rooms for exercise and massage therapy.
Hot stone tub in the spa
Luxurious large bathroom
The circular wood
and glass restaurant
Bukhari is the name of the floor to ceiling windowed circular wood restaurant. It’s also the traditional stove used for heating and cooking. With no central heating, the bukhari stove seems to do the job of keeping the locals warm and well fed.
The menu at Uma Paro bows to the tastes of everyone, their specialty Bhutanese food often features red rice ( Tho Mhap), local cheese and vegetable dumplings with chili sauce (Tshey Sey da Datse Momo), and nutmeg custard, safflower, poached pear and honey ice cream (Lue Tso Tswo da Jahn). The hotel tries to use local produce. For those less adventurous eaters, there are western styled and Indian menus.
The Bar is the place to be from 5pm on as the red leather bar stools are filled quickly. Just about every drink can be ordered but one should try the local beers- Red Panda, Druk Lager and Druk 11,000(a super strong ale).
By late afternoon, after trekking, cyclingor visiting Dzongs (temples) which are dotted throughout the country, it’s a no-brainer to head to the unique COMO Shambhala Spa or take a complimentary yoga class held in the main building gym. The instructor, the day I took the class, was a noted Australian trainer who had us twisting and stretching worthy of a good Yogi. Yoga is part of the Bhutanese’ everyday lives.
Of course, any self- respecting hotel has a spa and wellness clinic and here the philosophy is a holistic way of life paired with nutritonal diet (menus have healthy option choices and exercise) and the treatments are Asian inspired.
The spa facilities and hot stone bath house are a short walk down a stone pathway.
The comfortable library
My favourite yoga venue
The Signature COMO massage is the most requested and the four treatment rooms are usually very busy. Since there is only one hot stone bath house, reservations should be made when registering. It’s worth the time to have this experience as the mountain water runs over various scented trees and herbs and the hot, smooth, oiled stones warm the water to a desired temperature. Although there’s also a steam room here, the main building has a very sleek large indoor pool.
The active adventurer can trek in the wilderness from March to May and September to November where they can explore the Paro Valley. For those with a more cultural bent, the hotel will arrange a vehicle- based tour which, if you want to take time away from this wonderful Shangri la, there are two locally –owned, clean but basic hotels located in the heartland to overnight for the next day’s itinerary.
Traditional painting on
the wall and ceiling
A visa is necessary to enter the country. Uma Paro Bhutan will assist in obtaining the necessary visa.
Surprisingly nothing is inexpensive in Bhutan and certainly, the 5 star hotel restaurants equal western prices.
You have to love chili, dried local pork and red beans. Most of the Bhutan recipes are spicy. However, the hotel wait staff is aware that some guests prefer mild to medium, so theyll always ask.
Even though you’re secluded from the rest of the world, you can keep in contact with the available and very good internet connections…and the service free to guests.
The staff at Uma Paro Bhutan is very comfortable speaking English and also seemingly delighted if they can be of any help. The Bhutanese are known for their kindness and gentleness and in THIS the country of smiles, it is genuine.
Room Rates Low season from US$250 to US$$1000 High season from US$280 to US$1200
Spa prices COMO Signature massage 60 minutes –US$90
90 minutes –US$13-0
Hot Stone Massage 90 minutes – US$190