Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review

Amankora Gangtey

Bhutan

Sitting back within the clutches of the valley's exquisite nature

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Amankora Gangtey
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Amankora Gangtey

Location

Gangtey Valley

Travel Information

The Amankora Journey is the best way to see Bhutan, and all travel is organised for you

Top Tips

If you can, visit the Gangtey Gompa; the monastery in view from the lodge

5-Star X-Factors

The indisputable culinary skill of the Bhutanese chefs

Day 3 Gangtey - finding Shambala

Before our drive to Gangtey we were blessed by a high monk on the terrace of Amankora Paro's forecourt beneath a pristine powder blue sky. The mountains were twinkling with early morning freshness and Jomilaro looked particularly profound. Choki and Sonam had packed our car for our next adventure into the mystical unknown, complete with picnic, water, fresh hand towels... and the disposition of saints.

The drive to Gangtey takes you over the Black Mountains and up into a valley of intriguing beauty and tranquil pleasures. The valley floors are scattered with jungle foliage, winter barley, rice paddies and terraces of fruit trees, which step up into slopes of blue pine and deciduous forests, while monasteries and traditional Bhutanese farm dwellings frequently capture the eye.

We stopped at the impressive Dochulu Pass that shows off a staggering 108 chortens together with fleets of prayer flags, in a field called the Druk Wangyal; plus lunch (Amankora picnic on rug) beside a Nepalese chorten, Chendebji, that plays host to cattle and carrion alike, with prayer flags as high as the sky fluttering alongside the oft' present gurgle of the river.

We saw a troop of brown monkeys arguing among a forest floor of bluebells and chose to pause, while some eye-watering scenes peer out through the floors of forest and quite literally take your breath away, and so you stop again. There is an extraordinary quietude that permeates this mountainous terrain as you advance into the clouds: a soothing stillness that cloaks the atmosphere in a veil of calm and mist and is punctuated only by a raven's caw or a yak's snort or a crisp waterfall or, occasionally, another traveller: are we touching heaven?

On approach to the Gangtey Valley there is an almost disorienting landscape change. You ascend from densely forested mountainous terrain, crawling with an amalgam of flora, from the deciduous forest to the alpine, with a wealth of rhododendrons, junipers, magnolias, rare orchids and cascading drapes of 'old man's beard', onto a plain of dwarf bamboo, the favoured fodder of yaks. You have, so it feels, gone above the clouds and, almost like a scene out of Harry Potter we saw two white eagles circling the dusk sky as we dipped down to our next glorious lodge. It was then that I asked Lu if we were still on planet earth. She felt not.

Amankora lodge at Gangtey sits back within the clutches of the valley's exquisite nature, allowing onlookers to absorb the intoxicating view. When entering the lodge's sitting and dining area, the expansive wood and glass window that frames the vast valley is quite sensational, linking you instantly to this pristine land from a heavenly vantage point. You actually feel elated here.

Our lodge suite was serene, tranquil and deeply compatible with its valley host. Like the one at Paro, it was cosy, inviting, stylish and tantalisingly rustic. The wood-burning stove was thrusting its blissful warmth and, once again, we felt 'at home'. Our freestanding bath facing the valley was calling us with magnetic appeal; surrounded by the potions and lotions and balms that made us feel extra special. Lu became hooked on the honey, herb, and salt body soothing scrub.

Our suite looked across this staggeringly enchanting valley and captured its rustic intensity in its stylishly organic interpretation though not a luxury-heart-beat was skipped. We even had little hot-water bottles, encased in cashmere, snuggled beneath our down-filled duvets...on our princess sized beds?What's more, the sleep here, after massage-nirvana, is above the clouds for sure.

Dining was deeply memorable with the window and valley constantly on our lips. We chose the Bhutanese spread (of course) along with the exceptionally compatible house white, and once again we loved certain 'taste-sensations' so much that we ordered more. Our favourites were fast becoming the minced chicken with green chilli, garlic, tomatoes, onion and butter, the various salads, some with chilli and cheese or chilli cucumber, tomato, chilli and local cheese, and even though this exotic spice (chilli) is omnipresent it is never overpowering. I suspect what adds to the unique flavour of these dishes, aside from the indisputable culinary skill, is that the produce is local. There is always a trek somewhere behind a feast so the calories don't appear to catch up plus there is always a spa in which to indulge the body.

The following morning we were fortunate to witness several rare black-neck cranes walking, toe-in-glue-style on their sacred marshland, directly beneath the lodge, before their skyward bound flight to Tibet for the summer. The air is noticeably thin here, making one breathe with hastened intensity, while the stillness that runs from cloud-to-sacred monastery-to-valley-to-farm dwelling-to-mountain-to-pine is poignantly emphasised by a sudden rasping caw from a presiding raven or, during the winter months, from a crane's whimsical cry. The atmosphere feels quite tangible here: you breathe it in and it clings to your very soul.

Another wonderful surprise, organised by Amankora that morning, was a meeting with the valley's revered master, the Rinpoche Gangtey or Gangtey Trulku (the ninth reincarnation to bear this name) at his hallowed Gangtey Gompa, the monastery in view from the lodge. This is the only Nyingmapa monastery on the western side of the Black Mountains and the largest of its ilk in Bhutan. While it is still 'work in progress' here, it also houses a central tower of cosmic mandalas, a Wheel of Life, a depiction of Guru Rinpoche's heaven and a rare interpretation of Shambala.

The Rinpoche Gangtey is one of three reincarnates (mind, body and soul) from the same person, he being the 'body', of the treasure discoverer of Guru Rinpoche. Still confused by the complexities of the sub-divisions of Mahayana or Tibetan Buddhism, I chose to confront the trulku about the magic of meditation. We were soon all sitting with legs crossed on the simple Chinese rugs while the enlightened master of meditation revealed some life-clutching secrets into this rejuvenating form of therapeutic mind enhancement. We left with yet another dimension from which to draw inspiration, perhaps for evermore.

When you leave one lodge for the next your heart feels invariably heavy. Not only have you, in a short space of time, become accustomed to your magical surroundings, but you have also grown exceptionally close to members of this amazing Amankora 'family'. However, each lodge, each landscape, each aura, will delight and deliver in a way that must be almost unique in this world because they are so intrinsically linked and yet they are also delightfully individual. The spas too, are simply sublime. Thus, with nature at its best and linked into an inspiringly evolved spirituality, and Amankora looking after the rest, the result is something close to Shambala.

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant