Dragons in the Mist
Explore Bhutan’s myths and legendary beauty in absolute luxury at Como Uma Paro and Como Uma Punakha.
Bhutan’s mythic beauty is the setting for the luxury of Como’s two new properties: Uma Paro and Uma Punakha.
Most of us take such a blase approach to air travel these days that we switch our phones on even before the plane touches the tarmac. But the landing at Bhutan’s Paro airport deserves your full attention. Our Drukair Airbus A319’s sharply angled descent into Paro, situated 2.4km above sea level, zipping through craggy cliffs was a seat-clenching 10 minutes that won’t be easily forgotten.
On the ground, things were less stressinducing. I was met by my guide Younten and driver Tshering (visitors are not allowed to drive in the country), both of whom were to be my companions for the next five days. We began one of many drives, a quick ride up to Como Uma Paro, one of two Como properties in the Himalayan kingdom. The Cheong Yew Kwandesigned 29-room hotel curls round a hilltop that looks across Paro valley. In fact, it’s at Bukhari, the glassfronted ocular- shaped restaurant that I get my introduction into the country’s diverse beliefs and day-to-day regard for the metaphysical. Munching on flaxseed crackers
and warmed by honey-flavoured ginger tea, I found myself listening to the conversation at the next table. The diners included a group of shaved-head teenage boys who were, as I later found out, monks respected as reincarnations of revered Rinpoches from centuries and decades past. The mood was light and happy, punctuated with laughter and subtle, unpretentious wisdom; it was quite unlike any other restaurant anywhere else in the world.
To satiate more worldly appetites, Bukhari’s menu as devised by chef Imade Arsa offers dishes like yak burger served with Bumthang gouda, roasted beetroot and pears in a blue cheese and walnut dressing. There are also Bhutanese staples like the cool yet spicy hogay salad – house-made dates, cheese, tomato, cucumber, dried chilli with lime and Szechuan pepper dressing.
Uma Paro’s interiors are the work of Kathryn Kng that flow beautifully in one aesthetic vein: the designer’s muted cream tones, mixed with shots of punchy orange, complemented by a dominance of rich woods and one- of-a-kind Bhutanese floral murals in every room. Beyond Kng’s curated spaces stand a more visceral beauty: Paro as well as Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest, the latter of which is one of the most sacred – and exhausting – ways to explore the country’s rough and tumble terrain.
On one of the mornings, Younten and I embarked on a 135-minute journey up to Tiger’s Nest, a series of ancient temple compartments that crisscross snakes and ladders-style. With its 3,120m elevation, the location is named after the 13 tiger lairs in the area, where it was said the revered Guru Padmasambhava meditated during the eighth century when
Tibetan Buddhism was introduced to Bhutan.
At the halfway point, a cafeteria that fans out onto the mist-encased hillscape, Younten and I met and chatted with Tschering’s father who works there. While the trek up to Tiger’s Nest isn’t a leisurely stroll by all accounts, it wasn’t too difficult either. After the initial 25-minutes of breathless exertion, made more challenging by the high altitude, our climb became easier. However, for those who prefer travelling by helicopter, Como Uma Bhutan recently introduced Scenic Heli-adventures, composed of two trips across the country, traversing its four valleys – Laya, Punakha, Paro and Labatama – each of which embody terrains and peoples unique to its respective locations. Instead of the four-and-a-half-hour car ride on curving, uneven roads from Paro to Punakha, guests can get from door to door in an hour,
While the trek up to Tiger’s Nest isn’t a leisurely stroll by all accounts, it wasn’t too difficult either.
with ample opportunities to explore the country’s remotest regions in the process.
But any trip, either by air or land, is amply rewarded at Como Uma Punakha, a 10-room property built on a hill outcrop overlooking the snaking Mo Chu River and the inspiring Punakha valley below. An expanse of glass windows keeps the local environment up- close-and-personal, while warm wood tones and elegant seating along with inviting fireplaces evoke an easy home-away-from-home vibe. The property’s restaurant Bukhari serves a heartier style of cuisine compared to its Paro counterpart. Here, expect creamy piping hot pumpkin and butternut soup and delicious beef fillet in Bearnaise sauce as well as desserts like butterscotch custard with salted toffee and whipped cream.
Another highlight of my stay at Como Uma Punakha was a lingering soak in its spa’s hot stone bath, prepared in sukiyaki fashion using stones that heat up the combination of river water and Artemisia leaves. Again, the experience was an exercise in contrasts between the scorching bath water and the 12- degree- Celsius Punakha evening temperature when I got out. But just as the teenage Rinpoches I met at Bukhari in Como Uma Paro have learned to balance the sacred and the worldly. I, too, just had to deal with it. www.comohotels.com ≠
An expanse of glass windows keeps the local environment upclose- and- personal.