Dragons in the Mist

Ex­plore Bhutan’s myths and legendary beauty in ab­so­lute lux­ury at Como Uma Paro and Como Uma Pu­nakha.

Robb Report (Malaysia) - - Contents - By Mark Lean

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.

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This and fac­ing pages: the in­ti­mate Como Uma Paro sits above a val­ley dot­ted with tem­ples and farms.

Bukhari and a Val­ley View Room at the Paro prop­erty.

The iconic Tak­t­sang ‘ Tiger’s Nest’ Monastery.

Ev­ery room at the Pu­nakha prop­erty com­mands sweep­ing views of the val­ley and the Mo Chu as it winds its way through the rice fields and or­chards.

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