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We had just arrived at Como Uma Paro, one of two Como Hotels and Resorts properties we would visit during a weeklong family vacation in Bhutan. Located in South Asia, the landlocked country is where Himalayan peaks pierce the clouds; glacier-fed rivers carve through lush valleys; and terraced rice paddies climb toward ancient Buddhist monasteries.
“I hope you experience the happiness that Bhutan is known for and carry it with you when you return home,” said Sonam, a Como Uma Paro staff member, as we paused near the outdoor fire pit in the hotel’s interior courtyard.
Indeed, along with its pristine natural beauty, Bhutan makes headlines for its government’s focus on “Gross National Happiness” (GNH), where well-being is considered a measure of prosperity.
Sustainable tourism is also part of the GNH initiative, and most travelers visiting Bhutan need a certified guide. Fortunately, Como Hotels and Resorts offers to arrange local experts, in addition to taking care of travel details such as airport transfers, finding a dedicated driver, booking flights, securing entrance visas and offering preplanned, tailor-made itineraries for guests.
After settling into our spacious two-bedroom villa, my family and I went for lunch at Como Uma Paro’s award-winning Bukhari restaurant, which serves up Bhutanese fare. Chili peppers are a staple in Bhutanese cuisine, so we ordered a plate of deep-fried peppers stuffed with cheese. Sharing this appetizer turned into a friendly “who can tolerate the most heat” competition, but luckily, some refreshing Bhutanese beer, along with my love of spicy food, gave me a winning advantage.
My victory was fleeting, however. After lunch, we visited the resort’s archery field for a lesson in Bhutan’s national sport. Although I struggled to find the target from 80 feet away, my husband and sons did much better. We also swam in the property’s indoor pool and relaxed by our villa’s traditional Bhutanese fireplace with books — or screens, for the teens.
The next day, we left Como Uma Paro and drove to Como Uma Punakha, Como’s second resort in Bhutan. Our guide regaled us with tales of the country’s myths, legends and ancient traditions; captivating stories about Bhutan — also known as Druk Yul (Land of the Thunder Dragon) — colored the places and spaces we explored.
Como Uma Punakha is located in a subtropical valley on the other side of the almost 10,000-foot Dochula pass. Before descending into the valley, we stopped at the pass, where colorful prayer flags crisscrossed along the road. Visitors here can admire the expansive view of the Himalayas on a clear day and walk through a memorial of 108 chortens (Buddhist shrines).
My family wandered through rice paddies and hiked to hilltop temples, such as Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten, which is dedicated to Bhutan’s fifth and current king. The majestic Punakha Dzong, strategically located at the confluence of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers, is another local highlight. This second oldest and second largest fortress in Bhutan is also known as the Palace of Great Happiness.
Our exploration of Bhutan ended with a trek to the fabled Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest Monastery). Tiger’s Nest is located 10,000-plus feet above sea level, and it requires a steady two-hour climb along well-constructed trails, followed by stone steps once you approach the monastery. Perched on a cliff face about 3,000 feet above Paro Valley, it’s considered to be Bhutan’s holiest site — and, in addition to being a top tourist sight, it’s a place most Bhutanese people visit at least once in their life.
Thanks to the locals’ warmth and eagerness to share stories about their spectacular country, along with an itinerary that included plenty of active adventure, cultural activities and free time (which is essential for multigenerational groups), we agreed we could have stayed much longer.
Now that’s a sign of a successful family vacation.
The DetailsComo Hotels and Resorts www.comohotels.com