April 11, 2006

( March, 2006)

Amankora, Paro 

This lodge is Aman’s first in Bhutan, and is where the architect appears to have started his learning curve.  The rooms are spacious and well-appointed but stark in design as is the whole cluster of concrete buildings which form the lodge.  

The food, taken at community tables, is either Western or Bhutanese.  A typical Bhutanese set menu started with carrot soup, and then included an array of dishes placed on the table—cucumber salad, braised yak and dried red chilies, pork  curry, cauliflower simmered with chilies in cottage cheese, eggplant sautéed with garlic and ginger, pumpkin curry, mushroom sautéed in garlic and ginger paste and mixed maize and white rice. 

 img_3517.JPGAnother night there were fiddlehead ferns sautéed with cottage cheese, chicken in tomato and cashew nut gravy, pork and bean curry, pumpkin and radish simmered with Indian spices, chick peas tempered with cumin and garlic, potato and pea curry, mixed vegetable rice.  We really enjoyed Bhutanese food and found it quite different from Indian. 

One pre-dinner evening was a discussion with a reincarnated Bhuddist monk, who was very informative about the religion’s history and philosophy, and as interested in learning about his small audience’s (six people) religions and ideas as he was in telling about his.

img_0674.JPGWe began energetically one day with a climb to Tiger’s Nest Temple at about 3000 meters.  Paro itself is about 2300 meters so our climb was some 700 meters and took about four hours up and back.  The spectacular temple site, at the top of a rock face was built in 1696 and destroyed twice by fire.  Sights in the area include the National Museum, housed in a former watchtower and the Rinpung Dzong built in 1646.

Amankora, Punaka 

After a four-hour drive up and down mountains, we arrived at the second Amankora built in Bhutan and recently opened.  It was virtually a carbon copy of the Paro one so we felt right at home in our room.  The restaurant, too, served either Western or Bhutanese, but there was no printed menu as there was in Paro and we had no idea what we were tasting. We happened to stumble here during a festival which took place in the Punakha Dzong, built in the 17th century and the second oldest in the country. img_3458.JPGThe festival included dances, performed by men tapped for temporary duty for the duration of the festival. Their reward was that they could drink up the local arak and do and say anything about the village leaders during their duty. Outside the dzong, tents were set up, both for accommodating the dancers and other visitors, and then for entertainment with gambling, food and merchandise.

Amankora, Thimpu 

This Amankora, just opened in Bhutan’s capital city, is the best so far.  It is just outside town, built on land which is part of the area where each of the four queens has a palace.  These queens are sisters and were married to the king at the same time.  There are 12 children, I think, most of whom are being educated abroad.  The architect incorporated a lot more wood and glass and arranged the dining room with small tables.  The menu is printed and offers a range of Western and Bhutanese dishes.Thimpu bills itself as the world’s only capital city without a traffic light, although we think Vietienne in Laos may be in the same rank.  At the one intersection there is a little island with a man directing traffic.  The city consists of a four-block stretch of stores and bars and restaurants, but is blossoming.  One new store is an art café serving baked goods from the neighboring French bakery. There is an impressive complex of government buildings, a “factory” where paper is being made by hand for use mainly in religious texts, a zoo with only one species, the national animal, the takin, a sort of cow with a goat’s head and found only in Bhutan, plus the National Library which houses a collection of Buddhist texts and a copy of the world’s largest book, a joint venture of Microsoft and others created and sold for nature conservancy causes.

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