At Gangtey Lodge, guests feel ever so far away. More than three hours from the capital city of Thimphu, along the National Highway and ultimately beyond the single road that leads into the once-hidden, glacial-carved Phobjikha Valley, the 12-room property nestles into the farmland. Here, potatoes, herbs and turnips grow. And the black-necked crane of Tibet comes to settle for winter, after circling the Gangteng Monastery. In Bhutan, value is derived from effort. If effort can be defined as the planning, time expenditure and rough ride out to Gangtey Lodge, the value here is splendid serenity.
Upon approach, the edifice of Gangtey Lodge hints at the monastic design found inside, delicately blended with farmhouse aesthetics. Rich wooden accents and structural components compliment layered stone and white walls. An all-glass wall in the lobby, dining room and common area (one joint space) separates inside from out. Fireplaces intermittently divide this partition—the flames are visible from both sides. The back porch offers exquisite, peaceful views down into the valley and up toward the hills. Out here, one can take breakfast or simply sip tea. Blankets and neck warmers are brought for guests during the colder months. Binoculars are on tables and a brass telescope stands in one corner. It’s quiet, spacious and accommodating—and one of the hotel’s irreplaceable standouts.
Inside the glass, a row of four tables and a smattering of comfy furniture comprises the social space, all of which are beneath cathedral ceilings. Here, one dines on the ever-changing menu by chef Adrian Broadhead. Critiques of Bhutanese hotel food come when menus try to tackle Western cuisine only. Chef Broadhead cooks with top-quality ingredients and local herbs. There’s great success to his amalgamation of nation and culture, bringing global food together with that of Bhutan’s. After dinner, one can sidle up to the fire and sip house-made ara (moonshine rice wine) or play the local Tiger and Cows stone board-game. It’s worth mentioning that the hotel’s water is potable (quite uncommon in the nation), as the staff filters it no less than five times.
Undeniably, the guestroom is a highlight. A free-standing, slipper bathtub overlooks the valley. A wood-burning stove rises in one corner. Staff will fill the bath (complete with herbs of your choice) and light the stove upon request. Heated, hand-cut tiles line the floor, occasionally covered with hand-woven carpets. Across from the king-size bed (or two single beds) sits a corner couch. A second room in the suite functions as a walk-in wardrobe. Spaciousness is not an issue in this valley—or at this lodge. From linens to wall color, there’s a warm earthiness emanating from the space.
Perhaps the most luxuriant amenity, the docha (or traditional hot stone bath experience) involves roasting local river rocks over an open fire for hours and then depositing them at the foot of a local pine wood tub. There, they heat the water, as well as fronds of the herb artemisia. Guests (one or two per session) then soak alone in the medicinal water, known as menchu. Iced tea can be found in the room, along with ice water and small, sweet bites. It’s private, relaxing and recommended after a massage—which happens one room away.
To gaze out at the valley, one severs their connection to time and place. With black-necked cranes above, it only becomes more mystical. From Gangtey Lodge, one can embark on plenty of hikes for various skill levels. The property also offers free archery lessons for guests. And free Bhutanese dress, for dining. Of course, there’s also free, reliable WiFi and so many other amenities that luxury travelers require these days. But the spirituality many speak of when talking about their time in Bhutan can be inhaled here. With it comes peace of mind—and the staff does everything, both seen and unseen, to make sure it’s sustained.
Images by David Graver