It doesn’t get much more remote than this. First, you arrived in Paro, a trip that took multiple flights and too many hours to count. Then you had a six-hour car ride west into Central Bhutan. You arrived in the Phobjikha Valley, a U-shaped glacial basin, to find potato fields, yaks, and a 17th-century monastery. Finally, you climbed a bumpy road to reach your hillside hotel. The endless travel time was worth it. You might not know what time, or even day, it is, but the lodge and the view are breathtaking.
The Gangtey Goenpa Lodge welcomes you with a head-and-shoulder massage, a shoe shine, and a traditional song. Sip a cup of mulled cider as you check-in and take in your surroundings. The farmhouse-style lodge has stone floors, dark wood beams, and lots of earth tones. Floor-to-ceiling windows, as well as two stone fireplaces, stand in the lounge. While the terrace has a perfect view through the valley with the Black Mountains and Jigme Dorji National Park on either side.
Your room is equally gorgeous. Heated floors and a wood-burning fireplace make the large space feel cozy. But you can’t take your eyes off the free-standing tub. It stands in front of bay windows. The monastery, the largest Nyingmapa (Buddhism school) in the country, is in the distance. You draw a bath, slip into the warm water, and soak until your skin starts to shrivel. Then you fall into a long, deep sleep on the very comfortable bed.
You’re confused when you wake up many, many hours later. The dark sky has already turned gray; hints of purple ensure the sun will rise soon. You’re tempted to watch the sky brighten back in that amazing bathtub, but opt to go to the terrace instead. Wrap yourself in a blanket and curl up in an oversized chair. Prayer flags wave in the wind. A hot water bottle and heated shoulder pads are delivered when the staff sees you shiver. A pot of tea and a brilliant sunrise quickly follow.
Spend the next few days exploring the valley. Float over the Nakay Chhu and Gay Chhu rivers, dzongs (fortresses), and blue pine forests on an early-morning hot-air-balloon ride. Walk through an elaborate entrance gate to join red-robed monks during the blessing and the morning prayer at the Gangtey Monastery. Follow the nearby Gangte Nature Trail by Mani stones and chortens (shrines). Keep an eye out for barking deer and wild boar. Visit the village, where kids are practicing archery, the national sport. And hike higher into the mountains to see glaciers, sacred peaks, and possibly even a leopard.
Back at the lodge, munch on homemade potato chips, yak cheese, and cider in the lounge by the crackling fire. Soak in the tub again, but only for a little while this time. Join the other guests at the communal tables for dinner. Everyone is excited to share their adventures from the day. Try the wild mushroom stew and the slow-roasted pork belly. Pass on the yak burger, though. Slowly sip a glass of port at the end of your meal. Then return to your room, where the fireplace was lit while you were eating. You may be very far away, yet you feel surprisingly at home in the remote mountains of Bhutan.