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Monica Urquijo of LOVE Magazine takes the trip of a lifetime to Bhutan with Caroline Issa of Tank, Jeremy Langmead of Mr Porter, Filipino nightlife guru Tim Yap , celebrity stylist Liz Uy, blogger Kim Jones and photographer Mark Nicdao .
Harlan + Holden, a forward-thinking Filipino fashion brand, had an interesting proposition for a group of ten of us: “Come help us test our newest line of Camino shoes through a three-day trek of the Himalayas.” I responded with a big yes. Not only did I think this was a brilliant marketing campaign, but I was being given the opportunity to road test their new shoes on the world’s most famous mountain range with an eclectic mix of bloggers, consultants and thinkers – it was too interesting to pass up. I soon found myself boarding a plane for Bhutan, but not without first stopping in Calcutta and Bangkok.
Before the trip, all I knew about Bhutan was that it was once deemed the happiest country in the world, their Queen has an incredible wardrobe and the Bhutanese have a real taste for colour. So, together with the pair of Caminos I received, I packed my most colourful clothes (little did I know that the group would end dressing more on the minimalist side) and embarked on my adventure through the Kingdom of Bhutan.
As soon as we got off the plane, an inexplicable silence summoned us all. No high rises, traffic or pollution to distract. Just us, the mountains and Bhutan’s very happy people.
The Aman resort team greeted us with open Oms, and from there we drove on through the silent, lush valleys. Our destination was an evergreen forest, in which Amankora was nestled. I’d later learn that this was one of five Aman resorts across Bhutan – understandably so, given the country’s peaceful landscape. Aman has placed havens through glacial rivers, enchanting forests and overwhelming Himalayan mountains – the idea is that their guests should be incentivised to venture from one to the other. The spiritual seekers, avid outdoorsmen or those in search of the ultimate glamping experience are all in luck. The lodges are all inspired by Bhutanese Dzong architecture, and also have exceptional service in common.
Day one started off with a hearty bowl of Bhutanese beef noodle broth and a few too many milk chais. We worked our way to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery – this was where the reality of the trek came to light. When I was told we would be trekking, I took the term quite loosely and assumed some assisted ascents, perhaps mostly for photo purposes. I was happy to be wrong, and the first half of this particular expedition started out on ponies, adorned with the most exquisite saddles and hand-woven rugs – I was thrilled to later see that these colourful hand woven rugs are used almost everywhere in Bhutan. I was quite comfortable until I was told to get off the horse, and this was where the real journey began.
The Tiger’s Nest, or Paro Taktsang, is a Buddhist temple perched on a cliff of the Himalayan Mountains. Three-quarters of Bhutan’s population identifies itself as Buddhist, this is a particularly important pilgrimage and sight for the country. Prayer flags were hung throughout the site; some used to bless their surroundings, others for wishes and the white ones for the deceased. Beautiful ornaments and paintings were peppered all around the temples, allowing us to distract ourselves from the physically tiring hike. We were then treated to a delicious Indian picnic before descending the beautiful valley.
Very few communities remain as true to their original heritage as the ones in Bhutan do – the common folk proudly sport their national costume daily, composed of prints, patterns and colour.
The third day – with still not a blister in sight thanks to my Caminos – a four-hour trek to a monastery awaited us. The journey up consisted of bear calls (to scare away the black bears), a tasting of wild strawberries, deathly narrow pathways and the most breathtaking views. We left the clouds at the bottom and reached the top – the home of 187 monks. They greeted us with a feast and gave us four blessings – one that was drunk out of a human skull. Perhaps one of the more memorable views of the trip, was seeing the 187 monks also sporting Caminos.
The Kingdom of Bhutan is a rare gem – precisely because it is so difficult to get to. More than anything, one can benefit from learning about the country’s peaceful way of life and authenticity. The treks prove a real challenge, but yet a path to the grand prize of tranquility, serenity and nature’s inexplicable beauty. Should you feel daunted by the difficulty, consider a pair of Caminos to guide you along.
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