Stay the night: Taj Tashi
The arrival of a five-star hotel in Thimphu reveals it's all change in Bhutan, says Ian McCurrach
Sunday 09 November 2008
There are big changes afoot in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. Though a new king was crowned last week, the system of absolute monarchy was abolished recently: the mountainous country where life has altered little since the Middle Ages has just become a democracy.
The recent opening of the Taj Tashi hotel in Thimphu is another sign of change. Tourism remains relatively in its infancy in Bhutan, strictly limited to the high-end market – only 20,000 visited in 2007 – and, so far, the handful of upmarket hotels has been restricted to the countryside. This five-star is the first to open in the capital.
And its arrival can't be ignored; the Taj Tashi dominates the low-rise skyline of this city where crimson-robed monks mingle with locals wearing the regulation national costume. Outwardly, the hotel mimics the grand design of a historic Bhutanese dzong, a monastery cum fortress that serves as administrative headquarters for each of the country's 20 districts. Inside, the decor in the grand public spaces is regal and picks out traditional themes – clouds, thunderbolts, musical horns – but is mixed with contemporary comforts.
All 66 rooms and suites are smart, comfy and spacious. The corner suites have good views over both the city and the Wang Chhu river valley. Rooms have traditional handmade carpets and delicate lattice panelling made of dark blue pine. My deluxe suite had a large living room and a separate bedroom with double sliding doors opening on to a bathroom. All bathrooms are lined with brown marble and have free-standing central baths.
The food and drink
Traditional fiery Bhutanese cuisine is served in the Chig–je-gye restaurant, which is decorated with dark wood and gold-leaf paintings. One of the main specialities is ema datshi, comprising large green chillies in a cheese sauce. Wine is imported – and very expensive for what it is; the local beer, Red Panda, is refreshingly cheap. Take tea in the Rimps lounge lobby or enjoy international fare at the airy, triple-height Thongsen restaurant. Don't ask for complicated cocktails in the stylish Ara bar, decorated with local folk music instruments, stick to standards such as G&T.
The Jiva Spa has a good-sized gym with personal trainer and there are several treatment rooms decorated with hand-painted murals. Try a traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath.
The public spaces are fully accessible and one room has been adapted for wheelchair users. Children are welcome; pets are not.
Doubles from £175 per night, room only. Carrier (0161-491 7630; carrier.co.uk ) offers a seven-night Bhutan package including two nights at Taj Tashi and return international flights and private transfers from £2,120 per person, based on two sharing.
Taj Tashi, Post Box No 524, Samten Lam, Chubachu, Thimphu, Bhutan (00 975 233 6699; tajhotels.com ).
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby of them all could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 3 Professional big game hunter Ian Gibson crushed to death by elephant during hunt
- 4 Farmer told to tear down mock-Tudor castle after hiding construction behind hay bales
Inside Travel: Greece 2015 Q&A - should we cancel our Greek holiday? Are our flights safe? And what will we be spending there?
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
How double-decker trains would improve Britain's railways
French air-traffic strike: Planned industrial action called off
The 10 Best hiking boots
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
£24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...
Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...
£20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...
£25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...