Underpinned by philanthropy, luxury hotel brand Aman has designed a ‘Quest for Happiness’ journey in Bhutan, with guests staying at its five Amankora lodges that are scattered across the country. Jenny Southan reports

This winter, the Amankora is offering a new “Quest for Happiness” journey, inviting guests to find their own “pathway to contentment”, through sustainable and responsible travel that uplifts local Bhutanese communities along the way.

Available to book from December 1, 2022 to February 28, 2023, and May 1, 2023 to August 31, 2023, the “Quest for Happiness” trip takes place in Bhutan, a country that is consistently seen as having the happiest people in the world.

It even has its own measure of success – the Gross National Happiness index. It’s a visionary idea and one that the rest of the world can learn from.

With help from the Amankora, outsiders will soon be able to discover first-hand what happiness truly means. Aman says the new journey will include elements of “giving back – allowing guests to receive blessings and become a blessing to others”.Amankora, Bhutan - Punakha LodgeAvailable throughout the winter during stays of seven or nine-nights, visitors will receive a free night at the hotel, gifted by the Amankora in exchange for partaking in culturally transformative experiences and activities, that in turn help the local community.

The quest begins in Bhutan’s capital, where the 16-suite Lodge of Amankora Thimphu offers unique opportunities to explore culture and tradition. Here, guests will listen to a lecture on the concept of Gross National Happiness, led by an expert in the field.

After, guests can assist at the Gawaling Happy Home, a shelter and orphanage of the organisation RENEW that cares for vulnerable women and children.

When possible, those visiting can spend time with individuals helping them to gain trust and confidence and are encouraged to continue their line of communication through correspondence by written letters, email or video calls after returning home.

Also at Thimphu, guests are invited to the Draktsho Vocational Training Centre, a learning institution for underprivileged children where education and vocational courses (such as tailoring, pottery and carpentry) promote financial independence in later life.

They can support the centre by purchasing crafts made by the students or even share their knowledge by running their very own workshop in an area of personal expertise such as art, design, marketing or e-commerce.

Continuing the “Quest to Happiness”, at Amankora’s Punakha Lodge, guests can choose to support the wellbeing of the elderly in the first-ever retirement home for Buddhist monks in the Himalayas, by offering a meal to the monks and spending time with them, sharing stories of one another’s lives.Amankora, Bhutan - Punakha LodgeThen it’s onwards to Amankora’s Gangtey Lodge, set on the edge of a wildlife reserve with scenic views of the Gangtey Goemba Monastery.

A place of untouched beauty and deep Buddhist faith, here guests can discover the lifestyle of Vajrayana Buddhist hermits, who commit to their faith by giving up almost all their possessions to engage in meditation, prayers and spiritual learning.

By offering a meal, warm clothing or helping to create a sustainable food source (such as an organic garden or mushroom shed), guests help support this unique way of life for years to come.

Alternatively, they learn about the fragile co-existence of early education and wildlife in Gangtey at the Bayta Community School, where young villagers learn about the importance of ecology and the endangered black necked cranes that inhabit the surrounding valleys.Amankora, Bhutan – Punakha lodge, Mo Chhu River lodge suspension bridgTo discourage children from playing in their roosting grounds, there is the opportunity to assist in creating a children’s park on the school’s land.

The most easterly stop on the “Quest for Happiness”, Bumthang Lodge rests peacefully in the “Land of the Thunder Dragon”, considered to be the country’s spiritual centre. Here, temples, shrines, spiritual sites and monasteries are many, with some dating back to the seventh century.

Meaning “beautiful field”, 

Bumthang lives up to this name as local farms and home-grown cottage industries cultivate the kingdom’s finest apples, peaches, buckwheat, cheeses, honey, Weiss beer and even herbal tea. Guests can pave way for the betterment of these important cottage industries by assisting in upgrading their systems and techniques during their time at Amankora.

For the final few days of the experience, time is spent at the Paro Lodge, wandering through the sacred halls of Paro Dzong and experiencing the stunning pilgrimage to the Tiger’s Nest. Along the way, while helping clear and clean its hiking paths, guests will feel the true spirit of Bhutan with the opportunity to spend a quiet moment of reflection in the forest.Amankora, Bhutan – Tiger's NestOther recommended activities include giving the gift of water, by assisting local communities in creating proper irrigation channels or alternatively engaging in the Drukgyel Central School’s agricultural programme, where many of the children from the area go to study.

Contributing resources such as farming or gardening tools, seeds, saplings or donating directly to the agriculture fund can greatly impact their futures – an extremely fulfilling activity that provides a new kind of happiness for all involved.

Amankora’s “Quest for Happiness” is also designed with sustainability in mind. Throughout the stay, small changes such as using refillable thermos during hikes and creating menus focused on local produce from Amankora’s own gardens, make the entire stay in Bhutan carefully considered, where opportunities to meet local families, farmers, artisans, entrepreneurs and leaders provide a transformative experience for body, mind and soul.

Price: US$1,785 per room per night based on double occupancy and including:

  • All meals at Amankora Dining Room and picnics en route to other Amankora Lodges
  • In-house beverages including house wines and spirits
  • Wifi and laundry
  • Private Airport transfers to/ from Paro Airport to Amankora Paro/Amankora Thimphu. Or Bumthang Airport to Amankora Bumthang