Updates on Bhutan travel

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I led a group through the Himalayas, Sept. 23-Oct. 17, traveling in India and then entering Bhutan at the southern border town of Phuntsholing.

Bhutan is generally clear in October, but in 2003 they had a very wet season with intermittent rain and overcast conditions right up to the third week of October. Those traveling to the Himalayas should note that due to mountain driving, unpredictable weather and road maintenance, road travel can be slow-going and travelers need to he flexible.

The road from Kalimpong, India, to Phuntsholing, Bhutan, has been completely resurfaced, and with a good coach or private 4-wheel-drive vehicle the trip can be made in about 7½ hours (remember the half-hour time change forward). The drive is very scenic as you travel through the West Bengal tea corridor with large tea plantations planted right up to the road.

In Phuntsholing the Druk Hotel (phone 975 2 322966) has been renovated, and now rooms have individual air-conditioners, excellent reading lamps next to the beds (a feature not found in many Bhutanese hotels) and upgraded bathrooms with hot and cold water. Phuntsholing doesn’t have many hotels, but this one is the best.

Bhutan has a long history of textiles, and weaving is so much a part of everyday life. Travelers should make time to visit the Museum of Textiles (phone 975 2321516), under the patronage of Her Majesty Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck (one of the four queens). The museum showcases textiles from all the weaving regions and features the country’s finest pieces along with production techniques and dying and weaving patterns. It’s open daily except on national holidays. The entrance fee is 150 nus (about $4).

The Folk Heritage Museum (phone 975 2327133) opened in July ’01. The museum is actually a restored, 3-story, traditional farmhouse dating back 150 years. It is set amidst rice, wheat and millet fields and has a traditional watermill with stones dating back to the mid-19th century.

In the house you will find typical household objects, tools and equipment used by all members of the family. Displays are well marked and the museum guides are excellent. Entry costs 150 nus. It’s open daily except holidays.

The hotel scene is changing rapidly in Bhutan, with many new hotels scheduled to open in 2004. Aman Resorts (call 800/477-9180 for reservations or visit www. amanresorts.com), known for their palatial and luxurious hotels throughout Southeast Asia, is opening many upmarket properties in Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Bumthang. If they follow their other properties, rates could be well over $500 per night.

KATHLEEN ZURICH FUNG, Far Flung Places, 1914 Fell St., San Francisco, CA 94117

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

I led a group through the Himalayas, Sept. 23-Oct. 17, traveling in India and then entering Bhutan at the southern border town of Phuntsholing.

Bhutan is generally clear in October, but in 2003 they had a very wet season with intermittent rain and overcast conditions right up to the third week of October. Those traveling to the Himalayas should note that due to mountain driving, unpredictable weather and road maintenance, road travel can be slow-going and travelers need to he flexible.

The road from Kalimpong, India, to Phuntsholing, Bhutan, has been completely resurfaced, and with a good coach or private 4-wheel-drive vehicle the trip can be made in about 7½ hours (remember the half-hour time change forward). The drive is very scenic as you travel through the West Bengal tea corridor with large tea plantations planted right up to the road.

In Phuntsholing the Druk Hotel (phone 975 2 322966) has been renovated, and now rooms have individual air-conditioners, excellent reading lamps next to the beds (a feature not found in many Bhutanese hotels) and upgraded bathrooms with hot and cold water. Phuntsholing doesn’t have many hotels, but this one is the best.

Bhutan has a long history of textiles, and weaving is so much a part of everyday life. Travelers should make time to visit the Museum of Textiles (phone 975 2321516), under the patronage of Her Majesty Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck (one of the four queens). The museum showcases textiles from all the weaving regions and features the country’s finest pieces along with production techniques and dying and weaving patterns. It’s open daily except on national holidays. The entrance fee is 150 nus (about $4).

The Folk Heritage Museum (phone 975 2327133) opened in July ’01. The museum is actually a restored, 3-story, traditional farmhouse dating back 150 years. It is set amidst rice, wheat and millet fields and has a traditional watermill with stones dating back to the mid-19th century.

In the house you will find typical household objects, tools and equipment used by all members of the family. Displays are well marked and the museum guides are excellent. Entry costs 150 nus. It’s open daily except holidays.

The hotel scene is changing rapidly in Bhutan, with many new hotels scheduled to open in 2004. Aman Resorts (call 800/477-9180 for reservations or visit www. amanresorts.com), known for their palatial and luxurious hotels throughout Southeast Asia, is opening many upmarket properties in Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Bumthang. If they follow their other properties, rates could be well over $500 per night.

KATHLEEN ZURICH FUNG, Far Flung Places, 1914 Fell St., San Francisco, CA 94117