Bhutan: a hidden Himalayan kingdom

Dinner at the farmhouse

India Specialist Abigail has just returned from a trip to Bhutan where she experienced some of the local traditions…

Having just returned from Bhutan and explored the country from east to west, my most memorable experiences were not just the ‘must-see’ monasteries but my time with the local people.

I enjoyed activities like cheese and beer tasting, making traditional biscuits and enjoying a hot stone bath with some of the local liquor! The people are so fascinating and so genuinely unique that it felt very satisfying to get even a small insight into daily life in this hidden Himalayan kingdom.

My time in the Bumthang valley was filled with fantastic local experiences. In the morning I went on a walk of the valley (which included a visit to one of the oldest temples in Bhutan) and then onto the Red Panda micro-brewery for a lunch time beer and cheese tasting session. The micro-brewery makes Weiss beer and the cheese factory specialises in Emmentale and Goudar, brought to the valley by a Swiss man who moved there in the 1970s.

After a lovely lunchtime stop (with countless slabs of cheese!) we moved onto a local farmhouse where I was to indulge in more food activities. I was led inside and into the kitchen where we sat on the floor to make some popular treats known as ‘khabze’. ‘Khabze’ is a local biscuit made by cutting dough into various shapes and interlocking these to create ingenious designs. We played around with many different designs and, after a lot of affectionate mocking, we had a large platter of ‘khabze’ – some with the intricacy of a professional and others that resembled the creation of a 5 year old (I need not mention which ones were mine!).

As the day progressed, I visited a local weaving centre to learn about the craft and ended up in a local farmhouse for an evening hot stone bath and dinner. I was shown to the bath in an outdoor shed. The bath itself was wooden, two thirds of it sitting inside the shed and one third sitting outside with a griddle to separate the two sections. I got into the bath and relaxed with a glass of the local liquor. Outside the farmer waited for my call for another hot stone which, on my request, got lifted straight from the fire and placed directly into the water, sizzling as it entered the bath! After a long while, I wandered back into the farmhouse with a warmth in my tummy and a slight sway in my step to find that dinner was just being served at the main table – a wonderful end to a truly memorable day.