Faraway in the mountains of the Eastern Himalayas, the luxurious Six Senses Bhutan is bringing a bouquet of holistic wellness services to the world’s happiest country. Join in for a retreat of the body, mind and soul. By Satarupa Paul
If ‘calm’ had a sound, it’d be the deep, lingering timbre of a Himalayan singing bowl. That is what it felt like as Kinley, my massage therapist, gently struck one such hand-carved bell-metal bowl with a wooden mallet, and moved it around my ears. The pure tones emanating from it created a strange tingle that emerged from the back of my neck, travelled down my spine, and settled cosily somewhere around the pit of my stomach. That ASMR effect swiftly manifested in a sensation of absolute calm and a feeling of great relaxation, which put me in a state of tranquil acceptance for all the goodness that was to follow, over the next six days of my wellness sojourn with the recently-launched outpost of the Six Senses Hotels Resorts & Spas, in the Kingdom of Happiness—that is Bhutan.
That afternoon, I had arrived on a choppy flight at the exquisite Paro International Airport of our picturesque neighbouring country, cocooned in a little nook of the Eastern Himalayas. Known for pioneering the concept of Gross National Happiness, Bhutan draws in architecture, nature, spirituality and Buddhism enthusiasts, with its magnificent dzongs (fortresses), peaceful monasteries, invigorating nature hikes, scores of chortens (stupas), and other such delights. As a first-time traveller to this colourful country, I too looked forward to experiencing all that Bhutan had to offer, but my primary agenda, quite predictably, was the elusive pursuit of wholesome happiness—of the body, mind and soul.
Earlier this year, ‘burnout’ was officially recognised as a medical syndrome by the World Health Organisation. I too, was inching towards this overwhelming condition, courtesy my fast-paced, peripatetic lifestyle that was beginning to take a toll on my physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. It was about time that I hit pause, rejuvenated and rebooted myself. And Six Senses Bhutan, with its luxury lodges set across three gorgeous locations, sustainable practices and holistic treatments, presented just the right setup for a complete wellness makeover.
My first port of call was the Six Senses Thimphu lodge, located a little over an hour away from the airport at Paro, on a hilltop overlooking the bustling city of Thimphu—the capital of Bhutan. The vista that greeted me, as I walked into the high-ceilinged entrance courtyard, made me stop in my tracks. Fronted by an all-glass façade and surrounded by a serene, mirror-like pond that reflected the sky above, it looked over the Thimphu valley and the city sprawled below, with rolling mountains around, and the Buddha Dordenma—a gigantic statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha welded in bronze, sitting serenely atop a hill across.
My suite too opened to this all-encompassing view, and its design like the rest of the lodge, drew from traditional Bhutanese architecture—high-pitched roofs clad with wooden shingles, hand- beaten and white-washed thick walls, timber-framed windows, furniture in muted, natural tones, and vegetable-dyed antique rugs. The soothing interiors, quiet surroundings of apple orchards and blue pine forests, and the piercingly fresh air, instantly helped calm my frayed city nerves.
Later that evening, I met the Wellness Manager, Dr Apurva Tamhane, for a very interesting session of wellness screening. A curious apparatus occupied a portion of his work desk at the Six Senses Spa. He made me sit down and place my palms on a flat hand-plate and my feet on a similar foot-plate below. He then stuck two sticky electrodes to my forehead, strapped a blood pressure machine to one arm, and fixed a Pulse Oximeter onto one index finger. Demonstrating its function, he explained, “Just like how an ECG collects signals from your heart, this machine uses Galvanic Skin Response and Bioimpedance to collect electric signals from all over your body.” The entire exercise took barely 10 minutes, but at the end, it generated a mind-blowing report that addressed a staggering number of parameters—from my Stress Index and Fat Mass (both of which were ‘abnormal’) to my Cardiac Output, Recovery Capacity, Blood Oxygen Saturation and many more. Over the next half hour, Dr Tamhane patiently explained each assessment, pointing out where my body was lacking, how one outcome was related to the other, and what I could do to improve it all, with balanced diet and a couple of activity recommendations.
With the feeling that I already knew my body better, I headed for my first spa treatment—a 60-minute Jetlag Soother, which began with my therapist Kinley gifting me a clear quartz crystal. “Hold it in the palm of your hand during the massage; it’ll clear your mind off negativity and help you heal,” she said, before laying me face down, sounding the soothing singing bowl and accompanying it with a beautiful Buddhist chant in her lovely, soft voice. From then on, it was a voyage of letting go—of my stress, physical tensions and mental blockages, and letting in all the good of health, mind and spirit, to the perfectly-pressured kneading and strokes of Kinley’s fingers, palms and arms on my body. The Lavender oil used for the massage had a calming effect that put me in a deep sleep, like the kind I was craving for so long!
This wellness journey continued over the next two Six Senses lodges as well—one, in the enchanting valley of Punakha dotted with terraced paddy fields, and the other, on a hilltop above the cute little town of Paro. All the lodges are seamlessly integrated, allowing guests to move between them without the hassle of checking in and out again and again. The interiors of the suites are similar too, making you feel at home at once. Each lodge though, incorporates little elements of surprise in the exteriors and surroundings. The Punakha lodge, for instance, is nestled amongst paddy fields, giving you the sense of living in a farmhouse; while, the lodge at Paro is located in the premises of a ruined fortress, with a 15th century monastery next door and pine forests all around. All lodges take great care in integrating sustainable practices, such as energy and water conservation, waste management and locally-sourced materials, to help preserve and protect the world’s only carbon-negative country.
This philosophy extends to dining as well, with each lodge offering a unique culinary journey of seasonally-inspired menus highlighting Bhutanese, Western, Indian and Asian specialities, prepared from fresh produce sourced from their own organic gardens. Hearty dips and detox shots, made from a combination of vegetables and fruits, are offered at each meal, initiating you on your endeavour of healthy eating practices. Each lodge also extends complimentary wellness activities, such as yoga, meditation, pranayama and chanting. The spas in the various lodges offer a unique set of treatments, so you can experience the best of each as you travel around Bhutan. At the Six Senses Punakha lodge, for instance, I opted for a 60-minute Ayurvedic Abhyanga massage to relieve fatigue and induce sleep, followed by a 30-minute stress-releasing Shirodhara treatment. At Paro, it was a 30-minute signature Relaxed Feet treatment, much-needed after the long, arduous hike up to the most famous landmark of Bhutan—the Paro Taktsang or the Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
In the end, it all culminated in a journey of discovery—of not just a beautiful country and its warm, welcoming people, their rich culture and heritage, of devoted spirituality and an ancient religion, but also of the self, of me and my happiness.
REACH: Bhutan is served by Druk Air and Bhutan Airlines, connected to Delhi, Kolkata and Guwahati. You can drive into Bhutan from Bagdogra Airport in Bengal.
VISA REQUIREMENTS: Indian nationals don’t need a visa but you need to obtain a permit by showing a passport at Paro if flying in, and at Phuentsholing if travelling by road.
GETTING AROUND: Taxis are available for hire in Paro and Thimphu.
STAY: Six Senses Bhutan runs three lodges in Thimphu, Paro and Punakha, with a fourth one just launched in Gangtey, and a fifth opening next year in Bumthang Valley. sixsenses.com
TARIFF starts from INR 89,000 / night with all three meals, non-alcoholic beverages, laundry, WIFI, private airport transfers, English-speaking guide, driver and transportation for six nights or more. Indian residents can enjoy special rate of INR 78,000 / night, for
two consecutive nights or more.
SPA MENU: Every lodge offers a selection of treatments, ranging from 30 minutes to 2 hours 15 minutes, with prices from INR 4,550 to INR 20,650.