What made our visit to Bhutan so special for us was our guide’s (Sonam Choden’s) personal relationship with the families we stayed with (one of whom happened to be her own family!). Through Sonam’s and Ulli’s previous acquaintance with the families, it gave them a point of reference for us to build a relationship with them.
Moreover, it was the naturalness and authenticity of the host family, without any sense of fuss or pretentiousness that made our stay so unique. In our first farm stay, at Aum Dechen’s, some of the conversation was based on Ulli’s continuing relationship with them. It was as if we were ‘friends of friends’ that just happened to be visiting and staying in their house for a couple of nights. This made it special for us as tourists.
For example, on the first day of our stay, Auntie accompanied us across the valley for lunch at the Ogyen Choeling Museum, spent two hours with us enjoying the museum, and afterwards we all visited a cave in which Longchenpa was said to have spent some time meditating. We walked back together to her home in the late afternoon. Auntie joining us on this day-long outing was neither requested nor discouraged — it simply occurred naturally, as if we were long-time friends of the family on a day’s outing.
Our stay with Sonam’s family at Sumthrang Heritage Farmhouse was as equally caring. Knowing that Claire and I are vegetarians, they prepared 5 different dishes of vegetables, potatoes, rice and, of course, ema datsi. Sonam later told us that so many choices were not the norm; nevertheless, no one made a fuss over it.
Our rooms were simple, yet adequate and comfortable. In Aum Dechen’s farmhouse, we were accommodated in a separate guest house from their main home, which had two separate en-suite bedrooms (our driver, Chencho stayed in one), a living room with a wood stove between them. In Sumthrang, we stayed on a mattress on the floor in a room heated with a coal brazier. We had a ‘lounge’ outside the room where we could relax and read separate from the family. Sonam’s mother brought us tea to this sitting room in the morning before breakfast. All our evening meals in both homes were with our hosts and their family, during which we enjoyed lively conversations about each other’s lifestyle and the dharma, whilst sitting on the floor beside the wood stove cooker. We felt honoured to be there as guests because of the genuine, authentic mode of the home and hospitality.
In brief, our 10 days in Bhutan was a very personable and unique experience with our home stay hosts and our guide and driver. We can’t wait to visit again!
Roger & Claire