Tucked deep in the high Himalayan Mountains, the Kingdom of Bhutan is often referred to as the last Shangri-La. Deeply spiritual, Bhutan made its mark on the international stage with its concept of using GNH (Gross National Happiness) as a measurement for development instead of the conventional economic indicator of GDP. Imbued with an unspoiled natural beauty, Bhutan also seems to exude a positive spiritual energy that is at once healing and revitalizing for tired, stressed urbanites.
From 6 to 15 December 2023, FBN Asia will be organizing a learning journey to Bhutan led by Dr Mary Ann Tsao (Board Member, FBN Asia), who has been travelling to Bhutan since 2007 to establish the Bhutan Elder Sangha Sanctuary, B.E.S.S. – a non-profit project in Punakha valley. The journey will be accommodated throughout at the beautiful Amankora, which has lodges at all five areas that the learning journey will travel through.
This learning journey aims to share several key elements: be nourished by pristine nature to pause and reflect, experience a uniquely spiritual and still unspoiled culture, enjoy privileged access to the newly restored Wangduechhoeling Palace that is not yet opened to the public and learn about Buddhism as a philosophy and a way of life, as well as the experience of building B.E.S.S. – a non-profit project in this very much less developed country.
Bhutan Foundation describes Bumthang’s Wangduechhoeling Palace restoration project as one that “connects the future with a very exciting past. The project is intended as a model for preserving history and culture throughout the country and exemplifies the foundation’s goal of “building capacity”, or nurturing expertise in many areas of Bhutanese society, from carpentry to health care and good governance, in line with the government’s goal of “Gross National Happiness,” which was incorporated into its constitution in 2008. New York based Tsao & McKown Architects advised on the design and adaptive reuse plan that turned the palace into a museum, and coincidentally, Calvin Tsao is Mary Ann’s brother. FBN Asia has the privilege of a special tour of Wangduechhoeling Palace, which is still closed to the public, and a talk by the Bhutan Foundation, the primary lead of this project.
The Bhutan Elder Sangha Sanctuary (B.E.S.S.) is a non-profit project to build an elder-friendly home in response to the plight of ageing monks, on land granted by royal bequest outside Punakha in central Bhutan. Incorporating cutting edge ideas on age-friendly design, B.E.S.S. is intended to be a prototype that can serve as a demonstration model for elder housing elsewhere. In a country where the construction sector is relatively under developed and where there was only one local professional project manager at that time, the challenges were many and it took six years to complete.
The journey will take travellers to five major areas of the Kingdom – ranging from Paro (known for the iconic Tigers’ Nest) to Bumthang (Bhutan’s spiritual heartland where Wangduechhoeling Palace is located), Gangtey (a rural farm village), Punakha (home to B.E.S.S. and the magnificent Punakha Dzong) and Thimphu (the capital city of Bhutan).
With Bhutan’s spectacular sights and cultural treasure house as well as Amankora’s beautiful lodges, surroundings and impeccable service, FBN Asia’s uniquely planned events and access to protected sites (from the unique opportunity to visit the newly restored palace museum and to learn about the challenges and rewards of building B.E.S.S.) – promise an extraordinary experience like no other. Group size is kept small, with no more than 16 people, and there are alternative activities to choose from to suit the individual.