5 Signs You’ve Been to Bhutan

5 Signs You’ve Been to Bhutan

One way to think of Dan and Dara Brewster, founder of DARA Artisans: They’re the suppliers of the artisanal everything (scarves, baskets, vases, jewelry) you’d definitely buy if you a) could travel as much as they do and b) didn’t have to worry about how to pack that decorative basket into your carry-on. The powerhouse duo has scoured markets from Cambodia to Paris to hunt down handmade curios that are both stunning and sustaining for the artists behind them. During their most recent trip to Bhutan, they braved some intense country roads (“harrowing doesn’t not even begin to describe them,” says Dara) and some intense beauty to seek out the finest from Bhutan’s famous weavers.

1. You devote an entire line to Bhutanese textiles. ’Nuff said.

2. You’re on a first-name basis with Bhutanese weavers. “When we travel, we always look go to the national museums first because that’s where the national treasures and heritage live. The Royal Textile Academy in Thimphu has an astounding collection of historic and modern textiles, including many pieces worn by the Bhutanese royal family. We also recommend the Craft Stalls in Thimphu; they have a really good selection of fairly priced Bhutanese crafts—from textiles to bowls to baskets—from around the country. If you want to see weaving in action, there is a good weaving center called Gagyel Lhundrup Weaving Center where you can watch the skilled weavers and buy textiles.”

3. You can rattle off the locations of all five Bhutan Aman lodges. “We went with Aman, which has five lodges in the country. They were so helpful—they put us in touch with some great weavers that are only known by locals. One day, we went to the Aman lodge in Punakha, the former royal capital. It’s a traditional Bhutanese farmhouse that once belonged to the king. It’s this immense property that stretches all the way down the Mo Chhu, or mother river. To get there, you have to cross the river by suspension bridge.”

4. You start looking everywhere for impromptu festivals. “We didn’t go at the time of festival season, which is spring and fall. But, as luck would have it, we just happened upon an impromptu festival in Trongsa on New Year’s Day. It was at the dzong (a fortress with a still-functioning monastery inside) and not announced, not in any books. It was just packed with Bhutanese—everyone was in full, intricate dress and there were music and dancers. We were the only westerners. It was spectacular.”

5. You speak with authority about the wingspan of the black-necked crane. “We went searching for the elusive black-necked crane in Phobjikha Valley in Gangtey. Black necked cranes were becoming extinct, but now the valley is protected land. We saw four together. Their wingspan is 7 to 8 feet, which is huge for bird that’s little bigger than a duck. To watch them take off is a real rarity.”

>>Next: This Helicopter Tour of the Himalayas Goes Above and Beyond

Aislyn Greene is the associate director of podacsts at AFAR, where she produces the Unpacked by AFAR podcast and hosts AFAR’s Travel Tales podcast. She lives on a houseboat in Sausalito.
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