A JOURNEY IN BHUTAN
The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is one of Earth’s most fabled destinations – a place of pristine natural beauty and cultural authenticity, where happiness is valued more highly than monetary gain.
The sole surviving Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom, Bhutan, is nestled between the Tibetan Plateau and India, making it one of the most remote and pristine environments in the world. Descending from 7,000-metre high peaks in the north to the low-lying plains of the south, Bhutan’s rivers have forged deep valleys separated by high mountain passes. Historically isolated, each valley’s scenic beauty and topography affords visitors an opportunity for unique journeys of discovery.
Wary of the outside world and its fast-paced modernity, Bhutan was cautious in opening its doors to the rest of the world. Only a trusted few helped launch its fledgling tourism industry in the early 2000s, and Aman was the first international hotel collection to be granted permission to operate within its borders. To experience all that Bhutan has to offer, Amankora tailors personalized journeys that include stays at its lodges in five of the beautiful valleys that score the Kingdom’s mountainous terrain: Paro, Punakha, Gangtey, Bumthang and Thimphu.
Amankora’s five intimate lodges facilitate a kora, or ‘circular journey’ of discovery throughout central and western Bhutan. Guests can choose a journey that comprises all or a combination of these lodges, ensuring a seamless unveiling of this remarkable Kingdom on top of the world.
Combining understated luxury with exceptional cuisine, indulgent spa treatments, one-of-a-kind cultural encounters, unique sightseeing and breathtaking adventures in nature, Amankora continues to open ways to discover and experience this unique destination. It has introduced helicopter transfers between lodges, a series of Michelin-starred chef residencies at Thimphu Lodge, a unique helicopter breakfast experience at Twin Lakes, forest and prayer flag bathing experiences, immersive wellness retreats with visiting specialists, four new suites and a swimming pool at Punakha Lodge, poppy treks and a
This spiritual journey to Bhutan can be combined with a journey through Annam’s Indochinese seaside resorts, such as Amanoi in Southern Vietnam and Amanpuri in Thailand
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE JUNGLE
The classic film
Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness
was produced by two American friends, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Beaumont Shoedsack, famous for their mega-production King Kong in 1933. Painstakingly filmed over a period of two years starting in 1924, the movie captures fascinating images of life and survival-of-the-fittest in the jungle, where nature is friend and enemy in turn. Life in the jungle with ferocious animals is dangerous, and some of the images shown in the movie may be disturbing in their unforgiving brutal reality.
was released in 1927, it was an immediate hit, finding immense commercial and public success. Then, inexplicably, the film disappeared for over 60 years. It was miraculously found in 1988, re-released for theaters in 1995, and then released on DVD in 2005 – unfortunately without Hugo Riesenfeld’s original score, which remained lost. But the true resurrection of
is more recent. The film returned to Laos in 2012, accompanied by 14 musicians of the Champasak Shadow Puppets Theatre Association (ATOC) through the Cinéma TukTuk project created by Yves Bernard. These musicians accompanied the film’s screening with traditional live music from southern Laos composed by Messrs Bounmy (composer) and Somphone (director).
In 2014, their concerts were recorded during public screenings. These recordings, of excellent quality, literally breathed new life into the silent work of the pioneers of documentary cinema. Public performances are organised twice a week from October to March, and by request the rest of the year. They are held at the Champassak Theatre which also performs the Champanakone Shadow Play, which was revived by Yves Bernard when a French architect working at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Vat Phou in Champasak Province discovered the original shadow play puppets and instruments in a local temple, carefully preserved by the monks since 1975. The project is generously supported by the French government and Prince Claus Fund of Holland
THE NAGA FIREBALLS
A PHENOMENA SHROUDED IN MYSTERY
The mysterious Naga Dancing Fireballs, or
bung fai paya nak
in Thai, have remained an enigma to locals and scientists for generations. Visible along a 100-km stretch of the Mekong River in Nong Khai Province, Thailand on the Laotian border, the Naga Fireballs are inexplicable, gleaming balls of bright red light – sometimes thousands of orbs – blasting up from the Mekong River 600 feet into the air. Locals are convinced the Nagas are of supernatural origin, and they hold an annual festival under a full moon to celebrate the lights. Legend has it that the fireballs come from the breath of
, a giant sea serpent in the riverbed who awakes every year at this time to honor the end of vassa, the three-month season of Rain Retreat or Buddhist Lent that occurs in late October.
Found in the Indian religions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, Nagas are believed to reside in a secret underground kingdom called
, filled with radiant palaces exquisitely adorned with precious gems. Associated with water such as rivers, lakes, seas, wells, and estuaries, Nagas are reptilian, semi-divine creatures that appear to humankind on occasions and possess supernatural powers. They represent the guardians of water and treasure, both material and spiritual. These wealthy underworld deities are regarded as protectors of Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and by extension the State of Laos, where they are incorporated into Lao iconography and feature prominently in the culture. In Cambodia, the seven-headed Nagas have a mythological association with the seven colors of the rainbow. They are often depicted as guardian figures, carved into balustrades, or flanking the doors leading to prominent Cambodian temples, such as those found in Angkor.
For now, the phenomenon of the Naga fireballs remains shrouded in mystery, puzzling visitors who come to admire this wonderful annual light show
PHU PHA THI - LIMA SITE 85
FIFTIETH ANNIVERSARY & EXPLORATION
THE TRADITIONNAL KATU
Like other proto-Indochinese groups, the Upper Sékong Katu distinguish themselves with their elegant communal houses. Called gwal, the houses are located in the village center and are characterized by totemic sculptures and polychrome drawing, inside or outside. They are used for various social functions, such as animist rites, notably the buffalo sacrifice. Sculptures of the strange, magical androgynous katu deity may be found around the central pillars. Because the Katu universe is circular, a Katu village represents a series of circles, the most visible one formed by houses oriented towards the communal house. This set-up made it possible to house more than 30 members of a patrilineal kinship system, two or three families, and more than one hundred other people. Around the village, circles are formed by rivers and by the high wooden ridges overlooking the villages. The cosmologic center of this world is the communal house and the sacrifice pole, which are typically made of kapok tree and represent a door to the three worlds of Katu cosmology during a sacrifice.
Before 1950, communal house could be of an imposing size, with the central pillar measuring more than 12 meters high. The gwal structure is built from wood and bamboo, and the roof is made of thick layers of palms. The interior planks are decorated with drawings representing scenes from mythology, history, or daily life. The interior walls are decorated with war masks (kâbei), weapons, various trophies such as buffalo and tiger skulls, skulls and tails of peacocks or toucans, and even sometimes human skulls as a memento of the infamous Blood Hunts. The Blood Hunt is based on the concept that blood calls blood, similar to the Aztec Flower War or the customs of Borneo, New Guinea and Naga head hunters. Prisoners were captured in neighboring settlements and brought back to the village, where they were hung on sacrificial poles or trees. The villagers would eat the prisoner’s heart and liver, believing that they would absorb the victim’s vitality and might.
Since 2012, Secret Indochina has been developing a local sustainable project in Ban Paleng, a hamlet located in the heart of the Upper Sékong. The project promotes and conserves the Katu cultural heritage, as endorsed by UNESCO, to protect and re-establish traditions of some autochthones peoples and groups. In this spirit, the Paleng communal roof was renovated by the locals and Secret Indochina in 2017
Secret Indochina was established in 2011, following the encounter of two professionals, Tran Quang Hieu and Nicolas Vidal, passionate about authentic travel. Secret Indochina, DMC branch of Amica JSC, strives to lead travellers to outstanding sites, magical places, and little-known ethnic communities
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