Bhutan – part 1

  1. It is a very steep hill and the air is thin. My breathing is laboured and I am almost out of strength. But knees feel weak and increasingly I have to rest. But mind over body. Having come this far, no time to give up. Younger travel companions are already well ahead.
    It is tough, considering that this morning I was still at sea level, boarding my flight….

It took me a long time to realize this dream. A trip to Bhutan, the only country where the government is measuring the happiness of its population. Traveling to Bhutan, back in 2005, was not as easy. Single, unaccompanied traveler were not accepted. Later I found that, while possible, it would have been hard to get around and needed much, much more time.

So I joined a group, organised by a seasoned Asia traveler out of Bangkok.
Traveling to Bhutan was not cheap either, since a fixed amount needed to be paid per day. This included hotel and meals and the obligatory local tour guide, but still…

Himalaya tops at the horizon.

We, is a group of international travellers, who will spend the next 2 weeks together. The tour leader is Peter Sayle, a German, who after residing for many years in India and Nepal, is organising specialised trips into Asia locations from his base in Bangkok.
We, is a group of Germans, Americans, British, Australian. All seasoned travellers, who are now out to experience one of the highlights in their travel ‘careers’.

Me, while what you call a seasoned traveller, it is my first trekking trip with a group and in the high countries of Asia.

Check in Bangkok’s Don Muang airport. It is already hot and the terminal is crowded. Soon to be replaced by a more modern airport at the East side of this spraling city. Suvarnabhumi Airport.

old style paper ticket – nowadays really hostoric

I am asking for a window seat, but I am told that the only window seats are available at the back of the aircraft and that is not for me.
Druk Air’s policy is to seat the Indian passengers, who are leaving at Calcutta at the rear of the plane, while Bhutanese and other travellers are being seated at the front of the aircraft.
In Business class are some Bhutan Government officials and military generals.

The check in clerk makes it sound as the Indian passengers are regarded as second class humans. Regardless, I want a Window seat and to his great disdane decide to take a seat at the back of the plane. Amongst the ‘Indians’. Later, from Calcutta the plane is emptier anyway and everyone can sit where they want.

The landing at Paro is certainly something special. It reminds me about at landing at Cuzco in Peru many years ago, where it seemed that the wing tips of our aircraft would scrape the mountain tops. But Paro is even more.

Decending into the foothills of the Himalaya.

After take off in Calcutta we are turning north and soon the snow covered tops of the Himalayas and the Mount Everest glittering at the horizon.

We overfly the first foot hills and the terrain is becoming very steep quickly.It is always eery to fly level and see the ground rising up to you.

Almost like the plane is soon going to crash.
But then the ground falls away and with it, we start our decend. I am sitting to the left and next to me are forested mountain sides. Leaning on the window and glancing forward I can see a valley opening up, with higher mountains on the other side.

Over to the right, the windows seem to be filled by the hill side. Suddenly we break out into the open and at the same time the plane makes a sharp turn to the right.
The valley of Paro opens on my window and the buildings of the town, placed left and right to the main road, come into view.

The plane still turns into another valley, now into the direction we came from.
Looking at a map, you can see that we flew around a mountain and the airport is situated right behind it.

Now we are close to the ground. Suddenly on the left the runway. The aircraft makes another sharp turn and seconds later we touch down with a bump.
Reverse thrust and we scream down the runway, braking hard.

View down Paro Airport in the direction from where we were landing.

Minutes later, we pull up next to another gleaming Druk Air plane and come to a stop on the tarmac. Adventure part one is completed.

Stepping on to the concrete, we feel the fresh, high mountain air.
Welcome to Bhutan.

to be continued

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