Not usually a follower of weather forecasts, I had become interested in what the predictions were for Bhutan’s main International airport, Paro, over the past few weeks prior to my trip earlier in November. It turned out to be completely inaccurate, predicting rain, during their cold dry season! More accurate weather came up on my phone later when in Bumthang, although my weather app had no idea exactly where in Bhutan I was!
Famous for being one of the most tricky airstrips in the world, bad weather could mean extra nights in Delhi, awaiting a suitable window to fly in. As it happened, the predicted cloud and snow was completely wrong and we were lucky enough to enjoy a text book landing by the youngest pilot I have ever seen. (Or am I really just getting older?)
“…The Alps are always impressive,
but I hadn’t counted on flying past
the highest peaks on the planet!”
Leaving a steamy Delhi at noon, we soured high above the smog into the clear blue skies, eventually looking over farmland, tea plantations and then mountains. I had requested a window seat as I adore gazing down on the earth below, spotting remote villages, roadways and unusually patterns of agricultural land. The Alps are always impressive, but I hadn’t counted on flying past the highest peaks on the planet!
Our skilled pilot took us alongside the impressive peaks, that reached high above their clouded skirts. He kept us steady as half the plane left their seats to grab a view of this most spectacular sight. Cameras and phones were passed around the cabin as the lucky, like me, took shots that they could share , the spectacular view they barely glimpsed, as I was able to drink it in, wondering which one was actually Everest. As with most spectacular occurrences and visions, you recognise it only when it’s passed.
“Swooping like an eagle
between the tree-covered
peaks, we glided down
into the valley…”
It may have been tiredness, but it was quite an emotional experience, the first views of Bhutan with the beautiful Haa valley, increasing as we then descended into the Paro valley. Swooping like an eagle between the tree-covered peaks, we glided down into the valley, over the runway as the other side of the plane gasped at their chance of a spectacular view, the Tigers Nest monastery, Bhutan’s most famous landmark, clutching precariously at the cliff edge. A dramatic turn, and the pilot swung us all around to land gently along the immaculate and beautifully clean and tidy runway.
Flying into Paro, Bhutan
Round of applause
A spontaneous round of applause from the passengers boosted the young pilots ego as he was no doubt relieved to have landed us all safely. Only eight pilots in the world are qualified, and allowed, to land planes at Paro due to the hazardous weather conditions and limited channel between the Himalayan mountains.
“He kept us steady as half the
plane left their seats to
grab a view of this most
Unlike other airports, we were disembarking the only plane on the runway. The passengers took their time taking selfies against the backdrop of highly decorated terminal buildings. A giant sized portrait of the Royal Family greeted us all to their Kingdom . It was surprisingly warm with the sun shining on us, so I couldn’t claim the cold was causing my eyes to water.
The immigration hall was more like a beautiful galleried museum building and it wasn’t long at all before I was being greeted by my guide, just until tomorrow, Kargay. We had a driver too who drove us the 2 minute drive into the ‘city’ centre. I needed a SIM card for the phone they’ve leant me for my stay. Then a trip to the bank so I could change my dollars into the local currency, Ngultrum.
The high street was quieter than Castle Cary on a Thursday afternoon, a handful of tourists, each with their own guide, and a few locals. The bank was busy, and looking more like a scene from an American Wild West movie, the size of a small living room, with a long counter and three staff, plus a security guard at the door. People were handing in large sheets of paper in exchange for cash, again like the nineteenth century ‘money orders’. No bullet proof glass screens protecting the staff from a raid, or prying eyes from my business with the bank clerk.
I am sure that the whole of Paro now know how much cash I changed in one go. Hopefully I’d have enough to last me for my entire trip, there isn’t even an ATM where I’m going, and no one can tell me for certain if there is even a bank!
Bank notes were first introduced in 1974 after monetisation in 1968. They haven’t leapfrogged cash either and gone straight to contactless, very few establishments take cards at all. One Government website even says not to worry if you run out of cash, they’ll provide an IOU and you can just repay it on your return home!
As most trips to Bhutan are fully inclusive, there shouldn’t be much need for cash, just extra drinks, souvenirs and tips, I’m hoping that’s the case for my adventure!
I was relieved that the sun was warm, the town quiet and my guide friendly. We then drove deeper along the valley to my hotel, The Village Lodge, I couldn’t believe the view from the building as we arrived, and better still from my room, a perfect vista of the Tiger’s nest monastery! It is exactly the same view that’s been on my vision board for the past year or so!
An early dinner of incredibly tasty vegetables and chicken, a cross between Indian and Chinese flavours, as you’d expect from its geographical location. Then an early night, breakfast is at 5.30am as I have another plane to catch tomorrow, deeper into Bhutan, to Bumthang…