23 October 2019
Today is another travel day as we make our way to the next part of our adventure in Bhutan. We meet the group for the last time for breakfast and Andrew gives a lovely thank you speech to Kishor. Anne then has to leave for her flight. I am taking the first of my antibiotics this morning and decide that it would be best to spend the time resting before those of us heading to Bhutan need to go to the airport. At 11.00 Andrew, Doreen, Dennis and I farewell Kishor (and Jan and Les) and hop in the shuttle to the airport. It is strange having to think for ourselves rather than just following Kishor as we have for the last couple of weeks. Eventually we find the right entrance and get through bag screening. When we get to the check-in counters we discover that Dennis is booked on another airline, but we all get processed and make our way through immigration and more screening.
It is only a small airport with 5 gates for international flights and the lounge area is chaotic. We still have a couple of hours to wait so find ourselves a seat and discover Anne is just in front of us (although she soon departs to go back to Australia). Dennis’ Bhutan Airlines flight is scheduled to leave 30 minutes after our Druk Air flight but then ours shows up on the board as being delayed by an hour so we wave him off first. When we finally get onto our flight we have to sit on the tarmac for another 45 minutes but eventually we take off for the 45 minute flight at about 4.00pm. There are only quick glimpses of the Himalayas so we are not upset that we aren’t sitting on the left hand side of the plane. We wolf down the sandwich, cake and drink that is lunch for us and then we are landing in Bhutan (where there is a 15 minute time zone difference!).
Apparently Paro airport is the most dangerous international airport in the world and only a very few pilots are licensed to land there: there is a sharp right turn followed by a sharp left turn as you come in – but the Bhutanese pilots are experts. Paro is at 2,200m and apparently one of the only places that it is possible to put an airport.
It feels like a very different country from the moment we step off the plane – stunning airport buildings set in the mountains. The brightly coloured and ornate decorations continue inside, even in the baggage claim area. It is a very quick and painless process to get through (with the only hold up being the long queue for the ladies toilet!). All the locals seem to be coming back into the country with large screen TVs. We discover that there are also a whole lot of delegates for a climate change conference on board with us.
Outside we are met by our guide and taken to the bus to discover that Dennis has only just arrived as he had had to sit on the tarmac for 1.5 hours. We also meet our new travel companions (Ian and Margaret, and Ryan who are coincidentally all from Geelong in Australia) who flew in a little earlier from Thailand.
Our guide is Chenga and our driver is Jamba – they will be with us for the next 8 days. We have just over an hour’s drive (it is now dark) to take us to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan (2,334m). We are very impressed with the state of the dual carriage-way road that snakes through the hills following the Pa Chu (river) to its confluence with the Wang Chu, then up the valley to Thimphu. Thimphu is a compact town that occupies both sides of the Thimphu Valley, bisected in the middle by the Thimphu Chu.
Bhutan’s population is less than 1 million people – 760,000 in an area of 38,000km2; about 45% live in urban areas.
On the way we see lots of large photos of the royal family – particularly their beloved current king (Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, 39), his wife (Jetsun Pema, 29) and their son the crown prince (Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck, 3). The current king is number 5 in a line of kings. King #1’s father united all the regions of Bhutan that had previously been in civil war, and he became King #1 in 1907. King #3 brought Bhutan into the modern world when it joined the United Nations in 1971 but unfortunately died soon after.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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