BHUTAN!!! Oh Bhutan! Several years ago Julian and I felt privileged to hear the Prime Minister of Bhutan speak at a conference. Then and there we both decided that someday we must visit the country who replaced the GNP with the GNH - the Gross National Happiness Index as an indicator of success, and continues to hold a negative carbon footprint. When we started planning this trip, Bhutan was the first country on the list. It was also one of the most difficult to arrange. Thanks to Shepherd Aero, visas and permissions were granted (thank you Travis) and we arranged activities through the company, Bhutan Gateway Travel (http://www.bhutangateway.com).
One of the challenges of entering Bhutan is the terrain. It is not a simple thing to land at the Paro International Airport. Sure, to land in Kathmandu, Julian was required to undergo special training ... but to land in Paro, a navigator from Bhutan is required. When we arrived at the Kathmandu Airport, we met Captain Kinga, a well-experienced pilot of Drukair Airlines. He sat in the right seat beside Julian during the short flight from Nepal to Bhutan, while Travis and I sat in the back, taking more photos than I had in total of the trip so far. Why? Well, the Himalayas, man! I never imagined that I would see the Himalayas, particularly Mt. Everest. It was a glorious day, full of sun and puffy clouds, and...well. The Himalayas!
Under the kind guidance of Captain Kinga, Julian maneuvered the plane around a mountain or two on the way to final approach, and we landed at one of the most beautiful airports I’ve ever seen. After processing our passports, gathering our luggage, we were met outside the terminal by our guide for the next two days, Chencho, and our intrepid driver, Tashi.
Chencho approached us with the traditional white silk scarf for our necks, a ritual of welcome and respect and Travis, Julian and I headed to the almost indescribable Hotel Zhiwaling to freshen up. Built by traditional means using traditional craft and philosophy it is a thing of beauty. We stayed outside the main building in smaller, two storied “cottages”. I hope the photos do them justice.!
Chencho and Tashi picked up Julian and me after a bit of a rest and we headed first to a typical restaurant for lunch. All that beauty made us hungry! Rice, chicken, salad and green chiles with cheese...delicious. We visited the Paro National Museum to soak up some of the history and culture of Bhutan. We were especially entranced by the masks and the stories behind them. Then we went to Paro Dzong (fortress). The ride to get there was exciting, often on a single lane road and lots of traffic. But Tashi is a pro. We were walking in when a group of Indian tourists (about 10) grabbed us and asked for a photo. So if you ever see such a photo of us you let us know....we still don’t know how or why it happened, but it was fun. The fortress is large, imposing and very effective! We explored the town of Paro for awhile, looking for some good shoes for Julian as we were anticipating quite a hike the next day. And there were a couple of shops for browsing too. Travis joined us for dinner, and it was great to debrief about the day of adventurous flying together.
We slept soundly. We left the wooden casement window open for the lovely mountain air and the sound of the busy river below. I woke up around 5:00 and stood at the window for awhile, amazed at this trip, and being in the proximity of the Himalayas, of being in Bhutan and appreciating the deep traditions of the country we had already seen. A glint of something caught my eye on the road. I finally made it out to be a monk in very traditional saffron robes walking quickly to his temple, by the glow of his iPhone!