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Published: December 14th 2011
Flying Into Bhutan
Just one airline to fly in and out. Only 8 highly trained pilots of Druk Airlines to squeeze the plane between mountains, veer really really left, and land. Say WHAT?
The Himalayas. Shangrila
. Gross National Happiness. The Mystique of Tibetan Buddhism in Bhutan. Young and Newly-Married Monarch... A young King at 27. Prime Minister Thinley looking more like a Dalai Lama to me, speaking of a country's collective pursuit of HAPPINESS
. Monasteries which also house state offices and serving as fortresses, called Dzongs. Church and State ruling under one roof. Houses painted with phalluses, in memory of the Divine Madman, one of its revered saints. The same phallic symbols turned into hanging ornaments decorating both village houses and urban buildings. Mini-monks, bald chanting nuns and local folks --- so pious, so polite and so amazingly trusting. Where and how do I begin my story about my week in Bhutan?
FLYING INTO BHUTAN
At US $ 756 flying from Bangkok-Dhaka-Paro and back, it isn't
And This is Just the Airport!
Paro Airport. Right up there, in the Eastern Himalayas. A Dzong or Monastery at the end of the airstrip. Snow-capped mountains from a distance. Handpainted window frames adorning the single-storey airport building.
cheap. All that for just 3 hours flying time one-way on an Airbus A319. But flying Into Paro Airport soon made me realize why Druk Airlines --- your only option, by the way --- and its 8 highly-trained pilots can make it a truly awesome journey for you. Right from the first flight into Bhutan.
Seated on the left side of the plane, hanging by my window seat, the mountain range of the Eastern Himalayas fills the plane's window frame. Views of snow-capped mountains and a sky with different shades of blue and near-green magically bring on images of Shangrila. Then reality brings you back to your senses as the plane makes its approach. You fly into and between 2 mountains imagining pine trees brushing the soles of your feet. Whoa! And more whoa! as the plane actually veers left like a car turning left while hugging the cliff. For the life of me, I cannot explain why I thought of Star Wars as the plane squeezed itself between mountains, turned left and
No Traffic Lights in Bhutan!
Yet we did encounter a "minor" traffic. Must be "rush hour"? Was waiting, but never heard a honk. Not a single one.
MY FIRST GLIMPSE OF BHUTAN
Dripping with excitement, and wary of the minus 1 degree Celsius weather forecast, I threw on my pullover and wool coat as I exited from the plane's back door down the stairs into the tarmac. The sun's shining on us and it's pleasantly cold! I did away with the coat and savored the view. At the end of the runway is a Dzhong, a fortress cum monastery. Two guards carry on a conversation as they patrol the end of the airstrip. Druk Airlines sure know how to land this plane in Shangrila!
It would be another 1 hour from Paro Airport to Thimpu, the capital. The guide with us pointed out the "dead mountains" as we weaved around the mountains on our way to the capital city with no traffic lights. Farther out, we see snow-capped mountains much like what I saw from my window seat on the plane. Druk Hotel
is right in the center of the city. I like that it is small and not high-rise with a
A Newfound Tranquility
It must be what they mean when they talk of Gross National Happiness. Peace and joy in one's heart. Compassion. Detachment from the material world.
"family feel" to it. There is a wide courtyard with prayer wheels out front, waiting to be spun anytime of day. As soon as we checked in and lugged our suitcases into our room, we felt transported in time. Like expecting to meet Mata Hari
or at the very least, feel her spirit lurking in some corner of the room. This room is surely exotic even if the flat TV atop a handpainted chest of drawers presents an irony of sorts. A WEEK HERE, SO WHAT TO DO?
Somehow, I got a sense of how things work around here. Gross National Happiness, remember?
Each day consisting of 8 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep and 8 hours of non-work. No stress. No worries. No pressure. Hakuna Matata!
It took 2 weeks to get my flights confirmed. Another 2 weeks for my visa. I have landed in Bhutan and I have yet to get confirmation on the tours I wanted to book. I had my own shortlist of the Bhutan sites that are must-sees in my book. Hakuna Matata! I am meeting my Tour Guide and Driver the day after
Druk Hotel Courtyard
Early mornings, you find kids biking around. At 3 degree Celsius! They do that while I, all wrapped for winter, struggle to spin the prayer wheels in front of the hotel.
arrival and plan out what to do. How good is that?
It was enough to get me and my friend to calm down and trust that we wouldn't be "wasting" our week in Bhutan. And so we had a good first night in Druk Hotel, sleeping off our unnecessary worries. As they say here, HAPPINESS IS A PLACE.
And that place is Bhutan. More blogs to follow. Meanwhile, have a look at these teaser photos of sites we visited during our stay. Each one deserving of a blog dedicated to it : The Dzongs of Thimpu and Punakha , The Tiger's Nest Monastery , The Divine Madman's Village and Shrine, Zilukha Nunnery, Dochula Pass, The Memorial Chorten, The Weekend Market, The Monks and Mini-Monks, The Beautiful People of Bhutan. Just click on each of these topics to access the link and view more photos.
And for many of you who asked..........here's the email addy of my travel agent. You may email them directly for any arrangements.
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