I was less than thrilled to board a tiny prop plane for our 45 minute flight from Kathmandu to Paro, the international airport of the Kingdom of Bhutan. Drukair operates in an alpine environment with a small fleet, and delays often occur due to weather or other operational issues.
Paro Airport is located in a large valley, surrounded by mountains that reach 3000m above the runway. The approach requires a series of sharp turns through the mountains and valleys, flying too close for my comfort to the mountain-tops. Flights are restricted to visual approaches only, but the only problem with that is the pilot doesn’t see the runway until he’s 500 feet above it. A few seconds before touchdown at 100 ft, the aircraft makes a sharp turn, with aggressive braking and full reverse thrust so the wheels touch down at the tip of the runway and doesn’t overshoot it and crash into the mountains. (Are you sweating yet?) The runway is 6500 ft long and flights are only allowed to land during the day and under ideal weather conditions. (no seriously, are you sweating now??) The pilot manually flies into Paro avoiding the high mountains, so clouds, wind and weather are not a great combo.
Cool right?!?! I was not excited to say the least, so decided to prepare myself with a little medicinal help to steady my nerves. Thank goodness I did. Take-off from Kathmandu was ok… a little bumpy but still ok. After 15 minutes and a cruising altitude of 23,000ft, the pilot announced we were flying past Mount Everest on the right side of the plane. I mean are you kidding me… it’s the stuff movies are made of. It was right there, poking through the clouds, giving us a beautiful show. The contrast of bright blue sky above fluffy white could was a perfect frame for this tall beauty. Seriously cool stuff.
However, we didn’t enjoy the views for long before the plane began to bounce, and I realized we were very close to the mountains. The pilot told the flight attendants to take their seats, and we began the sketchy descent to Paro. Full disclosure, I think I might have been expecting it to be more scary… but maybe that was the drugs.
The boys were having a blast, Hot Hubby was freaked out, as we banked hard left, then hard right as we weaved through the Himalayas. I thought for sure we’d be clipping the mountains with the plane wings we were that close. After about 20 minutes of swerving left and right, we suddenly dropped, and I could finally see the landing strip. It looked reeeeaallly small and far away. We hit the top of the runway fast and hard, and felt and heard the plane try to stop as quickly as possible.
The plane came to a stop, and I was so thankful, but realized when 50% of your fellow passengers are Buddhist monks, you have to at least have a fair bit of karma on your side… right? We deplaned to the most beautiful, clean airport we ever saw. The sun was twinkling over the mountains, the grey low clouds casting gorgeous shadows, and we headed into the cleanest immigration we have ever experienced. I mean the floors shined… for reals!
After collecting our bags we headed out to meet Gewang who was ready to share his incredible country.
It was a complete contrast from the humid, bustling landing in Kathamandu. It was clean, quiet, peaceful, and we immediately sensed that Bhutan was a very special place!