I was less than thrilled to board a tiny prop plane for our 45 minute flight from Kathmandu to Paro, known as the worlds scariest airport to fly into, and the only international airport in 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 mountains and valleys, flying too close for my comfort to the mountain-tops. Flights are restricted to visual approaches only, but the only problem is the pilot doesn’t see the runway until he’s 500 feet above it. A few seconds before touchdown at 100ft, 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 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. 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 the 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 but Hot Hubby was visually nervous, as we banked hard left, then hard right and 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 have a fair bit of karma on your side… right? We deplaned to arrive in the most beautiful and clean airport. The sun was twinkling over the mountains, grey low clouds cast gorgeous shadows, and we headed into the cleanest immigration we have ever experienced. I mean the floors literally shined… for reals!
After collecting our bags we headed out to meet Gewang who was ready to share his incredible country with us over the next five days.
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!
I’m a travel and health writer, digital brand consultant, breast cancer survivor, and supermom to two boys! I keep it real and share stories of raising an active family, life after a cancer diagnosis, and family travels around the world! Each story is shared with my dry, and sometimes naughty sense of humor.