Bhutan: Arrival in Paro

View of the Himalayas from the airplane

View of the Himalayas from the airplane

After a quick stop in Kolkata, we’re back in the air heading north towards Bhutan. We glide above the cloud line with an eye-to-eye view of the snowy Himalayas from the left side of the airplane. It’s November. There, winter has come early or maybe it never left.

Here, the plane banks right and we begin our descent to Paro. With clear visibility, we see the mountains below us in warm autumn shades of brown and green. As we descend, the valley encroaches on both sides of the plane as the pilot begins threading the needle of the narrow channel leading to the airport. After landing at Lukla and Tioman Island (a story for another time) this approach takes third place — thrilling but not scary. With one last sharp dip to the right, the wings level out and we touch down in Bhutan.

Paro’s airport welcomes us with its authentic personality. We see our first glimpse of Bhutanese customary dress in the men on the tarmac wearing ghos with wide white cuffs, belts around the waist, long socks and leather shoes. Passing quickly through the arrivals area we’re greeted by Fin, co-owner of Bridge to Bhutan. Professional, articulate, educated โ€“ he is everything you hope for when you arrive in a foreign country and meet your travel guide for the first time. He loads us quickly into his SUV and we’re on our way to Thimphu.

Along the way we stop at Tachog Lhakhang, a suspension bridge and temple built in the 16th century by a Tibetan Saint. Aside from the prayer flags and temple architecture, the surrounding landscape looks a lot like Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, reaching high around us. The Paro River sweeps under the bridge in clear blue-green as we cross over and back, then continue our journey to Thimphu.

Thimphu, Bhutan

Thimphu, Bhutan

We arrive in Thimphu as the sun drops behind the mountains. The low-rise streetscape again looks familiar, like a mountain town in the French Alps or Bavaria. We head to our hotel while Fin tells us a handful of interesting facts about Bhutan: the only country without a traffic light; only one escalator in the whole country; a building code that requires architecture to adhere to traditional Bhutanese style; dry Tuesdays during which no alcohol can be bought or sold; an emphasis on local organic farming rather than importing fruits and vegetables; no driving in town centers on Tuesdays in support of “Pedestrian Days”; and no smoking or tobacco use anywhere — it’s outlawed.

Hotel Pedling, Thimphu

Hotel Pedling, Thimphu

We arrive at Hotel Pedling where we unpack for the night. Free WiFi, modern facilities and a toasty interior guarantee a good stay. But before we call it a night we’ll stop for dinner at a restaurant nearby.

The ubiquitous chili pepper

The ubiquitous chili pepper

Ama Restaurant introduces us to ema datshi, a traditional Bhutanese dish of chilis and cheese. Most restaurants and homes have their own recipes, which vary widely in spiciness, but accompany any of them with a Druk 11,000 beer and you’ll find that sweet-hot appeal. Along with the ema datshi, we enjoy potatoes, marinated chicken with vegetables, naan, rice and a curry dish.

Trashi Chhoe Dzong

Trashi Chhoe Dzong

We end the night with an evening drive to view Trashichhoe Dzong, a government building which glows in the evening darkness. With the hint of the mountain behind and all that we’ve seen today, it’s clear there’s more beauty and adventure ahead!

Until tomorrow,
Kelly

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