On October 10, 2019, we flew down to Bhutan from Singapore to trail blaze our way across mountain passes and jungles in the foothills of the Himalayan mountain ranges. Apparently only a handful of pilots have the skills to maneuver between the narrow peaks of the Greater Himalaya and land at Paro International airport. We landed on the 6,500ft long runway unscathed, the weather impeccable.
A couple of days before the flight, it hit me. I googled ‘most dangerous landings’. Paro made it to the top of the list. I practiced the art of calm and sent the article to the group I was traveling with.
Before you decide to cancel your yoga retreat in Bhutan, get your pranayama on because the landing was really smooth. We were so close to the mountain ranges that it was actually mind blowing, if anything, the journey started here on Druk Air. I was anxiously prepared for something like the Nepali Himalayan flight back in the day on a super light aircraft that trembled its way to the peak or the sudden descent at Nepal Airport. It was nothing like it.
As soon as we stepped out of the plane, a feeling of peace washed over me while gadgets of all sizes were up in the air. At 2,200m in altitude, the other passengers were all tourists setting out on the same journey, oftentimes bumping into one another at monasteries, buffet lines and/or hotels. The Bhutan Tourism Board limits the number of tourists it takes, we must register with a travel agency, pay a daily fee and comply with a pre-approved itinerary.
We met with our tour guide who welcomed us, ran through the meat and potatoes (pun intended), dos and don’t and then asked for a copy of our itinerary. My ears perked up Instantly! I asked why. He wanted to be certain the arrangements were in sync with his. Waaa? Okay, let’s do this.
We were headed to Thimpu to attend the last day of Thimpu Tshechu Festival and stay the night. We stopped at Tamchog Llakhang Monestary along the way. It sat across the Paro river dedicated to the Saint, the Great Bridge Builder, who built iron bridges across Bhutan and Tibet. In order to get there, we walked across said bridge and one of the few remaining bridges. It was adorned in colorful prayer flags blowing in the wind. Each color holds meaning and together symbolizes balance. The Llakhang was a beautiful structure with congruous and harmonious colors that reawakened my enthusiasm for Tibetan Buddhist architecture. The interior was filled with religious inscriptions on pillars and walls, cultural paintings, intricately designed wooden structures and my favorite – the wheel of life.
We arrived at Thimpu’s city center to have lunch and collect our ‘traditional’ dress to blend in with the locals. Gho for men, Kera for women. We wrapped ourselves up and headed to the courtyard of Tashichho Dzong, the seat of Bhutan Government, with thousands of locals who had come from neighboring districts to join in the celebration and prayers. We watched a couple of mask dances and short skits that displayed religious beliefs. After a while, my attention span dwindled as the audience grew larger and larger. I felt trapped and wanted to leave ( mild ‘agarophobia). The pigeons flying closely agitated me (fear of pigeons) so double whammy phobia. On our way out, we nipped into the Tashichhodzong courtyard behind the main festival arena and visited the temple that sat above the courtyard. It was definitely more tranquil, although I was on full on alert over a flock of pigeons flying around.
We called it a day and checked in the hotel that stood right across the National Memorial Cchorten. The golden spire shimmered as the sun set. The eyes of the Buddha were omnipresent. People were circling around, turning the prayer wheels and chanting their prayers.
Our evening meal resembled lunch. Meals were typically either chicken or fish (imported from India/Thailand) and locally grown veg and red rice. I stuck to the carbs and got a kick out of the chillies.