I was staring out of my window at the endless morass of white and grey clouds when the pilot’s voice crackled on the microphone. “Ladies and Gentleman, in a short time we will be landing at Paro. Please fasten your seatbelts and put your seats upright. And if during the descent you see mountains closer than you have ever seen in your life, do not worry for it is the standard flight path we use every day”.
After this extremely unusual announcement the Airbus 319 dipped into the clouds. And then, as the plane emerged below, I saw them! It was an breathtaking sight. There were mountains everywhere. Green, red, brown, white. Ominously close. But the pilot adroitly guided our little plane through the valley into the runway of Paro, the prettiest airport in the world.
We were there for a three day trip. Me and my parents. It was a package offered by Druk Air, the only airlines that serves Bhutan. (And to put things in perspective, Bhutan has only one airport, which houses precisely two planes) It turned out that we went at the best possible time, end-August. The season starts in September, so the August traveler can simultaneously enjoy the best weather and the peace of having to share the experience with very few other tourists.
We were greeted outside Paro airport by Sange, our cheerful Bhutanese driver. We dumped the luggage at the back of his Toyota, and pretty soon we were on our way to Thimphu. The journey took about two hours, through beautiful roads along rushing streams and lovely orchards.
Thimphu is the capital, but it just a tiny little town in a pretty valley along the Thimphuchu river. Much of the magic of Bhutan emanates from the fact that the country is so sparsely populated. It is not like Nepal or most of the hill-stations in India. The beauty is unspoiled by human interference, and even the people of Bhutan seem to have a identity of their own, at harmony with their land and their mountains. Although India is the overwhelmingly larger southern neighbour, and Indian currency is more than welcome, all the Bhutanese men and women I met on the streets wore their national dress, an elaborate piece of clothing that resembles a gown and the country has an aura very distinct from India(again unlike Nepal, which looks like India with a few extra casinos).
We stayed in Thimphu for the next day, walking along the city, visiting the Takin forest (Takins are a rare species, it is somewhere between a goat and a cow, and is the national animal of Bhutan)
It is so lovely to just keep walking the roads of Bhutan, admire her beautiful countryside and her pretty people. One can do it for a month and still feel she has so much more to offer. Sadly we had just three days days, and so the next day we returned to Paro. Paro is also situated in a little valley like Thimphu, and our hotel was a collection of cottages on a lovely hillside. It is difficult to convey the magic of being in one of those cottages! The stream flowing far below and little lamps that glow in the dark and the forest nearby and mountains everywhere… I’ll come back to Bhutan some day, and stay in one of those cottages again, with someone.
We visited a few places in Paro- the museum, the monastery and a few nice sights.
But then it was time to return to Calcutta…at the end of three glorious days. And so, dear reader, ends this ditty, but if you ever get a chance, visit this magical country.