We’ve heard Bhutan’s royal airlines Druk Air has only 3 planes… ours was nice enough and plenty spacious, with only 26 passengers choosing from among 126 seats. This was our first indication that Bhutan would provide some relief from the congestion of Kathmandu. The clear views of Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu, Kangchenjunga foreshadowed cleaner conditions as well. These are five of the six highest peaks in the world, and our route from Kathmandu west to Bhutan’s airport in Paro skimmed across the southern face of them all. We began our descent near the highest unclimbed peak in the world, Bhutan’s Gangkhar Puensum.
Our approach into the narrow Paro Valley offered a fine aerial tour of Bhutanese architecture, which is regulated and uniform: new building exteriors must pay tribute to the Tibetan tradition of Buddhist architecture, with multi-coloured wood frontages, small arched windows, and sloping roofs. The Paro Airport serves as an example. Spacious, beautiful, efficient… we’re going to like the shift from Nepal to Bhutan.
In part because you get what you pay for – in Nepal our hotel cost $25/day… in Bhutan tourists must spend $250/day/person ($1k/day for our family of four)… so Bhutan is a budget buster. We exchange $1US for 67BTN (Bhutanese Ngultrum), and with our modest spending habits that goes a long way, so by policy we must splurge here. Sue has full tour packages arranged.
Our first guide Finn and his driver Karma met us in a new 9-seat Toyota van and whisked us off down the Paro Chuu river road past Dzongs (Bhutanese fortresses), ancient bridges, prayer flags, and stupas… off to the capital city of Thimpu and our inn, which is owned and operated by Finn’s uncle Tshae Won (sp?), aunt and their daughters Druma and TicTen. English is the primary educational language here, and the educated Bhutanese speak it with a neutral American accent… we’re told because they emulate American TV shows (ouch).
We were very pleasantly surprised by our lodgings – a major step up from Nepal – the rooms are large with wood paneling and conveniences we missed in Nepal like suitcase stands, sitting chairs, views, bathroom counters, hot water, armoir, decent wifi etc. Dinner was fantastic – like a six course home cooked meal with high quality traditional Bhutanese food – red rice, chili cheese, boiled chicken, “crows beak” beans, dahl bhat soup… even a bottle of wine. Ben was happy to have meat for the first time since we left the US.