Some months back, I had the fortunate opportunity to visit the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, a tiny nation sandwiched between 2 giant neighbours, India and China, and is what seemingly like a paradise to a lot of outsiders.
A highlight of this trip was landing and taking off from Paro airport, arguably one of the world’s most challenging. Sandwiched between hills, manouvering into the airport is a mark of airmanship. It has many twists and turns. We were rewarded with true majestic views of the highest mountain range on the planet.
Here’s the story. Hope readers will be inspired to visit this beautiful country, that prides itself as being the land of happiness.Part 1
Flight: B3 701 (BKK-CCU-PBH)
Class: Business Class
The trip started in the wee hours of the morning at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport. At 5am in the morning, the check in hall was quiet unlike the usual times we have been going through this airport.
Bhutan Airlines check-in counter. It is truly quiet with only about 20 passengers today. Yes, you read it right, 20 passengers! I didn't miss a digit either.
As business class passengers, we were invited into the Miracle Lounge, which is a contract lounge used by various airlines.
The lounge was empty at that wee hours of the morning. It is spacious and felt very pleasant for us.
The range of food available was also quite extensive, even prior to 6am. and quite tasty.
Embarkation was from Gate D1A, a bus gate - a first for me from BKK airport.
The entire plane load was there. About 20 passengers today. Really.
Business class passengers were transported by van.
While economy class passengers were transported by bus. Yes. They just need one trip to accommodate everybody.
Our first sight of Bhutan Airlines. It’s in bright yellow livery. The other airline, the bigger one, Drukair is also in yellow. Definitely quite striking
Business class seats look comfortable enough for a regional flight. It’s broad and spacious.
Unique motif at the headrest area. At least it has some character.
Legroom is just average
Menu on today’s flight. Very simple. The dishes don't sound like a 5-star.
And a separate drink menu. With very generic items. Red wine. White wine. But is unknown where is the origin.
On the ground, drinks were served, and we started with sparkling wine. At 6am, yes! Unfortunately, it’s an awful one. Don’t ever take this. Also note that the menu reads "champagne" and by right, I believe only sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region can be called champagne. This definitely did not come from there.
The crew was friendly and warm.
At about dawn, we started our taxi.
And then we were airborne shortly.
The first segment of the flight was uneventful. Just clouds after clouds after clouds. But it was a beautiful scene. A nice start of the vacation.
Breakfast. Well, it's just ok (I am being polite because Bhutanese are really very very nice people).
The other option is fried rice. Also just ok. Slightly better
No more Bhutanese alcohol. Happy with juice and coke.
The toilet is clean, with flower being a nice touch.
And 2.5 hours later, we descended over Kolkata.
And had a short layover at the airport. Bhutan-bound passengers remained on board. 5 passengers got off, and about 10 passengers boarded. Really poor loads on this flight.
The next segment between Kolkata and Paro is more interesting. Please sit on the left side of the plane for better views.
This is a short segment of less than an hour. But there is still snack service which is relatively substantial especially the chicken sandwich.
First we crossed the mighty Ganges. Initially I thought this was the Brahmaputra but looking at the map, it is the Ganges
The weather was not fantastic, the flat plains started to fold up into the lower hills.
First glimpse of snow-capped peaks.
And then slowly and steadily we descended towards Paro airport.
This is one of the most incredible landing. Please check out the video in the link below because it is the only way to truly appreciate the challenging nature of this route.https://youtu.be/aU-FBVZyMJ4
We landed on a cold winter morning, slightly cloudy, and not too windy.
There is no taxiway, so we made a 180 degree turn at the end of the runway.
And finally stopped next to a Drukair ATR
One final look of the A319 that had brought us here.
On arrival at immigration, we were held back as our visa didn’t get transmitted properly to the authorities. We were “detained” in the officer’s office. But he was really warm and friendly. Bhutanese people are so friendly and welcoming, right from the immigration guy, very good first impression.
Since the visa didn’t get sorted for quite awhile, we were treated to a nice warm cup of butter tea - an acquired taste but I had acquired it during many extensive treks into the Himalayas since many years. It’s a first for my Friend and he was quite put off.
We made time to plane spot during the one hour or so of ‘detainment’. Late morning is "peak hour" at Paro so planes travel up and down the single runway without taxiway and it is quite a manouvre for everyone.