SQueeze
Topic Author
Posts: 297
Joined: Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:33 pm

Bhutan Airlines and Paro airport's incredible dangerous approach

Thu Jul 04, 2019 12:09 pm

Background:

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)
Aircraft: A319
Reg: A5-RIM
Seat: 2A
Class: Business Class
Load: 8/12



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.

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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.

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As business class passengers, we were invited into the Miracle Lounge, which is a contract lounge used by various airlines.

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The lounge was empty at that wee hours of the morning. It is spacious and felt very pleasant for us.

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The range of food available was also quite extensive, even prior to 6am. and quite tasty.

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Embarkation was from Gate D1A, a bus gate - a first for me from BKK airport.

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The entire plane load was there. About 20 passengers today. Really.

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Business class passengers were transported by van.

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While economy class passengers were transported by bus. Yes. They just need one trip to accommodate everybody.

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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

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Business class seats look comfortable enough for a regional flight. It’s broad and spacious.

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Unique motif at the headrest area. At least it has some character.

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Legroom is just average

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Menu on today’s flight. Very simple. The dishes don't sound like a 5-star.

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And a separate drink menu. With very generic items. Red wine. White wine. But is unknown where is the origin.

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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.

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The crew was friendly and warm.

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At about dawn, we started our taxi.

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And then we were airborne shortly.

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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.

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Breakfast. Well, it's just ok (I am being polite because Bhutanese are really very very nice people).

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The other option is fried rice. Also just ok. Slightly better

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No more Bhutanese alcohol. Happy with juice and coke.

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The toilet is clean, with flower being a nice touch.

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And 2.5 hours later, we descended over Kolkata.

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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.

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First we crossed the mighty Ganges. Initially I thought this was the Brahmaputra but looking at the map, it is the Ganges

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The weather was not fantastic, the flat plains started to fold up into the lower hills.

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First glimpse of snow-capped peaks.

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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.

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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

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One final look of the A319 that had brought us here.

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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.

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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. ;)

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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.

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SQueeze
Topic Author
Posts: 297
Joined: Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:33 pm

Re: Bhutan Airlines and Paro airport's incredible dangerous approach

Thu Jul 04, 2019 12:10 pm

Part 2: About Bhutan, for me, paradise on earth

I didn’t expect Bhutan to be great. I have been going in and out of the mountains in India, Nepal, Tibet, and I know there the mountains are bigger and steeper, and more impressive.

But I changed my mind in this trip. Bhutan is a favourite. It has a timeless quality to it. It has preserved its culture, its environment above rapid development and the feeling is palpable. It feels like travelling back in time. This trip is a highlight in my many years of travel and this comparing to the 60 other countries I had been to.

The first thing that struck me here is the clarity of water. Incredibly pristine.

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And the timelessness of the space. Life seems to have gone on here the same since centuries.

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Temples and monasteries are venerable spaces and the atmosphere is always quaint and serious. And hardly any tourists!

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The fields and the villages have little changed.

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We like this unique village of penises and we had so much fun!

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Penis parade!

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When in Bhutan, don’t miss the opportunity to wear local costume. Everybody is wearing it.

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The food is truly spectacular. Rich, creamy, spicy, and savoury. It’s unlike anything we can find elsewhere, neither Indian nor Chinese. More like a marriage of both with so much cheese and cream, also like French, but spicy. My favourite is the datshi. Top right. Chilli and cheese essentially. So perfect with the brown rice.

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The last day we went to do the must-see of Bhutan. Tiger’s Nest Monastery.

I have to warn. It is quite challenging even for seasoned trekker like me.

But oh my god it is truly spectacular. In fact none of the photos I had seen or taken do justice to how impressive this place is. It always appear small in photos but in reality, it is huge, so we miss out the scale and monumentality of the place without visiting.

We are so high up that the cliff seems bottomless. Awe inspiring.

Pictures from the trek up:

First sight of the monastery on top of the cliff in the distance. From here, it's 2 hours minimum.

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It looks small but it's actually a huge multiple level building. Photo does not tell the real thing. Misleading

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You have the option of taking the pony, like my friend, for half the journey. The lower levels are quite forested

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And then the vistas start opening up

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At the midpoint. Great spot to rest. And where the pony had to be left behind.

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Another hour and then one should reach another viewing point where most of the photos are taken. It looks small but it really is not. The scale is hard to believe without being there oneself.

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From the view point, it’s a steep 200+ steps down and then back up. Be ready for some tough exercise. ;)

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This is a sacred place. No photographs are allowed inside but I can’t describe in words how beautiful and awesome the interiors are. The Bhutanese maintain their holy places very well.
 
SQueeze
Topic Author
Posts: 297
Joined: Thu Mar 20, 2014 11:33 pm

Re: Bhutan Airlines and Paro airport's incredible dangerous approach

Thu Jul 04, 2019 12:11 pm

Part 3

Flight: B3 700 (PBH-CCU-BKK)
Aircraft: A319
Reg: A5-RIM
Seat: 1A
Class: Business Class
Load: 4/12


After a short 4 day stay (basically also just about how much I can afford at the moment), we have to go home. Note that there is a minimum charge of USD220 per head per night to be paid as royalty to Bhutan. It is expensive although this figure includes hotels, car, and guide, and all entrance fees.

Paro airport building is in Bhutanese style. And yes, we find out that all buildings in Bhutan must have Bhutanese design ! It’s a rule.

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The spacious check in hall with barely any passenger. Yes, today’s flight was also about 20-passenger load.

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So every country has the usual standard prohibitions of no powerbank, no weapons etc. Only in Bhutan, we have more prohibitions of these unique items!

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We travel business class. So we have Fast Track. But we only find ourselves laughing at this this. Fast Track when it’s essentially just us in the airport building. This is so non-Bhutanese. Please save paper, and save the trees.

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The lounge is very simple.

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But quite stocked up in drinks, not so much of food.

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Waiting area below.

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Time to board the flight back to Kolkata via Bangkok.

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Same seats.

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But I picked the first row now since the other rows have less legroom.

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Just noticed that there is leg rest in other rows

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And all seats recline like this

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Welcome drink is juice. No more Bhutan Airlines alcohol after the first sparkling wine. ;)

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Soon after we were in the air and wow, the following is easily the most spectacular flight I have ever been on. Truly jaw-dropping scenery.

Looking back towards Paro airport and how it sits on the valley

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and then it was all a parade of the greatest mountains on the planet. And this is probably the most scenic flight i have ever taken

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First up is Bhutan's highest peak, Jomolhari (7326 m)

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And then next is Kanchenjunga, India's highest (8,586 m) and also third highest on the planet. Massive and majestic.

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Last but not least, the tallest of them all, Everest (8848 m) . There are two peaks in the centre of the picture, i think it is the one on the left.

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Past the mountain range, the rest of the flight feels uneventful. So it's time to do some browsing.

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The inflight magazine contains info of the mountains which is very nice.

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And the safety card has a unique local touch to it

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It was a short flight to Kolkata but snack service was provided too

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Lunch was served between Kolkata and Bangkok. And it was better than the inbound flight.

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I had the Bhutanese selection. The datshi on the left side of the main course tray is a bhutanese staple of cheese sauce. This is getting to be my favourite dish of the world.

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My friend had the continental selection.

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Final thoughts: This was a special trip. Bhutan is just such a magical place. The flights in and out are highlights on themselves. I would not compare food, seats, meals, etc against other airlines or rate them in any way. Because this is never what Bhutan is about or why I am inspired to share this story.

Thank you for reading.
 
9w748capt
Posts: 1554
Joined: Sat Feb 02, 2008 10:27 am

Re: Bhutan Airlines and Paro airport's incredible dangerous approach

Thu Jul 04, 2019 6:15 pm

Fantastic report! Very much enjoyed it. Bhutan looks like a fascinating place to say the least. Also I had no idea Bhutan had another airline! One of the very few places that's still off the beaten path. And wow the food looks amazing!
 
767747
Posts: 2200
Joined: Wed Jan 26, 2005 10:08 am

Re: Bhutan Airlines and Paro airport's incredible dangerous approach

Fri Jul 05, 2019 2:49 am

Amazing report and great photos. It looks like you had a wonderful trip. I really like seeing reports about airlines that are not very well known, and what they offer. Bhutan Airlines looks like they have a very nice product, and glad to hear the service was so good.

Thank you for sharing!
I love to fly!
 
SaschaYHZ
Posts: 263
Joined: Sun Aug 10, 2014 4:41 pm

Re: Bhutan Airlines and Paro airport's incredible dangerous approach

Sat Jul 06, 2019 1:34 pm

Nice TR! Always love reading reports of Airlines I'm not familiar with, great pics. Looks like a great place to visit.
 
DFWFlyer121
Posts: 6
Joined: Tue Jul 09, 2019 6:05 am

Re: Bhutan Airlines and Paro airport's incredible dangerous approach

Tue Jul 09, 2019 6:10 am

Amazing report and amazing photos. Enjoyed it a lot. Bhutan is a great place.
 
blandy62
Posts: 205
Joined: Tue Jul 12, 2016 12:47 am

Re: Bhutan Airlines and Paro airport's incredible dangerous approach

Wed Jul 10, 2019 8:05 am

flew the BKK-CCU sector last year. Load was terrible, less than 10 passengers. Service in Y was very good and the food was quite nice
 
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airkas1
Head Screener
Posts: 7575
Joined: Sat Dec 20, 2003 7:01 am

Re: Bhutan Airlines and Paro airport's incredible dangerous approach

Wed Jul 10, 2019 3:43 pm

Loved the scenery photos! Thanks for sharing!
 
danman132x
Posts: 109
Joined: Tue May 24, 2011 4:57 pm

Re: Bhutan Airlines and Paro airport's incredible dangerous approach

Wed Jul 10, 2019 10:34 pm

Thank you for sharing. Really enjoyed this trip report, something unique for sure. Would love to visit here, amazing scenery. That landing video was incredible.

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