The terrain is defined by the mountains and the rivers that slice their way through them. Water does not believe in straight lines and the roads follow the rivers and our flight followed the river as well. The pilot followed the winding river descending slowly, now the mountains were above us on either side as we twisted downwards. The runway came into view on my right clearly visible from the side of the plane. The only flat and level place I had seen since leaving Kolkata bordered to river with another mountain looming at the end of the runway. There was a jarring thump and the speed brakes sprung up and the reverse thrusters on the engine roared and we slowed to a roll. He went to the very end of the runway where the pavement opened into a large circle and then spun the plane 180 degrees and taxied back to the tiny ornate terminal building. This was it, I was in Bhutan the exotic land I had always wondered about.
Some folks seemed a bit distressed at the winding approach, but I found it rather fun. I expect is was because of my early experiences. My father was an aerial photographer during the war and did freelance arial photography in Milwaukee. Rather than hire a babysitter he would take the munchkin (me) along and plunk me in the back of the airplane. Small private aircraft do not have bomb bay doors to shoot from so the pilot bobbed and weaved so my dad could get an angle for his shots.
But the joy of travel exprience had happened back in Singapore. During the checkin at O'Hare they routed my luggage all the way to the Bhutan Paro airport once I explained what DrukAir was, I also had to explain what and where Bhutan was. The baggage tags were clear and accurate. One difference is that DrukAir (Druk is Bhutanese for King and DrukAir is the Royal Bhutanese Airline) is not part of any global alliance. So when I landed in Singapore I had to go through immigration and customs, enter the country and go to the checkin counter as there was no transit desk service. I handed the checkin lady my flight reservation and the baggage tag. It is normal procedure for the checking person to enter the baggage info and contact the baggage people to verify the transfer, but she refused telling me that they could only do it at the gate. I was puzzled but this is Singapore, where things go smoothly, little did I know were now engaging Murphy's law. The gate people called down and my luggage was nowhere to be found, it had not been transferred from the ANA flight and our flight was already boarding. DrukAir does NOT fly daily so it could take days for the luggage to get to Bhutan and I was only there a day and a half. To further complicate matters I returning via Bangkok not Singapore so they could not just hold it for me to pick up on my way back. The airlines only pay $500 for lost luggage which does not begin to cover the real costs. I was imagining myself meeting with the Goverment ministers in my travel clothes. The young Singaporian manager dispatched his people to look for my bag personally. I boarded the plane contemplating my options. The pilot came on the PA and announced there would a delay due to a baggage issue. The manager found my bag and the pilot held the flight. I wrote a message to the pilot thanking him and later received a written reply.
The hotel apparently forgot the tell their driver to pick me up at the airport but I found a driver for the hour long drive to Thimpu. We followed the winding Paro River to where it merged with the Thimpu river and wound our way back up to the city of Thimpu. After my 42 hour journey I showered, shaved, suited up and went to my first meeting.
Bhutan is primarily Vajrayana Buddhist and about half the population I saw in the city wore traditional robes as their daily attire. Within the government it was all traditional dress. The architecture is maintained in the ancient style and no buildings are taller than 6 stories. But some things have changed. The taxi driver reached inside his colorful robe and pulled out his iPhone to call ahead. The government offices were wooden with corrugated iron roofs weighted down with stones. Norbu, my host stopped checking his email when I arrived and pushed his laptop aside so we could talk. While the native language is Dzongkha which is written in Sanskrit, English is their other official language so communicating was not an issue. The people and culture felt calm and peaceful. I really enjoyed the people I interacted with. The balance of new technology and traditional culture and norms is a serious challenge and I wish them well.
This was one of the places on my bucket list and the experience was worth the 77 hours of travel