Druk Path – Arriving in Paro
Most accounts of traveling into Bhutan begin with the harrowing tale of the triumphant survival of the high-altitude landing at the country’s lone airport in Paro. I’m not going to lie, there were some unexpected last minute twists and turns as the pilot to jockeyed the plane into the correct position in the narrow dead-ended valley where the runway resides; however, at that point, it was completely out of my hands. I was either landing, or I was dying. That being said, I’d like to thank the good pilots at Druk Air for ensuring the former over the latter.
This trip’s genesis occurred somewhere north of 14,000 feet on the second morning of our trek in Ladakh. Lindsay and I were trying to figure out a “final” trip to cap our two year Indian adventure. Tentatively, we had planned a relaxing final few days in the Maldives. Breathing in the thin air and absorbing the mountain views, I uttered, “Fuck the Maldives.” One can always find a beach to relax, one’s not always a two hour flight from the world’s last independent Himalayan kingdom. Schedules were checked, and Sanjeev hatched and organized a short, late-season trek along the Druk Path in Bhutan.
As was the case with the prior treks, the first day is really about getting yourself in position. There isn’t much planned and you’re really just hoping that you don’t have travel issues that might delay. Since all landings in Bhutan are visual landings, there’s a very real chance for delays. Thankfully, the weather was clear and we arrived precisely on time, about three hours after our travel partner.
Joining us on the final adventure (and helping ensure we didn’t pay a small group premium for entering the country; something I learned after the invitation was offered) was my Dad. While our travel involved a two hour flight and half a time zone, his involved short layovers in Chicago and Tokyo and two nights in Bangkok en route to completely flip flopping day and night with the twelve hour time change. Regardless, he greeted us with a hearty wave and smile when upon our arrival at the Kichu Resort outside Paro that would be our home in Bhutan when we weren’t sleeping in tents.
The day’s activities were pretty simple; get settled, drink tea, and explore the main street of Paro. Paro is a relatively small town that has the country’s lone airport because it has the only valley capable of hosting landing jets. It’s laid out much like I would have imagined a town in the Old West and has a melodic little river running through it (which may have also lead me to the “west” comparison). As we meandered through the little tourist shops and admired the traditional Bhutanese architecture the sun dropped below the horizon; with that, the temperature dropped immediately. It was our first taste of what the Himalayas, even at relatively low altitudes (7300 – 13,000 feet), feel like in late November. Cold.