Our flight arrived 45 minutes early. “Only in Bhutan, never in Nepal,” grinned a retired army general shouldering his golf clubs and duty free at Kathmandu airport, heading for a weekend on the golf course.
On landing in the unique traditional Paro airport, the mountain air fizzed and buzzed with excited tourists snapping selfies and Bhutanese rejoicing on return. Having admired the white Himalayan giants from afar, passengers shared palpable relief at the safe descent with farmhouses, fields and rocky crags flashing by just beyond our wingtips.
The Druk Air dragons coil confidently on the orange yellow aircraft tails, and helpful women in colourful kira stamp us into the country from behind fragrant wood desks. Outside, men dressed in gho and knee socks take trouble to assist those caught out by the early arrival to link up with their drivers. Ah yes, the familiar magic of Bhutan is already weaving its spell.
I have been here many times, but am still hopelessly susceptible to the enchantment. When Bhutan first opened to tourism in 1974 it was not long before I had a chance to visit with our client, Lindblad Travel. The Swedish visionary entrepreneur, Lars-Eric Lindblad, represented Bhutan from a corner of his New York office draped in prayer flags and woven cloth, and first advised His then-Majesty on the ‘high value, low volume’ model of tourism.
Although I only got to Paro and Thimphu on that first visit, from the tortuous roads we spotted otters playing on the riverbanks, and I was captivated by the royal pageantry, ubiquitous archery, claret-clad monks and intense potency of the fortress dzong.
Read also: Adventures in a vanishing land, Lisa Choegyal