Bhutan can be entered by air or road. The most common entry point by road is Phuentsholing, a town separated from India by an innocuous looking arch. Phuentsholing is a roughly three-hour drive from New Jalpaiguri
where the railway station is located or Bagdodara where the airport is located. S and W had taken the train from Cal to NJP. From there Rajesh, the driver, picked them up in his Sumo and had taken them to Thimpu via Phuentsholing.
P and self were flying down to Paro, Bhutan’s only town with an airport, from Cal by Druk Air. Druk Air is the national carrier and no other airlines are allowed to operate. LP had promised us that the flight would be good, and it certainly was. The Himalayas loomed upon us as we began to land and the pilot assured everyone that if it looked like we were going to crash into the mountains, we were not to worry. Not a traditional announcement but reassuring in the circumstances.
The plan was for S and W to drive down from Thimpu to the Paro airport and pick us up. They had been under the assumption that we would land around 11 and our phone call informing them that we would be reach by 9 had hastened matters but not sufficiently. P and self got our first taste of Bhutanese friendliness right there in the airport where practically everybody asked us if they could help. One of the more helpful chaps was an airport security officer called Jimmy. When the guys finally arrived and we were to leave he informed us that there was a DJ from Delhi playing that night in Paro’s only disc and we should try and make it. P and self felt like minor celebrities.
The first stop was to be the Druk Air office to cancel tickets Pallab had overbooked by mistake
Our first meal in Bhutan. We landed at a place called ‘Sonam Trohpel’ on Paro’s main street. P had made up her mind that she would live on momos for the entire length of the trip. We ordered other local specialities – Kewa Datshi <> and Hindsey Datshi
Post lunch visit was to our first and last obviously tourist place in Bhutan - Paro museum. Bhutan has a fairly long history with relics from as long ago as 4500 years ago. However most of the information tends to be on Buddhism and unfortunately after a while you tend to get a bit lost in the various important figures in Buddhism. The most entertaining collection seemed to be that of stamps. For some reason, Bhutanese people have been completely fascinated by events outside of their world, especially the U.S. and U.K. So there were stamps commemorating the landing on the moon and Walt Disney characters. The final floors housed a collection of Bhutanese vessels in a low-ceilinged, narrow passage where Agatha Christie murders could have been set. The curator had also cleverly tucked away vast urns in every nook he could find. A post prandial walk is never the best setting to admire the beauty of a 100 similar looking urns and we finally got out of the maze and left.
With a little bit of light walking done, we were ready to tackle Paro’s best attraction – the Taktsang Monastery. Tradition has it that Guru Rinpoche
By this time, the toll of waking up at 4 a.m. was beginning to tell on me and I was glad it was time to check into our hotel. That night’s stay was to be in Olathong. Fairly expensive by Bhutanese standards – 2000 rs a night whereas most other places are between 1250- 1500 rs a night for two people. The hotel was nice and comfortable though. The food at the buffet was terrible though. But all of us were on a high after the first day of the vacation and did not mind too much.