31st March 2013
Bagdogra airport wore a deserted look in the morning. It sometimes feels good to only hear our own footsteps and nothing else. Druk Air to Paro was the only flight scheduled at that time from Bagdogra, a military airport also shared by civilian flights. Check-in was a cool affair with only surprise being handwritten boarding pass instead of computer generated!!
Apart from our family, there were few foreigners who were boarding that flight. Little surprised at low volume of passengers but then realized that the flight was just making a stop on the way from Bangkok to Paro.
Reaching Bagdogra was a task by itself. We first landed in Kolkata on the previous day, waited for four hours before taking our flight to Bagdogra. The new and renovated airport of Kolkata was much better than the previous dingy building. We had to spend a night in Bagdogra as the flight to Paro was scheduled early in the morning.
|New Kolkata airport|
The flight arrived on time but there were no signs of boarding even after 30 minutes. We were told that weather at Paro was bad thus delaying take off from Bagdogra. Soon, another Druk Air flight also landed in Bagdogra. It was not a scheduled stop but they had land at the nearest airport thanks to the bad weather at Paro.
Paro airport is surrounded by high altitude peaks making it one of the most difficult airports to land. Only eight pilots are certified to land at the airport!! Hence bad weather makes it extremely risky to land which no airways would like to take.
The wait ended when the ground staff gets clearance for boarding. But a surprise awaited us in the aircraft. One of our seats was already occupied by a lady from Bangkok. She shows her ticket which had the same seat number!! Air hostess calls one of the ground staff who then realizes that she had written a wrong seat number in our boarding pass. The issue was sorted quickly and we were offered a different seat!!
There are two ways to enter Bhutan. One is the land route through the border towns of Phuntsholing near West Bengal, Galepu and Samdrup Jongkhar from Assam. Other way is to take a flight to Paro, the only international Airport in Bhutan. At present only Druk Air flies flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Gaya, Bagdogra, Guwahati, Bangkok and Singapore. There are no border crossings on Chinese side.
The flight duration between Bagdogra and Paro is just 25 minutes. As soon as the seat beat signs were switched off, air hostesses hurried to serve juice and nuts to the passengers. They had only few minutes to finish serving which they did in a jiffy. The flight had already started its descent when serving was completed!!
The scenes got better as the flight descended. The snow clad mountains started appearing which provided a good photographing opportunity. My daughter was at window seat (obviously!!) and we quickly took turns to get view from window.
The flight descends into the valley at a very fast rate. Also the flight angle seams to go haywire with series of left and right turns which is not usually the case while landing. But here it has to wade through the narrow hills before landing on the airstrip.
Immigration was a simple affair. Indians do not need visa to enter Bhutan. Having a passport or voter ID is sufficient enough. The process is complicated and expensive for foreigners. They need to pay at least 250 USD per person/day. In addition, they need to be in a group and accompanied by guide. This makes Bhutan one of the costliest tourist destinations. Bhutan has very good relation with India and hence we do not have such restrictions.
When we walked from aircraft to immigration area, my daughter commented that the airport was looking like a Temple. Indeed it was!! And that was the reason for our trip to Bhutan!!!! To experience the place that is still virgin and original where traditions are well preserved and environment intact.
The journey to Bhutan had just begun!!