Four Countries in 2 Weeks: Turkey, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and India
Day 3 – Arriving in Bhutan, country 56. Meeting our guides, passing through Paro and hiking to the incredible Tiger’s Nest!
An hour or so on the Drukair flight from Dhaka, beautiful mountain peaks appeared outside our window. The Airbus A319 weaved through the mountains and eventually leveled out to land on the International Airport’s single runway.
Exiting the plane, we found the winter day to be much warmer than expected. The airport atmosphere was very casual. Tourists milled about snapping pictures with the plane. Everyone wandered into the immigration line when they felt ready and no airport staff seemed to care.
I noticed the poster with “Welcome to the Land of GNH” (Gross National Happiness) as we waited in line for the immigration officers. With a stamp to confirm our arrival, country 56 is official!
Right outside we found our guide who was holding a sign with our names. He introduced himself as Namgay and led us to our car where we met our driver, Shatu. We would spend the next three days with them.
Tourist must visit Bhutan with a prearranged tour agency (they also arrange the visa). We chose Journey to Discover Bhutan a registered agent that provided the best itinerary and competitive pricing for our trip.
You can find a list of registered agents here.
Leaving the airport, Namgay started giving us an introduction of the tour and the city. We passed by the Dzong of Paro and took a few pictures before continuing to downtown.
Our main purpose to stop in the city was to pick up a few tourist t-shirts.
The town was laid out in a grid around a main road which seemed very touristy, though the locals in traditional Bhutanese dress didn’t seem to be putting on a show for the tourists.
Taktsang Palphug Monastery (Tiger’s Nest)
To maximize our schedule, we would hike to the Tiger’s Nest on our first day. Though this site is usually visited towards the end of a itinerary to minimize the effects of altitude sickness, we must have seemed able-bodied enough to do it immediately.
After a short drive from Paro, we arrived in the parking lot. Besides the few tables of souvenirs it was hard to tell we were at the most iconic site of Bhutan. There were no ticket booths or tickets. We just started hiking.
It wasn’t very steep but the combination of the altitude and jet-lag caused my heart to race and a shortness of breath. I pushed through the pain, knowing we had to climb to the monastery at 3,120 m (10,240 ft).
About halfway up the mountain we stopped at Taktsang Cafeteria, a small cafe with an excellent view of the monastery. Along with half a dozen other tourists we indulged on tea and crackers. Birds and dogs also fought over the food.
Continuing up the mountain we soon arrived at the bridge blanketed with Buddhist flags.
Crossing the bridge we walked up the steps towards the monastery. We had to register with a police officer and check-in our cameras as there were no pictures allowed inside.
When we entered, there was a ceremony in session with monks blowing long copper horns and an instrument made of a human femur. We learned that a police guard disappeared a week ago and they were praying for his return.
Our guide explained the paintings and decorations from room to room. We also saw the original path to the other monastery which was a small sliver on the sheer face of the cliff. Looking down, we saw a 10,000 ft vertical drop.
After the tour, we started our descent down the mountain. They way back was much faster and easier as we used different muscle groups and were more acclimated to the altitude.
On the way back we stopped for a late lunch in an empty hotel named Takshang View. The food was slightly spicy and delicious. We enjoyed our first taste of locally produced Red Panda beer.
Tashi Namgay Resort
We then drove to our hotel in Paro. It was already dark.
After we checked in and settled into the room, Namgay met us in the hotel bar and treated us to some beers. Our conversation spanned many topics from Bhutanese culture to marijuana obsessed tourists they’ve dealt with.
After a dinner at the hotel restaurant, we retired for the night. We looked forward to the night’s sleep and the day ahead!