The Best Flight in the World
Onboard a Bhutan bound flight and flying out of the clouds towards the airstrip and into the enchanting Paro valley is like flying straight into a fairytale with the magical landscapes of the Himalayas as its setting. It is easily one of the most memorable touchdowns for first timers and a favorite return for the rest. Only opened to foreigners in the 1960’s, The Land of Thunder Dragon commonly receives international attention for its Gross National Happiness policy. As such, its natural beauty is sometimes overlooked. However, every traveler will tell you that you begin to sense its beauty before you even arrive. You sense it while in the air.
If flying from India or Nepal to Bhutan, we recommend that you get plenty of sleep the night prior. This flight pattern rides its passengers directly alongside the world’s highest mountain range, the Himalayas. These Himalayan snow-capped mountain peaks appear one after another like the spines on a sleeping dragon.
“Having flown for 30+ hours each week for nearly six years of my life prior to my first encounter with Bhutan, sky-scapes from the passenger window started to become rather mundane for me. That all changed with one flight to Bhutan. My first flight here felt like the first flight of my life all over again.”
- Matt DeSantis, Founder of MyBhutan
Midway through the flight, the captain’s voice will sound on the radio. His calmness in tone will not mirror what is to follow. Shortly after this announcement, a buzz of excitement will rush through the plane as passengers lean over others to get a peek of the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest.
If traveling between October and March, there is a high chance that you will see the full body of Mount Everest standing 8,848 meters tall. During this time, you are more likely to also see snow on the mountains. If traveling during the other months, chances are that you will see a bed of clouds with Everest’s peak being the sole thing resting above it. Both sights are fascinating in their own way.
For those who will never summit Mount Everest, the next best way to experience it is directly beside it while in the sky. With nine of the world’s fifteen highest peaks being on this range, others that you will see include Cho Oyu, Lhotse, Makalu and Kangchenjunga.
Tip #2: When flying to Bhutan, make the request to reserve seats on the left side of the plane. This will give you the best views of these mountains.
Bhutanese are also very well known for their top-class hospitality. Probably one of the most welcoming flights you will ever be on, the charming staff makes sure the whole experience is made to feel homely. You are greeted with a Kuzuzangpola (Hello) and full smile. With the slightest bit of turbulence, calming Bhutanese music is played. You will also likely be offered your first taste of Bhutanese food.
After you pass the high glacial mountain range, you will begin to enter a valley filled with lushly forested mountains, Paro valley. As one of Bhutan’s widest valleys, a carpet of paddy fields dotted with beautiful clustered villages will appear below.
Only eight pilots in the world are qualified to land at Paro Airport. Their high expertise is comparable to none. The approach to landing curves around 5,500 meter high mountains at 45 degree angles and so closely that you can see houses and monasteries on the mountaintops to your left and right. Everyone is usually gripped with excitement because of their amazement of the skillfulness in landing and scenery all around. The 2,000 meter runway out of sight to the pilot until a minute before the plane’s landing.
Tip #2: Become friends with the air staff. If you get lucky, you might be invited to the cockpit to experience the landing.
Even after the plane has landed and the doors open, passengers are still awe-struck. This time, it is by the spectacular landscapes surrounding the airport and the freshness of the air. Have I mentioned that Bhutan is our planet’s only carbon negative country? The atmosphere and the landscapes are so naturally pure that you forget you have to walk to the exit gate and, like everyone else, you just loiter around the aircraft to breathe in the sweetness of the Last Shangri-La while spinning in circles to admire its beauty.
Paro Airport, the only international airport in Bhutan, sits at an elevation of 2,235 meters above sea level. The spectacular and uncongested airport is located 6 kilometers away from Paro town and 65 kilometers from Bhutan’s capital city, Thimphu. An estimated 30,000 tourists use the airport each year, often for holidays in Bhutan.
Originally built by the Indian Border Roads Organization in 1968 so that it could be used as a helipad, the airport introduced its first airline service, DrukAir, in 1983. Bhutan Airlines, the only private airline (owned by Tashi Air Pvt. Ltd.), later followed.
DrukAir operates flights to India, Nepal, Thailand, Bangladesh and Singapore while Bhutan Airlines flies to India, Nepal and Thailand.
The dramatic landing once led a Forbes article to list Paro Airport as one of the world’s most dangerous airports. However, we believe that this feeling is actually the realization that you have entered the Last Shangri-La.
STORY BY KARMA YONTEN & MATTHEW DESANTIS
PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATTHEW DESANTIS, ANDREW STUDER AND FACEHUNTER (YVAN RODIC)