[A Brief Word about Photos: so it’s tough to upload photos to the blog with slow internet connections. I will load as soon as I can.]
Officially started to laugh out loud. Yes, I received a number of strange looks. We had to abandon the airplane as the flight computer “fix” did not work and so we were ushered back into the terminal and given vouchers for a stay at the Louis Tavern VIP Lounge. We were told that someone would alert us when the plane was ready to board again….I know you know that I know where THIS story is going.
So Halle, Natascha and I were escorted to the lounge and relaxed for a couple of hours. The escort said, quite clearly, that we would be alerted personally once the flight was boarding.
At some point into our stay, I thought and Natascha said, maybe we should check on the flight status? I walked to the counter and the staff could not determine what the status of our flight was. Hmmm. When all else fails, find someone else to ask….so I did. Headed downstairs to the customer service counter and asked “Have you heard anything about the Bhutan Airlines flight”? “Why yes sir, the flight is boarding on concourse E, gate 1 A”. This young lady offered the comment as a kind of aside….like oh, yes that’s happening now, why do you ask?
PANIC! I take two steps at a time to the second floor, yell at Natascha and Halle, WE HAVE TO GO NOW! Natascha bolts upright out of her comfy chair and we race through this tranquil place, out into the concourse (which is, of course, NOT concourse E!!).
We start to run through concourse G, past all of the shops and eateries, racing by people looking at us bemused at this spectacle….I glanced to the side as we passed concourse F, and I saw the glint in the eye of a security guard I know we saw hours earlier on our previous junket through the mall….I swear he was laughing!
All the while I’m thinking “we are going to miss our flight, we are going to miss our flight!” On we ran down two escalators, through the hall toward the gate. The gate number, E1A, was not readily apparent but we did see the giant TV screen with our flight listed as being at gate C2A! WHAT! The staff person at Louis Tavern said E1A! Natascha moaned, Halle said, “this is not happening.”
I found someone who looked like they worked in the airport and gasped, “Bhutan Airlines?” No words came from her lips, she looked at us (you know the look) and pointed…that way. Further down the hall a group of people were gathered. Was this our group? I scanned the faces for someone familiar….YES! A Japanese tour guide with her flag in the air, waving at her flock!
We made it! Again! That’s when I, literally, laughed out loud. It was a little maniacal. And yes people looked at me….I didn’t care. At this point in the journey, nothing could phase me.
We climbed in a van this time for the ride to the plane, still where we left it. We dragged ourselves up the stairs to the seats, collapsed in a heap….me still laughing, Halle worried at her crazy father.
Sitting next to me was Sanjay, a businessman living in Bangkok and headed to his company’s factory in Kolkata. Sanjay knows everyone. He knew everyone on the plane, walked up to the captain and asked for status updates. He always asked for information and received more details than any of us ever did. We sat together and I asked about his work and his life. He is, without question, a remarkable man. Born and raised in Kolkata, he is a regional director (most of Asia) for a large corporation that sells premium tea. I am grateful to have met such a well-traveled, knowledgeable person in the world.
The flight to Bhutan makes a stop in Kolkata. The plane travels north from Bangkok, over Yangoon, past the Andaman Sea and over northeastern India to Kolkata. While the city is massive, the airport is less so….almost tiny by most standards….an abandoned plane sits by the runway, overgrown with vines and covered with a thick carpet of green. The airport is surrounded by a wall with wire above a block structure. The terminal is new and includes about 6 gates for planes. After our 30 minute stop, we travel on to Paro.
The weather in July is rainy. Monsoons move across the Himalayan region slowly and by July are situated across India and through Bhutan. This weather pattern makes landing in Paro even more exciting than it already is. You see, the airport in Paro sits in a small valley and just about the only flat piece of ground in the valley is made up of the runway. On this particular flight, the landing was dramatic. The clouds obscured the view of the runway and we had to circle low over the mountains to see if all was clear. When I say “over the mountains” it looks like we are about 100 feet above the trees….I’m not sure I will ever get used to flying on a plane that close to the tree tops.
Anyway, the flight banked sharply left, then right, then left and hard down to the runway. It felt like we were in a dive toward the ground. When we landed we hit the ground, tossing us into the air, briefly. Then the pilot hit the brakes HARD and we quickly came to stop.
Landing in Bhutan is unlike any place I’ve ever been. Surrounded by mountains and a river on one side of the airport, the scene is idyllic. The new terminal structure is beautiful and typifies Bhutanese architecture.
The Customs process has been streamlined dramatically. In the past, you had to present your VISA have that checked by an official and then have your entry card checked against your passport. Now, the officials check your passport, scan it, and you are done.
Namgay was waiting outside for us. It’s hard to describe the feeling I have when I return to Bhutan and meet Namgay. It’s a strange mix of wonder and excitement. If you are reading this blog and have not visited Bhutan, I’m not sure any language can articulate the feeling. I’ll say this: there is something about the place that is unique. One scholar I read said, basically that Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) consecrated this land so that one’s experience of the place and the people would bring great joy and compassion into your being. I think Padmasambhava said something like this: “seven days in Bhutan is like spending seven years in Tibet”. He meant that the blessings available to someone coming to this place exceeded those in Tibet. Maybe that blessing is what I experience each and every time.
Maybe that’s why I come back to this place again and again.