Bhutan is a country that has always intrigued me. The more I found out about this remote little mountain kingdom the more I just had to see it for myself, so on the 9th of November 2008 I flew into Paro airport and started my eight day Bhutanese adventure.
The hills around Paro airstrip are so high that the pilots can’t use autopilot, instead they have to land using visual flight rules. Because of the special training that the pilots need, Drukair is the only airline that flies into Bhutan. Even with the complicated landing the flight was smooth as butter, and as the plane banked sharply over the mountains we could see breathtaking views of Paro valley below.
I made the fatal mistake of assuming I could use my visa card at the airport to withdraw money, unfortunately there weren’t any cash machines… in fact, during my eight day trip there wasn’t a single working ATM in the whole country! This left me in a bit of a tricky predicament, and I spent a whole precious evening on the internet figuring out how to transfer money to myself. So be warned, if you’re going to Bhutan get your cash ready before you go.
I should probably mention that Bhutan isn’t the easiest country to visit; you can’t just turn up with your backpack and expect to check into a hotel. To travel there you’ll need to pre-book with a tour company and they’ll plan a full itinerary for your trip. You’ll get your own guide and driver who’ll meet you at the airport and stay with you the whole time.
My guide was called Yeshey, and unluckily for me he was a complete novice to the world of guiding. He’d only just finished his degree in culture and English at Paro College and was out to make a name for himself. My driver was Kargyel, he was a lovely guy but didn’t speak a word of English. I tried to strike up a few conversations but I never got much more than a smile or a laugh out of him. I think my bad pronunciation of Dzongkha (the Bhutanese language) was an endless source of amusement for him.
It’s been made a legal requirement for men and women to wear their traditional dress during the working day. The men wear a robe called a gho and women wear a dress called a kira.
I asked Yeshey how he felt about being forced to wear his Gho all day, but he didn’t seem put-out about it. Although I noticed he was quick to don his jeans, t-shirt and leather jacket as soon as the working day was over.