Bhutan Day 1 – Paro to Thimphu

[Here is the photostream of Bhutan 2013 Day 1, for those who prefer pictures to tell a story. 🙂]

Happy couple landing in Paro

Happy couple landing in Paro

It was a very early morning for us! Managed to squeeze in a 4-hour nap before leaving house at 3:45am Singapore time to attempt to catch a cab to Changi Terminal 1. We were quite lucky to spot 2 empty cabs almost immediately! Managed to check in by 4:15… By then, there were already many people who had requested for seats on the left side of the plane (so that we can see the Himalayan mountain ranges from the plane)! Looks like everyone got the same advice from their tour agencies, or maybe we are all using the same agency, DrukAsia, the only Bhutanese agency that has a branch in Singapore currently 🙂 We had initially tried to get an upgrade to business class, unfortunately there was only 1 seat available. However, the staff was very kind to offer us an alternative – the economy seats with extra leg space (1 row behind business class) on the left side of the plane, and hubby got me the window seat!!! Woohoo!! I haven’t had a window seat for the last 4.5 years :p Thank you hubby!!!

Went to get some breakfast after checking in, because I had started getting gastric pain… Argh! Of all days 😦 Perhaps we had woke up too early 😦 This has gotta be one of the worst Killiney that we had ever tried. My eggs were almost non-runny and the bread didn’t even look toasted… Oh well, must be due to the lack of competition early in the morning!

Killiney Kopi and Toast

Killiney Kopi and Toast

Complimentary from OSIM

Complimentary from OSIM

Since we were real early, I got to try out the OSIM foot massager while waiting for boarding…. haha! One of the perks of having an early flight, no need to fight with anyone for the massager, though I would really prefer a bed right now :p

Wah! We didn’t realise that in Changi Airport, we had to take a shuttle bus from gate C12 to our plane! Always thought that it would always be just an aerobridge. Anyway, it was a very quick ride and very soon, we were enjoying our very comfortable seats in the plane. In fact, the leg space was even wider than the 8 business class seats and hubby could stretch his legs all the way straight!

The flight was pretty much uneventful, no major turbulence, no in-flight entertainment except for newspapers and magazines, and came with a very heavy breakfast. There was the option of omelette or noodles (actually it was beehoon/rice vermicelli), and both came with muffin, croissant, yogurt, water and coffee/tea. Very filling indeed! Both were pretty decent vegetarian options, except that the omelette was surprisingly spicy. They also served juices/soft drinks halfway through the meal, ensuring that we were well-hydrated.

I was really sleepy and pretty much slept my way through the first sector flight to Kolkata. Only managed to wake up for food and drinks, plus reading of the in-flight magazine and The Straits Times. As we were nearing Kolkata, we were quite impressed by the sight of the landscape! Dotted with brightly coloured buildings; we spotted pink, lime green, bright blue, red, just to name a few; it looked like a really crowded place 😮

Plane landed without a hitch at 11:00 India time (GMT +6.5) and passengers heading to Bhutan continued to remain in the plane, while the rest got off. And this was what happened in a plane with mostly Singaporeans remaining on flight and flying to Bhutan for the first time… Some of them thought that they could change seats now, since this was supposed to be a direct flight to Bhutan (but broken up into 2 sectors). But some 30 minutes later, the new passengers from Kolkata heading to Bhutan started to board the plane, and there was a mad scramble for people returning back to their original seats 😮

The second sector of the flight was exciting! By the time we were done with the snacks (Brinjal humus with bread), we could see the Himalayan mountain ranges! Then the plane started making rather sharp turns left and right…. And we were flying so close to the hills of the valley when approaching Paro International Airport… We were very impressed by the pilot’s skills! 🙂 Just how close were we? Well, we were seated quite near the left wing and the wing looked like it was going to hit the hills… It is said that only 8 pilots in the world currently are qualified to fly a plane into Paro Airport, due to the landscape and the super short runway. Well, in any case, DrukAir (or Royal Bhutanese Airline, the only airline to fly in to Bhutan) has only 3 small planes in its fleet.

Passengers just walked leisurely on the tarmac

Passengers just walked leisurely on the tarmac

Landed safely and though it was 10 degree Celsius, it was sunny enough that only our faces felt cold. Like most of the passengers, we took our time to take some photos before joining the long queue to clear the customs. Next we changed 600 SGD into Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN), met our guide, Dorji Tshering, and our driver, Melam, and we were good to go!

We were going to travel from Paro to Thimphu today, and it was going to be a 1 hour drive on the windy roads. So we were quite glad that we got to stop in between for a breather!

First stop was at the Taschok Iron Bridge, which was one of the 108 suspension bridges built by Thangtong Gyalpo. The original bridge was much lower, and suffered the risk of being washed away by rapid river flow. Subsequently, 2 towers were built and the bridge was raised to a higher level.

Dorji was very knowledgeable and so we learnt about the colourful windhorse prayer flags, the paintings on the walls within the towers and mini stupas within caves. It was quite scary walking along the bridge made of iron chains, as we walked from one tower to another, where we could see very clearly the river with rapid currents underneath, and the bridge was swaying with the many tourists on it. But it was a lovely place, and reminded us of the scenic train ride that we had at Takayama, Japan.  For our way back, Dorji led us through the wooden bridge next to the iron chain bridge, apparently, the wooden bridge was meant for animals to use.

Iron Bridge

Iron Bridge

3 distinctive stupas

3 distinctive stupas

Next stop was the junction where the Paro River and Thimphu River met, with the three stupas of different style – Indian, Tibetan and Bhutanese. We had a mini geography lesson and also on hydroelectricity!

First lunch in Bhutan

First lunch in Bhutan

After which, we went to a restaurant within the main shopping district for lunch and it was surprisingly free of chilli! We had white rice (very tiny grains, different from what we have at home) pasta (mint flavour), diced spinach (slightly bitter), mixed vegetables (slightly bland mixture of carrots, cauliflower and broccoli), butter mushrooms (one of my favourite! Slightly salty so complemented the other vegetables very well) and fried chicken pieces coated with flour (which reminded us of 盐酥鸡, very nice too). The food was quite nice, except that they were served rather cold. The meal ended off with a delicious smooth milky strawberry ice cream, though I was wondering why were we having ice cream on such a cold day…

National Memorial Choten

National Memorial Choten

Prayer Wheels

Prayer Wheels

We continued on to National Memorial Choten, where Dorji explained the significance of the place and we got to spin the prayer wheels and also made a clockwise round around the stupa. We were impressed by the faith of the Bhutanese! They would spin the prayer wheels for thousands and thousands of times and perform prostrations (those 五体投地 type) over days to get blessings for themselves and their future generations. We saw many older folks here, and Dorji explained that it was usually at the older age that the Bhutanese would spend their day time in the temples to pray for themselves and also for their future generations.

Biggest outdoor Buddha statue

Biggest outdoor Buddha statue

We then continued on to visit the almost completed Buddha Point – being built by mostly Chinese and Indian nationals, and that was when the cold gusty winds really started… I was practically being blown away at one point! Super freezing! Dorji pointed to the nearby mountain under dark clouds, which we had thought was due to rain, and explained that it was snowing there and that was why there were very strong winds here. He then causally mentioned that we were going to that mountain the following day. My brains froze at the thought!

We then went on to watch some archery in action and we were simply wow-ed by the Bhutanese males! They were using the modern bow and arrow and shooting at a tiny target set at150m away. We couldn’t even see the arrow when it hit the target! It was that far! We knew that an arrow hit the target because of the sound, instead of by sight. The winds were blowing, and the bows did not have any special pointer to direct the arrows (unlike the Olympics, which have targets only 50m away), and yet some of them managed to hit the targets. Dorji said that it was more difficult to hit the targets using the traditional bow and arrow, so the targets were to be set at 130m away if traditional bows were to be used… still very far away lor!!

Look at how small the target is

Look at how small the target is

Aim and shoot!

Aim and shoot!

Our last destination before checking into our hotel was to visit the mini zoo to see the national animal Takin. The 10 min stroll up the gentle slope was a bit too strenuous for me and I was gasping for air by the time I reached the zoo, and had to rest a while to catch my breath back. I hoped I can adapt to the climate and altitude soon! Along the way in search of the Takin, we also saw a few roosters, very cute reindeers and a bambi-like sambar deer… kawaii ne!!!! The Takin had a goat head and cow body, and looked like a gentle giant! Dorji kept finding food for the animals to eat despite the signs telling us not to feed animals, haha! They used to keep the predators of the Takins in the same zoo, however, it was against Buddhism to kill, and the caretakers had to provide fresh meat for the predators everyday, so they gave up eventually.

Gigantic room

Gigantic room

It was almost 17:00BST (Bhutan Standard Time GMT +6) when we arrived at Peaceful Resort, where we would be staying for the next 2 nights. We stayed in Room 8 on the second floor and wow, the room is HUGE! Almost as big as our house lor! As we entered the room, cupboards filled up the entire right side of the corridor, where extra blankets and bathrobes were found. On the left was a bench to put our luggage. Next to the bench was the TV, followed by the sitting area with 2 chairs and a coffee table, and sufficient space to do a somersault. On the left of the bed, which was made up of 2 single-sized mattress, was yet another area with more drawers, full length mirror and a long table, with electric kettle, 2 bottled water, coffee and tea bags, and candle with matchsticks in case of blackouts. Oh, and there was a big bathroom too! Amenities such as toothbrushes, shower caps, shampoo, soap, moisturizer, comb and hairdryer were provided as well. There was also a balcony with 2 chairs outside, but since it was too cold and there was not much of a view, we didn’t use them.

100 litres of hot water was available for shower, so if the first person used up all the hot water, the next person would have to wait 20-25min for hot water before showering. We managed to shower with the first 100 litres, so this wasn’t an issue. There were a heater on each side of the bed, a heater near the TV, and one more heater in the bathroom, so the room is sufficiently heated when we max them out at Level 8. The only gripe was that the bathroom had marble flooring, which was super cold! The shower area was covered by curtains, but areas outside would still get wet.

First dinner in Bhutan

First dinner in Bhutan

Buffet-styled dinner was served at 19:00BST at the basement but we had to enter via another entrance, so we had to brave the cold… There was pumpkin soup (slightly spicy), vermicelli salad, rice sticks (like horfun, very nice), chilli with cheese (ema datshi, very spicy and we learnt belatedly that it shouldn’t be eaten by itself, but should eat it with other items), white rice (same type as lunch) and fried sea bass (which was surprising tasty, but not the super fresh type). We enjoyed the dinner, but again, the food wasn’t exactly hot. But I guess the environment was simply too cold. The food may appear to be steaming hot in the food warmers, but turned cold by the time we took them to our table. Dessert was ice cream, so we declined it and headed back to our room instead and just chilled out for a while before knocking out around 21:00BST. The bed was firm but still quite comfortable, and the barking dogs weren’t that bad at all, since we fell asleep rather quickly. Or maybe the flu meds that I took helped abit…

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