Even the most hardened of frequent fliers get queasy landing at this airport consisting of a narrow runway that is less than 2 kms long flanked by a longish, pagoda roofed, green terminal buildings on one side and a gentle river on the other. The serenity of Bhutan awaits you after you land, but before you do you have to say a little prayer to your God to give the pilot all he needs to get you to the ground.
Only 10 pilots, on last count, are qualified and trained to land at Paro Airport, the only airport in Bhutan that has regular service connecting this tiny mountain kingdom. The airport is not fitted out with the hi-tech gadgets that the western pilots are used to and the ones who land have to be very familiar not only with the procedures to land without this kind of assistance; but they they also need to know the topography of the place well.
The runway lies in the Dupshare valley which is wrapped around tightly by mountains on all sides which are more than 15,000 feet high. This means that when approaching the runway, the pilots don’t have the luxury to straighten up and align with the runway. So you fly low, very close to the valley walls – so much so that you can see the shadows of your aircraft on the ground…..
And then, imagine that slow, gut wrenching, tilted approach and suddenly you lose altitude and are on the runway about to land! You do NOT want to think what will happen if there is a failed attempt to land, because then the aircraft will also need to gain a LOT of altitude to get out of the valley. And as if the challenging topography was not enough, the valley is also lashed by winds many months of the year ( mainly Feb to May) making the landing even more gruelling!
Whilst on its way out, the aircraft needs to gain a lot of altitude immediately on take off. one look at the surrounding mountains and you will be convinced that these pilots deserve respect!
It is not surprising to know therefore, that when Prime Minister Modi from India made his official visit to Bhutan, his aircrafts was captained by one of the trained Druk Air Pilots and not his own.
Panache World designs and operates beautiful itineraries into this magical Land of the Dragon that respect the philosophy of the land and closely resonate with the way of life of the Bhutanese that is deep-rooted in simplicity, in love for the environment, tradition and in respect of all life-forms. Write in to firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to experience Bhutan with a Dash of Panache!