Thursday, February 11, 2010

Blog #2: Touch Down in the Land of the Thunder Dragon

Hello from Thimphu!

So the flight from Delhi to Paro was UNBELIEVABLE! The Himalayas are the most breath taking natural beauty I have ever seen. We took off from Delhi at dawn and quickly climbed to our cruising altitude of 39 000 feet. There was a thick blanket of clouds beneath us the entire time, rolling and undulating like the hills of Scottland. As I looked out my window I found myself having difficulty distinguishing between what were clouds and what looked suspiciously like mountains. And then, as if someone had pulled the cotton carpet out from under us, the sky was blue and clear, and we were gliding gently along side a monster mountain chain that seemed to have no end. Before I knew it we were literally spiraling through the mountains trying to land. I have never felt so much like a bird soaring through the air, living on top of the world. Our plane twisted and turned, we broke left and right, climbed and fell, following the contours of the mountains closely. There was one instant when we flew over one peak and could not have been more than 50 feet above it. It’s strange because sometimes when I'm landing in planes in the city, I'm gripping my arm rests tight, feeling as if the plane might come crashing down at any minute, but I actually don’t think it registered at that moment that I was flying. I was just riding the mountains.

When we finally began our final decent I had no idea where we were actually going to land. The mountains of Bhutan aren’t quite as angry looking as the rest of the Himalayas. There was little snow atop their peeks and houses seemed to be situated in the most illogical of places. So every time the plane dipped and turned and revealed a stretch of more houses, I asked myself is it actually possible to land a plane anywhere in this country? But as we dropped below one final layer of clouds and cut sharply to the left, a single landing strip revealed itself, stretched down the middle of a large valley like a red carpet inviting our plane to land.
I touched down in the Land of the Thunder Dragon at approximately 9:00 a.m. Bhutanese time.

I was greeted at the airport by two Bhutanese men, Karma and Neema, who will both be orienting us with Bhutan - and Thimphu more specifically - for the next few weeks. Both work directly for the Bhutan Canada Foundation. So I piled my copious amounts of luggage into the back of their SUV and we hit the road.

First stop, I was told by Karma, was a small restaurant in Paro for tea. Paro was much smaller than I expected and quite desolate. I’m still unsure of whether we were actually in the heart of Paro or just a suburb (I use the term loosely), but there was not a lot of activity (nor people for that matter). We had a delicious cup of chai and chatted for a little, and then hit the open road for Thimphu.

The drive to Thimphu was amazing. Karma is a very friendly and outgoing man, while Neema was slightly shyer and more reserved (at least that is my first impression). We wound our way around the meandering mountain roads at top speed, with nothing but good faith separating our car from the valley below. Just as is the case in other parts of Asia I have been to, in Bhutan, lanes on the roads mean very little. A simple toot of the horn gives free reign to shift to the wrong side of the street and drive into oncoming traffic. But I arrived safely in Thimphu and couldn’t be happier to be here.

Thimphu is a bustling city with people everywhere you look. The architecture is beautiful and the people seem friendly. It is by no means a bit city (at least not by our standards), but it feels like much is going on within its narrow city limits. It is so mesmerizing being in such a unique urban centre that I find myself forgetting that I am in the middle of the Himalayas. But one look beyond the city’s streets and I am reminded of just how small I am and just how massive the protective mountain landscape is. I am still in awe that a once ancient civilization has been able to evolve into a modern society while remaining hidden, deep within the heart of the hills. And now I'm hear to discover it all for myself. What a treat!

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