BY Lisa Lindblad
February 14, 2015
Behind and up the hill from Amankora Paro are the fired remains of Drukgyel Dzong, a 17th century fortress that saw battle between the Bhutanese and the Tibetans on one of their numerous engagements that took place in centuries past. An easy stroll across open fields and past village houses, it is a magical place to be, sitting by the large prayer wheel, watching the sun sink through the pine trees.
I have returned for a brief stay after a decade’s absence and I wonder that I could have lingered so long out of the mystical, magical field that hovers round this Himalayan Kingdom. It is Lost Horizons brought to life.
The journey – and isn’t it always the journey – is an evocative and thrilling one. Sitting at the window on the left of the new airbus that Druk Air flies, I leave the plains of northern India quickly behind and travel north, up to the roof of the world. Circling around Kathmandu, a dry and desertified landscape itself, I glimpse, on the horizon, the grand Himalayan ridge of peaks, white with snow, piercing low hanging cloud. My chest always tightens to be in the presence of one of the earth’s greatest features – massive, implacable, story-filled.
Leaving Kathmandu behind, setting my watch half an hour ahead, the plane bears east to the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan. And there, at my fingertips, are the famous ones: Kangchenjunga, Everest, and, as I reach the border of Bhutan, Jomolhari, the second largest peak in the Kingdom.
The storied approach to Paro, Bhutan’s international airport, is always heart stopping. In the passenger coach the thrill of slaloming through the mountain walls is exciting. I have done the same journey in the cockpit where the thrill is magnified by the beeping alerts that warn of scraped wingtips. Bhutanese pilots are some of the best in the world, however, as this approach is one of the toughest, and to master the feat their training elevates them to an unparalleled level. And then we touch down, gentle as a bird, into a world of painted houses, men with bear knees and long socks, children with apple red cheeks, women of glossy hair and long dresses, a Kingdom that sits like a sandwich between the two monsterously hungry mouths of India and China.