Last week in April, I visited Bhutan, flying from Nepal. I flew with Bhutan Airlines (locals call it Tashi Air) a private airline out of Bhutan, flying from Kathmandu to Paro.
The flight time may have only just 40 minutes, but it was one of the World's Most Spectacular Flights; you will soon see why!
Bhutan Airlines A319 have 12 Business Class and 114 economy class seats. The Business Class seats are in a dark brown leather, with a chunky LA-Z-BOY style. The seat pitch is a little better than what is typical on US domestic First Class.
The Air ticket to Bhutan was expensive, given that there are only 2 airlines flying in and out of Bhutan. Round trip Economy Class from Kathmandu to Paro cost $400; the Business Class upgrade cost merely $80 more, which wasn't too bad value.
You may recognize the famous "Tiger Nest" on the bulkhead, this is the number 1 tourist attraction of Bhutan.
After takeoff from Kathmandu, on a clear day you will see 4 of The World's top 5 mountains, include Mt Everest, Lhotse, Kangchenjunga and Makalu. If you want to enjoy the amazing mountain views, you should sit on the left hand side of the plane from Kathmandu to Paro. When you fly from Paro to Kathmandu, you should sit on the right hand side.
Watch the video over many top 10 mountains in the world en-route to Paro.
A quick snack was served with 2 choices on this short 40 minute flight. I had the non-veg option which was a chicken pie; the veg option was a veg burger.
To my surprise, Bhutan Air had prepared a welcome cake for me. They also served a very nice Veuve Clicquot Champagne in Business Class.
Soon, we started our descent into Paro, Bhutan. I was allowed to join the pilots to observe the landing; the captain is a devoted Buddhist, he has to pray every time before conducted a landing.
Paro Airport is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains; our plane had to fly through the valley between all the mountains. At one point, we had to descend hard over some of the mountains; only qualified captains are allowed to land in Paro, Bhutan. I was told there are only about 15 captains that are certified to land there, due to the challenges of the terrain.
What a thrill, the runway appeared on the last turn and at the last moment; just at about 500 ft above ground level. I was lucky in that it was a clear day. I can certainly imagine how challenging it could be during tough weather conditions to try and land there.
Watch the amazing approach video from cockpit
It was a beautiful day in Paro, the air was so fresh when I stepped out of the plane. There are no aero-bridges at the airport, so all passengers must use the stairs. This provided me with some good opportunities for plane spotting!
I must admit this was one of the most thrilling and amazing approaches I've ever experienced. I've also visited Lukla, Nepal and Gilgit, Pakistan. Only props can land in Lukla and Gilgit; Paro is a bit more challenging with a bigger jet, requiring much manoeuvring over the many different terrains at the high altitudes.
We landed on runway 33 which is more of a straight in descent through the valley, with many banking over the surrounding mountain. Landing on the opposite side of runway 15 would require more manual flying over the entire airport and then a turn of 180 degrees over Paro Valley. The runway could be easily overshot or undershot, if not performed well. Paro Airport is 7,332 ft above sea level.