This trip to Bhutan is – albeit inadvertently – supposed to be a luck-bringing trip for the new year. But it did not kick off auspiciously. First it was the delay to the first leg of the travel due to some ridiculous reason, namely that the water supply was not up to drinking standard and they had to replace some crew members who had drunk beverages made of such water. By the time I arrived at Kathmandu it was three hours late, but I was surprised to find the inn’s driver still holding a card with my name on it, waiting patiently at the gate at almost two o’clock in the morning.
Early next morning at 5:30 the boy at the hotel came to wake me up, for I had an 8:35 flight to catch. Deep down I knew it was too early as it took only 10 minutes to go to the airport from the inn, but I didn’t argue with him. So I sprang out of bed, put my top layers of clothes back on, returned the flip-flops to the backpack, and went down to pay for the three hours of sleep the comfortable bed provided me. Came the 50 USD bill and I didn’t even bat an eyelid. But I did raise my eyebrows when I saw that they had to fish out Nepali rupee bank notes from the tip box to give me change for the 100 dollar bill.
I reached the airport at around 6:20am and there were already a few American tourists checking in. Druk Air’s counters are located almost at the entrance of the airport, staffed with exceptionally polite and good-looking people. When my turn came to check in they asked not for my ticket number or my passport but the Bhutanese visa letter issued to me. Luckily I had the foresight to save it on my phone before I left Hong Kong: ‘sorry, I don’t have the hard copy’, I said.
The guy informed me that there was a slight delay due to hazy weather, and the flight was schedule to take off at 9:20. No big deal, I thought, so I went straight through immigration and to the waiting hall. It was a very small establishment with only a handful of kiosks selling coffee and local products, and because it was so early in the morning the whole place was still rather sleepy. I sat down on the sofa close to the announcement board and tried to get some shuteye. But by around 7:30 the hall was no longer conducive to any tranquil rest. I became agitated – I tried to read, fidgeted with my phone, bought tea, watched cricket match on TV, bought banana bread… and finally when the clock on the screen read 9:00 I followed a few other impatient passengers’ lead to get myself through security check. But when I emerged to the other end of the metal detector I saw the most unwelcome update on flight status – that the flight was now delayed further till 11:15.
Back I went to the waiting hall and now I could no longer concentrate on either the book or the match. After two more hours of arduous wait I thought the ordeal was finally over. I quickly went through security check the second time, but no information on which gate to board. When I arrived at the waiting hall there was chaos – 5 or 6 flights were announcing ‘security check’ at the same time, but none had any apparent news on the status of the flight. A 12:35 flight to Mumbai was, however, miraculously boarding at 10:45. It seems like they were trying to get rid of whoever showed up first. Everyone looked forlorn and pretty much hopeless. The guy from an English elderly trio was winking at me slyly.
En fin. Boarded. Took off. I tried to catch some sleep. But before two minutes the lady next to me from Wuhan exclaimed with such agitation I was forced to open my eyes. Yes, the Himalayas on the left, right outside the window next to me. Apparently early birds get the good window seats. So the entire plane produced their phones and cameras and shooting blinding at whatever that looked remotely like Mt. Everest. I must have taken about 20 photos while the wanna-be photographer lady next to me took about 200, using all the devices she possessed. She even had to swap seat with me to take a better shot. In return of my favour, she insisted on taking a photo for me with my silhouette, which I had to pose under her artistic direction.
Flight was short and we arrived at Paro shortly after the excitement on board. At the immigration I was told to pay 40 USD – which I was prepared to – only that they only accepted local currency on arrival. So I had to go change my USD, which somewhat expectedly, did not give change. So four hours after the expected time, I emerged from the arrival hall of Bhutan International Airport, and found my fossilised friends waiting for me as promised.