Extreme landings: touching down among the peaks of the Himalayas

Here's one flight you'll really want a window seat for, if you can hold your nerve. Gunnar Garfors recounts his adrenalin-fuelled landing at Butan's Paro Airport.

Pilots have to weave around mountain peaks and houses on the approach into Paro Valley. Source: Yelha Bhutan Tours & Travels/Facebook.

For passengers, the approach to Paro Airport in Bhutan offers some of the most spectacular views.

But for pilots there is no time to admire the scenery as this is one of the world’s most challenging airports to fly into.

Flights into Paro Airport are only allowed during daylight hours and are weather-permitting, so you’ll need to be flexible with your travel plans.

Only eight pilots are licensed to land at the remote Himalayan airport, which requires a precision approach and landing.

Most pilots work for Drukair, Bhutan’s national carrier that takes part of its name ‘Druk’ (dragon) from Bhutan’s Tibetan name ‘Land of the Thunder Dragon.’

The pilots making the approach also have to fly like a dragon in zigzag moves that reminded me of slalom skiing.

To soak up the best views, choose a window seat on the left hand side of the aircraft and keep your camera ready, if you can hold it steady!

Drukair has a fleet of two Airbus A319s and an ATR-42, which are the few aircraft permitted to fly into Paro Airport.

Watch this video to see why:

Tashi Air, a domestic airline with a sole eight-seat Pilatus plane also serves Paro airport, which believe it or not, offers free Wi-Fi!

Catching a glimpse of Mount Everest (pictured) on my Drukair flight from Kathmandu to Bhutan, which flies south of the great natural wonder.        Source: Gunnar Garfors

Bhutans hidden treasures

Paro Airport is an hour’s drive from Thimphu, the tiny capital of Bhutan with less than 100,000 inhabitants – overlooked by a huge Buddha statue.

One of the most famous sights in Bhutan is Paro Taktsang, or ‘The Tiger’s Nest’: an amazing Buddhist temple in the clouds. It was built in 1692 and is still in daily use by monks, who may even let you sit in on their prayers: a truly unforgettable experience.

Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan. Source: Gunnar Garfors

 

From the airport, the temple is a short drive and a two-hour uphill hike away. It is well worth losing your breath for!

Getting there

All tourists need a visa to enter Bhutan. Visas will only be approved if you book through a local licensed tour operator or foreign travel agent.

The Bhutanese Department of Tourism sets a minimum daily rate for all visitors to Bhutan. It must be paid in advance and covers your entire trip costs, including accommodation, all meals, transportation and a licensed tout guide. Visit the Tourism Council for more information.

What others have said

  1. Dear Gunnar,
    I have studied architecture and gained my diploma withe thesis of Eritrean colonial Architecture.
    I share your opinion what the situation looks like.
    But time is a good factor
    God bless Eritrea.

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