Thursday, June 30, 2011
So each country's taxi drivers have their own reputation to uphold. Bhutan is no exception, and in some sense, it would appear that they are playing a bit of catch up, as though they have been left out of this informal international worst driver competition for some time. As it was, I was escorted from the airport to some sort of miniature SUV type vehicle and was quickly reminded of the fact that they drive on the left here (I started to get in the driver's seat). I was reassured by a dotted white line in the middle of the highway, clearly delineating separate lanes, as we all know to allow faster cars to pass slower ones. My driver however, considered this road to have 3 positions and he chose the middle path, straddling the line, 2 wheels on the left and the other two on the right of the line. This of course left extra room to either side of the vehicle enhancing the safety of the ride I explained to myself. He also, I concluded, is employed by the Bhutan Highway Department and is lobbying to rebuild the roads. You see, he seemed to have a strong desire for the road to be straighter than it is. Now, maybe he was just trying to save gas by taking the straightest course from point A to point B. The road as it currently exists follows each and every curve and contour of the river canyon and all of its tributaries (and there are a lot). There has been no fill in, bridges or tunnels. The only exception to my driver's rule of staying in the middle was to cut each corner as sharply as possible to the inside, taking advantage of right handed turns to pass other vehicles. This was all going actually rather smoothly until I had the sudden realization that there were indeed other vehicles coming from the other direction in the right lane. There was no separate road for uphill traffic. The dotted white line lo and behold carried different meaning here. As far as I was concerned, this was a double solid yellow line highway the whole way! I guess that would be too expensive. Never the less, leave it to the locals to navigate on their own turf and all will be well. Good thing the cars are made extra narrow here.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Made it to Bhutan yesterday. Approach into Paro airport was exciting and different. U.S airports have long, straight in approaches which for lack of a better term are boring, or at least uninteresting, making them supposedly safer. This was more like something out of an adventure movie. We started out from a stop in Bangladesh and headed northwest until we could see the southern Himalayan peaks. We turned east and rapidly descended into the clouds. This was a little disconcerting as I knew there were mountains in there. As we broke through the lower layer of clouds, we were among deep valleys and lush, tree covered hills. We entered into a canyon and banked back and forth following the contours of the river at the bottom. I was reminded of Star Wars, or Top Gun where they would avoid enemy fire by negotiating their way through airplane unfriendly terrain. The river branched and the pilot chose to go right, entering an even narrower canyon, descending further. The air was clear as we weaved our way down, beginning to see the classic Bhutanese structures dotting the hillsides. I considered my good fortune by having 2 monks sitting across from me, and sharing the seat right next to me was the equivalent of a priest from a monestary in eastern Bhutan. What could happen?