16. February 2011 12:57
Two new airports will radically alter travel in Bhutan in the next year, making it faster, easier, and more efficient to explore this remote mountain kingdom.
Presently, the only way to cross Bhutan from west to east is by driving a narrow, winding road dotted with hairpin turns and trucks and cars frantically trying to pass each other on blind mountain curves. Driving from one end of the country to the other on a tour takes about 13 days, so most travelers only go as far as Bumthang, in the middle of Bhutan, and then return west to Paro and fly out – a 10-day journey.
In about a year, though, all will be different. New airports are being constructed in both Bumthang and Trashigang in eastern Bhutan, shortening the cross-country journey. No longer will tourists drive to Bumthang and then return by the same route. Instead, they can drive there from Paro in 5 to 6 days, and then make the return trip by air.
Even more importantly, the new Yonphula Airstrip between Trashigang and Samdrup Jongkhar will open up the less-visited eastern towns of Mongar and Trashigang to tourists and make travel in Merak and Sakten, two communities still undiluted by Bhutan’s rapid economic growth, more accessible. Here in the east one can still get a sense of the traditional lives of Bhutan’s nomads. Tourists will be able to fly directly from Paro to Yonphula, tour the east and return to Paro, or even drive into Bhutan from Guwahati in India’s Assam state, visit these eastern areas, and then fly west and visit Thimphu before exiting Bhutan from Paro.
These infrastructure improvements are all part of Bhutan’s development plan, which depends heavily on increasing the number of tourists to this wonderful Shangri-La.