Rebecca Stephens in The Independent:
To my right, a man sat with shaven head and full-length earth-red robes; to my left sat a woman, shaved and dressed the same. I look ahead and then to the back of the Airbus A319. Apart from our party of 10, the plane was packed with pilgrims returning from a two-week Buddhist retreat in Kathmandu. We all shared a destination, however: the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. This small nugget of largely forested, mountainous land lies sandwiched between China and India, and recently became democratic.
An hour or so into our journey from Kathmandu we turned left past Everest. The aircraft began a slow descent – wingtips virtually touching the mountainsides – to the country’s only airstrip, at Paro. I stepped out into crisp mountain air. This was a world away from the vibrant, polluted, monsoon-drenched Nepalese capital. It felt more like Switzerland, or Austria: calm, unrushed, organised.
A charming young man with Bollywood looks greeted us with a “namaste” and a handshake. He ushered us to a comfortable minibus that drove us slowly along empty roads, past willows and apple trees, to a small lodge in Paro’s broad, fertile valley. We were to stay a couple of nights here. Then we would set off on foot north-westwards towards Chomo Lhari, a 7,314m peak on the Tibetan border. We would cross two 4,800m passes and then travel back in a broad horseshoe sweep south and east to the capital, Thimphu. More: