The King & I

Flight to Bhutan from Bangkok leaves at 7:00 a.m. Upon check we are told to be at gate early as it's a VIP flight, the king will be aboard. Of course we hastened to gate. Not until everyone else is seated did the king and his entourage of 16 board. In business class, how else does a king travel?, now that white steed pulled chariots no longer fast enough.

The in flight announcements went like this: "Good morning Your Majesty and ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Drukair flight 131 to Paro."

I sat in economy class, but my 2 clients were in business class, along with his majesty and entourage. The curtain mostly drawn, but I got up to use the lavatory more than necessary in order to crane my neck and look through the gap in the curtain. Saw nothing. Members of his entourage occasionally wandered into economy, all in full gho regalia; the gho is the knee length robe like garment that Bhutanese men wear. Full regalia means black knee socks, black polished leather shoes, and the colored shawl, called a kebne that signifies deference to authority, worn upon entering monasteries, and apparently when traveling with the king. A military official wore a western style uniform but not ridiculously medaled as in African dictator style.

The flight always makes a stop en route, and todays stop was Bagdogra, India for 30 minutes. Charlene and Mike slipped into economy to tell me the handsome 30 year old king was right there, a few seats from them, looking like an Asian version of Elvis Presley (in his prime) and what a thrill this is. From Bagdora it's only a half hour to Bhutan. This the most exciting part of the flight. Up out of the flat and dusty Indian plains into the Himalayas. Sit on the left side of the plane, and the snow clad saw tooth like tops of the mountain range appears not far away. Mt. Jomolhari, Bhutan's tallest peak at 22,000 feet juts above the others, like an eye tooth in need of a good orthodontist. It's this portion of the flight where you start to think you're really getting your moneys worth from Drukair. The jet's not too far above the mountains, and the forest and valleys and even houses are clearly visible. In a few minutes the pilot takes us down one of these valleys, with mountains to both sides, and trees, houses and clusters of prayer flags seen looking horizontally out the window. Then the plane hits the tarmac and this high priced thrill ride all too soon over.

Today the procedure for deplaning a bit different. There is an actual red carpet rolled up to the stairs of the plane. I've a good window seat to see all of this, and those on the other side crowd to my side. Were this a boat, it would be listing to port side. (I'm on the left, remember?) We patiently wait, neck craned and after several minutes the king steps quickly down the stairs, stops for waiting photographers and greetings from one of the abbots, then begins almost running along the red carpet, and soon he's out of sight. Better than the academy awards.

A minute later Mike and Charlene are at the bottom of the steps, on the same red carpet. They are alone, (usually I am with my clients when they first tread Bhutanese soil), but I'm confident they'll work out what to do.

Moments later I am reunited with Mike and Charlene in the arrivals hall. They are dizzy, and it's not the altitude. Upon landing the king approached them and welcomed them to his country and they had a short conversation, which accounts for the delay in deplaning. They've even been given souvenirs by the king, a medallion (many Bhutanese wear these, also gifts from the king), and along with a commemorative coronation coin in a small elegant book like holder (nothing tacky or down market about this). In their nice little chat with the king they did not neglect to mention their excellent trip leader (your truly), seated in economy class. However, while I was not invited up to meet His Majesty, I vicariously share their excitement. My only worry: how are we going to top this?