Well, the UN finally got itself organised and after changing arrangements to go to Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and finally back to Bhutan in the space of 10 days I arrived in Katmandu (the area headquarters) for a briefing on my task. I have been appointed standby logistics officer to be based in Phuentsholing on the Southern Bhutan border with India.
It remains to be seen what work entails but it is initially based around improving the regular supply of food to schools in this very remote country. Some of the schools are 6 days’ walk each way from the end of the road. I hope to be able to follow a sack of flour (donated by USA, Australia, Germany and others) from its arrival in Calcutta then by road to Phuentsholing warehouses (my base). Distribution then goes by smaller truck to the end of the road and is transferred to donkeys, mules or yaks. Some tracks are so bad it is loaded on the backs of porters for transport right up to the Tibetan border. I will be shadow of my former self after all the walking!
The 10 days in Katmandu involved sitting in on a course training people to micro-manage the WFP (World Food Program – UN’s largest agency) food supply chain. There are 104 forms – yes 104, in the system. The only thing that saved me slashing my wrists was the fact I regularly fell asleep.
Anyhow I managed an outing with the local Hash House Harriers up on the mountainside although I must admit I went in the women and whimps group – don’t need a heart attack at this stage!
The flight on Bhutan’s national carrier Drukair was well worth the trip so far. Lifting off from the Katmandu Airport we were soon out of the smog into a cloudless blue sky and turned east towards Paro Airport in Bhutan. In the crystal clear sunshine we climbed to 29,000’ and ran along the Himalayas. Shortly after take-off I looked out the window (after the Captain commented) and there, not 5 miles away, at exactly our height, was Mount Everest.
The A319 Airbus (the baby of the fleet) commenced its descent and dived into a narrow valley the like of which I have not seen since New Guinea days. The country’s only airport is strictly visual flight rules (no night or bad weather approaches). We descended down the ever narrower valley following its twists and turns like a fighter, with trees just off the wingtip and the captain talking regularly assuring everyone this was normal. If all airline flying was like this I would have joined an airline after leaving the army!
The final manoeuvre was at 200’ above the ground and the wings rolled level just as we crossed the runway threshold. The strip is built in the river bed and a cliff runs along the full length of the runway less than 100 metres from the centre-line. The rescue services turn out for every landing (one a day). The ambulance waiting to provide assistance for 200 passengers was a small Suzuki four wheel drive. The fire truck would have been like a little boy pissing on the Great Fire of London. As I said to Mark, it’s the thought that counts.