Bhutan by he­li­copter.

In Bhutan, a new itin­er­ary from the COMO group in­cludes one of the most cap­ti­vat­ing he­li­copter flights on the planet.

DestinAsian - - DEPARTMENTS - BY NI­CHOLAS WAL­TON From US$27,280 for two, in­clud­ing all meals and six nights’ lodg­ing at COMO Uma Paro and COMO Uma Pu­nakha; co­mo­ho­tels.com.

Most peo­ple’s ex­pe­ri­ence of Bhutan from on high comes with their Drukair flight’s nail­bit­ing ap­proach to Paro Air­port, con­sid­ered to be one of the most chal­leng­ing places any­where for a passenger jet to land. Those making the high-al­ti­tude de­scent may un­der­stand­ably fail to ap­pre­ci­ate the scenery, which is a shame, for Bhutan, with its deep-cut val­leys and ser­rated Hi­malayan peaks, is a won­der to be­hold, es­pe­cially from an el­e­vated per­spec­tive.

And that’s where COMO Ho­tels & Re­sorts’ newly launched Scenic Heli-Ad­ven­ture comes in. Com­bin­ing aerial tours of western Bhutan with stays at the group’s luxe lodges in Paro and Pu­nakha, the six-night itin­er­ary is des­tined to earn a place on ev­ery flight­seers’ bucket list. As for re­turn vis­i­tors like my­self, tak­ing in the king­dom’s lush river val­leys, stu­pas, and (monas­tic fortresses) from a bird’s-eye per­spec­tive is like see­ing the coun­try again for the first time.

The fly­ing be­gins on the third day of the trip, when the he­li­copter—a seven-passenger Air­bus H130 op­er­ated by Royal Bhutan He­li­copter Ser­vices, the coun­try’s fledg­ing air am­bu­lance fleet—takes off from Paro for a 45-minute flight north to the re­mote vil­lage of Laya. Nes­tled more than 4,100 me­ters above sea level in the foothills of the Hi­malayas, Laya is framed by some of the king­dom’s high­est peaks (among them, Tong­shan­ji­abu, at 7,207 me­ters). It’s also home to the semi-no­madic Layap peo­ple, a rel­a­tively af­flu­ent com­mu­nity that har­vests cordy­ceps, a rare fun­gus used in tra­di­tional medicine. For­eign­ers are ex­tremely rare here, so ex­pect to be greeted by cu­ri­ous lo­cals with trains of pack ponies and mules in tow.

Af­ter a pic­nic lunch, it’s back into the he­li­copter for the flight south to Pu­nakha Val­ley, soar­ing over the sa­cred peaks of Jigme Dorji Na­tional Park en route. The next day, ad­ven­ture is lim­ited to solid ground from your base at COMO Uma Pu­nakha, save for those who opt for white-wa­ter raft­ing on the Mo Chu river. But one last flight awaits on the leg back to Paro for the last two nights of the tour. The high­light? A fly-by photo op of the iconic Tiger’s Nest monastery, a cliff-side aerie you’d oth­er­wise have to hike for two hours to see up close.

Above, from left: One of Royal Bhutan He­li­copter Ser­vices’ chop­pers out­side Laya vil­lage, not far from the bor­der with China; a Layap girl.

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