A Place Where Time Stands Still
If Thimphu is Bhutan’s heart, then Paro is the country’s soul.
Tucked away in the scenic Paro Valley, this town is speckled with ornate, traditional buildings painted in vivid hues. Here, you can wander into Ta Dzong, an ancient watchtower that currently serves as the National Museum of Bhutan, or the Paro Dzong, once the country’s strongest and most strategic fortress at an altitude of 7,000 feet that is now a rich repository of sacred masks and costumes. The bazaar is lined with small shops that let you take home a little bit of Bhutan with you, in the form of Kiras – the traditional attire for Bhutanese women, comprising a long skirt and jacket, as well other handcrafted souvenirs. The town is also home to Bhutan’s only international airport, which is widely regarded as the most difficult commercial airport in the world.
Paro’s breathtaking natural beauty has led to many travellers calling it the most scenic valley in Bhutan. The valley is lined with lush paddy and wheat fields, while trout-filled streams run through the countryside like arteries. Hotels here serve up traditional delicacies such as ginger potatoes, pumpkin curry and marinated chicken momos on request, to fill you up before you embark on a long trek to Taktsang Monastery, which is also known as Tiger’s Nest. Legend has it that this monastery was built by Guru Padma Sambhava after he flew here on the back of a tigress.
Paro is well-known for the popular Paro Tsechu, a five-day spring festival held in the month of March or April, which features religious performances such as dances and a large fair. Don’t miss the annual Rhododendron Festival, which is held in the Lamperi Botanical Park in the autumn months and offers visitors the opportunity to view Bhutan’s several rhododendron species, and experience the lifestyle and culture of the local communities.
Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest): Precariously perched on the edge of a 1,200 meter cliff, this monastery creates an impressive sight and is the unofficial symbol of Bhutan. It is about 2-3 hours totally up-hill hike from parking lot to the monastery, though there is a cafe located on ridge across from the Taktsang (about 90 minutes into the walk) that provides a welcome opportunity to take rest and purchase refreshments and snacks.
National Museum of Bhutan: Located in former watch tower (which itself is a museum piece) above Paro dzong, the museum displays artifacts from Bhutan’s history as well as examples of indigenous flora and fauna.
Rinpung Dzong: A fortress-monastery overlooking Paro valley has a long history. Monastery was first built by Guru Padma Sambhava at the beginning of 10th century, but it wasn’t until 1644 that Ngawang Namgyal built a larger monastery on the old foundations and for centuries this imposing five storey building served as an effective defense against numerous invasion attempts by the Tibetans.
Drukgyel Ruin Dzong: This dzong (fortress) was built in the 16th century to commemorate a victory over invading Tibetan forces. The fortress today lies in ruins because of a fire in the 1950s having taken a toll on the site. Drukyel dzong is about 15 kms from Paro.
Kichu Lhakang: Is one of 108 monasteries that were miraculously constructed by King Songten Gampo in one night. It is located just off the road running between Paro bazaar and Taktsang Monastery.
Jangsarbu Lhakhang: located behind Paro Dzong, this small and insignificant looking temple is home to a magnificent statue of Sakyamuni Buddha that was carried all the way from Lhasa, and also houses the protector deity of Paro. Legend has it that the statue of Sakyamuni was destined for Paro Dzong and merely placed in the temple for overnight safe keeping. However, when time came to move the statue, it proved impossible to lift. As a result, it became a permanent feature of the lhakhang.
Paro Tshechu: A religious festival normally held around Feb-Mar. Paro Tsechu is one of the most popular festivals in Bhutan, featuring dances performed by trained monks and laymen in amazing masks and costumes. A highlight of Paro Tsechu is the unfurling of silk Thangka which is so large that it covers the face of an entire building and is considered one of the most sacred blessings in the whole of Bhutan.
Kiras: The elegant traditional dress comprising of a cloth wrapped around as a skirt with a jacket for the top worn by Bhutanese women. Kiras are a lot cheaper in stores that are “General stores”, as this is where the locals shop.
Souvenirs: The town is dotted with souvenir shops. Bargaining is recommended, especially if you are purchasing high-value items above Nu 400