The Bhutan Odyssey - Places to visit in Paro
Bhutan is a country located almost entirely in the Himalayan mountain range. It was isolated for a long time from industrialisation and has just begun to open its doors to the modern world. Paro, a quaint town, is one of the widest valleys in Bhutan. It is a land of forgotten customs and pristine wilderness. From fortresses to ruins, from sacred monasteries to holy temples, and from soul-quenching treks to picturesque landscapes, Paro has something for all types of travellers. In our previous blog of the series ‘The Bhutan Odyssey’, we have attempted to introduce the Kingdom of Bhutan to our readers, along with tips and recommendations on planning a trip to Bhutan, places to visit in Thimphu and Punakha and the village life of Phobjikha. In this blog, we will list down the places to visit and things to do in Paro.
If you missed out on our previous blogs of the series - 'The Bhutan Odyssey', read them by clicking on the links or the photos below: 1. Introduction to Bhutan and why you should visit it 2. Plan your trip to Bhutan 3. Places to visit in Thimphu 4. Travel to Phobjikha (Gangtey) Valley of black-necked cranes 5. Punakha - Sightseeing places in the winter capital of Bhutan 6. Paro Taktsang (Tiger's nest monastery) – A complete travel guide
7. Places to visit in Paro (This article)
Paro is a town located in the wide and verdant valley of Western Bhutan surrounded by pristine hills and mountains. The Paro valley is like a sudden opening in the wall of the mountains. The silver river, Paro Chhu, flows swiftly winding through the valley. Beauty of Paro is difficult to describe. The paddy fields dotted in the middle of green landscapes in Paro is surrounded by soft grasses along the river banks and is a sight to behold. The valley is further patterned with fruit orchards loaded with pink and white blossoms. The hillsides are cloaked with colourful flowering rhododendrons and wild roses.
With its large, fertile and well-watered fields, Paro has historically been the richest area in the Kingdom of Bhutan, and much of its wealth has gone into the building of temples and monasteries. The town of Paro is located at an altitude of 2200 metres from the sea level. Paro is home to Bhutan's sole international airport and to some of the oldest temples and monasteries in Bhutan.
Places to visit and Things to do in Paro, Bhutan: 1. Hike to the Paro Taktsang or the Tiger’s Nest monastery The Paro Taktsang popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest monastery or the Taktsang monastery is an iconic monument perched on a cliff 800 metres above the Paro valley. It is said that a trip to Bhutan is incomplete without a visit to the Paro Taktsang. Visiting the Tiger’s Nest monastery takes a full day or 6-7 hours. The hike to the Taktsang monastery is 3 kilometres one way and the trail passes through rocky and steep terrain. Till midway, the path is unpaved, muddy and rocky. Post that, the trail becomes steeper and narrower leading to the viewpoint. This is the spot from where the monastery is seen perched on the mountain top and most awesome photographs are taken from here. From the viewpoint, one has to descend 700 stairs and then ascend another 200 stairs to reach the monastery. Read more about the history of the Tiger’s Nest monastery and our hiking experience with some very handy tips and recommendations in our separate blog post on Paro Taktsang.
2. Visit the Paro Dzong (Fortress) While Thimphu dzong and Punakha dzong are located in a commanding position on the valley floor, Paro Dzong occupies a strategic site on the top of a small hill with a panoramic view of the Paro valley around it. It looks like a castle in the air. Paro dzong is popularly known as the Rinpung Dzong and houses the government and monastic bodies of Paro. The dzong is located beside the river Paro Chhu and can be accessed by crossing a traditional cantilevered bridge over the river. Paro dzong houses some of the finest examples of Bhutanese religious art. Among them are cosmic mandalas and a towering Buddha statue in the monk’s assembly hall. The dzong has 14 shrines and chapels in total.
Paro Tsechu – an annual festival is held at Paro Dzong in April or May. The spectacular masked dances and processions attract many foreign visitors to Paro Tsechu. A giant thongdrel (silk banner) of Guru Padmasambhava, which covers an entire wall of the dzong is displayed for the public in early morning hours during the festival, still keeping the tradition that sunlight should not fall on the thongdrel.
Note: Similar to the other dzongs in Bhutan, you are mandated to keep your feet and arms covered and your head uncovered at all times while visiting the dzong. If you have time, do visit the dzong again during the night. Though you will not be allowed to enter in the night time, you will be able to photograph the dzong sparkling in beautiful lights.
3. Dress in Bhutanese National Dress and get yourself photographed with Paro Dzong The most delightful feature of the Bhutanese culture is their attire. To the west of the Paro Chhu River, just downstream from the cantilevered bridge of Paro Dzong is a small shop where you can get dressed in Bhutanese national dress ‘gho’ and ‘kira’. The staff at the shop will help you select a gho/ kira out of the many options they have and will also help you in wearing it. All of us got dressed up in beautiful Bhutanese attire and got ourselves clicked with the Paro dzong in the background and also on the cantilevered bridge. The shop also displays and sells various Bhutanese handicrafts and artefacts.
Note: The staff at the shop charge Nu 200 per hour per person for wearing gho/ kira.
4. Spend time at the National Museum of Bhutan and learn about the Bhutanese people, their culture and their lifestyle Situated right above the Paro Dzong is the National Museum of Bhutan. Initially, the museum was an unusually round building like a conch shaped fortress which was destroyed in the 2011 earthquake. The museum exhibits were then shifted to an adjacent building since then. The cultural museum houses several galleries depicting the history of Bhutan, ancient teachers, saints, rulers and Kings, various masks used in Cham dances, a beautiful collection of thangkas, natural flora and fauna of Bhutan, antique vessels and utensils, and an impressive short documentary. The National Museum of Bhutan in Paro also houses artefacts dating back to 1500 years.
Note: Photography is not allowed inside the museum. Cameras and mobile phones are to be deposited in a locker outside the museum. The museum remains closed on Mondays and national holidays. It can be visited between 9 AM and 4 PM from Tuesday to Saturday and between 11 AM and 4 PM on Sundays. The visitor entry fee is Nu 10 for locals, Nu 50 for SAARC tourists and Nu 200 for foreign nationals.
5. Gaze at the Paro valley from the viewpoint alongside the museum Just a short walk from the National Museum of Bhutan in Paro is a viewpoint that provides spectacular views of the Paro valley with meandering Paro Chhu River surrounded by tall hills and mountains. This panoramic view is right in front of the old round-shaped museum. The international airport of Paro can be seen from this viewpoint. The entire runway is visible and one can also experience the thrill of flights landing and taking off from this point.
6. Visit Kyichu Lhakhang Kyichu Lhakhang is the oldest temple in Bhutan. It was constructed by a Tibetan emperor in the 7th century to ward off evil spirits and demons threatening the Buddhism in Tibet. The temple compound is adorned with beautiful prayer wheels. The ancient temple is whitewashed and has a 3-tiered roof. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple houses a statue of Chenrezig (Lord Avalokiteshvara) with 11 heads and 1000 arms. A small chorten or a stupa just outside the Kyichu Lhakhang contains remains of an ancient spiritual leader – Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Elders keep flocking the temple premises to pray and spin the prayer wheels.
Make sure that you have enough time to visit all of these above-mentioned places when you visit Paro. Believe us, all these places to visit in Paro are certainly worthy of your precious time.
Nature Tourism - Bhutan:
Nature Tourism - Bhutan organised our customised trip to Bhutan. They specialise in nature, adventure and cultural trips across Bhutan. Mr. Karma Jamtsho, founder of Nature Tourism - Bhutan and Dorji, our tour guide, helped us in understanding the people and culture of Bhutan in a very insightful manner. With the very limited time we had in Paro, they helped us to see and experience as many things as possible. You can book your trip to Bhutan with Nature Tourism - Bhutan through their official website.
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Have you been to Paro in Bhutan? Did you find this article helpful? Let us know in the comments.