The beautiful valley of Paro encapsulates within itself a rich culture, scenic beauty and hundreds of myths and legends. It is home to many of Bhutan’s oldest temples and monasteries, National Museum and country’s only international airport. Mount. Chomolhari (7,314m) reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley and its glacial water plunge through deep gorges to form Pa Chhu (Paro river). Paro is also one of the most fertile valley in the Kingdom producing a bulk of the locally famous red rice from its terraced fields.
Places of Interest in Paro (Alt. 2,280m)
Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal , the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan, the Dzong houses the monastic body of Paro, the office of the Dzongda (district administrative head) and Thrimpon (judge) of Paro district. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge called Nemi Zam. A walk through the bridge, over a stone inlaid path, offers a good view of the architectural wonder of the Dzong as well as life around it. It is also the venue of Paro Tshechu, held once a year in the spring.
One time watch tower built to defend Rinpung Dozng during inter-valley wars of the 17th century, since 1967 Ta Dzong is serving as the National Museum of the country. It holds fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings and Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps. The museum circular shape augments its varied collection displayed over several floors.
This Dzong, with a delightful village nestling at its foot, was built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders. Historically and strategically, this Dzong withstood all its glory and was featured in 1914 vide National Geographic magazine. The glory of Drukgyel Dzong remained even when it was destroyed by fire in 1951. On a clear day, one can see the commanding view of Mount. Chomolhari from the village, below the Dzong.
It is one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of the Kingdom dating back to 7th century (the other is Jambey Lhakahng in Bumthang). The lhakhang complex is composed of two temples. The first temple was built by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century and in 1968, H.M. Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, built the second temple in same original pattern.
Taktshang Lhakhang (Tiger’s Nest)
Taktsang Monastery is one of the most impressive sites in the Himalayas and of great religious signifance. Guru Padmasambhava, the great master who introduced Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan is said to have flown and meditated here in 9th century, flying on the back of a tigress hence it is also called Tiger’s Nest. This site has been recognized as a most sacred place and visited by all Bhutanese at least once in their lifetime.
The hike to the monastery can be broken down into three stages. The first stage is the trek to the cafeteria which is situated on a rocky outcrop across a ravine from the monastery. This leg of the trek takes approximately 45 to 60 minutes, depending on your level of fitness. Horses (really only small ponies) can be arranged for this leg. At the cafeteria you will stop for some tea or coffee and biscuits whilst pondering the journey ahead and looking at the monastery in the distance above you.
The 2nd stage of the walk is from the cafeteria to the lookout opposite the monastery. This leg takes close to one hour. At this point some may be content to snap photos and then return to the cafeteria.
The 3rd stage is the trek/climb down the 475 steps in the cliff face to the bottom of the ravine which crosses over a stream and waterfall before the path again ascends another 300 odd steps to the entrance of the monastery. Once here you should be able to enter into the monastery and view the cave where Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal meditated The visit and climb to the entrance and back to the lookout will take approximately one hour.
Picturesque farm houses dot the valley amongst fields and hillsides. Bhutanese farm houses are very colorful, decorative and traditionally built without the use of single nail. All houses follow the same architectural pattern. A visit to Farm House is very interesting and offers a good glimpse into the lifestyle of a farmer.
Built in 1525, this town temple was formed by Ngawang Chhogyel, one of the prince-abbots of Ralung in Tibet and an ancestor of the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
Located behind Paro Dzong, this small 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 the time came to move the statue, it proved impossible to lift. As a result, it became a permanent feature of the lhakhang.
Excursions around Paro
Often called as mini Taktsang, Dzongdrakha is a cliff-side temple complex on the western side of Paro valley. Four shrines make up the complex, dedicated to Drolma (Tara), Tsheringma (Goddess of Longevity), Guru Rinpoche and the Buddha of the Future, Maitreya. Local oral tradition states that when Guru Rinpoche first came to Bhutan, he came from Nepal, first landing at Drakarpo, and then Dzongdrakha before arriving at Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) farther north up the valley. Located approx. 20 minute drive from Paro, these temples are built on a cliff above Bondey village but the walk is not as strenuous as Taktsang. From the road, it takes only about 30 minutes to reach here.
At an elevation of 3,988 meters, it is considered to be one of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan. About an hour’s drive along a thickly-forested road, this pass is a botanical paradise. The pass provides stunning views of the sacred mountain Jumolhari and Jichu Drake. It is also marked by hundreds of prayer flags fluttering in the wind. Here, visitors can see cascades of wild roses, purple and yellow primulas and swathes of deep blue iris covering the forest cover. The top of the pass bloom with rhododendrons in a variety of colours-pale pink, deep pink, burnt orange, mauve, white and scarlet.
It is the serene home of Buddhist nuns who have dedicated their life for spiritual fulfillment and leading undisturbed life of religious studies, prayer and meditation. The goemba is nestled in a craggy patch on mountain side below the Chelela pass and perched precariously along the rock face. From Chelela pass, the lhakhang is about an hour walk amidst magnificent wooded area.
Choedin Village Loop
Start the walk near Drukgyel Dzong towards the Sagala pass. Following the dirt road, you reach the charming and petite Choedin village. From here, a trail sets off upwards through dense pine forest until reaching the ruins of Choedin Lhakhang at the top of the hill. Enjoy and admire the perfect views of Paro Valley, Tiger’s Nest and the thousands of pine trees. Later the trail leads you down to Tshento village just by Drukgyel Dzong. The loop can be completed in about three hours.