Paro (alt. 2200m/7218ft)
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
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.
The Ta Dzong, a cylindrical stone structure rising five storeys, was built in 1652 by Chogyal Minjur Tempa, a task entrusted to him by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. After more than 350 years, it has been resurrected into a classy museum, that represents a tasteful blend of tradition and modernity.
The museum’s first gallery on the ground floor showcases the guardians of the four directions that protects the entrances to monasteries and temples and ward off evil influences from all directors. The second gallery describes the foundation of Trongsa Dzong, its deities and holy men. A special feature of the third gallery is the Raven Crown, worn by first King Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. The fourth gallery has a silk kira and tego of the first Queen Ashi Choden, the oath of allegiance that was signed on 3.5 metre scroll by the representatives of clergy during the coronation of second king in 1926, his prayer book and silver box, the third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk’s amulet, ivory flask, container for betal, areka, line and a zenith radio. The fifth gallery showcases the message of the sacred dances including the wheel of life, masks and costumes while the six gallery is about Buddhism and rituals. On the seventh gallery are a Khesar Ling Lhakhang and the statues of Guru Rinpoche. The ninth gallery houses Guru Rinpoche’s eight manifestations and Maitreya Buddha Lhakhang. The top gallery showcases the body, the speech and the mind of Adibuddha.
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)
It is one of the most famous of Bhutan’s monasteries, perched on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. It is said that Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery and hence it is called ‘Tiger’s Nest’. This site has been recognized as a most sacred place and visited by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 and now visited by all Bhutanese at least once in their lifetime. On 19 April, 1998, a fire severely damaged the main structure of building but now this Bhutanese jewel has been restored to its original splendour.
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.
Built in 1433 by iron bridge builder, Thangtong Gyalpo, this chorten like temple is located to the west of the road. It has three floors representing hell, earth and heaven while paintings inside the temple are said to be some of the best in Bhutan.
Beyond Dungtse Lhakhang, to the east of the road, the tiny Pana Lhakhang is quite old and is believed to have been built in the seventh century.
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.