Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bhutan. Part 4: Paro & back

Stupa @ Paro Marketplace
This is in continuation of my earlier posts detailing my experience in Bhutan.

To me the name Paro, at the first instance, sounded like that of a girl in some Indian village. :) Paro is a city, a district and name of the valley in which it is located as well. It is just 70 km from Thimpu - the capital city of Bhutan, about one and half hour drive through beautiful mountainous roads with deep valleys. It is the only city with an international airport in Bhutan.

Now try and guess the population of Paro. Pick a number... what can be the population of a city with an international airport? I was surprised to learn that the population of Paro is only about 20000. It shouldn't have been a surprise for us, particularly after having seen Thimpu, but the number sounded so ridiculously small!

The sight of the airport was another surprise. This was the smallest international airport I've ever seen. We actually rode on the road right alongside the runway. A flight landing or taking off would have been a spectacle to watch, but only a handful of flights arrive in a week, and airport is idle most of the times.
Paro Airport

Paro has its own central square with an assembly point and clock tower, just like Thimpu. The roads around the central square are lined with shops. Roads are well laid, with scarce traffic. Most of the eating joints are at this place, but most places have strict opening times. By the time we reached Paro it was well past breakfast time and not yet the time for lunch, and we found the restaurants closed. We had to make do with biscuits. :)
Main market streetChild playing at a shop window

Paro Taktsang:

Immediately after reaching Paro, we headed for the Paro Taktsang - a famous monastery at Paro. The monastery is built on a steep cliffside high up on one of the hills at Paro. Vehicles can be parked at the base of the hill and the monastery can be reached after a 3hr hike up the hill. The hike is not very steep, but the altitude makes it a bit strenuous. There is a small cafe midway to the top where one can have hot tea and snacks. Horses and mules are also available for hire by people who can not hike. We also found locals selling beads and colorful handmade artifacts nearby. Seeing us Indians, they entertained us by singing popular Bollywood songs! Beyond this point the road progressively narrows down. There was a stream and a waterfall just before the monastery gates, with ice formed at its base. The monastery was build around the year 1692, around a cave that was used by Guru Padmasambabha to meditate. Guru Padmasambabha (also known as Guru Rinpoche) is said to have brought Buddhism to this region (Bhutan, Tibet and adjoining regions).
Horses for hireColorful beads on sale

The final path to the monastery was narrow. It made me wonder as to how would they have constructed the monastery in the first place. It is rightly called the Tiger's Nest. According to legend, Guru Padmasambabha flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress from Khenpajong. Indeed, in 1692 the only way one could have reached here and built such massive structure was by flying! The foot path that we hiked on was made only in the year 2000.
Approaching TaktsangAptly named Tiger's Nest

Foreign tourists are allowed inside only when accompanied by a Bhutanese caretaker. Photography is not allowed inside the monastery. All electronic equipments must be left outside before entering. The monastery was the most beautiful of all the monasteries I had seen till then. All wooden frames were carved and then painted. The walls had fine paintings. The Buddha statue was just magnificent. Above all, there was an immense sense of calmness in the monastery. The magnificence of nature all around and the view of the deep valley right adjacent to the monastery evoked awe and respect for every small thing I had taken for granted till then. It was like opening of a third eye for me. Climbing down is faster, but it still took us around 8hrs to complete our visit.

Drukgyal Dzong:

Our next visit was to this fortress cum monastery named Drukgyal Dzong. Dzong in local language means fortress, and "Druk Gyal" means "Bhutanese Victory". This fortress was believed to have been constructed in the year 1649 after the victory of the local ruler over Tibetan/Mongolian invaders. This is one of four such fortresses in Paro. We could see the remnants of the deep reservoirs used as granaries, the stables used for horses, the tall tower of the monastery and the watch towers at the corners of the fortress.
Drukgyal Dzong from the outsideInside the main courtyard
The fortress cum monastery was also used as a summer palace by the local ruler till some time in the 19th century when it was destroyed in a fire. Tragically the fire is said to have happened when a lamp overturned during an important religious festival in the monastery. Most of the structures were made of wood and were burnt to ashes. All that remained were the mud walls and few charred wooden doors and beams.

The National Museum of Bhutan:

Out next visit was to the National Museum of Bhutan at Paro, that houses some of the best art and cultural treasures of Bhutan. It is constructed in 1968 after renovating a watchtower of the Paro Dzong. The watchtower can be seen today as a round building adjacent to the main museum building. The walls of this round watchtower are an unbelievable 2.5m thick.
Museum entry gateThe ancient watchtower
There was heavy renovation work happening the day we had visited the museum. On top of that a short thunderstorm that occurred minutes before we reached the museum disrupted electricity supply to the museum. Entry to the museum was barred while there was no power. Sadly the power supply was not restored even after our waiting there for two full hours.

That was all the time we had at Paro. I doubt if I have done justice in painting a picture of Paro. I do not think I could capture on film the beauty I have seen with my eyes, and I could not visit a few places as well. After returning from Paro, we stayed at Thimpu for a day more before starting back to India. Our return journey was the same as our onward journey - a bus journey through the beautiful valleys of Bhutan. I will end this series of posts with a few bits of information and contact details for any one of you who may be planning for a visit in the near future.
  • Mr. Sambhu Ghosh. Driver at Siliguri. Drives a Maruti Omni. Speaks English & Hindi. Tel: 9153240120
  • Hotel Centinel at Phuentsholing. Nice clean rooms. Very courteous staff.
  • Hotel Tandin at Thimpu. Midrange hotel with restaurant. Right near the main marketplace at Thimpu. Staff understands manageable though very little English and Hindi.
  • Mr. Karma. Driver at Thimpu. Drives a Hyundai Santro. Doubles up as a guide when required. Extremely polite. Understands and speaks a little of English & Hindi. Tel: 17590040 or 77200737. Email:
And just a few other tips: There are plenty of busses between Phuentsholing and Thimpu, but ensure that you book your tickets at least one day prior. Do not forget to make a list of places you want to visit and take permits for all of them. There is no need for currency exchange if you are carrying Indian currency.

If you have visited Bhutan, I would be glad to hear your experience as well!

Back to the beginning of Bhutan Trip.

Posts in this series:


  1. nice snaps !

  2. Pictures are beautiful especially the monastery on the top of the cliffs but it somehow gives the image of a tightly controlled country ... I was in Phuentsholing in 1966 - at that time we called it Phulcholing and I just remember taking bath in the clear cold water of a river..

  3. I haven't visited Bhutan yet, and it is on my bucket list of places to visit, hopefully soon.

    Thank you for such an exhaustive post and also sharing details of hotels and drivers.

  4. @DeEpAK thanks!

    @sunil Wow 1966! That's even before I was born. Yes there is a river that flows right through Phuentsholing. I had mentioned it in my first post in this series. It must have been a very different place then.

    @Sudhagee Glad that you found this useful. Thanks.

  5. loved it. thanx for sharing ur experience. and yup excellent pics.

  6. Beautiful ! Beautiful ! I will go there soon. Looking forward to it :)

  7. Bhutan was my childhood destination every Sundays... We used to live in Coochbehar and it's barely 3 hrs from that place... Thanks for making me relive my memories....
    And the post is detailed and informative...

    Thanks and love,
    Indie :)

  8. @Indie Wow! How was Bhutan in those days? I had passed through Coochbehar while returning from this trip. I stayed at Dhubri, a short distance from Coochbehar, and right next to the banks of Brahmaputra. It was a wonderful place.

  9. Replies
    1. Hey Tanmay,
      Loved reading the post... Never been to Bhutan, but now I have added it to my places-to-visit list!

  10. Lovely post.I liked the child playing snap.Kind of beautiful it is.

  11. I was planning a trip to Bhutan with my family and reading your post has made it all the more exciting. Cant wait ! :)
    good work!

  12. Congratulations, Tan! You are on my list of recipients of the Versatile Blogger Award. You may want to check out how this works and whether I had anything nice to say about you at the award post at

    1. Thanks Subhorup for the honor. And congratulations to you too!

  13. WOW! The place is gorgeously beautiful! Never been to bhutan but one day I surely will and then I will refer this write up! Many Thanks for sharing such a detailed post.

  14. I am Planning to visit Bhutan..and certainly your post is quite helpful....if you could help me what minimum taxi fares they as to take money in cash with there is an option of using international visa other countries.......

  15. Thanks Tanmay..for posting such details for place i am planning to visit this place during year end...if you can guide with me few things it will be great help...what is minimum fares for taxi' there option to use Visa International card other countries to withdraw cash...thanks

    1. Hi Ranz, I'm not sure if we could have used an international card there, at least I did not find any shops accepting international card. We carried enough cash to last us through our stay. If you are travelling from India, INR is acceptable everywhere and there is no need to exchange currency.

      We had hired the same taxi driver throughout our stay and as far as I can remember, his charges were INR 2500 for all sight-seeings inside the Thimpu and Paro city, and another INR 1500 for the trip to Dochulla as it was out of the city limits.

      Enjoy your trip!


Thank you. I'm all ears!