|Stupa @ Paro Marketplace|
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 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 street||Child playing at a shop window|
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 hire||Colorful 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 Taktsang||Aptly 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.
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 outside||Inside the main courtyard|
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 gate||The ancient watchtower|
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: Ktshetrim@yahoo.com
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: