Paro is situated in perhaps the widest valley in the kingdom and is covered in fertile rice fields. The charming town itself lies on the banks of the Paro Chu meandering down the picturesque region. The most visited monuments in Paro are the Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Taktsang), Rinpung Dzong (Paro Dzong), Drugyal Dzong, Kichu Monastery, Ta Dzong (The National Museum) and Kila goemba.
The valley extends from the confluence of the rivers at Chuzom right up to Mt. Jumolhari at the Tibetan border in the north. But what accentuate the beauty of the region are the many traditional style houses that dot the valley. The surrounding hills make Paro one of the best Bhutanese towns to explore on foot.
And because Bhutan’s international airport is located here, it is the only port of arrival and departure by air for international tourists. So, the valley is adorned by luxurious and boutique hotels and resorts to suit every budget.
Places of interest in Paro
1. Paro Dzong (Rinpung Dzong):
The Rinpung Dzong means ‘The Fortress on a Heap of Jewels’. It is the finest illustration of Bhutanese architecture and craftsmanship you’ll see. So impressive it is that even scenes of 1995 film, Little Buddha were filmed here.
In the year 1644, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal ordered the construction of the dzong on the foundation of an old monastery. The imposing fort served effectively to defend the Paro valley against numerous Tibetan invasions.
In the first day of spring, the Paro Tshechu is held in the dzong courtyard which is filled to the brim. To the northeast of the entrance, is a stone-paved area where masked dancers perform the main dances of the Tshechu. A throngdroel of Guru Rinpoche, is unfurled shortly after dawn on the final day of the festival. The Paro Tshechu was commissioned in the 18th century by the eighth Desi. It still continues be a major draw for locals and tourists even today.
The most beautiful pictures of Paro Dzong are taken from the west bank of the river, just downstream from the bridge.
2. The National Museum:
Atop the hill above the Paro Dzong is an old watchtower called Ta Dzong. The unusual building in the shape of a conch shell, with 2.5 m-thick walls was completed in 1656. But, it wasn’t until 1967 that the structure was renovated to house the National Museum.
Cameras are not allowed inside the museum, but one can photograph the Dzong from outside along with its surrounding areas. There are various galleries inside and the displays include an impressive collection of Thangkas, both ancient and modern, depicting Bhutan’s important saints and teachers, as well as formidable festival masks. There’s a heritage gallery that displays a collection of religious statues and early stone carvings, plus a few original iron links from the nearby Tamchog Bridge.
You can enjoy the magnificent view of the Ugyen Pelri Palace that stands across a medieval bridge below the Dzong. It is said that there is an underground tunnel from the watchtower leading to the palace.
3. Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang):
A 10 km drive from Paro is the famous Tiger’s Nest Hermitage on the face of a sheer 900 m-tall cliff. The Tiger’s Nest Monastery is without a doubt the most visited and the most photographed of all the monuments in Bhutan. It is nestled above a beautiful forest of blue pine and rhododendrons, overlooking the Paro valley. The monastery is of tremendous religious significance to the Bhutanese. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew to this site on the back of a tigress and meditated here. The monastery was built in 1692 to honor and worship the Guru. The hike up to the Tiger’s Nest is give-or-take a two-hour ascent. And, the view from the top is well worth the climb.
4. Drugyel Dzong:
Another site worth visiting while in Paro is Drugyal Dzong which means, The Fortress of the Victorious Bhutanese. A 16 km road passes up the valley to the ruins of this fortress-monastery, which was partly destroyed by fire in 1951. The fortress was built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 to commemorate his victory over raiding and pillaging Tibetan armies. It was raged by the fire in 1951, the ruins remain an impressive and imposing sight still. It is under repair now.
5. Tamchog Monastery:
This Monastery is the only temple in Bhutan that is dedicated to the 13th century saint Thang Thong Gyalpo, also known as the bridge builder. Located across the river on the Thimphu – Paro highway, one must traverse through an iron chain bridge in order to get to the monastery. The bridge is one of the few remaining of the many that Thang Thong Gyalpo built in his time.
The swaying of the old iron bridge for most visitors can be quite an experience before getting to the monastery that is located on a ridge high up on rocky hills.
6. Dungtse Lhakhang:
Dungtse Lhakhang is a sacred temple built in the form of a chorten in Jangtsa, Paro.
Located on the edge of a hill between Paro and Dop Shari valley, across the bridge from Paro town, the temple was built by the saint Thangthong Gyalpo. The Buddhist iconography depicted in the Chorten is considered a unique repository of the Drukpa Kagyu School. While one story goes that the Lhakhang was built to subdue an evil serpentine force. Another story says that the Lhakhang was built on the head of a demoness.
7. Kichu Monastery:
By far, Kichu Lhakhang is one of the oldest monasteries in Bhutan. The King of Tibet, Srongtsen Gampo built it in 659 AD. It is one of the 108 temples built by him in a single day across the Himalayan region. Legend goes that the King built it to overpower the left foot of a giant ogress that was thwarting the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet. Pilgrims circumambulate around the temple spinning its many prayer wheels, seeking blessings and offering prayers.
In the inner courtyard, you’ll see a mural of King Gesar of Ling. He was a popular Tibetan warrior-king, whose epic poem is said to be the longest in the world.
8. Dzongdrakha Monastery:
Dzongdrakha Temple is often called the mini Taktsang monastery as it is built on a cliff face in the village of Bondey in Paro. As such, Dzongdrakha literally translates into the ‘The Temple on a cliff’. To get there, it takes about 20 minutes by car from Paro town. Located at an altitude of 2227 meters, the temple was built in the 16th century. It is one of the many places Guru Rimpoche meditated in.
9. Kila Goemba:
Kila Nunnery is among the most reputed and oldest nunneries in Bhutan. It was established as a meditation site in the 9th century. Located on the Paro-Haa highway, the nunnery can be reached via a farm road. At present, there are around 70 nuns pursuing their Buddhist studies there. The striking feature of this site is the series of nunneries that are built intricately against the cliffs. The nunnery can also be reached from Chele La pass, traversing through chortens, prayer flags and a scenic stretch of flora and fauna. The hike takes approximately one hour. You can see beautiful view of Mt. Jumolhari, Jichu Drake and Jele Dzong in the far east.
10. Bumdra Monastery Hike:
This hike is an overnight trek that is highly recommended. It provides a great view of the Paro valley. Hikers can soak in the gorgeous sunsets over the mountains of Haa. It also provides for an interesting cliff-face pilgrimage site, and one can look at all the chapels above Taktshang Goemba, not to forget the spectacular view it offers of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. For the adventurous, the trail can also double as an excursion to a sky burial site.
The camping accommodation at Bumdra is the most luxurious in Bhutan. To get to the camping site is an uphill battle on the first day. The second day, however, you’ll be going downhill. Please note that this trek requires one to be in decent shape to enjoy it.