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Paro is a charming little town of Buddhist Bhutan, tucked away in a remote corner of the world, unspoiled by globalization and the frills that come with it. Paro is a unique town which can be called a hybrid between a city and a village. It had most modern frills balanced by the peace and serenity of a village. The nightlife is not much and the shops close early in the night. It’s pristine and surrounded by beautiful hills all around. If you ever fantasized about a utopian world, Bhutan is the place to be. Bhutan , as is widely known is a nation obsessed with Gross National happiness rather than gross domestic product. Do discover this landlocked kingdom before everyone else does! Do discover before it ceases to be “The Last Shangri La’ of the world! Chasing happiness is just another excuse though!
Paro is a small town and most of the destinations can be easily navigated on foot. A cab and a driver are important to access some monuments on hill tops, otherwise with a scenery and pleasant weather such as this, it calls for long walks. OK, make that romantic walks if you are on honeymoon! My walks and conversations with my cab driver revealed some secret vantage points and point of interests generally not mentioned in regular guide books.
DAM VIEW RESTAURANT
Address : Near THPA Dam, Phuentsholing to Paro road , Chukha
The dam view restaurant offers great view of the Dam and the Chukha Hydro Power plant. Request the restaurant manager to open the door of the banquet hall (which is generally closed) for better views of the valley and dam. But that’s not the only reason to make a pit stop at the reasonably priced joint. The food and ambience here is equally good. I had my first taste of Bhutan’s national dish, Ema Datshi, a chilly based curry rich in cheese served with rice and lentils and a ‘kimchi’ like salad. There was a ‘hog all you can’ policy on rice and salad.
BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF PARO AIRPORT:
Stop at PARO AIRPORT BIRDS EYE VIEW, the best vantage point to see the small town in its entirety. The 1st impression of Paro is promising and leaves you anticipating the discovery of its secrets. Needless to say, it gives the best view of the Paro airport. Wait for some time and you can see the dramatic landing and take offs from here.
PARO RIVER SIDE PROMENADE
Address : Dop Shari Valley, Take right at the tail end of the bridge that leads to Dumtse Lhakhang, On the approach road to Sangachokhor and Kuengacholing,Paro
The promenade along the bank of river is used by the villagers to commute. This side of the bridge is mostly rural unlike the urban market area of Paro. You will see small charming homes and acres of agricultural lands and rose cheeked chubby kids heading leisurely to school. I envied the idyllic country lifestyle as I walked on the promenade. It gives you dramatic views of the Dzong above.
THE MAIN MARKET STREET built in 1985 is the most modern representation of Paro. It is lined on either side with small stores selling mainly grocery and handicrafts. The shops are well organized, uniform looking and strictly adhering to traditional Bhutanese architectural style. Most shops have a huge window serving as cash and carry counters. The panels and windows are painted exquisitely with Bhutanese folklore elements giving the market a unique character. In case, you happen to be in Paro on a weekend, its Sunday market is a must have experience. A walk down the lane is a must.
Address: En route to Tiger’s nest
The Temple has an old world charm. Cocooned away from the main city area, this place had a dream like quality. The purple jacaranda flowers on white rough walls and apple trees bursting with tiny white flowers make it dreamy. In the inner courtyard of temple, the silver and gold plated butter lamp in a glass takes around 20 kgs of pure butter to light up. Right behind the lamp is the orange tree which bears fruits round the year. The walls are adorned with beautiful murals and ornately carved wooden windows.
Address: Near main market, Paro
Find local men practicing archery here, Bhutan’s national sport. Even if you miss seeing a proper tournament, there are chances you may catch a practice session played out by the roadside. The hills near the Tiger’s nest resort is often used for practice sessions. Every village here has their own teams. The game is associated to manliness and is passionately followed by the locals. You have to see it to appreciate it!
PEMA GIFT SHOP
Address : En route Tiger’s nest monastry, Paro
Always fancied dressing like locals? It housed many handicrafts and dresses exorbitantly priced at touristy rates. However, do go for a affordable Rs.100 per head to learn to wear a Gho (for men) and Kira (for women) and click pictures once done. For those willing to try their hand at archery, there was small set up where one could try for Rs.100. The stage was set in a room with dry grass, in a bid to give it an outdoor feeling. It was decorated with flags and gaudy flowers and a “Take memories from Bhutan” banner. This was the most touristy one can and one should get in Bhutan.
NATIONAL MUSEUM OF BHUTAN:
The museum offers great panoramic views of the Paro valley. It was born out of the need to preserve, organise and represent Bhutanese heritage, tradition, lifestyle, art, culture, wildlife! The thangkas are as ancient as 16th century. The heritage gallery is more engaging one with its strange collection. The most unusual artefact was the 19th century Horse’s egg and horse horn. These are said to have special powers and bring good fortune to the person who owns it. The other star attractions are traditional water timer, iron chain crafted by saint Thangtong Gyalpo and the eerie stuffed snow leopard!
DUMTSE LHAKHANG AKA JANGTSA DUMTSEG LHAKHANG:
Address: Dop Shari valley, approach road to Sangachokhor and Kuengacholing, Paro
Again most tour operators and guidebooks skip this unusual Buddhist temple built in the architectural style of a chorten. It was built in 1433 by Thangtong Gyalpo. He is popularly called ‘Iron Man’ since he is credited with building 58 iron chain suspension bridges across Tibet and Bhutan.
Address: Below Paro Dzong
The sheer beauty of the traditional wooden bridge below the Paro Dzong calls for a pit stop. It’s built over Paro’s Paro Chuu river. The present structure is a reconstruction of the original which was washed away in 1969. The bridge also features in the movie Little Buddha by Bernardo Bertolucci. It offers great views of the dzong and the scenery around. Walk on the bridge and see locals and monks use the bridge to access the Dzong and the nearby areas. It also lends beautifully to unusual photo-ops.
Rinpung Dzong : The best stop in Paro is the imposing Paro dzong. Dzongs , the fortress temple of Bhutan are huge multi purpose buildings built in ancient Bhutan and Tibet. The Dzongs typically comprise of a huge courtyard (Dochey) in the middle surrounded by administrative offices, monks’ residential quarters, temples (Lhakhangs) etc. The courtyard generally has a soaring central tower called Utse. The Dzongs are massive, white colored building. Due to their sheer grandeur and extraordinary architectural style, these are now a major tourist attraction. Come in April for colorful festival Tsechu.
How To Reach: You can fly directly to Paro in Bhutan or fly to Bagdogra Airport in India and take a road trip.
Disclaimer: My trip was sponsored and all the logistics were taken care of by Bhutan Bookings. Click here to plan your vacation in Bhutan with them.
I was accompanied by travel bloggers – Dipanshu, Manjulika, Swati and Parnashree in the fun company of Sonam Karma and Dipanjan from Bhutan Bookings. Click on their names to read their stories from Bhutan.
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