Paro, a beautiful valley in Bhutan, is one of the most attractive tourist destinations in this mountainous country.
One of the most beautiful of Bhutan's valleys, it was also historically the centre of two of the most important trade routes to Tibet.
Today the new road to Phuentsholing on the Indian border runs through the valley, amid a patchwork of rice, paddies, wheat fields, trout-filled streams, and scattered settlements.
Here the Paro Chu (Chu means River) flows south from its watershed in the Chomolahri range. Above it in a rocky outcrop of the sleepy hillside stands the Paro Dzong, at an altitude of just over 7000 feet, overlooking both sides of the valley this dzong was historically one of Bhutan's strongest and most strategic fortresses. Before the rebuilding of the Tashi Chho Dzong at Thimphu, it was also the seat of the National Assembly.
Paro can be reached easily by road from India through the Jaigaon - Phuentsholing border. The distance between Phuentsholing and Paro is about 175 km and takes about 6 hours. The only international airport in Bhutan is also located here. This airport is connected with Major Indian cities such as New Delhi, Guwahati, Bagdogra, and Kolkata as well as neighbouring country capitals such as Kathmandu in Nepal and Dhaka in Bangladesh. The town is a few kilometres north of the Airport
Distance from Paro to other places
From Paro to Thimphu - 65 km - 1 hour
From Paro to Haa - 65 km - 2 hours
From Paro to Phuentsholing - 175 km - 5.5 hours
From Paro to Punakha (Via Thimphu) - 140 km - 4.5 hours
Sightseeing at Paro
Paro Dzong (Fortress)
The Dzong has a long and fascinating history. A monastery was first built on the site by Padma Sambhava at the beginning of the tenth century.
In the coming years, the legend goes, a lama went into the forest to prepare planks for a chapel, he uttered the mantra "Hun" and the planks miraculously moved on their own to create the planks of Hungrel Dzong. The construction work was carried on by the villagers by day and was continued at night by the spirit, and the hoof marks left by their horses are still visible today as evidence of the unbelieving.
In 1646 Ngawang Namgyal built a larger monastery on the old foundations, and for centuries this imposing five-story building served as an effective defence against numerous invasion attempts by the Tibetans. Built with stones instead of clay, the Dzong was named Rinpung, meaning "heaps of jewels". Tragically Rinpung and all its treasures were destroyed by the fire in 1907. Only one thangka, known as Thongdel, was saved. Painted in remembrance of Padma Sambhavna the bringer of Buddhism, the Thongdel is a large and exquisite example of the Bhutanese art of fashioning religious scroll paintings from silk and cotton. It is believed that by visiting the monastery and paying homage to the Thongdel, the faithful can attain nirvana. It is displayed only once a year, for a few hours during the five-day spring Tsechu of the Dzong.
The Paro Dzong was rebuilt by the Penlop Dawa Penjor right after the fire. Housed within its walls is a collection of sacred masks and costumes. Some date back several centuries; others were contributed by Dawa Penjor and his successor Penlop Tshering Penjor in recent times.
On the hill above the Dzong stands an ancient watchtower which has been, since 1967, the National Museum of Bhutan.
Inside the Dzong, at the entrance to the Paro Lhakhang, is found a Kunrey, or terrace, where the states of heaven, earth and hell are graphically depicted. Across a medieval bridge below the Dzong stands the Ugyenpelri palace, a royal residence constructed by Penlop Tshering Penjor and fashioned after the heavenly abode of the revered Shabdung Rimpoche.
The ground above Dzong hosts the biggest festival of Paro, referred to as Tsechu. The Tsechu is held every year in the month of March or April. Bhutanese people travel from far and wide to attend the festival. The locals come to the Tsechu in hordes with their family and friends and in their traditional costumes of Gho and Kera.
The Tsechu festival continues for five days and throughout the day different religious performances such as dances are held at the festival ground. The festival is also an excellent photo opportunity for visitors who come to Paro especially to cover the event.
The word Tsechu literally means the tenth day. The festival is organised on the 10th day of different Lunar months. Different districts of Bhutan hold the Tsechu at different months. The Paro Tsechu is held in March or April every year and is one of the largest festivals in Bhutan. A large fair is also organised on the open ground beside the river Paro Chu and below the Paro Dzong.
About 15 Kilometres North of Paro Dzong and half an hour's drive away is Taktsang Monastery. Like an outgrowth of the terrain itself, the gem-like Taktshang monastery clings to a sheer, 3000-foot rock face. The name of this gravity-defying cluster of buildings means literally "The Tiger's nest," an allusion to the popular legend that Padma Sambhava flew here from Tibet on the back of a Tiger. The Monastery shares its name with another monastery in North West Arunachal Pradesh which also shares a very similar legend.
Today pilgrims and visitors reach Taktsang in a more earthbound but no less dramatic fashion by climbing on horseback up a steep and winding track. You can also trek to Taktsang which takes about three hours on foot. About halfway through there is a cafeteria where you can take a break. It is also an excellent place for taking photographs of the Monastery. The trek offers a very good view of the Paro Chu and its valley.
Even higher than Taktsang, poised on a projecting rock spur, the Sang-tog Peri monastery overlooks the whole Paro valley. Built-in harmony with the natural features of its site, this 300-year-old retreat is, in name as well as by virtue of its lofty elevation, "the temple of heaven."
About 6 kilometres north of Paro Dzong, overlooking the Paro Chuu, is found the Kyichu Lhakhang, one of Bhutan's two ablest and most sacred monasteries, dating from the introduction of Buddhism in the 18th century (The other is the Jampa Lhakhang in Bumthang). The central temple was erected in 1830 and a golden roof was added to the monastery itself. A new extension was built by the present Queen Mother.
Further up the Paro valley, the Drukgyel Dzong, now in ruins, recalls the days when Bhutan was frequently, and successfully, attacked by armies from the north. The Drukgyel Dzong was built in 1649 by Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate a victory over an invasion from Tibet.
The word “Druk” means Thunder Dragon and symbolically refers to Bhutan whereas “Gyel” indicates victory. The Dzong was built perched on top of a hill, it can be entered only from one side and this is protected by three tall towers. A unique turreted passageway designed to ensure water supplies in times of war connects the fortress to the far riverbank. The Drukgyel Dzong was laid to waste by fire in 1954 and is in ruins now. Still, the erstwhile glory of the fort can easily be imagined once you are there.
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