PARO (ALTITUDE: 1,800 - 5,400M APPROX.)
Paro Bhutan (2,200m/7,218ft)
Paro is a gorgeous valley that encompasses incredible culture, breathtaking natural splendor, and tons of myths and folklores. There are many places to visit in Paro Bhutan. It is the place that holds some of the most ancient temples and monasteries of Bhutan and the legendary Tiger’s Nest Monastery. It is home to the country’s only international airport and the National Museum.
The Mountain Jomolhari reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley and its crystalline glacial waters plunges through deep gorges to form Paro river. Paro valley is the Rice Bowl of the kingdom and it grows the famous red rice of Bhutan from its terraced verdant fields.
It is one of the top places to visit in Bhutan.
Top 7 Interesting Facts about Paro, Bhutan
- The picturesque region of Paro is one of the widest valleys in the kingdom
- There are over 155 temples and monasteries in the area, some dating as far back as the 14th century
- The famous Tiger Nest is located in Paro
- It is considered as the Rice Bowl of Bhutan with its annual bounties of paddy
- The only International Airport is located at Paro Airport
- The five-day Paro Festival is one of the biggest Festivals of Bhutan.
- Has lot of place to explore for day hikes.
Below are the list of the best places to visit and things to do in in Paro Bhutan.
The Paro Taktsang, popularly known as the “Tiger’s Nest Monastery” is a monastery perched on the side of a cliff at a height of 900 meters above the Paro valley floor. It is considered the signature spot for tourists visiting Bhutan. Taktsang monastery is a Gem of the Paro Valley. Nestled up in a cliff, it is considered one of the twelve wonders of the world.
Taktsang is a place of pilgrimage which Bhutanese try to visit atleast once in a lifetime.
It is said that in the 8th century Guru Rinpoche flew on the back of a tigress from eastern Bhutan to this place and meditated in a cave for 3 months, hence its name ‘Tiger Nest’.
The site, which has long been recognized as a most sacred place ,was visited by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 1646. The principal lhakhang of the present monastic complex dates from 1692. The main structure was severely damaged by fire in 1998, but after many years of painstaking restoration work, the complex has now been fully restored to its former glory.
The excursion up to the cafeteria, which is situated on a rocky outcrop across a ravine from the monastery, takes about five hours round trip. Though the climb up through the pine forest is steep, the journey is most worthwhile on account of superb views en route and especially from the cafeteria view point itself.
Paro Rinpung Dzong
Paro Rinpung Dzong is a large monastery and stronghold of the Kagyu school of Buddhism.
It translates as the Fortress on a heap of jewels. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge (called the Nemi Zam) . And then up to the paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls.
The location of Paro Rinpung dzong was handed to the Buddhist Lamas in the 15th century, where a modest temple was built. In the 17th century, the temple was granted to the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. He dismantled the existing construction and created the dzong that still stands today. In 1646, it was re-consecrated.
It is one of Bhutan’s “tentative” sites on the UNESCO inclusion lists for future World Heritage Sites.
The valley’s annual springtime religious festival, the Paro Tshechu, takes place at the courtyard of the Paro Dzong .
The Paro Rinpung Dzong is a fine example of Bhutanese architecture. The Dzong has no blueprints or use of nails . Its five storey central tower with outstanding wood work. There are a total of fourteen shrines and chapels in the dzong. However all of these are not open to the general public. Another exceptional feature is that the temple is built against the base of one of the eastern tower’s walls and the ceilings are adorned with beautiful Mandalas.
Paro Rinpung Dzong is used both for religious and administrative purposes.
Paro Ta Dzong
The newly consecrated Ta Dzong , Paro Bhutan museum gives a glimpse of Bhutan in the last 100 years with two galleries showcasing the history of Bhutan .
On a ridge immediately above Paro Dzong is Ta Dzong, built as a watchtower to protect Paro Dzong. ‘Ta’ means ‘to see’ in Dzongkha, so the watchtower of Dzong is always called a ‘Ta Dzong’. On account of their function , watchtowers are always round in shape. It was converted into a national museum in 1968. Ta Dzong holds a fascinating collection of the finest specimens of Bhutanese art, masterpieces of bronze statues, and paintings. It also displays Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps, coins and handicrafts, together with a small natural history collection.
Ta Dzong Paro, Gallery
The first gallery on the ground floor of Ta Dzong, Paro showcases the Guardian of the four directions, which protects the entrances to monasteries and temples . It wards off evil influence from all directions. The second gallery describes the foundation of Trongsa Dzong. A special feature of the third gallery is the Raven crown worn by King Gongsar Wangchuck. The fourth gallery has silk Kira and Tego of the first Queen Ashi Choden, the oath allegiance that was signed on 3.5m scroll, the second king’s prayer book and silver box. It also has third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuk amulet, ivory flask, container for betel and a Zenith Radio.
The fifth gallery show cases the messages of sacred dances including the wheel of life, mask and costumes while six gallery is about Buddhism and rituals. On seventh gallery of Ta Dzong are Khesar Ling Lhakhang and statues of Guru Rinpoche The ninth gallery houses Guru Rinpoche’s eight manifestation and Maitreya Buddha Lhakhang.The Five Tathagata Buddhas sit in tenth Gallery of Ta Dzong . The top gallery showcases the body, the speech and the mind of Adi-Buddha.
The best time to visit Ta Dzong, Paro in Bhutan would be in the evening as you can watch the sunset.
Paro Dra Karpo
Perched on a small hilltop of Paro valley lies a small monastery “Dra Karpo” (split Rock), one of the holiest sites in Bhutan. It is believed that even the deadliest of your sins will be washed away if you can circumambulate 108 times around Dra Karpo.
To reach Dra Karpo you have to take a dirt road and drive about 5Km from the small town of Paro, Shaba. Shaba is about 7Km from Paro town. The view of Paro valley from Dra Karpo is awesome.
The atmosphere of Dra Karpo is filled with divine energy. The site is perfect for the weekend getaway for those who are seeking solace. It is also one of the least touristy places to visit in Paro.
Guru Rinpoche , the Tantric Guru who had brought Buddhism to Bhutan had meditated in this cave. Many of his body prints still stand on testimony.
It would also be a unique experience for the visitors to check out a special cave where one has to pass through a narrow hole between the rocks to assess one’s acts as pious or sinful.
Within the cave, one can see the miraculous footprint of Guru Rinpoche.
Around the vicinity of Dra Karpo , you will see a lot of Hermitages. Some of the Hermits have dedicated their life in search of truth and have closed themselves from outsiders for lifetime.
Visit Dra Karpo in Paro for divine spiritual experience.
Drukgyal Dzong, with a picturesque village nestling below its ramparts, was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 to commemorate the victory of Bhutanese over the allied Tibetan-Mongolian forces.
Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951, the towering outer walls remained an imposing sight till it got fully renewed in just recent time. The Drukgyel Dzong as a defense fortress is said to have housed the finest armory in the country.
On a clear day , you can get the splendid view of Mountain Jomolhari from the approach road to Drukgyel Dzong.
Kyichu Lhakhang is one of the oldest and most sacred temples in Bhutan located in Paro. The construction of the temple dates back to the 7th century before the arrival of Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan. The legend has it that Emperor Songtsen Gampo built 108 such temples over the Himalayan ranges within one day through his supernatural power to suppress a giant ogress that was preventing the spread of the Buddha Dharma.
Kyichu Lhakhang , Paro is believed to have been built on the left foot of the lying giant ogress.Kyichu Lhakhang is composed of twin temples. The first temple was built in the 7th century and in 1968, H.M. Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, arranged for a second temple to be built alongside the first one , in the same style.
Apart from the fascinating legends connected to the construction of the temple; the temple attracts many pilgrims chanting mantras and prayers in deep devotion while circumambulating the temple.
Jangtsa Dumtse Lhakhang Temple
Dumtseg Lhakhang lies just out of Paro town, with the backdrop of a majestic hill. It is possibly the only ancient temple built in the shape of a chorten and is literally chained down since local belief holds that it will otherwise fly off to heaven!
Dumtseg Lhakhang was constructed in 1412 by Thangtong Gyelpo who came to Bhutan in search of iron ore to be used for constructing bridges in his homeland Tibet. He was also known as Drubthob, “The Realized one” or Chazampa (Builders of Iron Bridges). At that time a demoness had risen from deep within the earth and was terrorizing the inhabitants of the valley. He built the temple in chorten form to overcome her, located on a small hill which was in reality her head.
A massive restoration effort was undertaken in 1841 under the order of 25th Je Khempo and paintings inside the temple were redone.
These paintings are possibly the most extraordinary collection in all of Bhutan. The Dumtseg lhakhang was conceived as a mandala with the three different levels of initiation. The ground floor is dedicated to historical figures,bodhisattvas and other protective deities. Various representations of Avalokiteshvara and five Buddhas of Meditation are located in the inner sanctum.
On the first floor are scenes from the Bardo (the intermediary stage between life and death) and also many forms of Mahakala, the main protective deity of the country. Images on the second and third floor belong to the highest tantric cycles and depict the main teachers of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage.
On the top floor do not miss the splendid lacquered wood image of the great twelfth century saint, Milarepa. You need to carry a torch and allow yourself a good hour to absorb the magnificent interior of this building.
Chumphu Nye is located on a hilltop and completely isolated from the town. It may take about 7 to 8 hours to hike back and forth and may have to cover about 14Km. The walk is nurturing. The best part about the temple is witnessing a floating statue of Vajra Dakini. She is literally floating above the ground.
This statue is highly revered and ancient. It’s believed that the Goddess Dorji Phamo flew from Tibet and stayed in the posture where the statue is now. She is a life size statue and believe it or not, her one leg is crossed at the knees and the other is standing but does not touch the ground.
Along the way you will also come across many caves where Guru Rinpoche , Khandom Yeshey Tshokey and Khandro Mendharawa were supposed to have meditated. The walk is flat with minimal gradient until the last section of the trail at a bridge located at the base of the hill on which Chumphu sits.
The first Neyphug Trulku established Neyphu Monastery in 1550 at the celestial land of Chuden. Right now the old Neyphu monastery is dismantled due to the damage caused by an earthquake and the new monastery is being built. The place has a serene and calming atmosphere.
A divergent dirt road from Shaba, Paro will take you to the beautiful Nyephug monastery which literally means “the sacred hermitage cave.” The drive to the monastery is very peaceful and takes about 45 minutes through a lonely road .Along the way you can see monkeys, pheasants and some rare birds of Bhutan. Nyephug monastery also houses several little monks
The locals also call Heyphu monastery as named after the Heyphu village where it is located or is also known as Thegchen Choling (Dharma Land of Vajrayana).We can see the foot and hand imprints of 8th century master Guru Rinpoche here. Many treasures, teachings, talismans and precious materials are supposed to be concealed here.
The main shrines of Neyphug Monastery consist of the life-size statue of Guru Padmasambhava. The monastery also has the shoes worn by Guru Padmasambhava, the ritual hat of Zahori, and a clay-statue of Manjushri which is said to have come flying from Tibet by itself.
When you are here you can also make a wine offering to the protectors of the temple which includes Ekadzati, the five classes of Damchen, Dza Rahula, Tendoe and statues of the five Gyalpo spirits that were constructed by the Fifth Yangsi.
There are many other holy monasteries around the Nyephu monastery.
About an hour walk will take you to the Stupa that contains the relics of Buddha Mahakasayapa (Protector of Light). Half-an-hour walk from here will take you to Menchugang where you can see the miraculous self-arisen painting of Avalokitesvara.
This place is out of the world. It is full of magic and myths. The grounds here bear wish-fulfilling trees, drops of nectar appear from the rocks, mantras spontaneously appear on rocks, and it is endowed with several miraculous marks that indicate that the Celestial Land is hidden here. If magic is real, then Nyephug is a place where it can be found. Nyephug is the Magical place to visit in Paro.
Namgay Artisanal Brewery
Bhutan is not all about monks and monasteries. Check out the varieties of Bhutan produced beer at Namgay Artisanal brewery to see the other dimension of Bhutan . Set in a traditional Bhutanese style, the place is beautifully located overlooking the Paro valley. This place brews different flavors of Bhutanese Beer to suit one’s palette.
The outdoor setting of Namgay Artisanal brewery is equally awesome. They will light the Bonfire in the winter where you can enjoy the grand view of Paro Rinpung Dzong over a pint of beer and snacks. If you are visiting there with your friends or family then you should order tower beer .
If you like you can also take a tour in the beer producing house located adjacent to it. They mainly produce Indian Pale Ale, Apple Cider, Wheat beer, Dark ale, and Red rice lager
The peak of the Zuri Dzong Trek is probably the perfect spot to have a bird-eye view of the entire Paro valley. The Zuri Dzong is the oldest Dzong in Bhutan, and in there lies a cave where Guru Rinpoche came to meditate in the 8th century. This peaceful place allows both Bhutanese and tourists to soak in the tranquil that radiates from the extraordinary view, something one can stare at for hours in wonder and awe. The total journey time to get there will take approximately 30 minutes if one starts from the museum watchtower, and an additional 1 hour to exit out towards Uma. Tourists can expect to sit and relax there, and also remember to catch the amazing side view as you hike through Trek.
Chelela Mountain Pass
Chele La Pass (3,988 meters or 13,084 feet) has the highest road point in Bhutan and offers a breathtaking view of Haa Valley on one side and snowcapped Himalayan peaks like Jomolhari(7326meters) & Jichu Drake(6,714meters) on the other. The trail which goes down the pass introduces us to the lush valley, spruce, pine, primula, and Rhododendron forest and we can also get a good view of Paro Valley. However, if we hike through the trail going upward then we can hunt for BluePoppy, the rare & National flower of Bhutan.
If lucky we can also come across beautiful and exotic bird species like Himalayan Monal and Kalij Pheasant.
If you cannot hike to Tiger Nest, the other option is to visit Dzongdrakha which sits precariously at the edge of the mountain top and is visually as splendid as Tiger Nest. It is one of the several local sites where Guru Rinpoche had subdued the local demons and has the aura of another dimension. The monastery houses four shrines devoted to Tara, Tsheringma (Goddess of Longevity), Guru Rinpoche, and the Buddha of the Future, Maitreya.
Dzongdrakha is 20 minutes drive from Bondey toward Paro-Haa highway. After parking your car , you may need to walk for another 15 minutes through some traditional houses. You can also get a good view of Paro Bondey valley from here.
A crystal stupa (chorten) which is as long as an arrow and egg-shaped relics of Sangay Youelsum (karshapa) are the main treasure of Dzongdrakha Lhakhang.It is believed that the relic used to shake on the auspicious days, because of which the people named the crystal stupa Chorten Karmogyel.It also houses the immovable statue of Buddha Sakyamuni.
Dzongdrakha has many tales to tell. This is one place to visit in Paro in case you cannot make it for Tiger Nest.
Don’t forget to visit the cave where Drubthog Gyonpo Dorji , the founder of the Lhakhang has meditated. It has a spiritually healing ambience. The place is also not so touristy so you can enjoy the serenity and tranquility at utmost on your own.
The Kila Nunnery monastery was founded by Chogyel Norbu in the 9th century and it is one of the oldest nunneries in Bhutan. Surrounding the monastery we will see several retreat houses.
Just a few years back the monastery served as the school for Buddhist study but now they have moved the school to Paro town owing to the harsh winter and rainy monsoon. Now the monastery is set exclusively for Buddhist practitioner who wants to go on retreat. There are about 20-25 nuns taking care of the monastery and attending to the practitioner
Pha Dampa (an Indian saint) in pursuit of the dharma came to Bhutan in the second ‘Rabjung’. He visited various holy places in the country and practiced the doctrines of Buddha. At Paro, he paid his visit to Taktshang and rested there in meditation at the same place where Guru meditated. Traces of holy water and his footprint are still found on a small rock inside the ‘Drupkhang’ (place of meditation). Nearby the Drupkhang protruded a huge heart-shaped rock on which he envisioned a consecration of a monastery which later came to be known as Taktshang Zangtopelri Lhakhang.
Later, Ngawang Jigme Norbu, the 4th reincarnation of the mind of Zhabdrung (Thuktrul Zshiba), called upon Lhaba, the then Paro Poenlop, bestowed him with plenty of gifts and pledged him to the task of the consecration of the envisioned monastery. As per the pledge, the Poenlop, with the collective efforts from people of Paro valley, built the monastery in 1853 which came to be known as ‘Taktshang Zangtopelri Lhakhang’ meaning heavenly abode. It stood as a monument of Guru holding sacred treasures. The glorious presence of the Taktshang Zangtopelri Lhakhang made people think of another paradise (abode of Guru) on earth and became a place of reverence for people, even living far and wide.
Soon after, the Taktshang Zangtopelri Lhakhang caught fire in 1858, in the year of the Water Snake and was renovated at a later date and does not look as big and real as the former monastery now. Few meters below the monastery stood the ‘Marchi Drupkhang’ which holds the sacred scripts of Guru concealed there by Pha Dampa and his follower, Khandu Bumgi Tshomo Marchi Lap Ki Dolma (yogi). The Drubkhang circumambulating the traces of the footprint and the ‘Drupchu’ (holy water) was burnt down when the Lhakhang caught fire.
You can also get the panoramic view of Tiger Nest Monastery from Zangtopelri Lhakhang.