After our adventures in Nepal, we boarded a flight from Kathmandu to Paro in Bhutan. This flight is known to be one of the world’s most scenic flights as you fly above most of 8000+ summits in the world. We were lucky enough to have clear weather so we had an unreal view from up there with the summits of the Everest and others being almost as high as the altitude at which the plane was flying.
Our first stop in Bhutan was Paro, which is said to be the prettiest town of the whole of Bhutan. The airport building gave us a first taste of what Bhutan would look like with beautiful paintings of mythical animals on the external massive white walls and carved wooden rooftops full of ornaments. It turned out all the houses in Bhutan look like this, and the paintings of the animals are a symbol of protection for the family – typically 3 or 4 generations together – living under its roof.
Even though it is the second largest town of Bhutan, Paro is tiny and the centre is just a handful of streets full of shops and restaurants. Coming from Kathmandu we were struck by the cold temperature in Paro – around 15 degrees during the day and less than 8 degrees at night – mainly because of the high altitude (3000m), so we were happy we still had our down jackets from the Everest Base Camp trek.
The first thing we visited in the town is the famous ‘Paro Dzong’, which used to be a fortress to protect the village against invaders from Tibet, and today hosts the monastic body (around 200 monks) as well as the government offices of the District of Paro. Inside we found amazing Buddhist paintings and were even allowed to observe the life of dedicated monks (…surprisingly all with the latest smartphones), some of them still young children!
After the Dzong our guide took us to visit an amazing collection of traditional masks, paintings and statues in the National Museum of Paro. Bhutan is famous for its masks, which represent different incarnations of buddhistic deities, each more colourful than the other. The masks are used by the monks for special dances during the many festivals that take place all around Bhutan. We were lucky to attend one of them in Thimpu at the end of our stay in Bhutan.
Paro is also home to the world famous ‘Tiger’s Nest’ Monastery or ‘Taktshang Goemba’, a sacred place for Buddhist people and the most beautiful and impressive sight in the whole of Bhutan! The Monastery is built on a sheer vertical cliff, high above a pine forest and we reached it after a 2 hours steep walk up – luckily we were in great shape after our Himalayan adventures in Nepal :-). Legend has it that a Buddhist Master from Tibet flew to this place on the back of a Tigress and established Buddhism in Bhutan. The Monastery is full of paintings and temples, where local people come to pray and make wishes. The whole place has a very mystical and sacred vibe – a well-kept Buddhist treasure!
Paro was definitely our favourite town in Bhutan, where people care more about happiness than wealth, and where ancient culture and values prevail over western modernisation. It’s a must to spend a couple of days here before exploring the rest of the country.
Our favourites (note: foreigners can only enter Bhutan if they pre-booked and paid the whole trip through a certified travel agency where everything is included at a fixed Government-set price of 250USD per person per day – meaning you do not have a lot to say in where you eat and where you sleep as the agency will book this for you. Still, there is room for change if you ask your guide locally so here are our favourites)
- Bhutan Travel Bureau: a well-established local travel agency through which we organised our trip. Very professional and knowledgeable, they have been organising trips for 25 years!
- Tenzinling Resort – a bit outside of town but huge comfortable rooms and very quiet
Still admiring Tiger’s nest