Photos by Lincoln Potter

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PARO (alt. 2,200m)

Paro Dzong

Paro Dzong

Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan, the Dzong continues its age-old function as the seat of the district administration, district court and the monastic body. The southern approach to the Dzong has a traditional roofed cantilever bridge called Nemi Zam. A walk across the bridge offers a wide view of the dzong’s architecture and an opportunity to tread the same path as ancient warriors. The dzong is also the venue for well-known annual Paro Tshechu, held in the spring.

Ta Dzong

Typical of all watchtowers in Bhutan, it is has round walls and stands at a commanding height overlooking the Paro Dzong, which it defended during civil wars between 17th and 19th centuries. In 1967 it was converted into National Museum. In its six floors, it holds rich collection of art, relics, religious paintings and Bhutan’s famous postage stamps. A visit here will serve as a good introduction to Bhutan before you delve deeper into the country.

Drukgyel Dzong

This Dzong, with a delightful village nestling at its foot, was built in 1649 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate victory over the marauding Tibetan and Mongolian invaders. This was part of the first glimpse of Bhutan as featured to the outside world in 1914 National Geographic Magazine article. Although destroyed by fire in 1951, it still retains its majesty. Take a walk around the dzong and witness the Bhutanese ingenuity in defense architecture.

Kyichu Lhakhang

An elegant temple, it is one of the oldest and most sacred shrines in the Kingdom dating back to 7th century, the other being Jambey Lhakhang in Bumthang. They are two surviving temples in Bhutan commissioned by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet who took upon himself to build 108 temples in Tibet and other Himalayan regions. The complex consists of three temples with latest one built in 1968 by H.M. Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan. The older temple contains a replica of the Buddha Maitreya of Jokhang in Lhasa and the new one has a giant statue of Guru Rimpoche.

Kila Goemba

It is the spiritual sanctuary housing nuns who dedicate their lives to studies, prayers and meditation. The goemba nestles precariously on a craggy side of a mountain very close to Chelela. The foundation dates back to the 9th century where many renowned saints spent years in meditation. It is a half-hour walk one way from the roadside.

Farm House

Due to popularity of traditional architecture and now by decree of the government, all houses strictly follow indigenous rules. Houses in Bhutan are two to three storeys, built of timber with stone or rammed mud. They are generously decorated with motifs, carvings and paintings. The ground floor in the past was commonly used as granary or animal shelter. The first floor was used as living space including kitchen. The top floor usually housed the family chapel and guest rooms. Paro offers many great examples of Bhutanese farmhouses. A visit to one of them would be worth a glimpse into Bhutanese farm life.

Druk Choeding

Situated right at the entrance of Paro town it was built in 1525 by Ngawang Chhogyel, a renowned lama, featured in the travel stories and teachings of the Divine Madman, saint Drukpa Kuenley. He was a prince-abbot of Ralung in Tibet and an ancestor of the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.

Taktshang Lhakhang (Tiger’s Nest)

Taksang Monastery, The Tiger's Nest, Paro Valley

Taksang Monastery, The Tiger's Nest, Paro Valley

One of the famous monasteries of Bhutan, especially to the outside world, is perched on a cliff 900 meters above the Paro valley. Guru Rimpoche is believed to have arrived here on the back of a tigress and remained in meditation for about three months. Revered as one of the most sacred place, many great saints from both Tibet and India traveled here on pilgrimage. In addition to few other places, every Bhutanese wishes to visit here at least once in their lifetime. The cave in which Guru Rimpoche meditated is open to the public once every year. On 19 April 1998, a fire severely damaged the main structure of building but the reconstruction is almost complete. The temple itself is closed to tourists but the hike up to the viewpoint is worth every step. It takes a about an hour and half one way.