Paro is a name of the town center as well the name of district or Dzongkhag. The small and charming town of Paro lies in the center of the valley at an average elevation of 2280m, on the bank of Pa Chhu River. Paro town was first formed in 1985 with one main street, lined with colorfully painted shops. Of recent, new constructions have taken place at the back of the main street. The head quarter of Paro district is located in nearby RinphungDzong. Bhutan’s international airport is also located here and the capital is just over 1hour away. Paro is known to be most fertile valley. It is one of the most historic valleys in Bhutan. Both trade goods and invading Tibetans came over the pass at the head of the valley, making Paro the closest cultural connection with Tibet of any Bhutanese district. Paro is one of the most tranquil and beautiful valley in Bhutan.
Paro is the name of district or Dzongkhag and as well as the name of its town center. ParoDzongkhag is situated in the north-western part of Bhutan. It covers a total area of 1258.5 Sq. km. Paro is linked by road to Phuentsholing and Thimphu. The office of the district administration is located in RinphungDzong, near Paro town. The small and charming town of Paro is located at an elevation of about 2280m in the center of the valley, on the bank of Pa Chhu River. Paro town was first formed in 1985 with one main street, lined with colorfully painted shops. Of recent, new constructions have taken place at the back of the main street. Bhutan’s international airport is also located here and the capital is just over 1hour away. Paro is known to be most fertile valley in Bhutan. It is one of the most historic valleys in Bhutan. Both trade goods and invading Tibetans came over the pass at the head of the valley, making Paro the closest cultural connection with Tibet of any Bhutanese district. Paro is one of the most tranquil and beautiful valley in Bhutan.
As of Jan 2011, ParoDzongkhag has 10 village blocks known as Gewogs. These Gewogs are Dogar, Dopshari, Doteng, Hungrel, Lamgong, Lugnyi, Naja, Shaba, Tsento and Wangchang with about 7118 households. It has total of 22 schools comprising of 2 Higher Secondary Schools, 2 Middle Secondary Schools, 8 Lower Secondary Schools, 3 Primary Schools, 3 Community Primary Schools, and 4 Private Schools (including one Higher Secondary School).
PLACES OF ATTRACTION
1. TAKTSHANG PELPHUNG MONASTERY
Taktshang or ‘Tiger’s Nest’ as it is often referred to for Taktshang Pelphung monastery, is one of the most venerated and famous of Bhutan’s monasteries. It is located on the face of a 900m sheer cliff. It is an impressive and unmissable site, but accessible only by walk or to ride mules/pony.
From the trail head at Rumtokto (2600m), the walk till the Cafeteria is a steep one hour uphill (about 350m ascent). From the Cafeteria (2940m), one can get a good close-up view of Taktshang. Savor views of the monastery over a well deserved cup of tea and biscuits at the cafeteria and continue uphill for another 45 minutes to a high observation point (3140m) where there is a Chorten. From this vantage point, the lookout to the monastery is a very spectacular and seems almost close enough to touch. It is now on the other side of a deep chasm, only around 150m away as bird flies, but takes half hour or even more to reach. Continue down the flight of cliff-hanging steps on the narrow trail to a beautiful waterfall that plunges down the deep chasm and alongside is a retreat hermitage, jammed dramatically into a rock crevice. Then climb up the flight of steep steps to the monastery. At any point on this walk, you can always return if you find it too difficult. Once inside the monastery, there are several shrines or temples with few monks in residence. After visiting Taktshang monastery’s many shrines, most tours schedule lunch at the Cafeteria upon return. After lunch, retrace back to the road-head where you started in the morning. The return from Cafeteria is all downhill and takes just over half hour.
Further, if you have more time, energy and ready for more challenging day, you can start early and trek beyond Takstang to see several monasteries, temples, retreat houses in the surrounding area. The most notable among them are Zangdopelri and UgyenTsemo.
Pony/horse can be hired for ride up till the Cafeteria. However you cannot ride beyond the cafeteria or come down hill on the horse.
According to the legend, Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, who spread the Buddhism across the entire Himalayas is said to have flown here in the 8th century on the back of a Tigress, in order to subdue negative spiritual forces that were hostile to spread of Buddhism. In 853, one of his students, PelgyiSenge mediated here in the main cave. The stupa inside one of the temples contains his mortal remains and therefore the cave is known as ‘Pelphung or Pelgi’s cave’. Subsequently many great spiritual masters such as Milarepa, ThangthongGyalpo, PhajoDugomZhigpo, Shadrung and many others, passed periods here in profound meditation. In 1692, Tenzin Rabgye built a two storey temple around what little may have existed previously. This was expanded and refurbished many times over the period of time. Taktshang and several temples in the area were burnt down in 1951 by fire accident but much of them remained intact and most of the relics were saved. Soon after, the, Taktshang was rebuilt by population of Tsento village. Again in April of 1998, a major fire destroyed the main structure of the building and its contents (some believe it to be arson). Reconstruction began in 2000 and was completed and consecrated after extensive efforts and financial support of Governments as well as donors.
Taktshang or the Tiger’s lair as the monastery is widely regarded is one of the most important in Bhutan. Its history is associated with the visit of Guru Padmasambhava, the Indian saint who came to Bhutan in the 8th century AD. According to the legend, the cave was named Taktshang, after Guru Rinpoche is said to flown here from KurtoeSingyeDzong in eastern Bhutan on the back of a tigress. Guru Rinpoche then manifested into a wrathful form known as Guru DorjiDrolo to subdue the demons. The monastery is one of the main among thirteen Taktshangs, predicted to be built in the Buddhist world. The cliff on which Taktshang stands is also supposed to resemble a ritual dagger known as Phurpa. Many Buddhist masters also spent time here in meditation. The foremost being LangchenPelgiSengye, one of the 25 disciples of Guru Rinpoche, who also named it as Pelphug (the cave of Pelgi).LangchenPelgiSengye went to Nepal after a spell of meditation in Taktshang and died there. However, DamchenDorjiLegpa (protective deity) is said to have brought back his kudung (bone relic), which is still preserved today. It is still believed that LangchenPelgiSengye on auspicious days pay visit to Taktshang and the chorten which contains his remains is believed to fulfil one’s wishes. The site was later visited by many other Buddhist saints and masters including Milarepa, ThangthonGyalpo and PhajoDugomZhigpo. Later it was also visited by ZhabdrungNgawangNamgyal and conducted MonlamChenmo (the great prayer ceremony), and a Drubchen (consecration ceremony) for a week in honor of Tshepamed – Amitayus and formally took charge of Taktshang. JinpaGyeltshen, the brother of Tenzin Rabgye was also appointed as the Taktshang Lam, which was then a small shrine. The fourth DrukDesi Tenzin Rabgye laid the foundations of the Taktshang Monastery and the construction began on the 10th day of the Water Monkey Year in 1692. The two storied monastery was finally completed after three years corresponding to the Wood Dog Year in 1694. The first Lama to be installed was Sakya Tenzin.
Next to Taktshang is a waterfall known as ShelkarZar. This is believed to be the Drupchu (holy water) of one hundred thousand dakinis. Beside the water fall is the main seat of Guru Rinpoche on a rock where he preached to his consort KhandoYesheyTshogyal. As a blessing, he gave his crystal rosaries to KhandoYesheyTshogyal and thereafter the area came to be known as ShelkarZar.
On the left side of ShelkarZar is a small meditation cave in which KhandoYesheyTshogyal and Guru Rinpoche meditated. The stone seems to resembles a lion’s face and therefore the cave is known as SengyePhug.
The monastery was burnt down in 1951 by the fire, which was started accidentally by a woman while preparing her land for the next crop and burning the old stalks, the fire became uncontrollable and in the process reached Taktshang. King JigmeWangchuck ordered the entire population of Tsento village to rebuild the four temples of Taktshang as they did not help in controlling the fire. The Shamagompa was built by the DrugyalDzongponJangsarp. The lady who was responsible for the fire was ordered to rebuild the Zangdopelri Monastery. UgyenTsemo was rebuilt by the Taktshang Lama Khagorp, which was rebuilt again in 1954 on the order of the Queen Mother AshiPhuntshoChoden by Je Khenpo Tenzin Dendup and PhubDorji. On Sunday night 19, April 1998, a huge fire, probably caused by butter lamp destroyed the temple almost completely. The government undertook the reconstruction in 2000 with funds also received from outside donors. The monastery was recreated to its original splendor. There are shrines or temples like Druphu Nye, Guru Sung Jon mai, Kunrey (assembly hall), Chorten temple, Guru Tshengyad temple, Drolo, Namsey, Tshepamed, Naypoi and MarmiDagsum temple. The main event at Takstang is a weeklong ritual in the 5th month, dedicated to Tshepamed (Amitabah), as introduced by Zhabdrung in 1645.
2. CHELELA PASS (3810M) SEPRATES HAA AND PARO
The 35km drive to cheli la makes an interesting road excursion and is an excellent jumping-off point for day walks. Chele la separates Haa and Paro valley and at 3810m, it is one of the highest motor able pass in Bhutan. The drive till here from either Paro or Haa is through dense spruce and larch forests according to the seasons. On a clear day, there are spectacular views of Mt. Jumolhari, Jichu Drake and adjoining peaks to the North West, as well as the view of Haa and Paro valley
3. CHUMPHUG NEY
Chumophug or Chumphug is situated at about 3100m above sea level on a steep mountain slope. It is one of the most sacred pilgrimage places in the Himalayas. With its towering cliffs and waterfalls, it revered as a Second Pemako, in reference to Padmasambhava’s “Hidden Land”, situated along Tsangpo gorge in remote part of Aurunachal Pradesh.
Guru Padmasabhava is said to have mediated in Chumophug for about 3 months in 8th century. There are numerous caves associated with Guru. Many important Buddhist masters is said to have followed the footsteps of Guru and mediated here. Among other, many Bhutanese teachers such as TertonDrukdraDorji, JeyShakyaRinchen, JeyYontenThaye, JeyKuengaGyeltsen is said to have spent time here. The main relic in the temple is self arisen image of Vajravarahi or DorjiPhagmo, a form of Varja Yogini, the highest female tutelary deity in Himalayan Buddhism. There are lots of unusual shaped rocks and imprint of Guru Rimpoche in the area. 12 young monks headed by one teacher and Lama is in residence here.
From Paro town, it is about 45minutes drive on the farm road, on side valley, following Dochuriver, which flows into Pachu. From the road head, it is about 3 hrs trek through dense oak, conifer and bamboo forests. First two hours hike is a gentle gradual ascend, crossing rivers few times well maintained small wooden bridges. The final 45 minutes trek is a steep ascend to reach the main temple. Along the way, one can make de-tour, visiting caves and waterfalls.
There are no camping sites near the temple as it is too steep. The only possibility to camp is in the valley at the base which is about 45 minutes before the temple. Pilgrims may request the caretaker lama to stay in one of the retreat house near a temple.
4. IN PARO TOWN
Druk Choeding temple
It was built in 1525 by NgawangChogyel, one of the prince-abbots of Ralung in Tibet and an ancestor of the ShabdrungNgawangNamgyel. It is also known as TshongdoeNaktsang temple or in short Tshongdoe temple.
5. DRUKGYAL DZONG
Now in ruins is located 14kms north of Paro town, near the end of the paved road. Its name means victories fortress and was built 1644-49 to commemorate the Bhutanese victory over the Tibetan-Mongol forces. It was later burnt in fire by accident in 1951. On a clear day, Mt. Jumolhari, Bhutan’s holy peak can be seen against its backdrop.
DrukgyalDzong was one of the four principal DraDzongs (defense fortress). Accounts differ on the founder of DrukgyalDzong. Most writers feel that it was ZhabdrungNgawangNamgyal who built it to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan army in 1649. Others believe that it was Tenzin Drugda, the second Desi, (who was ParoPenlop at the time) who built it at the behest of ZhabdrungNawangNamgyal. Despite differences of opinion on the founder of the Dzong, people agree on the fact that it was built to commemorate the victory of the Bhutanese over the allied Tibet-Mongol forces. Hence the name DrukGyal “the fortress of victory’ The Dzong was used as a summer residence by the RingpungRabdey. In 1951, in the 10th month of Bhutanese calendar, on the last day of the three-day annual prayers, the Dzong was burnt. It is said to have been caused by the fire when a butter lamp fell in the central tower. Only the ruins of giant walls, charred gigantic wooden posts, beams and watch towers can be seen of what was once an important fortress that repelled several invasions from the north.
6. DUNGTSE TEMPLE
was constructed by the great bridge-builder ThangtongGyelpo in 1433. It is said to have been built on the head of demoness, who was causing illness to the inhabitants. The building was restored in 1841 and is a unique repository of Kagyu lineage arts. You may or may not be permitted inside but can walk around this three-storey Chorten-type building.
DungtseLhakhang was constructed by the great bridge-builder ThangtongGyelpo in 1433. It is said to have been built on the head of demoness, who was causing illness to the inhabitants. The building was restored in 1841 and is a unique repository of Kagyu lineage arts. You may or may not be permitted inside but can walk around this three-storey Chorten-type building.
7. DZONGDRAKHA MONASTERY SET SIMILAR TO TAKSTANG
From the little town of Bondey, near the airport, walk for about ½ an hour to Dzongdrakha, a group of temple monastery with retreat center overlooking the Paro Valley. The temples are situated on the cliffs above the terraced fields of Bondhey. The temples were built in the 16th century by the first local king, ChogayDragpa. The four temples are dedicated to Tara, Tsheringma, Guru and JowoJampa.
8. KILA GOMPA OR CHELI LA GOMPA
KilaGoempa nunnery or Chele la Gompa is located on the cliffs below Chele pass at about 3,500m. There are around seven small temples and several retreat huts built into a dizzying sheer Cliffside, where between 30 to 70 nuns live in self-imposed isolation. They rarely get visitors, as the hike up from the main road takes almost an hour each way, through forest and steep slopes. There is also another trail descending from Chelela pass at 3810m down the slopes to Kila that takes between 1-2hrs. The drive till Chele la pass from Paro is around 35km and takes around one and half hour and takes less than an hour, if you are coming from Haa.
There are great views from here of Paro valley below, a view of JeleDzong across on the far ridge and also seen to the north, are Mt Chomolhari and Jichu Drake on a clear day.
KilaGnunnery or Chele la Gompa is located on the cliffs below Chele pass at about 3,500m above sea level. There are seven small temples and several retreat huts built into a dizzying Cliffside, a days walk from anywhere, where some 30 to 70 nuns live in self-imposed isolation. They rarely get visitors as the hike up from the main road takes almost an hour each way, through forest and steep slopes. The drive till the pass takes around one and half hour from Paro and less than an hour, if you are coming from Haa. There are great views from here of Paro valley below, JeleDzong across on the far ridge and also seen to the north, are Mt Chomolhari and Jichu Drake on a clear day. Kila in Sanskrit means a subjugating spiritual dagger that destroys the negativities.
9. KICHU OR KYERCHU LHAKHANG
Kichu Lhakhang or Kyerchu Temple is located short distance north of Paro town. It is one of the oldest and most beautiful temples. The temple is popularly believed to have been built in 659AD by King SongtsenGampo of Tibet, to pin down ‘the left foot of the supine Ogress’, which was thwarting the establishment of Buddhism in Himalayas. Kyichu is said to be one of the main 12 temples of the 108 temples that were built overnight across Tibet and borderlands. The temple was adopted by different sects and many important Buddhists teachers spent time here and unearthed concealed teachings (terton). The inner hall of the main JowoLhakhang shrine conceals the original 7th century Jowo Jamba Statue. Its central image of Jowo Jamba is flanked by eight standing bodhisattvas and by statue of Zhabdrung and Guru Rinpoche. The outer hall of the Jowo contains statue of Chenrizig with 11 heads and 1000 arms. Attached to JowoLhakhang is Guru Lhakhang temple, which was constructed by Queen Mother AshiKesangWangchuk in 1968 and its principal image is 5m statue of Guru Rinpoche . Also here is a chorten, containing ashes of ofDilgoKhyentse Rinpoche, a highly revered Buddhist master, and spiritual teacher of Queen Mother who passed away in 1992 and was cremated nearby.
KichuLhakhang was originally a small structure at the time of its establishment. Over the years the temple was visited and blessed by many famous Buddhist saints including Guru Rinpoche in the 8th century, Lam KhaNga and PhajoDugomZhigpo to list few. Many of them also expanded the temple in size and grandeur over the period of time. One such personality was Je SherubGyeltshen who lived in the 18th century. He extended the JowoLhakhang and added many new statues. The latest extension was carried out in 1965 under the initiative of the Royal Queen Mother AshiKezangChodenWangchuck. She added another new structure to the temple known as Guru Lhakhang.
As one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, the temple has many relics. The inner hall of the main JowoLhakhang conceals the valley’s greatest treasure, an original 7th century statue of JowoSakyamuni, believed to be cast at the same time as its famous counterpart in Lhasa. Guru Lhakhang temple contains 5m high statues of Guru Rinpoche and Red Kurukulla. Also in here is the chorten containing the ashes of DilgoKhyentse Rinpoche, a revered teacher who was cremated nearby in 1992.
10. TA DZONG
Established in 1967, the museum is housed inside a circular Ta Dzong, an ancient watchtower. It has fascinating collection of arts, relics, religious thangkha paintings, households stuffs, arms, handicrafts, stuffed animals and Bhutan’s famous Stamps among others (open 10-4pm – closed on Monday).
National Museum of Bhutan is located inside six floors of circular Ta Dzong, an ancient watchtower above ParoDzong. The original building was constructed in 1656. In 1872, the future first monarch, UgyenWangchuk was imprisoned here, while embroiled in the conflict. The building was converted to house, the first museum of Bhutan in 1968. The collection of the museum comprises of textiles, gears, costumes, manuscripts, paintings, appliqué and embroidered Thangkas. There is a gallery of Bhutan’s famous stamp, stuffed animals, insects, bamboo crafts, arms and armours, jewellery, household artifacts. On the top, there is also a chapel in form of a life-sustaining tree, with icons representing various Himalayan Buddhist traditions.
11. HEAP OF JEWELS – FORTRESS (PARO DZONG)
RinphungDzong was consecrated in 1645 by ShabdrungNawangNamgyal on the site of smaller fort. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries it served as a bastion against invasion from the north. It is regarded as one of the finest Bhutanese architecture – with intricate wood work, large beams slotted into each other and held together without nails. In it houses the giant 30m X 45m Thangka (Thongdrol), commissioned in mid 18th century, displayed on the last day of ParoTsechu festival. RinphungDzong is the district headquarter of Paro and residence of state monks under Parorabdey.
The construction of the ParoDzong began in 1644 on the order of ZhabdrungNgawangNamgyal. ParoDzong’s full name is RingpungDzong, which means ‘heap of jewels – fort’. In 15th century, two brothers Gyelchok and Gyelzom, descendents of Phajo (the founder of Drukpa Kagyu in Bhutan), lived in the valley. Gyelchok left for Tibet to study theology and when he returned, moved to Humrelkha and built a small structure that would later become the ParoDzong. Gyelchok’s descendants, who controlled a large portion of the valley, were known as Lords of Humrelkha. In 1645, the Lords of Humrelkha relinquished their small fort to ZhabdrungNgawangNamgyel, recognizing his religious and political prowess. Immediately, Zhabdrung began construction of a much more superior fortress and in 1646, the Dzong was consecrated. It is approached by a gently sloping flagstone road and an attractive wooden bridge, roofed with shingles. Like most Dzongs, Rinphung is the administrative seat of the district of Paro, and also houses state monastic community of about 200 members.
Administrative offices line the first courtyard of the Dzong. The Utse (tower) of the Dzong is one of the most beautiful in Bhutan with its outstanding woodwork. In 1905 the Dzongcaught fire, but was repaired in 1908/9 to its original state with the addition of statues of Guru Rinpoche, Buddha and the Zhabdrung. The most precious object of the Dzong, is the Thongdroel, a 20×20 meter wide Thangka –applique work. It was saved from the fire and is annually displayed to public during the ParoTshechu Festival.
12. PARO BAZAAR
The colorful weekend market of Paro is held in the town area on Sunday, and it is busiest in the morning till 10am. By noon, most of the vendors would have left and the crowd is thinned out.
13. TACHOG LHAKHANG OR TACHOGANG LHAKHANG
Tachogang lhakhang is located along Paro-Thimphu highway, just after Isuna village and before Chhuzom, on the base of a mountain across the Pa chu river. It was built in the early 15th century by the great iron bridge builder and Poet – Yogi Thangtong Gyalpo(1385-1464), who also built DungtseLhakhang in Paro and many iron bridges throughout Bhutan and Tibet. The temple is privately run by the descendents of Thangtong Gyalpo.
Tachog or Tachoganglhakhang is located along Paro-Thimphu highway, just after Isuna village and before Chhuzom, on the base of a mountain across the Pa chu river. It was built in the early 15th century by the great master architect and yogi ThangtongGyalpo(1385-1464), who also built DungtseLhakhang in Paro and many iron bridges throughout Bhutan and Tibet. Tachogang means ‘temple of the hill of the excellent horse’. It is said that while ThangtongGyalpo was meditating here, he had a vision of the spiritual horse Balaha-an emanation of Avalokiteshvara. He decided there upon to build a temple at this spot, in addition to one of his famous iron bridges later carried away by floods in 1969. A traditional style bridge with iron chains was restored in 2005. The temple is privately run by the descendents of ThangtongGyalpo.