visitors are now required to enter the kingdom at paro by the national airline,
Druk-Air.It may be more convenient for some visitors to leave the kingdom via
the southern outlets of Samdrup Jangkhar in the east or phuentsholing in the
west. Twenty-five years ago all visitors would have had to walk for five days
across the mountains to each paro from the Indian border. Now the journey by
air is only 45 minutes from Calcutta, kathmandu or Dhaka.
The mythical dream-like kingdom comes into view as Druk-Airs BAE-146 aircraft
swings in giant arcs and descends onto Bhutans only airstrip at paro.
Once on the ground the dexterity of the international flight crew can be fully
appreciated as a glance in any direction provides an aweinspiring view at very
close range of the Himalayan mountains.
An official at Bhutans now defunct government tourism authority described
the paro valley in poetic terms: If ever a place exists where nature and man
consulted to create their dearest image, it must be the valley of paro. To the
north, Mount Jhomolhari (mountain of the Goddess Jhomo) reigns in sacred glory.
The glacier waterways from its five sister peaks plunge through deep gorges,
finally converging to form the Paro River that nourishes the rice fields and
the apple and peach orchards of its own valley.
Paro valley is one of the most populated areas of the whole country. Because
of its proximity to the airport, there ae hotels and tourist facilities close
to the airstrip. The Hotel Olathang is located on the southern face of the valley
isn the heart of apine forest. The Druk hotel and Paro hotel have opened closer
to Paro down.
The valley of Paro contains a wealth of attractions and requires a few days
to be properly explored. Casting a shadow across the town of Paro and controlling
all secular and religious activities in its valley is the elegant and perfectly
symmetrical Rinpung Dzong. Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the first
spiritual and temporal ruler of Bhutan, the Dzong houses the monastic body of
Paro, the office of the Dzongda (district administrative head) and Thrimpon
(judge) of Paro District.
Behind Rinpung Dzong, on the high hillside, is the castle-shaped Ta Dzong. Onetime
watch tower built to defend Rinpung Dzong during inter-valley wars of the 17th
Century, Ta Dzong ha housed the nations heritage in Bhutans National
Museum since 1967. The museums circular shape augments its varied collection
displayed over several floors.
From a Buddhists point of view, Paro was the first stop for Guru Rimpoche
on his crusade from Tibet to Bhutan over one thousand years ago. Guru Rimpoche
is said to have arrived on the back of a tigress and meditated at monastery
overlooking Paro Valley. That monastery is now a hallowed shrine for Bhutanese
pilgrims who travel from all over the land to pray at its temple. Tourists are
usually not allowed into the temple itself but they can and should climb the
mountain that leads to a spectacular look out onto Tigers Nest. The trail
from the road takes a good walker about three hours to climb and about half
that time to descend. A café at the lookout provides well-earned tea
and snacks. For those unable to walk up the mountain(and its a tough walk
even when acclimatized), local tour operators can arrange ponies who ably trot
up the mountain in a couple or hours.
Eighteen kilometers from paro town on the south side of the valley are the burnt
ruins of Drugyel Dzong (victorious fortress). It was from this monastery that
the Bhutanese repelled several invading Tibetan armies during the 17th century.
A sprinkling of shops decorate the high street that marks paro town. This is
a good place to buy a packet of biscuits and some drinks before a journey.
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