Planning a trip to Bhutan? Make sure your first stop is the beautiful valley of Paro, the land of unsullied wilderness and long-forgotten customs. Paro is an ideal mix of ancient history and breath-taking natural beauty, with a healthy dash of modern life thrown in. Here are the top 5 things to do in Paro that you need to have on your to-do list.
1. Visit the Tiger’s Nest Monastery
Taktsang Monastery, popularly known as Tiger’s Nest, is the unofficial symbol of Bhutan and one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in the country. Legends say that Guru Rinpoche, the Father of Bhutanese Buddhism, arrived here more than a million years ago from Tibet on the back of a tigress and meditated at this place.
Perched atop a hill, this Buddhist monastery clings to a granite cliff more than 3,000 metres above sea level. The journey takes around 2-3 hours to complete, with a steep uphill climb. If your knees are a weak point, you can also opt to take a pony ride. There is a cafeteria located midway where travellers can take a break to rest, eat and take beautiful pictures of the monastery and the surrounding valley. Visitors require a special permit to enter the monastery which needs to be procured in advance.
Monastery: (October-March) 8 am-1 pm and 2 pm-5 pm; (April-September) 8 am-1 pm and 2 pm-6 pm daily
Cafeteria: Noon-3 pm daily
2. Try an Adventure Activity
Paro is the hub for adventure activities in Bhutan, ranging from trekking, mountain biking, to rafting and kayaking. The Snowman Trek is one of the most exciting and challenging treks in the world. The trek extends over 5,400 metres, crossing four different passes and camps at high altitudes. It starts at Paro and leads you through Lingshi and Laya to the remote corners of the Lunana Valley. The best time for trekking in Paro is between September and October.
Mountain biking trails are aplenty in Paro and an excellent way to explore ruins and monasteries that are inaccessible by foot. Biking down the route from Paro to Bumthang, passing rice fields, rugged terrain and spiraling descents are popular among bikers.
If you are looking to try rafting and kayaking, the lower Paro Chhu River stretches for about seven kilometres and has many small boulder rapids. Mo Chhu on the other hand is more suitable for beginners. You can also enjoy the scenic beauty of the city and catch a glimpse of the queen’s winter residence and the king’s winter retreat as you go down the river.
3. Unwind with Some Meditation
Bhutan is the perfect place to unwind and do some soul searching. For all those looking for some spiritual guidance and peace of mind, attend a meditation session at the many monasteries around or even at your own hotel. Buddhism in Bhutan is not just a religion. It is a way of life that you encounter as you interact with the people and travel through the country.
If meditation is not for you, soak in a mineral spring bath or Tshachu for its medicinal properties. Even a walk by the river in the beautiful valley of Paro will feel like therapy.
4. Savor the Local Flavors
Bhutan’s favourite dish, Ema Datshi (not a Bhutanese greeting!) is a mix of red hot chillies and yak cheese found in every meal across Bhutan. This delicacy is also the national dish of Bhutan and is a must-try. Apart from chilies, Bhutanese cuisine largely comprises chicken, pork and beef. If you’re a pork eaters, try Phaksha Paa, a dish cooked with pork, spicy red chillies with radishes or spinach. Other dishes worth trying are Jasha Maru (Spicy minced chicken) and Goep (Tripe).
For vegetarians, there are a lot of interesting dishes with locally found vegetables. There are also some unique choices like nettles, orchids and fern fronds mostly cooked in cheese sauce and served with red rice. Another vegetarian dish to try is a Hoentoe. An interesting take on dumplings, Hoentoe are aromatic buckwheat dumplings stuffed with turnip greens, datshi (cheese), spinach and other interesting ingredients.
5. Explore the City
When in Paro, there is just so much to see in the city that you need have an itinerary with all the must-see places. The first thing on the list should be the view of Mount Everest when you fly into Paro. If you miss it on your way in, make sure to keep your eyes peeled to catch a glimpse of the world’s tallest peak on the way back.
Take a drive up to the Chele La Pas for a nice picnic and a mesmerizing view of the Himalayas and Mount Jumolhari. The other places you need to explore in Paro include the National Museum, the Paro Dzong and the Drukgyel Dzong. The National Museum is located in an ancient watch tower and holds a sizable collection of coins, stamps, weapons, Bhutanese art and artifacts. A great crowd-puller is the display of a fragment of the moon brought by Neil Armstrong here. The Paro Dzong is the finest example of Bhutanese architecture, with its colossal fortress and monastery and a beautiful view of Paro valley. The dzong is also the seat of the annual Paro Tshechu Festival.
Best Time: Head to Bhutan during September-November for pleasant temperatures and clear skies. Summers are a wet time and winters can get really cold. The other good time to head to Paro is during March to May when the famous festival, Paro Tsechu takes place.
Budget: A week-long trip to Bhutan will cost around INR 29,000 (inclusive of stay in 3-star hotels, meals, transfers, sightseeing in Paro, Thimpu, and Phuentsholing)
Traveller Type: Bhutan has something for everybody. You can opt to travel solo or with family and friends
So have you packed your bags yet? What are you waiting for?