The majestic Dzong or Monastery perched high on a hill, the river kissing the shore and the blue sky with white clouds scattered around, time definitely had come to a standstill with nothing but nature around and tales of history urging to be heard. These are the memories that leave an everlasting impression and it is this natural beauty that automatically calms you down, making you forget your worries and be content and filled with gratitude for having witnessed this moment. And to make this memory further more romantic, we noticed an old couple sitting right next to us clicking pictures and giggling away to glory while their eyes speaking volumes, if this doesn't define romance, there is nothing else that could. Happy and content with their memories and a childlike smile on their faces, they walked away but not before the man winked at us confirming that love is not age bound. Yes, this would definitely be one memory that would flash our minds minutes before resting in peace.
Paro valley is best explored on foot. Though lesser populated than Thimphu, Paro is more famous globally due to the imposing Tiger Nest Monastery. If Thimphu is calm and quite, Paro is serene. While heading to the most iconic place in Bhutan- Paro valley leaving the capital city of Thimphu behind, we were excited as this tiny town serves as the perfect retreat. The river that runs through the town, the beautiful and colorful trees, pristine valleys, the magnanimous Dzongs & monasteries make Paro picture perfect.
Paro/Rinpung Dzong: Also known as the "Fortress on the heap of jewels," it was built in the 15th century but was destroyed by fire in 1907. Built again using traditional methods i.e. no nails and bolts it stands as a fine example of Bhutanese architecture. This massive fortress now serves as an administrative office and is open for public viewing. The monastery can be reached either by a fleet of steep rock cut steps or an inclined and smooth pathway. After the tiring hike we climbed down and sat by the Paro river that made our evening idyllic & romantic.
One of the reasons why Bhutan is famous and most people visit Paro is to hike up Taksang Monastery. The dramatic monastery built 3000 m above sea level embracing a cliff is nothing less than any wonder. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava flew here on a tigress from Tibet and meditated here in a cave for three months. Hence, it is known as Tiger's Nest Monastery. To give full justice to the monastery, we will be dedicating an exclusive post for Tiger Nest.
A few kilometers away from Paro town is the Paro National Museum, built as a watchtower to protect Paro Dzong in 1651, it was converted to a museum in 1965. This museum stands as another sign of the good relationship that India and Bhutan share. This museum was funded by the Indian government and one of the relics 'A double Barrel Gun' was gifted by Pundit Nehru to the Royal family. The museum is a must visit as it speaks volumes about the Bhutanese culture, history, wildlife & much more and houses more than 3000 pieces of artwork with a culture spanning over 1500 years. The first two halls of the museum are dedicated to Bhutanese culture exhibiting the different kinds of masks & Thankas (Buddhist paintings.) They exclusively showcase the rich tradition and culture of Bhutan. The other galleries proudly showcase the varied wildlife that exist in Bhutan ranging from their National animal 'Takin,' Snow/clouded leopard, gharial, bird species, butterflies etc. The museum has state of the art technology where visitors can watch documentaries to learn more about Bhutan culture. Any kind of photography is strictly prohibited inside the museum.
While in Bhutan it is a must to treat your taste buds with the Bhutanese cuisine, especially Mushroom Datshi, a dish with mushrooms and lot of green chillies in a cheese sauce and Chicken Paa that may include radish but nonetheless tastes spicy and excellent. Bhutanese food is way too spicy as chillies seem to be their main ingredient so do specify to add less chillies. Their butter salt tea is a must try and is an acquired taste but something very unique.
Paro offers some great restaurants and cafes, our favorite was the 'Champaca Cafe' as they serve lip smacking pastries, sandwiches & beverages. The people who run the Cafe are very kind, helpful and very cheerful with great aesthetic sense that reflects in the decor of their cafe. It is a perfect place to regain all the calories burnt while hiking to the Tiger's Nest and unwind in the evening with a nice ambience, coffee in your hand, sinful pastries to gorge on and watch the town carry on with their daily activities.
The nights provide a different picture- the sky dazzling with stars, the stream gushing down and crickets singing their tunes and the cold wind blowing across hypnotizing you and the drowsy eyes flicker and shut down with a smile plastered on the lips.
Bhutan is the place where we saw giant phalluses being sold as souvenirs and the phallic symbols are painted on the walls of homes & Dzongs as Bhutanese people believe it would wade off evil spirits and is considered as a sign of fertility. Do not be surprised if you come across small wooden phalluses hanging on doors of homes and shops. There are plenty of souvenir shops around that would help you choose a perfect memento as a mark of remembrance.
As if Tiger's Nest was not enough, there are few more monasteries that you might encounter in Paro valley that will make you wonder, how on earth did they manage to reach that high, forget building a monastery. Some things are best when left unexplained.
Another interesting fact about Paro is its small airport with one runway, we literally rode our bike parallel to the runway. Interesting thing is guards stop traffic on the road in the event of a flight taking off or landing giving one a great view of the aircraft's belly. As luck would have it, on the last day when we were leaving from Paro we saw a Druk aircraft just mere meters away from us fly over our head and touch down at the airport.
We checked into hotel Sonam Trophel, a fantastic budget hotel with great service. Their management is very helpful and the hotel offers WiFi and the food is good and tastes pretty much like home cooked food.
We finally wrapped up our adventurous road trip lasting around 50 days covering 4269 km across the picturesque landscapes of Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan. We bid adieu to the mountains and head back home.
"Do not be sad its Over, be glad it happened."