Your gateway to Bhutan, Paro is a charming small town surrounded by forested valleys and luxury resorts.
Paro is the major gateway to Bhutan, being the home of the country’s only international airport. The town (calling it a city would be going too far) also boasts Bhutan’s National Museum and one of the country’s most impressive dzongs Bhutan’s dzongs are massive fortified monasteries and Paro’s Rinpung Dzong is a classic example of the bold architecture. As they house government and religious authorities, you will see public servants moving about the buildings, as well as the monks who live there. Once a year their flag-stoned courtyards become the setting for tsechu festivals in honour of Guru Rinpoche, the patron saint of Bhutan. These colourful festivals featuring spectacular masked dances are a cultural highlight and hugely popular. The spring-time Paro Tsechu is one of the most internationally renowned and hotels and flights fill up fast so booking early is vital.
Although a small town, Paro also has one of the country’s better shopping strips, perfect for picking up a last-minute souvenir.
Surrounding Paro is a picturesque valley swathed in forests and sprinkled with significant Buddhist buildings and luxury resorts. What’s more, there are trailheads for accessing magnificent Himalaya treks. The valley also lays claim to what is arguably Bhutan’s most famous attraction, the gravity-defying Taktshang Monastery, also known as the Tiger's Nest. This beautiful assembly of temples, festooned with prayer flags, clings precariously to a sheer rock face and demands a stiff hike up a mountain from pilgrims and tourists alike.
Paro is a year-round destination but is at its best in autumn and spring. October to November boasts crystal-clear mountain views and cool day-time temperatures. March to May is the time for magnificent rhododendron blooms and the Paro Tsechu, the town's biggest religious festival.
Visas are not issued outside the country. Instead you will receive a Visa Approval when you book and pay for your trip and the visa will be stamped into your passport when you enter the country. Bhutan doesn't place a limit on the number of visitors; however, it does shun backpacker tourism by charging a minimum daily tariff. The tariff includes all accommodation, food and transport costs, plus a US$65 per day royalty levied by the government to fund development. Currently the tariff is US$250 per person per day for groups of three or more in high season (March-May and September-November) and US$200 per person in low season (December-February and June-August). The surcharge for singles and couples is US$40 and US$30 per person per day. The US$65 royalty is halved after day 8 and removed after day 14. For more information see www.tourism.gov.bt
The Bhutanese ngultrum (Nu) is pegged to the value of the Indian rupee. Ngultrums come in 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1000 Nu notes. One ngultrum is made up of 100 chetrums (Ch), and there are coins of 5, 10, 20, 25, 50 Ch and 1 Nu. Rupees are accepted in Bhutan but ngultrums are not accepted in India. Credit cards are accepted in some shops and ATMs can be found in Paro and Thimphu.
Transport is provided as part of your tour package. Larger groups will have a minibus while couples and singles will enjoy a private vehicle, usually an SUV. Vehicles are late models and well maintained.
Beware - the fresh mountain air may come as a shock to the system! Paro is a very safe city though you should always exercise care at night. In any case nightlife options are minimal. Any excursion in Bhutan will involve driving along winding mountain roads, so if you suffer from carsickness bring along your favoured medication. If you are planning to trek in Bhutan you should make sure you are aware of the symptoms and treatment of altitude sickness.
Singapore Embassy :
The nearest embassy is in New Delhi, India (E-6 Chandragupta Marg, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi 110021; tel: 91(11) 4600 0800; www.mfa.gov.sg/newdelhi).
All tourists are allocated an official guide who you should ask to assist you in any dealings with the local police in an emergency.
|How are you?||Gadabey zhug yoe la?|
|Fine, thanks||Legsom beyra yoe, kadrinche|
|Excuse-me! (to get attention)||Na nyena mey|
|What's your name?||Nagi tshen gachimo?|
|My name is…||Ngyigi ming… enn|
|Nice to meet you||Na dang cheychugmi dilu semgayi|
|Are you on Facebook/Twitter?||Na facebookdang twitterna yoega?|
|Where’s an internet café?||Yongdel zhabtog laglen thabsa gatey yoebmo?|
|Where can I get a taxi?||Nagagi lakhor gateyley thobga?|
|Where is the bus/train station?||Numgkhor bus dang rail zhagsa gatey enna?|
|A one-way/return ticket to…||Chogtsig shogzin troesa…|
|Do you have a room for one/two?||Nalu michig/nyi ki khangmig yoega?|
|When's check out?||Namthoen jyo gopmo?|
|Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar?||Nagi ngalu zhakhang/changkhang legsomchig gateyoega sungnangmey|
|A table for two, please||Mi nyiki doenlu chogcheychila|
|A menu, please||Zheythochig zhugeyla|
|The bill, please||Tsibill zhugeyla|
|Where's the toilet?||Chabsang gateylu yoepenna?|
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Taktshang is Bhutan's most renowned and photographed monastery, or goemba, and one of the country’s most important religious sites. Perched on a cliff around a cave where Guru Rinpoche meditated, the 'Tiger's Nest' can only be accessed via a steep trail. There are spectacular viewpoints and a couple of cafeterias on the way, and several chapels to inspect inside the monastery. Allow several hours for the return journey and the visit to the monastery. Horses are available for the part of the uphill journey.
Dzong is a distinctive type of fortress architecture found in Bhutan. Rinpung Dzong is likely to be the first Dzong visitors to Bhutan will see. Dzong exemplifies traditional Bhutanese architecture and are the headquarters of regional authority, both monastic and secular. Most Dzongs host an annual Buddhist festival, the tsechu, and Paro’s is one of the biggest. Many Dzongs were built as fortresses during Bhutan’s formative years. Rinpung Dzong is a good example, with its massive thick walls and strategic arrow slits. Inside there are separate sections for government and the monks. The central tower in the main courtyard is six storeys high, and contains several chapels and holy statues.
Visit the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong as the sun is lowering in the sky. It’s an impressive place in a moody setting. The ominous-looking mountains beyond beckon modern-day trekkers. The dzong sits on a once-important trade trail leading to and from Tibet and long ago experienced skirmishes with invading Tibetan forces. It caught fire in 1951 and although plans for restoration are often mentioned, it remains an atmospheric ruin.
Sublimely serene, Kyichu Lhakhang is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, its Jowo Temple is said to have been built in the 7th century by a Tibetan king. Inside is an ancient statue of Sakyamani Buddha. It’s a timeless place with elderly pilgrims circumambulating the temple murmuring prayers and spinning prayer wheels.
The National Museum’s highlights include the ritual objects, sacred cloth paintings (thangkhas) and exquisite statues which play such important roles in this country’s Buddhist culture. The collection also includes a natural history display of stuffed Himalayan animals and stone-age implements from the earliest days of human occupation. While the museum’s permanent home, the Ta Dzong, or watchtower, is undergoing renovations following earthquake damage, a selection of the museum’s collection is on display in a nearby building. The museum is open 9am–4pm November to March and until 5pm April to October.
The Paro valley boasts some of Bhutan’s most important and spectacular Buddhist sites in a compact area. A good way to visit Paro’s Rinpung Dzong is by driving up to the National Museum, which overlooks the dzong. The museum is ordinarily housed in the circular Ta Dzong, or watchtower, but owing to earthquake damage, it is currently located in a nearby annex. After visiting the museum, head down to the dzong to explore its secular and monastic quarters. Be sure to inspect the serene and impressive religious statues inside the lhakhangs (temples). Walk down from the dzong to the pretty cantilever bridge over the Paro River. Your driver can collect you from near the bridge and take you into town for meal in Paro town.
Northwest of Paro a road follows the Paro River to Kyichu Lhakhang, an ancient and venerable Buddhist temple, and then on to Taktshang Goemba. Taktshang, the famous Tiger’s Nest monastery, is a cliff-hugging architectural wonder with a fantastical mythology. Buddhist saint Guru Rinpoche apparently arrived here on the back of a flying tigress. Allow several hours for a visit to Taktshang. It’s a tough hike up to the monastery, but well worth it. Horses are available for part of the journey. Further up the valley, the haunting ruins of Drukgyel Dzong, are particularly atmospheric in the late afternoon. Although the road now extends beyond the ruins this point traditionally marks the start of several of Bhutan’s renowned high-altitude treks, including the daunting 25-day Snowman trek.
National Museum, Kyichu Lhakhang, Taktshang Goemba, Drukgyel Dzong