Paro is a small town in Bhutan that has several sites of historical importance scattered around the area. Richly decorated buildings housing small wooden shops, cafes, traditional restaurants… are a sight no one can miss. Anyone who loves to spend time in nature or has a passion for photography, Paro offers you some of the most picturesque scenes. Guru Padmasambhava, introducer of Buddhism to Bhutan is known to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks and three days at Paro Taktsang.
Paro is a historic town and has many sacred sites scattered throughout the valley. Around the beginning of the 10th century, Padmasambhava built a monastery overlooking the Paro valley. Again in 1644, Ngawang Namgyal, a Tibetan Buddhist Lama and unifier of Bhutan, built a larger monastery on the foundations of the older one. For hundreds of years, this monastery acted as a defense against the many invasions by the Tibetans.
Later, the Dzong was named Rinpung and in 1907, fire engulfed the Dzong and all its treasures were destroyed. As of today, the Paro Dzong houses a vast collection of sacred masks and costumes.
How to Reach
There is only one international airport (Paro Airport) in Bhutan and that is located in Paro, on the banks of the river Paro Chhu. Several airlines arrive and depart from this airport such as Druk Air, Buddha Air, Bhutan Airlines and Tashi Air. Druk Air serves both domestic and international locations like Bangkok, Delhi, Mumbai, Jakarta, Singapore, Kathmandu etc. Buddha Airlines also operates charter flights to Paro (just check availability). Bhutan Airlines also serves Paro every day from Kathmandu.
As for reaching Paro by bus, there are several buses that take you from India to Bhutan, passing through Phuentsholing. If you’re coming down from Kolkatta, it should take you nearly 30 hours to reach Paro. Although traveling by bus may not be heavier on your pocket, yet the journey is long and tiresome; most travelers prefer to reach by plane (comfortable and less time consuming).
Best Time to Visit
The ideal time to visit Paro would be in the months of September (beginning of autumn) to November when the air is clear and fresh. The months of January and February can get extremely cold and until April the climate is pleasant again. May to September months is when the humidity is at its highest and monsoon covers the valley. On cool winter and spring months (December to May) the range of temperature can be about 13 degrees Celsius on an average. And from June to August it can go up to about 22 degrees.
Clothes to Be Carried
As with any other travel destination, it depends on the period you plan to visit. If you plan to go in the warmer months, don’t forget to carry a light jacket to keep you warm during the night. Light occasional showers are common which causes the temperature to dip. As for winters, make sure you carry enough warm clothes including a scarf, thick warm jacket, a windbreaker, gloves, cap and warm boots or comfortable shoes that will also keep the cold away. And do not forget to pack a compact umbrella.
Place to Visit
- Taktshang Goemba
Taktshang Goemba or the Tiger’s Nest is probably one of the most famous highlights of Paro. This is arguably the best tourist spot in Paro and is definitely not for the faint-hearted to visit. To reach this place, one has to make a steep mountain hike as there is no other way to access it. It is built on a cliff edge which is about 3000 meters above the sea level. The best part is that about halfway to the monastery you will also find a cafeteria with a view, also known as Taktsang Jakhang.
- Druk Choeding
Constructed in 1525 by Ngawang Chogyel, this quiet and peaceful small town temple in Paro is also known as Tshongdoe Nakstang Temple or Tshongdoe Temple. Inside the temple, there is a statue of future Buddha, known as Jampa, in the seated posture. Although not very big, this temple does serve a big religious significance for the people of Bhutan.
- Paro Dzong
Built in 1644, Paro Dzong, commonly known as Rinpun Dzong, is the administrative seat of the Paro district. Initially, it used to be a fortress with a watchtower. The original Dzong was destroyed by fire in 1907 and then again by an earthquake in 2015. It houses the head administrator, a monastic body, and about 200 monks.
- National Museum
Perched above the Paro Dzong, this cultural museum was established in 1968 and shows the history and culture of Bhutan through its exhibits. You’ll find a plethora of artifacts, paintings, sculptures depicting the rich heritage of Bhutan. There is also an extensive collection of Thangkas and masks also. The museum also has a 3-D map of Bhutan. A visit to this Museum is going to be well worth it.
- Jangsta Dumtseg Lhakhang
Built by the great Buddhist saint Thang Tong Gyalpo, this is a very notable temple in Paro and it is mostly due to its form of a Chorten that makes it a rare sight in Bhutan. It is located in between the Paro valley and the Dopchari valley. It is a unique place to visit and is also privately owned.
- Archery Ground
If you happen to visit Druk Choeding, it’s well worth visiting the Archery Ground which happens to be nearby. And if there’s the traditional archery game being played, there’s nothing better than that. It’s a great experience to be visiting this archery ground as Archery is Bhutan’s national sport and the locals really seem to enjoy it a lot.
- Paro Weekend Market
The colorful weekend bazaar is a must-visit for all those who would like to see some of Bhutan’s local products being sold. The market has a very traditional feel to it and is held only on Sundays. Mornings are the busiest. Although the vegetable produce is stored and sold throughout the week, the other unique products like organic Tsirang honey or dried jelly cow skin can only be seen and bought on Sundays.
- Nyamai Zam
Nyamai Zam, spanning the Paro Chhu river, is a traditional wooden bridge built below the Paro Dzong. The earlier bridge was washed away in 1969. The bridge even before that was manually removed during the time of war in order to protect the Dzong. And this footbridge has a length of about 0.02 km. Head to the west bank of the Paro Chhu river if you want to take some of the most beautiful pictures.
- Pelri Goemba
Pelri Goemba is an ancient Nyingmapa inspired chapel which is a 15-minute uphill hike or a short drive from the south-east of Paro. Although bigger in size, this chapel was reduced to a smaller one following a rift with the dominant Kagyu school of thought.
- Five Chortens
Built in the memory of the first King of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuck, there are five square chortens built on the road at the foot of Paro Dzong. These five chortens may not be on your must-visit list but visiting it and seeing the history behind it makes you wonder in amazement.
- Ugyen Pelri Palace
Enclosed by a perimeter wall, the Ugyen Pelri Thang Palace is located in a secluded wooden compound on the south side of the Paro Chhu river. It was built around 1930 by the then Governor Paro Penlop Tshering Penjor. Right on the road beside the Ugyen Pelri Palace, you will see the five chortens built for Ugyen Wangchuk.
The historic town of Bhutan with many sacred sites and historical buildings, the small area of Paro never ceases to amaze the traveler in you. If you are a nature-lover, curious of the town’s history and don’t mind spending some quiet and peaceful time marveling in nature’s lap, Paro is the destination that should absolutely be on your must-visit list.
Ever thought of witnessing masked dance performances backed with captivating music? Here, in the Himalayas of Bhutan in a small town called Punakha, there is a famous 17th-century fortress where you can see the 'act' known as Punakha Tshechu live! The site is located at the meeting point of the Mo and Pho Chhu rivers. The 'pretty as a picture' town rests at a height of 1200 m above sea level. The language commonly spoken here is Dzongkha.
Punakha served as Bhutan's capital until 1955 after which the capital shifted to Thimpu. Bhutan has 20 districts, out of which Punakha is one. It is located at a distance of 72 km from Thimpu. The Punakha valley situated along its two most important rivers Pho and Mo Chhu is well known for its rice farming. Also, oranges, guavas, and bananas are grown in Punakha extensively.
How to reach?
If you're traveling by air, take a flight to Paro International Airport, and catch a bus or taxi till Punakha valley. The distance is 124 km approx. Alternatively, Punakha is a three hours' drive from Thimpu; so, you can take a fun road trip starting from there too!
Best time to visit
The ideal time to visit Punakha is between the months of March and May (Spring season) and September and November (Autumn season). During these months, the days are warmer and almost dry whilst evenings are a little cooler and relaxing!
On a comparison, tourists prefer the Spring season more because the temperature ranges between 26° Celsius (max) to as low as 5° Celsius (min). Also, the travelers get to engage in adventure sports like rafting and trekking during this season.
Clothes to be carried?
If you're visiting Punakha during the months of March to July, you should carry light clothes. The nights can be a little cooler, so it is advisable to carry light woolens.
If you want a wintry experience in Punakha, remember it will get extremely cold, hence you must carry windbreakers, fleece jackets, and lots of warm clothes.
Places to visit in Punakha
There are a number of delightful sights in Punakha that you as a sightseer will love! Check out the list of the must-visits there.
· Chimi L'hakhang Temple: This is a beautiful Buddhist monastery located in Punakha district that was built in 1499 by Ngawang Choegyel who was the 14th Drukpa hierarch. It is situated in a village named Sopsokha which is at a distance of 10 km from the Punakha town. Starting from the village hamlet called Yowakha till the Chimi L'hakhang temple, you will find prayer flags lined up by the side of the roads or along a stream or drain. It is an amazing place to visit! BTW, did you know the Bhutanese people treat the place as a temple of fertility? Oh yeah!
· Punakha Dzong: Built by Tuebi Zaow Balip in 1637 within a span of 2 years, Punakha Dzong is believed to be Bhutan's most beautiful and bewitching Dzong. It is known to be the winter residence of the Central Monastic Body of Bhutan which is guided by His Holiness the Je Khenpo (spiritual head of Bhutan). Here in the Dzong, you will find the most sacred remains of Terton Padma Lingpa and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, along with the holy relics of the Southern Drukpa Kagyu school which includes the Rangjung Kasarpani.
· Punakha Suspension Bridge: Built on the Pho Chhu river with a length of over 50 meters, the Punakha Suspension Bridge is the longest bridge in Bhutan and is a spectacular sight to watch, and an experience to remember when you walk over it! The river flowing below the bridge where you can witness occasional rafting, and the picturesque mountain view all around it, will grasp your attention for sure; and you'll love the 'sway'! It is advisable to not use the bridge during the rainy season because there are chances of strong winds blowing and heavy showers which make it difficult to cross the bridge.
· Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup nunnery:
Looking over the Punakha, Wangduephodrang, and Toebesa valleys, the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup nunnery is a nunnery plus a double storeyed temple! Here, you'll get to see a 14-foot main bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara, and figures of Gautama Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava, Tsela Namsum amongst others. The nunnery complex, on the other hand, houses 70 rooms which were first started by 41 nuns. The architectural design of the entire setup is what makes the place stand out!
Pack your bags and leave immediately to witness this small and beautiful district called Punakha in Bhutan. The place is sure to soothe your senses and rejuvenate your whole mind and body. Go on, you deserve this holiday!
One of the world’s most beautiful destinations, Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, attracts tourists from all across the globe. It is famous the world over for its most scenic and natural beauty. Even though Thimphu has developed a lot commercially, it is still deeply rooted in its culture. There’s nothing that makes the atmosphere more serene than the presence of Buddhist monasteries and the musical verses the monks chant. The moment you enter this pristine environment, you feel a hint of positive energy all around. The best part of Thimphu that no one can shrug off is how the old and the new cultures blend so perfectly well together.
Thimphu, of all the incredible places on earth, has a very recent history. It only became the capital city of Bhutan in 1961. It was in 1952 that it was decided to shift the capital from Punakha to Thimphu.
Before being given the capital city designation in 1960 by the then King, Jigme Dorji, Thimphu was only famous as a river valley. The river valley had its hamlets scattered within the region like Taba, Langchupakha, Changlimithan, Motithang… and others. Some of these hamlets are a part of the districts of the city today.
A victorious battle was held in the year 1885 at the Changlimithang sports ground after which the first King of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuk gained control of the whole country. Ever since then this sports ground has held a high importance with major competitions taking place there. Changlimithang Stadium was where the coronation ceremony of Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk happened.
Thimphu shares a part of its history with Bhutan. Buddhist monks used to frequent this region as it was an abode for Buddhist monasteries. And because the history of Bhutan is closely linked to Tibet, it got Vajrayana Buddhism, which is its state religion and cultural identity. The earlier history of Bhutan indicates that many kings frequently fought wars among one another to get a hold of this region. The first king victorious in consolidating the region with the help of the British was Ugyen Wangchuk. As of present day, his successors are the current kings of Bhutan.
It was only in 2008 that there came a transition in Thimphu from having an absolute monarchic rule to a parliamentary democratic constitutional monarchy.
How to Reach
The preferred mode of reaching Thimphu is by plane via Paro, where the country’s only international airport is located. You will have to travel about an hour from Paro to reach Thimphu though.
Also, located in the city center is a bus terminal, from where all inter-district buses arrive and depart. So if you are planning to travel by bus, Thimphu is pretty accessible that way too. Once at the city center, you will not really need transport to get around as it is small enough to be traveled on foot.
Best Time to Visit
Since Thimphu experiences temperate highland climate, the summers are pleasant and warm and the winters are quite chilly. The temperature does go quite low to even -15 degrees Celsius but it happens usually overnight when it snows. If you are not a winter person, then the ideal time to visit Thimphu has to be in the months of September to November (autumn) and March to May (spring), which also happens to be peak tourist season.
Although rain showers are common in the month of September, it shouldn’t really be worrisome as it doesn’t stay for long.
Clothes to Be Carried
It entirely depends on when you’re going. Although the temperature in summers hardly ever exceeds 20 degrees, it is still advisable for you to carry a warm jacket because the nights can get a bit chilly even in summers. Gumboots would also be ideal as light showers are always expected in the summer months.
As for winters, a warm jacket or two is a must along with other usual winter necessities. Don’t forget to carry gloves and a cap to keep yourself warm.
Places to Visit
Located on the northern edge of the city and on the western bank of Wang Chu, Trashi Chho Dzong or Thimphu Dzong is an impressive Buddhist monastery and fortress. You’ll be amazed to know that only within this fortress, there are about thirty temples, chapels and shrines. What is surprising about Tashichö-Dzong is that even though it has been destroyed by fire so many times, it still stands erect as of today.
- The Memorial Stupa
Popularly known as Thimphu Chorten, the Memorial Stupa is located in the southern central part of Thimphu on Deoboom Lam. The stupa was built in the memory of the late Third King of Bhutan and when you visit this beautiful large stupa, you will realize how dedicated the Bhutanese are to their Kings. It is what Bhutan is all about, their culture leaves you spell-bound.
- The Weekend Market
So this may not really be a tourist attraction per se, but going to the weekend market is an absolute must if you happen to be visiting Thimphu. Although it is a regular farmer’s market yet having to experience the local Bhutanese trade is a different feeling altogether. The market runs from Thursday to Sunday. You could buy local veggies and fruit if you must.
- Buddha Dordenma
When you’re in Thimphu, you can’t possibly miss this gigantic Shakyamuni Buddhist statue (over 50m high) in the mountains overlooking the valley of Thimpu. If you’re lucky enough, you may even witness the monks’ leader reciting their scriptures and trust us, it is a sight to see. Seeing thousands of monks throng the prayer hall is a common sight and you’ll be amazed to see how wonderful it feels.
- National Institute for Zorig Chusum
National Institute for Zorig Chusum or the painting school, as it is commonly called, is the center for Bhutanese art education. When you visit the school you will see how they are so dedicated to preserving, maintaining and promoting their local art and craft. Not only painting but sculpting and wood-work are also taught here. And the way youngsters learn it with utmost dedication is simply amazing to witness.
- Motithang Takin Preserve
This place is for the animal lover in you. This is where the national animal of Bhutan - Takin can be found. In appearance, a Takin is a goat-antelope and when you get a sight of this animal you’ll know why people say it is bizarre looking. Motithang Takin Preserve was originally a zoo but was later converted to a preserve. Although it may not be too big for you to spend your entire day, spending a few hours in nature is well worth it. If you’re looking for the best time to visit this preserve, it has to be in the morning as that is when most of the animals gather around the fence for their feedings.
- Changankha Lhakhang
Established in the 12th century, this is one of the most visited Buddhist temples in Thimphu. Most people in Bhutan visit this sacred place for naming ceremony i.e. they give auspicious names to their newly born. It is absolutely full of positive and spiritual energy and you really would not want to go back from there. Make sure you visit this place at least once when you’re in Bhutan.
- Royal Textile Academy or The Bhutan Textile Museum
Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Bhutanese textiles, the Bhutan Textile Museum is considered very important from the traditional and cultural aspects. It was established to train individuals in the traditional Bhutanese weaving art. The wedding clothes worn by the fourth king and his four wives are exhibited here among many other things. This museum is definitely well-worth a visit if you want a closer look at the culture through its fabric weaving.
- National Folk Heritage Museum
Located in the heart of the city, this museum takes you back to the lives of people of Bhutan in the past. How they lived a simplistic life, showing the techniques used for constructing homes, milling grains etc. and the best part is that it is very well maintained. Not only that, you’ll witness some of the most intricate embroidery and Thangka painting happening live.
The people of Thimphu are deeply rooted in their culture. But if there’s one thing that distinguishes them from other traditionalist societies is the fact that they are so open to adapting to change, while still holding their grounds. Thimphu is an outwardly vibrant place that leaves a mark on your life. Its pristine surroundings and serene atmosphere make you leave the place with utmost positivity and you want to keep coming back.
This is a beautiful town that serves as the capital of Wangdue Phodrang district in the exalted Kingdom of Bhutan. It is one of the largest districts or dzongkhags of the kingdom covering 4308 sq. km of the area and located at a height of 800-5800 m which gives it vastly varied climatic conditions. While the south is covered in subtropical forests, the north of the district witnesses a cool, snowy weather. The town of Wangdue Phodrang shares its name with a famous dzong that was built here in 1638. It is the last western town on the highway before entering central Bhutan.
Ngawang Namgyal, the Zhabdrung Rinpoche (1594-1651) was a high Drukpa lineage lama from Tibet who is known to have founded the state of Bhutan. He succeeded in uniting the warring kingdoms of the valley and brought them under a single ruler. He was in search of the best location to build a dzong (fort-monastery) to prevent incursions from the south. According to legend, he met a boy named Wangdi on the bank of Punak Tsang Chhu river and named his dzong Wangdi Phodrang that was later renamed to Wangdue Phodrang. The town is still locally known as Wangdi.
How to Reach
Fly into Paro Airport, Bhutan’s only airport. There are daily buses to Wangdue Phodrang from Phuentsholing, Thimpu, and Paro. The town is 106 km away from Thimpu, 214 km from Gelephu and 261 km from Phuentsholing.
Best Time to Visit
Summers are moderately hot and winters are cool. Spring and autumn months are the best time to visit. Spring is very colorful and great for the lovers of natural beauty. Weather ranges from mildly cool to warm. Autumn is dry with clear skies and great views of mountain ranges.
The endangered black-necked cranes of Bhutan can be seen from October to February who come to roost on the meadows from the Tibetan plateau. The black-neck crane festival is held in November in the Phobjikha valley every year, which has been established as a conservation area.
Clothes to be carried
Depending on the time of the year, carry the amount of woolens you need to. Winters can be very cold while in the summers light layering should suffice. Nights are a lot colder than the days, so prepare accordingly.
Places to Visit
Wangdue Phodrang has a rich tapestry of tourist spots with historic, religious and cultural importance.
· Wangdue Phodrang Dzong
The dzong sits on a hilltop above the confluence of the rivers Punatsangchhu and Dhangchhu. Founded in 1639, the strategic position of the fort-monastery gave the governor of the district control over the routes to Trongsa, Punakha, Dagana and Thimpu. The dzong caught fire in 2012 and parts of it are still under reconstruction.
· Gangtey Monastery
The monastery was founded by Je Kuenga Gyaltshen in 1613 in Gangtey Gewog, atop a hill overlooking the Phobjikha valley. The annual crane festival is held in this monastery.
· Phobjikha Valley
An important wildlife preserve, this is where the black-necked cranes come to roost in winter. It is also home to the leopards, wild boars, barking deer, sambars, Himalayan black bears, serows and red foxes. The valley is extremely beautiful and serene and it is a great route for biking.
· Dargay Monastery
It is also called Chimme Lhakhang and it is dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, the divine Mad Monk. The monastery was built at the spot where he first met Ashi Genzo, a woman renowned for her beauty. It is located on a picturesque hillock that overlooks the Lobesa valley.
· Temple of Sha Radap
Also, called Rada Lhakhang, the temple of Sha Radap is dedicated to the guardian deity of the Wangdue region. It is a local custom to pay a visit to the goddess with a newborn child for her blessing and to get them named by the presiding monks. There is an interesting custom of rolling the dice kept in the temple compound and wishing.
· Black Mountain National Park
It is a large protected natural reserve containing musk deer, goat antelopes, red pandas, wild boars, golden langurs, tigers, clouded leopards, 270 species of birds and 139 species of butterflies.
· Nearby villages
You can hike or drive to nearby villages and find farmhouses or tents to spend the night. The villages of Rinchegang, Gasleo, Nahee, Adha and Rukha are very peaceful as well as scenic.
Local Population or Demography
The district of Wangdue Phodrang has a total population of 28,000. The main population of the region is Bhutanese and the national language is Dzongkha.
Travel back in time by visiting Wangdue Phodrang that appears to be frozen in the 16th century. It is a popular tourist hub of Bhutan that offers both natural and cultural delights. The town is steeped in rich history and is well known for tales of shamanic culture, ornamental speeches called Lozeys of Shaa, and for being the ancestral home of Pema Tshewang Tashi. Buy the intricate bamboo weaving and slate carvings that the region is famous for as souvenir.