The vast idyllic valley of Paro, surrounded with meticulously manicured paddy fields sits at the bottom of Mount Jomolhari. Enveloped with mountains on all sides, the valley is home to the only International Airport in the country, connecting Bhutan to the world. Flooded with historic sites and dotted with traditional farmhouses, the valley offers more than what meets the eye.
From a 7th century monastery on a cliff to a fortress by the river and a town filled with craft shops and cafes, Paro is truly a traveller’s paradise. Check out our list of top 10 amazing things to do while you are travelling to Paro that you must not miss.
Every visitor to Bhutan, even on the shortest of trips never leaves the country without setting foot on this site. A hike to the Tiger’s nest monastery raids every list of must-dos and must-sees while travelling to Bhutan. Its amazing architectural accomplishments defy all logic and reasoning as the complex hugs a bare rocky cliff 3000 feet off of the ground.
The hike to the monastery takes about 4 hours on the well-maintained trail. The hikers are led through a verdant landscape of lush pine woods while being accompanied by infinite rows of fluttering prayer flags. The founding of the monastery is credited to a great Buddhist master Guru Padmasambhava. Legend has it that Guru rode a flying tigress to the site and meditated for several years in a cave. The monastery has been built enclosing the cave and can still be visited.
The arduous hike feels most rewarding once at the top with a million-dollar panoramic view of the valley below.
2. Check out Paro Dzong.
Just when you are about to enter Paro town, an ancient wooden cantilever bridge leads to the magnificent fortress hovering over Paro town. The fortress is called Rinchenpung Dzong which is shortened to Rinpung Dzong translating to ‘Fortress on a heap of jewels’. The fort is strategically constructed on a steep ridge on the other side of the Paro River.
The Dzong houses both district administration offices and the central monk body much like most of the Dzongs in the country. The beautiful fortress with its amazing architecture has made it one of the must-visit attractions in Paro. The popular three-day Paro masked dance festival is also held in the courtyard of Dzong.
The Dzong is exemplified by a five-storied central tower known as the Utse and a vast courtyard secured by high rising walls. The walls are dotted with windows and are adorned with grand traditional carpentry along with the regular white and red paintwork. The Utse houses the shrine of the local guardian deities.
3. Visit Namgay Artisanal Brewery.
At Dumsibu, some 5 minutes drive from Bondey Bridge, the Namgay Artisanal Brewery sits on a ridge overlooking the beautiful valley. A cluster of traditional houses sits just across the brewery on the opposite side. The Paro Dzong (fortress) can be seen far on the left side of the brewery along with the airport, and on a good weather day, the sight of mountains that enclose the valley is a treat to gaze at.
The brewery is a first of its kind in Bhutan as the brewery has its own bar called “TAP” and a restaurant called “NAB” bistro. The bar on the ground floor has a very traditional feel to it with its interiors all designed with very old wooden posts and windows from a traditional Bhutanese house but with stylish modern furnishings making it a complete blend of old and new. The bar serves all the seven beers that the brewery brews; 3 in bottles and four on tap.
The brewery currently brews seven types of beers; red rice lager, dark ale, the wheat beer which are already bottled and apple cider, milk stout, IPA and pilsner are still served from the tap. Their bistro on the first floor serves Indian, International, Bhutanese, and Continental but much like the brewery, they try to experiment as much as possible so to see what works and what doesn’t.
They also try to incorporate the beers with cooking as much as possible like grilling chicken with beer sauce etc. their recent discovery is the ema Datshi risotto. Ema Datshi is basically Chilies slow cooked in butter and local cottage cheese sauce.
The visitors can take a brewery tour for $5 where they can observe and learn about the brewing process. They can also taste the seven types of beers which are complimentary. Since its establishment in 2016, the brewery has managed to attract many consumers both local and foreigners. The brewery goes extra miles by organizing frequent events like beer festivals or just simple musical events to draw people.
4. Chill out at park 76.
Good beer and crazy cocktails, awesome live music, friendly crowd, you name it. This place in Paro has everything. Park 76 is located close by the children’s park in the heart of the town and is the ideal place to spend a night drinking and grooving to amazing music. Their food menu is vast, and the food is good too. There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be there while you are in Paro.
5. Stay at a Farmhouse.
Though known best as the gateway to the world, the Paro valley has managed to preserve its natural beauty and maintain the countryside feel to it. Traditional Bhutanese houses are scattered around the valley. Many of these farmhouses offer homestay experiences to guests. The guests are treated with wonderful services. While the experience remains authentic, a lot of western amenities have been made available for the comfort of their guests.
The guests are served with delicious home cooked meals with ingredients straight from the family’s kitchen garden, and it is best if shared with the family of the house. Many of these farmhouses also have hot stone bath facility.
A dip in a hot stone bath can be rejuvenating and relaxing. In a bathhouse usually outside the main house in a separate one-story house, stones are baked in the fire till hot red and then dipped into a wooden tub filled with cold water from the mountains. Some prefer to add medicinal herbs to amplify the bathing experience. The herbs let out its natural essence and its properties.
The hot stone bath is a traditional method to cure a number of ailments like joint pains and stomach troubles. It is a must experience for all the visitors.
6. Cross a 700 years old Iron Bridge.
Some 20 minutes drive away from the Chuzom (river confluence) of Thimphu River and Paro River, is the Tachog temple. The temple is located on a ridge adjacent to the road. The only means to the temple is a centuries-old iron bridge. History states that sometimes in the 1300s Drupthob Thangtong Gyalpo built the bridge with his bare hands.
While over the years it was repaired several times, the bridge is still held together by the chain links from the ancient time, when it was first built. Crossing over to the other side of the bridge can be rather exciting as you start to proceed forward, you will feel the bridge swinging against the cold air from the river.
As you look through the sketchy shaking bridge, you will see the river rushing with a zeal right under your feet. It’s both exciting and adrenalin pumping at the same time, making it one of the must experiences activity in Paro valley.
7. Camp under the Stars at Bumdra.
A short hike to Bumdra will take you along the most picturesque scenes of striking Himalayan ranges and various species of lush, verdant forest. But the most remarkable is the campsite where nature unfolds itself and reveals its best parts. The moderate hike kicks off from a trail from Sang Choekhor monastery in Paro at 2800 meters, and it ascends up to 4000 meters till Bumdra.
The trail is quite well-maintained but can be steep every so often. The first stop is a small temple called Choe Tse Lhakhang. The temple vicinity provides the hikers with the best spot to rest and take in the panoramic view of the Paro valley.
Ascending for another half an hour through woods, the hikers will advance towards a wide-open meadow adorned with fluttering prayer flags and a small white stupa welcoming the hikers. The campsite is graced by the view of the magnificent snowcapped mountains and crisp mountain air. More than anything, the night under a sky full stars will be the most memorable experience.
8. Visit the Paro National Museum.
Suspended just above the Paro Rinpung Dzong, the Ta Dzong or the watchtower was built in 1649 to defend the fortress from invaders. Watchtowers are built as circular structures with windows spread irregularly across its body. Legend has it that the tower was also used as a prison where the fourth floor of the tower was the prison cell. Other accounts state that a secret tunnel to have been existed that led to the Pachu River.
The secret passage was used to fetch water from the river during times of war. The tower now serves a national museum and is a major tourist attraction in Paro. The museum flaunts of ancient artefacts including old Thangka painting scrolls, utensils from the 17th century, antique armaments and some of the rarest objects include an egg laid by a mule, stone axe, etc. Some of which, dating back to Stone Age.
9. Experience Local Food.
The best way to experience traditional cooking or sampling local cuisine can be through spending a day at a farmhouse home-stay. Bhutanese food is all about simplicity and flavours. Though there are countless numbers of cuisines you could learn to cook, the one must try is the national dish Ema Datshi. Ema Datshi is very easy to prepare with just chillies and local cheese.
In a Bhutanese home, no matter how great a cook you are, there is nothing like the ema Datshi cooked by the mother of the house. So if you are a fan of cooking and love to sample local dishes, you can do that by spending a day at a farmhouse and requesting the mother for some master chef classes.
10.Cloud Gazing at Chelela.
At 3988 meters the Chelela pass stands to divide the Paro and Haa valley. Located at some 35 kilometres away from Paro, the pass is considered the highest motorable pass in Bhutan.
An early drive through dense spruce and larch woods to the pass can be rewarding as one might witness the sunrise and on clear weather, visitors will be able to catch an amazing view of Mount Jomolhari at 7326 meters from the pass. Normally in Bhutan, mountains and passes are considered sacred and are adorned with colourful prayer flags.
The pass is considered as one of the most picturesque passes in Bhutan. With a panoramic view of the mountains and the clouds floating seemingly very close, the fluttering of the prayer flags against the stiff mountain wind makes the pass a worth visiting place.