Paro is a beautiful valley in western Bhutan at an altitude of 2200m. It is Bhutan’s third largest town and is where the international airport is located. The valley is flat and surrounded by the inner Himalayan Mountains. The lands here are fertile where farmers grow – rice the main crop and apple the cash crop. It is also where all the popular treks start, like the Snow Man Treks, Jomolhari Treks, Laya Gasa treks, Druk Path treks and Sagala treks.
Paro Dzong (Ringpung Dzong):
With the meaning “the fortress of a heap of jewels”, it is the original site of the Dzong founded in 15th century by Gyalchok, descendant of Phajo Drukgom Shipo, the founder of Kagyupa School in Bhutan. In 1645 his descendant Humrel Chojay offered the site of Humrel Dzong to Zhabdrung Rimpoche, on which he built the Dzong in the following year and named it the Ringpong Dzong. It was built to defend the people and valley from Tibetan invasion. The Dzong houses one of the most scared treasures of religious banner known as the THONGDROL, of a majestic size of 20sq.m. Chogyel Sherab Wangchu, the eighth temporal ruler, commissioned this banner in the 18th century. Today it is displayed to public once a year during the time of Paro festival in March or Arial. The Dzong serves as a Central Monastic and the Administrative Office of the Paro District.
Ta Dzong (Watch Tower) (Paro):
It was built by Paro Governor Tenzin Durda in 1649 AD to safe guard the main Ringpung Dzong from Tibetan invaders. This 7-storey building takes a couch shape and the thickness of these walls is 2.5 meters. It was almost ruined in 1965 but Bhutan’s Third King restored and converted it into a museum in 1968. The museum have six galleries located on six different levels :
- Top level : the Stamps gallery, displaying different types of stampes – famous Bhutanese stamps, 3-dimensional stamps, disc-stamps, silk stamps, triangular stamp with Yeti pictures, etc. Inside this gallery is the temple of the 3-dimensional Mandala of the four different sects in Buddhism.
- Fifth floor : where the rare Thangkas of different Buddha and Bodhisattvas paintings of various centuries are displayed. This gallery is dedicated to the God of the Northern direction, also regarded as the God of Wealth.
- Fourth floor : the entering point to the museum, the gallery here houses stone axes from the Stone Age period, Manuscripts and a model of the Tiger Nest monastery.
- Third floor : houses traditional ritual objects, teapots made of different materials, milk containers and religious musical instruments.
- Second floor : is the animal gallery and contains exhibition of Bhutan’s animals, birds and butterflies, including the national animal takin, blue sheep, musk deer, snow leopard, mithun, water buffalo, great horn bill and endemic butterflies, the Bhutan Glory.
- First floor : contains cane products which are used in Bhutanese’s day to day life in the country side, as well as arms and amours.
- Ground floor : contains exhibition of different-size urns, Bhutanese traditional military dress and precious cups that belonged to Bhutan’s first temporal ruler, Bhutan Umzi Tenzin Drugyal.
This temple was built in 659 AD by the Tibetan King Songtshen Gambo, who built 108 temples in a day, across the whole of the Himalaya region to pin down the demon which was hindering the spread Buddhism in the Himalayas. This temple and Jampel Lhakhang in Bumthang were built in the same period. Kyichu Lhakhang was said to be built on the left foot of the Demon. In the old part of temple is the principal statue of Buddha Shakiyamoni (crowned Buddha) surrounded by eight standing Bodhisattvas and two small statues of Gurg Rimpoche in the front.
In 1839, the 25th Chief Abort Je Sherab Gyaltshen added the temple of Chenrize (God of Compassion). Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Kesang Choden constructed a new temple near the main temple in 1968, housing principal statue Guru Rimpoche and Dema Kurkuri (the Goddess of Love).
This temple was founded in 1421 AD by the famous Tibetan saint Tshangtong Gyampo also popularly known as Chagzampa (Iron Bridge Builder). He is the famous iron bridge builder in those centuries, and had built 108 iron chain bridges throughout Himalayas, 8 Iron Bridge in Bhutan and 5 temples. Dungtse Lhakhang is considered a unique temple. It is a 3-storey building with a chorten on the outer structure and a temple inside.
The three storeys represent 3 worlds : the top level of the world of God and Goddess, the middle level of the world of human beings and the ground floor of the world of Nagas (serpent).
The main statues found on the ground floor are Tshangtong Gyalpo, Namthose (God of Wealth), Bodhisattvas and the five Buddha of meditation in the inner temple. On the middle level one can find protective deities Yeshi Gyambo and Drukpa Kagyud Lineage deities. On the top floor is the statue of the famous Tibetan poet-saint Milarepa.
Today Dungtse Lhakhang is one of temples where one can see original statues from 15th century. Electricity is not allowed in the temple to allow for preservation of the texture of wall painting.
Taktshang Goemba (Tiger Nest Monastery):
The Tiger Nest Monastery is the holiest of the holiest in the Buddhist World. It is located in the northern part of the Paro valley, perched majestically the side of the cliff overlooking the valley.
It is located at a height of 2950m and an average-speed-walker might take two hours to reach the monastery from the car park.
This sacred place is blessed by Guru Rimpoche in 747 AD. Legend has it that he flew to the monastery in the form of Guru Dorji Dolo on the back of a dakini tigress. It was a crucial time that Guru appeared as evil spirits were abound and harming humans. Guru came here to protect against evil spirits as well as to preserve the integrity of religious teachings.
He spent four months in a cave taming and subjugating the malicious spirits. The cave where Guru meditated is called Pelphu, where many renowned saints from Tibet, India, Nepal and Bangladesh came and mediate after Guru Rimpoche. Guru Rimpoche delivered his secret teachings to the principal dakini and Langchen Pelgyi Senge in this cave. He concealed profound treasures at the Tiger Nest for the benefit of the future.
The Tiger Nest is one of most respected pilgrim sites of the Himalayas world today. There is a Bhutanese saying – “once in a life time, one must go and visit the Tiger Nest.”
Drukgyel Dzong, which means “fortress of the victory Drukpas”, was built by Shabdrung Rimpoche in 1649AD in celebration of victory over Tibetan invaders and to protect the land from further invasions. Under the leadership of Zhabdrung Rimpoche, Bhutan and Tibet fought 12 battles in different parts of the country. 3 battles were fought in the Paro valley and one of these took place in the Drukgyel Dzong. The Dzong has 2 round towers on the northern side that overlook the route from Tibet.
Samuel Turner (1783 AD), British envoy to Bhutan, wrote about the Drukgyel Dzong and described “the fortress was built on a rocky hill that formed the summit of the mound. The approach to the only entrance was defended by three round towers placed between the fort and the foot of the hill and connected by a double wall making it safe for occupant to collect water from the cistern.”
In the later year the Dzong became an administrative center of Dzongpon (administrative office) of this region until it was completely burnt down in 1951 AD. The burnt Dzong has remained as ruins ever since.
This temple is located on the way to Thimphu from Paro and it takes around 15 minutes to walk to the temple from the road. It is a private temple founded by Tshangtong Gyalpo (Iron Bridges Builder) in the 15th century. The Lama, while there, had a vision of the white horse Balaha which is the emanation of Chenrize (God of Compassion) showing the good omen and led Tshangtong Gyalpo to build the temple.
It is 3-storey building where statues of historical Buddha are found on the ground floor and the statue of Tshangtong Gyalpo on the first floor. Some iron chains are sighted on the artic of this building.