A small town with wide tar roads, neatly led footpath, river jingling along, trees stooping in to add color, people walking around, and cycling, Paro was a retreat !!
I was eager to get down of the car and take a stroll along the river in Paro on that most pleasant evening. But we had to proceed further into the town as the clouds were steadily gathering above us.
We stopped at Paro town to shop and get a Sim card for our mobile phone as the call charges are pretty cheap, and you can get a Sim card by showing your permit.
Like many Bhutanese towns, it had a town square with shops around. After walking up and down the souvenir shops, I decided to settle with an affordable fridge magnet. By the time we reached our homestay, it was pouring heavily, and the night was cold. Our homestay had one small problem, and they did not have water!!
Takstang Monastery / Tiger Nest Monastery
The morning was as cold as the night. I walked up to the courtyard, yawned, and my vision was clouded with breath from my mouth.
Unable to believe what just happened, I looked up, and there, perched on the cliff among thick pine forests, was the tiger nest monastery...
The highlight of the Bhutan trip and the arduous trek. Two months back,
Me: Santosh, I am not a trekker and also unfit. I am a little afraid of the tiger nest monastery.
Santosh (our tour operator): you can take a horse that will cover 80% of the way, and after that, you can trek. Or try till how much you can and then walk down. Or wait down till we all go up and come down (that's a good six hours).
Rewind by another two years, when I trekked Gangotri (how?? oh God, how on earth did I ever do that!!),
The guide was kind enough to tell me how people fall down the horse into the gorge/cliff and die. So the horse was out of options!
I started getting on the treadmill and also taking stairs. I also Did squats to make my legs strong. I was limping around for a while, due to which I read some blog which emphasized breathing exercises!
So, I started doing Surya Namaskar and Pranayama. I took a deep breath looking at the monastery and ardently wished for some miracle to happen, and it again got clouded with smoke.
"There is a look of fear all over your face. Wipe it out and eat your breakfast. You need the energy to climb." I got jerked from my thoughts, and the toast was refusing to pass through the lump in my throat.
Tiger Nest Monastery was abuzz with tourist vehicles. There were avid trekkers all geared up with the right equipment. Some tourists stood down, took photos, admired the view, and moved on.
Some took the horse, and I ambitiously started my climb. Hushed, pushed, gasped, and now apart from the lump in my throat, someone was sitting on my chest!
"Why don't you take the horse?
Trek has not even started!" told our guide, and we walked back for the horse.
The horse looked tiny in front of me, and I refused to get on one. The group moved off, and I wondered what to do. I again hushed, pushed, gasped, and my heart was in my mouth! But I knew my fitness was not that bad. If anything gives up first, it would be my legs, not my heart or will. Overwhelmed, I sat on a rock to let my heart go back to its place.
A monk passed by and said, "Don't walk alone; you will lose balance!" Ok! An aunty came down, "Betaa kya kar rahi ho, thoo nahi chad paaogae!" When have I ever listened to others? So I again started up.
But, for once, I had to listen to my heart; otherwise, it might have come out of my mouth. I did not realize what was wrong then, and it was only later when my nose ran dry and pricked like thorns did I know it was an acclimatization issue.
So, people, I did not do the Tiger Nest trek! And I advise you to keep it at the end of your trip so that you understand your body and either listen to it or make it listen to you.
Tiger Nest Monastery
With the group having moved up, I knew they would not be back for another five hours. So I decided to set out sightseeing in Paro by myself! And that turned out to be one of the best experiences. I hired a taxi and went around the city.
So here are the best places to visit in Paro,
Places to visit in Paro
Paro National Museum
The Paro National Museum is a watchtower that got converted into a museum. This was my first stop.
No photography is allowed inside any museum. This is a must-do, and I would say the first thing to do.
It is Bhutan in a nutshell.
It explains to you the culture of Bhutan, the different Gurus, different disciples of Buddha, how Buddhism spread, all the figurines and paintings we see in the dzongs, all the mask dance, it is just too fascinating, like standing there and reading the most exciting novel ever.
One of the stories read, the phase between death and rebirth is called Bardo, around 48 days. So while your spirit is jumping around trees, Yama calculates your karma and shows three masks in front of your face, like goat, deer, fox, etc. Each animal face represents human tendencies like passion, selfishness, cunning, etc. Now, if you get excited about seeing the wrong mask, your next birth is screwed.
Apart from that, Bhutan's flora, fauna, vegetation, tea culture, wildlife, all that is there.
There is something called "Golden Worms" that they cultivate. Guess what?
It is a fungus that grows out of a caterpillar's head! Slowly the caterpillar becomes a mummy and gets erected like a root in the soil, and the fungus grows by taking nutrition out of its brain! Yikeess it has a lot of medicinal value and fetches a lot of money!
Rinpung Paro Dzong
Driving down the watchtower, we come across the Rinpung Dzong. It is a big dzong and, like others, colorful too. The usual four friends, wheel of life, cosmic mandalas can be found on the walls.
Entry to the monastery. Colors colors everywhere.
Paintings in the entry way.
Kyichu Lhakhang/ Monastery
This temple is one of the oldest in Bhutan.
It has a history which goes like this -
The emperor called Gampo built 108 temples in one day in and around the Tibetan region.
Hence it is the very first Buddhist temple of Bhutan, even before the Guru Rinpoche times.
There is a shrine for Gampo, which is surrounded by many other idols. This is the oldest shrine. To both sides, you can see the thousand hand and eye statues.
Outside is another shrine for Guru Rinpoche. Huge statue!
The guide (taxi driver) dutifully took me around the statue, made me bonk my head against Guru Rinpoche's feet to get rid of my sins. This is not a touristy place and so more peaceful.
This one is again non-touristy. It has no one around. This dzong was entirely gutted by fire, and now it is just in ruins. The view is fantastic from here. On one side, it is thick green vegetation, and another side is snow-capped mountains. The horse breeders who take their horse to Tiger nest stay on this side; hence, many of them were freely galloping around. It is not a must-visit place, but if you have time in Paro and want some quiet time, this is a great place.
Drukgyal ruined fortress complex
View from one side of the dzong.. Pine forests and paddy fields
The other side view from the dzong, flanked by snow-capped mountains
The Tara temple was on the way to Drukgyal. It is a tiny temple on the base of Drukgyel Monastery. I gingerly climbed up the steep wooden ladder to discover that I will have to do it often in Bhutan.
It was a white Tara temple.
White Tara is the mother of compassion, much softer Tara, and you can identify Her as the one with seven eyes.
Two in Her palms and two in Her feet.
The guide (taxi driver) again dutifully made me light butter lamp, the lama said some prayers, sprinkled holy water, and blessed me.
I turned around to see that the entire wall had the Yab-yum position painted. I gasped and came out. The yab-yum part is the sexual union of male deity with His female consort.
Paro Airport View
This is a viewpoint from above the mountain. You can see the whole of the city, and it is beautiful. The airstrip is small.
The driver dramatically explained how it looks as though the flight will touch the mountains, but that does not happen.
One must Stop here for the views and photography.
Paro sightseeing requires one whole day. Tiger nest; if you intend to complete that, it again requires one day. Once you are done with Tiger Nest, your legs are not going to move anywhere else. So it is better to plan it for the end of the trip.