Overview of Paro
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We flew into Paro and spent four nights there. Try and get a seat on the left side of the plane for the best views of the Himalayas and Everest.
The flight is exciting as it is under visual flight rules and planes can only land in good visibility. They fly through a narrow valley as the hillside with houses and fields whips past the window. The airport is built to the south of the town on the broad river flats, which are one of the few large flat areas in Bhutan. The airport terminal building is fairly modern but like all buildings in Bhutan is very traditional.
Paro set in a pretty valley of isolated hamlets and farms. It is a wealthy area and corrugated iron roofs replace the traditional wood shingle which only last a few years. The town is a grid pattern of streets lined with houses. Many had shops on the ground floor opening out onto the road. They all seemed to sell a similar range of packaged goods and sweets.
We spent a full day around Paro, visiting the Dzong, which is the largest and most impressive building in the town dominating the valley. It is built on a commanding site overlooking the town and floodlit at night. It was used to defend the valley against invasion from Tibet in the 17thC. The present building was rebuilt in 1902 after a fire. It was formerly the Meeting Hall for National Assembly before this moved to Thimphu. Now it houses the monastic body, district Government offices and local courts.
The basic layout of all dzongs is the same with a big outer wall surrounding one or more courtyards (dochey) with a central tower called the utse which houses the temples and stores the masks and costumes used for festivals. The Dzong is made up of two areas, the administration offices and the monks quarters. The newly painted entrance passage with pictures of the four protector gods led into the admin area. The woodwork had been newly painted in shades of yellow, brown, orange and white. There were steps down into a lower courtyard used by the monks. Cockerels (the monks' alarm clocks) were running everywhere.
Below the utse there were small small monks in a small room busy reading "I can count" while slightly older monks in another room were learning religious texts by heart. As usual with small boys some were more interested in flicking stones across the room to each other than chanting.
A chief monk was sitting in judgement and listening to a case brought against a monk who had been absent from the Dzong for several months. He said he had been visiting his parents and had been ill. He was being questioned about medicines and his commitment to being monk. The parents and other monks were also there to answer questions.
Above the Dzong is Ta Dzong, a round white painted building which was originally the watchtower and later housed prisoners. It has now been restored and extended as a museum. We found this dusty and old fashioned with little English information. There were some beautiful religious carvings on slate and an interesting display of traditional costumes and clothes.
There was also a display of every stamp issued since 1968. Before then sealing wax was used. When you buy stamps from the post office, you are given a huge book of stamps to choose which one you want. It is also possible to 'custom make' stamps with your photo on.
We also watched an archery contest. The Archery field is on a flat piece of land by the river under the dzong. Archery is very popular in Bhutan. There are two teams who take turns to shoot at a small oblong wooden block with a bull's eye painted on it at the far end of the field. Each person has four shots then change ends and rest of team has a turn. Non-shooting team members stand by the target and shout encouragement pointing at the bull's eye. They perform a victory dance each time one of their team manages to hit the target. Many miss. Traditionally the bows were made of wood but are hi tech steel now.
We were based in the JANKA RESORT, a large new hotel in traditional style with mustard yellow walls and painted woodwork. http://jankaresort.bt/
It is five minutes drive from Paro and surrounded by fields and farmhouses, with chilies drying on the roofs. We enjoyed being able to walk through the fields before breakfast and watching the rice being harvested. Paths are narrow tracks of hard beaten earth ran between the fields with lots wild flowers along edges including pink Cosmos. The sound of crickets was everywhere. We watched the children with there parcel of books and container of rice walking across the fields to school.
We had a large, airy and comfortable room with views down the valley to Paro and the Dzong. There is no internet access in the room but there is a small business area where hotel computers can be used for a small charge. There were very few others stopping while we were there and the staff were delightful. Meals were ample and good. A menu was brought to us every evening to check we were happy with the choice.
We loved Paro. It is a marvelous place to start a holiday in Bhutan.
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