Paroསྤ་རོ་རྫོང་ཁག་ is the name of a district (dzongkhag), valley, river and town (population 20,000) in the Kingdom of Bhutan. It is one of the most historic valleys in Bhutan. Both trade goods and invading Tibetans came over the pass at the head of the valley, giving Paro the closest cultural connection with Tibet of any Bhutanese district. Important cultural sites include:
* Taktsang, or Tiger’s Nest, the most famous monastery in Bhutan. Northwest of Paro, perched more than 3,000 feet above the Paro-chu River, is the Buddhist hermitage of Taktsang. Legend holds that the great 8th century Buddhist teacher, Padmasambhava, traveled throughout the Himalayas on the back of a flying tigress, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan and other areas in the region. He alighted at the site that is now Taktsang, which means “Tiger Lair.” Since that time, many notable spiritual masters have come here to meditate. Although the hermitage appears inaccessible, one can actually reach it after a long and steep hike up the mountainside. It was a beautiful hike, punctuated with a welcome rest at a teahouse set high in the mountains across a valley from Taktsang. For those who would prefer to save their energy and ride as far as the teahouse, horses were available for rent in the valley below.
* Kyichu Lhakhang, which along with Jambay Lhakhang in central Bhutan is the oldest temple in Bhutan, dating to the 7th century by the Tibetan King Songsten Gampo. The story goes that a giant demoness lay across the whole area of Tibet and the Himalayas and was preventing the spread of Buddhism. To overcome her, King Songtsen Gampo decided to build 108 temples, which would be placed on all the points of her body. Of these 108 temples, 12 were built in accordance with precise plans. Thus, it happened that in about the year AD 638 the temple of Jokhang in Lhasa was built over the very heart of the demoness. Kyichu Lhakhang pins down her left foot and Jamba Lhakhang in Bumthang her left knee.
* Drukgyel Dzong, at the upper end of the valley, built to protect against invading Tibetans, but in ruins since a fire in the 1950s. Drukgyel Dzong is situated 14 km from Paro at the end of the road.
This Dzong was built in a location chosen for control of the routes to tibet. In 1647 Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel erected the Drukgyel Dzong, just north of Taktshang, in commemoration of the victory over the Tibetans in 1644. Thus while Bhutan has many cultural associations with Tibetan cultural areas, it has not been dominated by Tibetan political influence since the 17th century.The name “Drukgyel Dzong” means “Fortress of the Victorious Drukpa”. In 1951 it was destroyed by fire. Now the Dzong is closed to all visitors. There have been attempts to renovate the buildings.In the background there is the Jhomolhari mountain, which is the place and embodiment of the female mountain goddess Tsheringma, who watches over the land.
* Paro Town, the single market town in the dzongkhag which is booming (by Bhutanese standards) due to an influx of tourist dollars.
* Rinpung Dzong, also known as Paro Dzong, the massive fortress/monastery which is also the administrative center of the dzonkhag. Scenes from the movie Little Buddha were filmed in and around this dzong. Also known as ” fortress of the heap of jewels “, it was built during the time of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1646. The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge called the Nemi Zam. A walk through the bridge to the Dzong, over a stone inlaid path, offers a good view of the architectural wonder of the Dzong as well as life around it. It is also venue of the Paro Tshechu, held once a year inspiring.
* Ta Dzong -The National Museum of Bhutan : The Ta Dzong is a castle-shaped fortress built in 1651 as a watch tower to defend Rinpung Dzong during inter-valley wars of the 17th century. The National Museum of Bhutan is a cultural museum now housed in the Ta Dzong. In 1968, it was renovated under the command of His Majesty, the King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the third hereditary Monarch of Bhutan. The necessary infrastructure was created to house some of the finest specimens of Bhutanese art, including masterpieces of bronze statues and paintings. Suitable galleries were constructed to house the extensive collections. Works of art were elegantly displayed on scientific lines.Today the National Museum has in its possession over 3,000 works of Bhutanese art, covering more than 1,500 years of Bhutan’s cultural heritage. Its rich holdings of various creative traditions and disciplines, represent a remarkable blend of the past with the present and is a major attraction for local and foreign visitors.
Paro contains the only active international airport in Bhutan, the Paro Airport, a beautiful small green-roofed facility in a valley, served only by Druk Air (Bhutan’s National Airline) from India and other countries in Southeast Asia.
Paro is bordered by Haa dzongkhag to the west, Tibet to the north, Thimphu to the east, and Chukha dzongkhag to the south.
Paro was featured on the NBC Today Show segment Where In The World Is Matt Lauer and on the Discovery Travel show “1000 places to see before you die”