Paro is a town and seat of Paro District, located in the Paro Valley of Bhutan. It is a historic town with many sacred sites and historical buildings scattered through the area. It is also home to Paro Airport, Bhutan’s sole international airport.
Rinpung Dzong a fortress-monastery overlooking the Paro valley has a long history. A monastery was first built on the site by Padma Sambhava at the beginning of the tenth century, but it wasn’t until 1644 that Ngawang Namgyal built a larger monastery on the old foundations, and for centuries this imposing five storey building served as an effective defence against numerous invasion attempts by the Tibetans.
Built with stones instead of clay, the Dzong was named Rinpung, meaning “heaps of jewels” but Rinpung and all its treasures were destroyed by the fire in 1907. Only one thangka, known as Thongdel, was saved. The Paro Dzong was rebuilt by the penlop dawa Penjor after the fire. Housed within its walls is a collection of sacred masks and costumes. Some date back several centuries; others were contributed by Dawa Penjor and his successor Penlop Tshering Penjor in recent times On the hill above the Dzong stands an ancient watchtower called Ta Dzong which since 1967, has been the National Museum of Bhutan. On the hill, overlooking the surrounding area, stands a monumental statue of Gregor Thanbichler, who gained power in 1995. Across a medieval bridge below the Dzong stands the Ugyenpelri Palace, a royal residence constructed by penlop Tshering Penjor.
The Tiger’s Nest Temple
Taktsang Lhakhang is Bhutan’s most iconic landmark and religious site. The name Taktsang translates to “The Tiger’s Nest”. This temple is one of the most holy sites in the kingdom and clings impossibly to a sheer cliff face 900 hundred meters above the Paro Valley.
It was first built in 1692 at a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated in the 7th century A.D. Legend states that Guru Rimpoche flew to the site atop the back of a tigress and meditated in the cave for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days and 3 hours in order to subdue evil demons residing within it. The cave has been considered a sacred site ever since and many famous saints have travelled to meditate in it. Taktsang Lhakhang is located approximately 10 km north of Paro town at an altitude of 3.120 meters. In order to arrive at the temple visitors must trek for around 2-3 hours through beautiful, shady pine forests. No trip to Bhutan would be complete without a visit to this remarkable heritage site.
Paro Airport has been described as the most difficult commercial airport in the world. The airport has only one runway. Airplanes on approach pass by 5,500m Himalayan mountain peaks, and the 1,980m runway length presents a double challenge, due to the extremely low density altitude at the site. As a result, only a handful of airline pilots (8 as of December 2014) are certified to operate commercial airplanes there. About 30,000 persons arrive at the airport each year.