Paro & Thimpu—a unique country.
Paro & Thimpu.
It took us nine hours to reach Paro from Phuentsholing — the border town of Bhutan and India, by road. Usually it takes seven hours; but the road from Phuentsholing to Chuzom was under repair and the traffic flow was restricted. Phuentsholing and Jaigaon, the two towns on each side of the border are a study in contrast. Indias’ Jaigon India is dusty, dirty and unplanned; Bhutans’ Phuentsholing is spic & clean and meticulously planned. We had our lunch of “Chhole-Batore” on the way, in the Dantak (Boarder Road Organisation) canteen near Chukha—where, on Thimpu Chu (river) Bhutan with Indian help, has constructed a big hydroelectric project. Soon we reached Chuzom – the confluence of Paro Chu & Thimpu Chu, where the road bifurcates – one goes toThimpu and the other to Paro. By the time we reached Paro and checked into our hotel it was dark and we were dog-tired.
Situated on both banks of the blue Paro Chu and surrounded by green hills, the lush green Paro valley is probably one of the most beautiful valleys of the world and one just wants to relax in the hotel balcony, Paro valley laying in front and not to move at all. But there were so much to see – the Ha valley, the Paro Dzong (fort), the Kyichu & Dungtse Lhakhang (monastery), Ta Dzong and off course the Taktsang Lhakhang.
On the border with China, 61 kms away from Paro, Ha valley is rarely visited by outsiders. One climbs to Chele La (mountain pass) at 3988 meters (40 kms), the highest point on Bhutans’ road and then drop down steeply to the remote Ha—a small hill town with a fort (Dzong). The town has retained the old Bhutanese style of architecture and one feels like a complete stranger, infringing upon a secret society.
To know about Bhutan in all its complexity, a visit to the museum in Ta Dzong is a must; so is a visit to Taktsang, the most sacred & revered monastery of Bhutan. But to enter Taktsang( 2950 meters) one has to climb 3000 fts from the Jagathang valley and then again climb up & down through 700 stairs. But all these troubles are worth taking. Ponies are available to lessen ones’ trouble.
Constructed in 1692 by Tenzing Ragbe on the top of a mountain, hanging on a sheer cliff with face droping down thousands of feet, Taktsang is an engineering marvel. It very appropriately nick named “Tigers’ den”.
Paro Dzong or Rinchenping Dzong (Meaning fortress on a heap of jewel) was constructed by Shabdrung Ngwang Namgyal in 1646and became one of Bhutans’ strongest and most important fortress.
It took us three days to explore Paro and then we are off to Thimpu.
Surrounded by green hills, Thimpu, the Capital of Bhutan, is fast becoming a concrete jungle; although they try to retain the old architectural style which is somewhat a relief. Thimpu Chu flows quietly, dividing the valley into two halves.
We started with the striking National Memorial Chorten and proceeded to Changangkha Lhakhang, Craft centre and to the Folk heritage Museum. A quick lunch and then again we were off to Pangri Jampa, Dechenphu Lhakhang, Telecom tower—to have a birds’ view of the valley and lastly to Thimpu Dzong. Only Bhutanese are allowed inside Pangri Jampa, Dechenphu Lhakhang. Constructed by the queen mother of third king Jigme Dorzi Wanchuk in 1974, the huge National Memorial Chorten (stupa) on the backdrop of a turquoise blue sky was a striking construction; so was the Trashichhoe(Meaning the Fortress of Auspicious Religion) Dzong. The old dzong constructed in 1216 and was rebuilt in 1630 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and again thoroughly repaired and christened by the Namgyal in 1641. It became the summer residence of Namgyal and Je Khempo(the religious head of Bhutan).
Bhutan with its unique and well preserved culture and architecture was an experience that will be treasured for all our life.
Access: Entry points are Phuentsholing & Paro. Buses & cars are available from Siliguri to Jaigoan and flights from Dumdum to Paro.
Permits: Indians need entry permit to enter Bhutan which is available at Phuentsholing or Paro (for air travellers) on production of Photo Identity card (Voter I-card, Driving licence, Passport). Separate permission is needed to enter any Dzong and some of Lhakhangs (Taksang) which is given by the cultural department at Thimpu.
Transport: Buses ply inside Bhutan but to avoid hassles to hire car from Phuentsholing or Paro.
Stay: Hotel to suit all pockets are available in Thimpu & Paro.
Food: Food is costly. Indian foods are available but beef & ham are more easily available. One should taste Suza (butter tea), Faksa (Ham) & Sakam (beef).
Season: All year except the rainy season. Best season, October-November and March-April. Paro & Thimpu Tsechu (festival) are held in March-April and in September-October respectively.
Others: To avoid hassles you can contact Sacred Himalaya Travel at Thimpu; Tshem Norbu (009752325606) or his wife Lakshmi (0097517711749), e-mail: email@example.com or Anil Kangsbanik at Jaigaon (09932323888), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.