Kingdom of Bhutan - Druk Yul - Paro
The Kingdom of Bhutan holds many wonders for the city dweller. Even avid travelers will find it to be quite different from most other places.
My first view of Druk-Yul (Land of Dragon) was from the window of my plane and it reminded me of what I love about nature. Our adventure was about to begin with landing at Paro airport, which has one of the most challenging approaches in the world.
After the fastest immigration and customs process in the world, I found my way to the hotel, a picturesque lodge nestled among people's houses on the side of a hill. After an evening getting to know what turned out to be my small tour group, I turned in for an early night.
The next day after a quick breakfast we were off to visit one of the oldest sites in Bhutan - Kyichu Lhakhang.
Fair warning, being a hilly country, flat roads are rare and broad roads non-existent. Do NOT attempt to drive yourself. The locals have perfected driving on these roads (its like an art form) and you will go crazy (NO even driving in India doesn't come close). Also why not just enjoy the serene countryside that you will see out the window.
We spent a good hour and half walking the grounds of the Kyichu Lhakhang, meeting locals and the docile (or lazy) dogs who live there. The peace and quiet of the place is broken only by the sound of prayer wheels or the wind. This place holds a lot of historic importance and is considered one of their holiest temples. After having visited many Hindu temples across South India, this was a drastically different experience. This Buddhist monastery is definitely a good way to start your trip.
The next order of business was lunch. Meals in Bhutan are an adventure of their own. For a country whose biggest industry is tourism, it shockingly lacks a lot of food options outside hotels/resorts. The best restaurant in Paro has a very selective menu and their timings are notoriously random. Calling ahead and ordering in advance is a very good idea. Try the Ema Datshi (Chili and Cheese), its a national dish and extremely tasty for those that can handle a little spice. Its best eaten with rice.
After lunch we drove up to the National museum of Bhutan. The museum is a wonderful place to learn a little bit about the colorful history and culture of Bhutan. Its also a good place to relax post lunch while continuing to immerse yourself into the country.
Walking distance from there is the Rinpung Dzong, seat of the district government. One thing you will notice about Dzongs throughout Bhutan are they serve a dual purpose, Buddhist monastery and administrative offices for the government. This is a core part of the way Bhutan's governance is structured, religion and the democratic government work in tandem.
That was the end of an exciting Day 1. The next day we needed to leave really early to visit one of the most iconic monasteries in the world - Paro Taktsang (aka The Tiger's Nest). Its a bit of a drive and climb to get there but once you get close, the view is totally worth it.
We also learned an interesting fact about our guide/driver Dawa-ji at this monastery. He used to serve the royal family of Bhutan! We met one of the members of the royal family there, who on seeing that we were with him assured us we were in extremely good hands and offered us tea and biscuits. Its not often that you run into royalty, without a large cordon of security. Its even more rare that you meet royalty who remember and acknowledge a person who used to drive them around over a decade ago.
Evening was fast approaching and we had to head back after just a couple of hours spent at this wonderful cliff side monastery, but the journey was well worth the walk and I would love to do it again.
This was the end of our stay at Paro. The next stop on my trip to the Land of the Dragon was Thimpu, the National Capital.
You can find more photos of my visit to Paro and the rest of Bhutan in my Google+ album. Stay tuned for more from the rest of my journey.