PARO

Paro valley View, Paro, Western Bhutan

West of Thimphu, and close to the Tibetan border, the town of Paro is nestled in the lush and arrestingly beautiful Paro valley, its orchards and terraced fields surrounded by forested mountains.

Courtyard, Paro Dzong, Western Bhutan

The Rinchen Pung Dzong is widely regarded as one the best examples of Bhutanese Dzong architecture, the courtyard of which is open to the public.

Wall painting, Paro Dzong, Western Bhutan

The National Museum provides an invaluable and deep illustrative insight into the history of Buddhism, so intrinsically intertwined in every aspect Bhutanese life, and its displays feature many interesting artefacts associated with Bhutanese culture and history. 

National Museum, Paro, Western Bhutan

The upper valley is a wonderful place to explore, with many hiking options to take in the beautiful scenery and temples, such as Kyichu Lhakhang, one of Bhutan’s oldest. 

Taktshang Goemba ('tiger's nest'), Western Bhutan

One of the most famous valley walks, which can also be done on horseback, is the trek to the stunning Taktshang Goemba (‘Tiger’s Nest’) monastery, a beautiful structure impossibly clinging to a cliff face some 900 metres above the valley floor. Drukgyel Dzong at the end of the valley road is now in ruins but provides an interesting viewpoint.

Architectural detail, Tigers nest, Western Bhutan

Drukgyel Dzong is also the starting point for some of Bhutan's most iconic trails, such as the Jomolhari trek, the Laya-Gasa Trek and the incredible Snowman Trek, superb journeys into the high altitude passes of Jigme Dorji National Park and the impressive snowclad peaks close to the Tibetan border.

For those unaccustomed to the climactic and altitudinal challenges of the high Himalaya, the Druk Path Trek is a lower seven day scenic alternative from Paro to Thimpu.

PUNAKHA


To the east of Thimpu,  passing over Dochula Pass, and its superb Himalayan views, the former capital of Punakha sits in the valley of the same name and is renowned for its festival (February/March), which features a re-enactment of the battle of 1639 with the Tibetans in defence of their most sacred artefact, the Ranjung Karsapai, an image of a Buddist deity, Chenresig.

Punakha Dzong, Punakha, Western Bhutan

Historically, Punakha Dzong, dating from 1637, is the second oldest of these definitive Bhutanese architectural structures, and regarded by some as the finest.

Bridge at Punakha Dzong, Western Bhutan

Another historical site in the valley is the gardens of Dho Jhaga Lam Lhakhang and its split rock, the subject of a famous Bhutanese legend. Further up the valley, on a beautiful wooded hillside, Khamsum Yuelley Namgyai Chorten, finished in 1999, is a modern example of Bhutanese faithfulness to its cultural past.

Punakha Valley, Punakha, Western Bhutan

The valley is also a good place for outdoor activities, with mountain biking trails and the Mo Chhu River offering excellent kayaking and rafting, whilst a popular day-hike is to the hot springs at Gasa. Another trek in the area is the four day Samtengang Winter Trek.

 

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