THE Paro Valley in the west of Bhutan is a region packed full of sacred sites, mystical tales and stories of intrigue and invasion. Not to mention, it’s home to some of the most beautiful sites, both natural and man-made, on the planet.
The small town of Paro itself sits more than 2000m above sea level and is littered with historic buildings and monasteries. It is the home to Bhutan’s sole international airport; an airport so remote only eight pilots have gained the special certification needed to land there.
Dubbed the “most difficult airport in the world,” Paro 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.
The region is perhaps best known for its monasteries, the most famous of which is Tiger’s Nest, or Paro Taktsang. Considered one of the Himalaya’s most incredible sites, this 17th century monastery is miraculously perched on the side of a sheer cliff 900m above the floor of the valley.
The complex is built around a set of caves believed sacred in Buddhism as Guru Rimpoche – a 7th century Indian Buddhist master credited with bringing Buddhism to Bhutan – is believed to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in an attempt to subdue the demons residing within.
Legend has it that Rimpoche flew to the caves from Tibet on the back of a tigress, hence the holy site’s name of Tiger’s Nest or Tiger’s Lair.
The trek up to majestic site takes around two to three hours and is well worth the legwork. The trail takes you through shady pine forests and up onto the cliffs before reaching the complex of caves and monasteries.
While it might be its most famous spot, Tiger’s Nest is far from the only attraction in the area.
Kyichu Lhakhang is one of Bhutan’s oldest and most beautiful temples. The temple is popularly believed to have been built in 659 by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet, to pin down the left foot of a giant ogress who was thwarting the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet. Elderly pilgrims constantly shuffle around the temple spinning its many prayer wheels, making this one of the most charming spots in the valley.
Drukgyal Dzong was a fortress and Buddhist monastery, now in ruins, believed to have been built in 1649 in commemoration of a victory over an invasion from Tibet. While much of the site was destroyed in a fire in the 50s, what remains still makes for a worthwhile visit. One of the nifty features of the fortress was a false entrance that lured the returning Tibetan invaders into an enclosed courtyard during a second attack.
There are plenty of other smaller monasteries, caves and fortresses littered throughout the valley for you to explore. But the valley itself holds a natural beauty that makes it a standout destination even without the history and holy sites.
This picturesque region is one of the widest valleys in the kingdom of Bhutan and is covered in fertile rice fields and has a river meandering down the lush green valley.