Paro, the second largest town in Bhutan
After a wonderful time in Punakha, Wangdue and Thimphu, we moved westwards to the city of Paro. Located along the banks of the Paro chhu in the lovely Paro valley, Paro has Bhutan’s only airport. It is situated about 7 km from Paro town, and that’s probably the only flat strip of land the country has.
As our bus descended into the valley, we saw houses with metal roofs and other signs of ‘modernization’ compared to Thimphu. I got into a discussion with a guy who lamented the fact that natural building materials were being replaced by modern ones and that this trend is bad and that government should ban it. Well, while I would personally prefer to live in a house with wooden or ‘natural’ roof, I can’t say what’s right and wrong for Bhutan. I don’t live in Paro! If local people think that metal roof is better, cheaper, functional, etc., I trust them more than my wishful thinking of a rustic roof in an ideal world of infinite resources.
If you are flying into Bhutan (from India, Nepal, Bangladesh or Thailand), you will arrive at the Paro airport which is 15 minutes away from the town. If you are a non-Indian foreigner, the mandatory tour company will pick you up you from the airport itself (read more about this) so you don’t have to worry about anything. If you are Indian, you are on your own, unless you want to spend money on a tour operator right from day one (read more about this). Taxis are available outside the airport and you (Indians only) can choose to go to either Paro or Thimphu. For regions beyond, you need the ‘Special Areas Permit’ which can be obtained in Thimphu only. For non-Indian foreigners, the tour company will arrange permits before you enter the country.
I entered Bhutan by land (border with India) and went to Thimphu first to extend the travel permits. Paro is 53 km from the capital Thimphu and it takes about two hours by bus. There are a limited number of bus services available, leaving at 8:30 and 14:30 from either towns (Rs. 70). The other option is sharing a taxi (Rs. 150-200 or more depending on how well (or not) you bargain).
We rented a room in a hotel run by a Nepali guy. Very basic, clean and cheap – Rs. 400 ($8) for two, including heating. There was a bakery across the street and lots of restaurants nearby, very nice!
Paro has a grid-like planned structure (built in 1985) and is very spacious. There is not much to do in the town and most interesting places are scattered around the valley, as you will see over the next few posts.
The town square is marked by a tower-like Chhoeten Lhakhang and a large prayer wheel. I liked the idyllic pace of Paro, even on a weekday, it seemed empty and silent.