Day 1.Arrival Paro - drive to Thimphu
Landing in Paro valley is a perfect entry into this other world, with its transparent purity of the air and its absorbing serenity.
On arrival, our visas are processed and we then pass through customs and transfer via a two hour drives to Thimphu the"capital city passing through hills and some astounding countryside.
Thimphu is situated in a large valley traversed by the Wangchu River and overshadowed by high peaks
Day 2. (In Thimphu)
After breakfast, we visit the Memorial Chorten with its golden spires shining in the sun, its tinkling bells and an endless procession of elderly people circling around it. Erected by the royal grandmother Ashi Phutsho Choegran in memory of her son the third king Jigme Dorje, it contains a fine collection of Buddhist statues and is a center of tantric Buddhism in all its complexity.
A short drive from here takes us to the Choki School of Arts & Crafts, the only School besides Zorig Chusum (Painting School) in the entire country. It has 30 students between the ages of 14 - 18 years. Children learn traditional techniques of drawing, painting, calligraphy, embroidery, wood carving and sculpture quite different from any practiced in the West. Art and painting are important aspects of Bhutanese culture intertwined with Buddhism. Vegetable dyes are incorporated on murals and the renowned Thankas. Rules of iconography are firmly established and must be scrupulously respected. Each deity has a color and special attributes that cannot change without altering the meaning and religious function.
Before returning to the hotel, we visit the Folk Heritage Museum which was founded by Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Dorji Wangchuck. The museum is dedicated to connecting people to the Bhutanese rural past through an exhibition of items and artifacts used in rural households, demonstrating the rural customs, traditions, habits and skills. The principal exhibit is the museum building itself which is a restored three-storey traditional rammed mud and timber house. It contains household objects, typical domestic tools and equipments used by a rural family.
In the late afternoon, we take a short drive to the Textile Museum, co-founded by Mrs. Bill Gates featuring old Bhutanese textiles and artifacts from the various regions and tribes of Bhutan.
We then visit the Thimphu Dzong and the Secretariat, which houses the central Monk body. When H.M. Jigme Dorje Wangchuck, the third king made Thimphu his capital he started to enlarge Tashichoedzong in 1962 so it could also serve as the main secretariat and seat of government. Its majestic architecture in finely balanced proportions is complemented by lavish decorations and paintings. While the National Assembly meets twice a year, the Monk Body moves to the warmer region of Punakha in the winter months. Overnight in Thimphu.
Day 3. (Thimphu - Paro)
After a leisurely breakfast, we drive back to Paro. En route we stop by Anim Dratsang Nunnery. This is a unique occasion to observe the women monks go about their simple routine of prayer, household chores of cooking and washing as well as to see their living quarters and in-house temple.
Paro valley retains its bucolic nature in spite of the existence of development projects. Fields of brown or green depending on the season cover most of the valley floor while hamlets and isolated farms dot the landscape.
Afternoon, we visit the National Museum, located above the Paro Dzong and housed in the 17th century watchtower with its fine collection of old Thangka paintings, textiles, ancient weapons and artifacts. It was in this tower that Ugyen Wangchuk, the future first king of Bhutan was imprisoned in 1872 when he came to put down a revolt. The museum is also considered a temple due to its large collection of religious objects and movement inside is therefore requested in a clockwise direction. The massive exterior architecture and the beautiful interior decoration are worth seeing in themselves.
Next we visit the Paro Dzong or Rinpong Dzong which means"the fortress of the heap of jewels". Initiated in the early 15th century as a little fort the rulers presented it to the religious and political authority of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal who constructed a much more commanding fortress in 1646. Almost burnt to the ground in 1907 it was rebuilt on the same design with money raised via a special tax levied throughout Bhutan. Today the Dzong is the administrative seat of the district of Paro and also contains the state monastic community of about 200 members. The Central tower and galleries are amongst the most beautiful in Bhutan with its superb woodwork and classical paintings of Buddhist cosmology representing the universe as seen by two different philosophic streams.
Return to our transport crossing the traditional wooden covered bridge called NYAMAI-ZAM which spans the Paro river. Earlier, in times of war, the bridge was removed each time to protect the Dzong.
Day 4. In Paro
Today is a special day, Our day begins after an early breakfast for the hike to view one of Bhutan's most revered pilgrimage sites of the Buddhist world, the Taktshang Lhakhang, popularly known as the"Tiger's Nest" Monastery. The trek offers spectacular views of this sacred monastery perched precariously on a sheer rock face 3000 ft above the valley floor. Legend has it that Guru Rimpoche, father of Bhutan's stream of Mahayana Buddhism arrived in the Paro valley more than a millennium ago on a back of a tigress. He meditated for 3 months in a cave which was converted into this monastery. The only sounds heard here are the murmurs of wind, water and the chanting of monks.
This evening, we take a walk down Paro's main street, straight and windswept, its occasional idlers leaning against the store-fronts. It's another opportunity to interact with the local people and visit the interesting small shops occupying the ground levels that provide the basic necessities.
Day 5. Departure