Into the Land of Thunder Dragon : Bhutan Travelogue - Paro 1

Paro town is about 50 kilometers from Thimphu. So we were not in a hurry to start early the next day. We wanted to take our time since it was our last morning in the capital city of Bhutan. So we got up early (early as per my definition), got dressed and went out to take a stroll about. Now we could fully comprehend how tight our schedule was – 7 days was not enough. And we wasted so much time visiting the commonplace tourist spots that we missed the real flavour of the country that is so unique from so many aspects.

Bhutan is famous for its colourful local handicrafts. We had already visited the handicraft bazaar yesterday and the entire sitting area of our room was bearing the evidence of my shopping spree. S was thankful that we had chosen the largest room. Who says there is nothing to buy in Bhutan? Bhutan is shopper’s paradise if you have the eye as well as enough money to spare. During my pre-trip research phase I had read that the postal stamps of Bhutan were great souvenirs to take back home. Honestly, I’m not much of a philatelist myself but the curious shopaholic in me urged us to go and explore this option as well. The GPO building was across the street at the back our hotel. They have a separate gift shop near the entrance. Upon entering the building we had the similar feeling of an underprivileged neighbour entering the house of his much well-off counterpart. Exactly how shabby and chaotic are our post offices back home? Never mind. That was a rhetorical question. I do shudder at the thought of having our mother nation occupied by a certain community famous for their inclination towards dogmatic beliefs and terrorist activities. But given a chance, I would run off to any of those nations where law and order actually mean something to their people. And Bhutan is one of such countries.

The mural of the Druk Gyalpo (which one I don't know) made of postal stamps
Again I must confess that philately is not my cup of tea and hence I decided not buy postal stamps despite being fascinated by their variety and flamboyance. Instead, we bought some post cards to make a collage of them and hang it on the wall.

Kenchen was a punctual guy and he came to pick up us up right on time. As usual I started bombarding him with my questions as soon as our journey began. And as usual his acquiescent disposition did not falter for a bit.

I am not very good with directions and distance but as far as I recall that after leaving Thimphu behind our car crossed a small bridge (it means we went to the other side of Wang Chhu) and soon our car came to a halt. Apparently now we were standing on the bank of Wang Chhu and an ancient (and rather scary) looking metal suspension bridge ran across the river conjoining two sides. Now my reader, it’s time for a little recap. Remember I mentioned a guy named Thangtong Gyalpo here – the fourteenth century Buddhist teacher who also happened to be a civil engineer. He is said to have built 108 (some say 58) iron chain suspension bridges around Tibet and Bhutan and the bridge we had just witnessed was one of them. There was a small monastery atop a hillock on the other side of the bridge – Tachog Lhakhang, established by the same guy.

That's S trying too hard to look all smart and daredevil despite being absolutely petrified
S started crossing the bridge with visible exuberance as soon as we got there. However, there was no way in hell I was going to cross that ancient bridge that was swaying dangerously with people on it. But at the same time I was dying to reach the other side. There was also a wooden bridge that ran parallel to Gyalpo’s iron marvel and despite its termite-laden appearance it was steadier and hence safer option for coward but nevertheless curious people like me. So I took the chance. The wooden counterpart of the iron one, however, turned out to be no less scary with gaping holes on the floor. I had to watch my step and at the same time chant ‘Om Mani Padme Hum’ while imploring Thangtong Gyalpo not to take offence as I did not take the iron path. Gyalpo seemed to have forgiven my impertinence and taken pity on my coward soul as I reached the other side and back unscathed.

Tachog Lhakhang
If Thimphu is the aristocratic lady who would sweep you off your feet with her extravagant splendour and magnetic charm, then Paro is definitely the au natural village belle who would win your heart with her warmth and humility. Paro was love at first sight for me. And my dear reader, I am one of those extreme cynics who look at everything with suspicion and criticism in their eye. So when I utter the word love, it must mean that the shot has really gone home.

Paro is a quaint, little town of Bhutan with less people, less traffic and friendlier dogs. I don’t think even a smidgen of pollution was there in the air of Paro. When was the last time I took a deep breath? I don’t remember. I hung my head out of the window and filled my lungs with the pure air of Paro. Paro is a beautiful testimony of how serious the Bhutan government has been about environmental as well as cultural conservation. To those who go gaga over the Gross National Happiness from the very moment they enter Bhutan but actually have no idea what the concept of GNH is – GNH is equivalent to our GDP to measure a country’s gross income as well as the economic growth. The only difference is GNH comprises of four main components – high per capita income or sustainable socio-economic development, good governance, environmental and cultural preservation. GNH is basically an index to measure how wholesome the effect of growth has been in the society. It has nothing to do with how many times a Bhutanese person has smiled at you during your stay. And the government is determined to protect the natural resources and the cultural uniqueness of the country. Now you might be able to fully comprehend why it is mandatory for a Bhutanese to wear the traditional dress. However, one thing that I found to be baffling and rather contradictory with the government policy is the reckless use of plastic. Uses of plastic bottles as well as bags are still not prohibited in Bhutan and people litter them pretty much everywhere. What kind of a prudent policy is that?

The climate of Paro is definitely cooler than that of Thimphu. We felt the chill in the air even with the scorching sun on our head. Our first task was to find a hotel first and then go out to have lunch. The day trip was not over yet as Kenchen had instructed to wait for him after lunch. Apparently, we were going to visit the Paro Dzong in the afternoon – the colossal building we had spotted on our way.

We were tired of having typical food for lunch and wanted to try something new. I did not do much research about famous food joints of Paro whatsoever so we had had better thought going out and explore our options. After a short stroll and some window shopping we spotted a little place peeking out from the maze of wooden houses – the signboard bore the name, ‘Authentic Pizza’.

“Wanna try the authentic version of the resident food of Italy in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan?”
“You bet! Let’s go.”

I have never been to Italy so I did not have a frame of reference here, but the pizza was delicious. At least it was way better than the crap we eat at those shame upon the mankind American food chain outlets.

To be continued