Paro Valley

Location  BHUTANFor centuries, the high mountains and dense forests of the small eastern Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan made it virtually inaccessible to the outside world. The country’s rulers reinforced this natural isolation by banning foreign visitors until well into the 20th century. Although tourists are permitted, they are limited to 7,000 per year. Most arrive by air, dropping to land in the exquisite valley of Paro.
Paro Valley, with its cold winters and warm summers, is intensively cultivated, and is one of Bhutan’s most densely settled regions. It is also among the most beautiful of the country’s valleys, and historically the center of two of the most important trade routes to Tibet. The Paro River (Chu) descends from high northern mountain peaks that reach 23,000 feet (7,000 meters), and cuts through the valley, providing water for crops such as rice grown in terraces. The relative affluence of the people living in Paro is visible in the houses that are larger and more highly decorated than elsewhere in Bhutan. Windows, doors, and walls may be brightly painted with flowers, animals, and religious motifs. Red peppers drying on rooftops add vivid color.
Above the valley, on a rocky outcrop, Paro Dzong (“monastery”) overlooks the longest stretch of the valley. Built in 1644, the Dzong is both the valley’s monastery and administrative center, as well as being an architectural marvel, outclassed only by the astonishing Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan’s most famous. According to legend, 1,200 years ago the Buddhist saint Padma Sambhava (Guru Rinpoche) flew to a cave located in a high cliff just north of Paro, on the back of a tigress. Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) was subsequently built there, 2,952 feet (900 meters) above the valley floor.
The only sounds here now are the murmur of wind and water and the chanting of monks—it is the embodiment of peace, tranquility, and spirituality. Paro holds a spectacular annual religious festival— Tsechu—where hundreds of colorfully dressed Bhutanese gather from all over the country for three days of ceremonial sacred dances and festivities, during which a gigantic holy scroll painting (tonka) is unfurled. The mere sight of it is fabled to deliver people from future reincarnations.