The next morning, Thimpu was still awash with continuous drizzle. The days plan was to visit Paro and return. Then I wondered aloud “return and do what” as there was nothing much to explore in Thimpu except for rows and rows malls filled with consumer items from Thailand, China and Malaysia. Friend came with the idea as to why not shift to Paro, explore the old town. We checked out and headed for Paro and rang up travel agent to fix us a hotel there. Good feeling to be on the road again, a purpose to go to a new place, excitement specially so when we came to know that Paro is a very picturesque place with nature’s bounty a plenty.
We drove back on the same road towards Phuntsoling. Just outside Thimpu there were apple orchards almost bordering the road and roadside stalls selling fresh apples from the orchard. We could see apple trees bowing down with weight of too many apples. It was a luxurious availability of just plucked fresh apples and it was only prudent to buy some to relish the freshness. We bought some and ate along the way, juicy and fresh.
After about 25 kms drive we reached Chunzom and got our papers checked before taking the right turn to Paro. The traffic to Paro was light with very few vehicles on the road. We passed through another cluster of roadside shops selling apples and vegetables, I snapped three little girls, in their “Kira” going to school, giggling. Children all over the world are the same, apotheosis of innocence, no care in the world, no tension and not at all affected by the environment. We drove on savoring the green freshness of the country side, valleys of yellowish rice fields dotted with trees and hemmed in by hills that stretched beyond the horizon.
The road to Paro was silky smooth appearing and disappearing along the many folds of the mountain of Alpine forests. We passed through many “Chortens” along the highway. “Chorten” meaning a “container”, a space for worship or offerings, also built in memories of Lamas, High Officials or to protect a place a path or an area such as cross roads, high mountain passes against evil spirits. Perhaps the culture of these Chortens date back to old Bon Religion as it is believed to be in existence even before the emergence of Buddhism in to the land. The architecture of these Chortens are based on 5 elements; the square base symbolizes the earth, the half dome symbolizes water, the conical spire symbolizes fire, the crescent moon and the sun atop symbolizes air and vertical spike symbolizes the light and wisdom of the Buddha. Such Chortens are seen abundantly in Ladakh.
First landmark we came across on way to Paro was the one and only Airport of Bhutan, a beautiful land strip located in the Valley, surrounded by green fields and misty mountains on either side. Few kilometers before entering Paro Town, almost hugging the Paro Chu (river), we were greeted by the majestic presence of Paro Dzong (Fort), an imposing citadel built in Circa 1646 that that now houses government offices. A wooden bridge, perhaps as old as the leading to the main entrance that is guarded by two deities on either side; a Mongolian man holding a Tiger on a leash and another man holding a black yak, as the guarding deities. The building has a very beautiful and unique old Bhutanese style wood work that would have been carved by experts in the trade of yore that date back to almost 500 years ago. Just above the Paro Dzong stands another edifice called “Ta-Dzong” meaning watch tower that now houses the museum.
After crossing the Paro Dzong as we entered Paro town, I was awestruck by this out of the world scenario. It was like we were lifted from the modern world of concrete jungle and chaotic traffic to the most serene, peaceful Shangri-La in a different world, except, perhaps for the presence of few modern transport plying or parked along the roadside; Paro was original, pure and traditional Bhutan. Both sides of the main road were lined by traditional stone-wood Bhutanese style buildings that housed shops, restaurants etc. A building with grocery shop had the King’s photo prominently displayed.
We met our guide who took us to our destination, Galling Resort, about 3 kms away from town along a graveled road. Located on the banks of Paro chu; the property was tastefully constructed and painted in unique mud color ethnic Bhutanese style. The view from the balcony was breathtaking with Paro Chu rumbling right in front across the road, part of Paro beyond and finally the valley rising to meet the misty mountains that made the distant horizon. Anyone with an eye for the nature or a plain nature lover is bound to be enchanted by the natural beauty, landscape that would make not spending couple of days almost impossible. We did just that. The resort was warm, comfortable with a cozy lounge, wood paneled bedroom and comfortable attached bath. Our rooms had the same view as balcony and decided to keep the curtains drawn and windows opened so as to be part of the beautiful view.
After a hot cup of welcome tea and biscuits we saw our rooms rather suits and drove back to town for a look see and browse the shops. For lunch we walked in to a restaurant and ordered Vegetable momo, soup and ema thachi, Bhutanese dish of cottage cheese and chili. We enquired after the general direction, route and location of Taksang Gompa and drove towards that direction. We drove through a beautiful country side and passed through golden paddy fields. We crossed ruins of an old Dzong (fort) spread across large area. After about 10 kms the road started climbing up gradually making twists and turns as it did. There were small cottage lodges and a cafeteria as also couple of houses, Chorten before the road entered pine forest. After driving for about 5 kms of gradual uphill track we came to a clearing as the road came to an end. We looked around the area for a while and concluded that this place would be the base for onward journey to Taksang Gompa. It was confirmed by a villager collecting pine cones for his hearth. We returned back to the resort. I decided to trek the next day morning. At night, we had our usual drinks in the room and dinner at the main dining room. It was a peaceful sleep soothed by the steady sound of river, Paro-chu, flowing across the property. Next day we would trek to Taksang Gompa.
“The great end of life is not knowledge but action” – TH Huxley