JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH WAGNER NOGUEIRA FROM PARO, BHUTAN!
Wagner studied Theoretical Physics (B.Sc) and Climatology (M.Sc) at University College Dublin, in Ireland. He has Ph.D. in Meteorology from the University of Reading the Post-Graduate Certificate in Education from the University of Oxford. Today, he teaches physics and maths as an expat in Paro, Bhutan and is a blogger with Mochilão a Dois. He has a passion for history, animation, gardening and has visited 50 countries.
Bhutan, a small country, nestled in the Himalayas between India and Tibet is also referred as the happiest country in the world. Good governance, natural environment, sustainable growth and the cultural values are the pillars of Gross National Happiness Index in Bhutan.
Paro, a beautiful valley in the south west of mountainous Bhutan, is one of the most attractive tourist destinations of the country. It is about one and a half hours drive from the capital Thimphu.
It is a historic town, which extends from the meeting point of Paro Chhu and the Wang Chhu rivers at Chuzom up to Mt. Jomolhari at the Tibetan border to the North. There are many holy sites and buildings with historical significance all over Paro.
When is the best time to visit Paro?
Paro is an amazing place that can be visited throughout the year. This is not to say that there are some better times to visit the country. Peak season runs from March, April, May, September, October and November. This means that the daily fee (a daily tax paid by anyone visiting the country) is more expensive.
In my opinion, December and January are the best time to visit Paro for a few reasons. It is the most beautiful time of the year, with clear blue skies; it may snow, but it is not too cold. It is low season, so it is cheaper to visit. From high up in the mountains, you will be able to have breathtaking, panoramic views of the High Himalayas.
How to reach Paro? Which is the most convenient and favoured transport of Paro?
There are four airports in the Kingdom of Bhutan (located in Gelephu, Jakar, Trashigang and Paro) and luckily Paro airport is the only international airport among them. So you will land in Paro no matter which corner of the world you are coming from.
Bhutan’s national carrier, Druk Air (Royal Bhutan Airlines) and Bhutan Airlines both provide international flights into Bhutan. You can avail flights to and from Bangkok, Delhi, Dhaka, Kathmandu, and Kolkata.
Anyone coming to Bhutan must have a guide and driver with them at all times. Arriving at the airport, your guide and driver will be expecting you. Unless you are Indian, Bangladeshi, Maldivian or Nepali, you will have no choice on the matter!
Public transport here is almost non-existent. So, there is not really an option on how to get to the city centre from the airport, unless you are walking! It is only 3km away!
What are the top three must visit places in Paro?
Taktsang, or Tiger’s Nest : Tiger’s Nest is the most sacred monastery in Bhutan. In order to reach it, one must walk for about two hours uphill. It is a 900m climb with fantastic views and plenty to see around. It is THE place to visit in Bhutan.
Paro Dzong and National Museum : Rinpung Dzong or Paro Dzong is one of the oldest fortress in the country. Its bridge is one of the only fully original bridges in Bhutan. The National Museum is located near Dzong. The museum hosts the masks used during the local festival Paro Tshechu, the largest festival in the country.
Chelela Pass : Chelela Pass is the highest mountain pass in the country, at 3988m above sea level, you can have fantastic views of the country’s most sacred mountain, Mount Jomolhari. There are hikes that can be taken there that will take you to nunneries, cremation ground or just plain solitude! It is a great place to visit!
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Paro?
Bhutan is a very small country and Paro is even smaller. The town only has two streets. Apart from Chelela Pass and Taktsang, there are several other very sacred monasteries to visit. This includes Drakarpo Monastery, Dzongdrakha Monastery, Drugyel Dzong (one of the most important fortress in the country, for historical reasons), Kichu Monastery and, if time allows, Bumdra trek. This trek takes two days and one night, and it will include a visit to Tiger’s Nest.
Most of the places to visit in Bhutan include monasteries, as it is a very religious country. But they are fantastic! Visiting another town, like Haa and Thimphu or Dochula Pass, is possible as a day trip.
What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Paro?
There are several holidays in the country. In Paro, the most celebrated event of the year is Paro Tshechu, which usually happens in mid-March. As it is the largest festival in the country, people take the time to go to the celebrations, ensuring that they have been blessed.
Other auspicious times during the year are His Majesty’s Birthday and Losar (Lunar New Year).
What is the most loved local food of Paro? Is it a vegetarian friendly city?
The most loved local food is Ema-Datshi. A mixture of red/green chillies and locally produced cheese, which resembles ricotta chesse. It is a delicious dish, but extremely spicy. There are variations, such as shamu datshi (mushroom and cheese), kewa datshi (potato and cheese), amongst others. The most beloved rice is the local red rice. I must say, it is delicious!
Paro is a very vegetarian friendly city. It is a great place to eat, although small. As it is the entrance point for many tourists, restaurants are appearing everywhere, which offers both Bhutanese and international food. Just recently, a large brewery opened up in Paro, which offers a different variety of food. Bhutanese Red Rice beer is the top seller!
Where to head for shopping in Paro? What is the local craft or souvenir of the city?
The main street of Paro is the best place to visit. During some days of the week, Paro market is a great place to shop, if you are interested in shopping for food. For souvenirs, there are plenty handicraft shops scattered around the town. If you are interested in blacksmithing, swords, knives etc, there is the a place, which intends to preserve the art of blacksmithing. It is called the Royal Metal Craft Centre in Woochu. They sell locally made patangs, swords etc.
As mentioned before, Paro is known for its blacksmithing and clay scultuptures, called jimzo. Paro is known for having some of the best and most intricate jimzo in Bhutan.
Which are the best streets of Paro worthy of taking a stroll on?
There are only two streets in Paro, so it is difficult to find which one is the best. There is one usually frequented by tourists. This is where the handicraft shops are and the other, where my favourite bar, Park 76, is located.
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of Paro?
Paro has several spots from which to see the valley and the town. My favourite is from the Ta Dzong, near the National Museum. Other places for great views are Drugyel Dzong, trail to Taktsang and Pangbisa.
Would you suggest any shows in Paro to drama, music or art lovers?
The most recommended is the Festival Paro Tshechu. It is a fantastic display of local culture in a very unique way. Full of dances, religious rituals. You will be immersed in a sea of colours, both from the performances and the local clothes, the gho and kira. During the festival, it is the time when you see the local clothes with the most intricate designs.
Do you want to give any suggestion/tip to tourists coming to Paro?
Do consider coming during off peak seasons. Even during monsoon, it does not rain that much. As you must pay a daily fee to be in the country, you might as well visit it when this fee is reduced. To know how to get visa to Bhutan and other formalities, check out this guide.
Do come and stay at farmhouses and do not forget to have a hot stone bath! It is a fantastic experience that I make sure I do at least once a month!