Bhutan was one of our dream destinations and we wanted to visit there for quite some time. We first attempted to visit Bhutan in October 2018, but finally made it there in October 2019 after over one and half year’s planning. Read about our itinerary and entire experience of planning the Bhutan trip in the blog - Our Quest for Happiness: Planning Our First Trip to Bhutan. We traveled across Bhutan between October 2 and 8, 2019, traveling to Paro on the fifth day of our trip. In this blog we capture our trek to the Paro Taktsang, the wonderful time we spent with our friends and our sadness for having to leave this beautiful country. You can read about the first two days that we spent at Thimphu in the blog - Terrific Thimphu – Our Days Spent in the Capital of Bhutan. And, read about the third day that we spent at Punakha in the blog - Picturesque Punakha – Our Days Spent in the Old Capital of Bhutan. Heavenly Haa – Our Days Spent in Serene Rural Bhutan - in this blog you can read about our experience in Haa Valley.
Making Some Amazing Friends
After an amazing time spent at Haa, we set off for Paro. It was about a 2.5-hour drive including a stop at Chele La Pass. Since we spent half of the day at the White Temple attending Haa Tshechu, by the time we reached Paro, it was dark. On entering Paro, we stopped at a viewpoint and soaked in the views of the Paro Valley.
We also stopped to get a bird’s eye view of the Paro International Airport, Rinpung Dzong and Ta Dzong. We were supposed to explore these two Dzongs that day, but due to lack of time, we could not go inside and only stopped to get a few shots.
Tashi and Thukten had informed us that Ngawang had invited us for dinner at his friend’s farmhouse. After a long and eventful day, we checked-in at our hotel to freshen up before going out for dinner. We stayed at Raven’s Nest in Paro. It is a little far from the main town of Paro but close to the Paro Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest). Again, we got a room upgrade here. We had booked a deluxe room and they upgraded us to a Junior Suite. It was a huge room, a little too big for us but can’t complain! We ordered some tea from room service and then freshened up to head out for dinner.
Tashi and Thukten took us to the place where Ngawang had invited us for dinner. It was at his friend’s farmhouse close to the resort that we were staying at. We were warmly welcomed in the farmhouse by his friends and had a delicious dinner consisting of home-cooked Bhutanese delicacies.
Before the trip, we had mentioned to Ngawang that we were keen on visiting Namgay Artisanal Brewery. So, after the dinner, we headed to the brewery with Ngawang and his friends. We had a great time over there and tried out all the craft beer. After having a gala time, we decided to head back to our resort as we had the Paro Taktsang trek the next day. Driving through Paro both on our way to and from Namgay Artisanal Brewery we were amazed by how beautiful the city is; it is the perfect blend of traditional and contemporary cultures.
The Big Day – Paro Taktsang Trek
We woke up early and had a quick breakfast at Raven’s Nest. The breakfast served was a set menu. We had to pick the items that we wanted to have, and they would freshly prepare it for us. This got us a bit late for the trek. The server serving us on this day was exceptionally good and respectful.
We finally left for the trek around 8am and reached the spot in about 15 minutes. There is an entry fee of Nu. 450 per person for regional tourists. We also bought trekking sticks for Nu. 50 each. We started the trek around 8.30 am. At the entrance, which is also the exit, there are many souvenir stalls.
After crossing those stalls, you come to the point where people can hire horses to reach mid-point of the trek. We did not hire any as we do not support riding animals for the purpose of tourism and do not promote such acts. If the horrifying state that we saw the horses when they were made to carry tourists, without a break was not enough, the near accidents that we witnessed of the horses slipping off the cliff when trying to run through the muddy sections of the trek during their climb down made us quite worried for the animals. The sad part was able-bodied individuals were using the horses to climb to the Taktsang.
We started the trek. It is a steep walk up. It also rained heavily early morning just before our trek, so the path was a little muddy. After about half an hour into the trek Thukten pointed out to a peak covered with clouds. It was where the Taktsang was, and he said that on a sunny day we could have got a glimpse of it from here. We really wanted to get the first glimpse of Taktsang so we waited in hope that the clouds would clear a little. Well, patience paid off. We waited for about 15 minutes and the cloud cleared for a bit and we could get the first glimpse of the temple. We were overjoyed. It again got covered by clouds and we continued with our trek.
After about 2 hours into the trek we reached the midway point where there is a cafeteria. Horses do not go beyond this point so even if you take horses for the first half of the trek, you will have to walk in the second half. We decided not to stop in the cafeteria as we were not hungry then and did not want to lose the momentum. So, we continued our walk up. Slowly, we could see the Taktsang getting closer and closer.
After about another hour into the trek, we reached a point where we had to climb down a few... no, a lot of stairs! The first thought that came to our mind was how tiring the climb back up these stairs would be. We decided not to think about it and focus on reaching the Taktsang. There were quite a few viewpoints on the way where we stopped to capture some breath-taking shots of the Taktsang.
After climbing down the stairs, we came across a beautiful waterfall just before the entrance to the Taktsang. After crossing that we reached the stairs which we had to climb up to reach the entrance of the Taktsang.
Ngawang and his friends – Kinglay (who is a monk), Happy and a few others – were waiting for us near those stairs. They reached much before us, taking the shorter (and steeper!) route. They had already offered their prayers inside the temple, so they were just waiting for us. We chatted with them for a while and then made our way into the temple.
Photography is strictly prohibited inside the temple. The security is tight over here and they do not allow you to take anything with you inside the temple. So, we had to keep our cameras, bags, and mobile phones in the allocated locker. Shoes must be opened before entering the temple.
Thukten gave us a tour of the temple. The Taktsang looks small from outside, but it is pretty big inside. We spent some quality time inside and then headed out. The entrance and the exit are the same so when we were there, a couple of young monks were serving tea and snacks at the gate. We sat down for a while and had some tea. It was refreshing and gave us the much-needed energy boost.
We collected our things from the locker and started our trek back to base. Climbing up those stairs was exhausting, and we had to take a lot of mini breaks, but we utilised that time taking photographs or just admiring the beautiful surrounding.
Once we reached up the stairs, we had to start our walk down. We thought the walk down would be much easier than the walk up. Oh, we were so wrong! The walk down was equally tough because the path is steep and, it rained heavily in the morning, so it was slippery in some parts. We had to be careful and walk down slowly. We did not mind the slow walk as we could soak in the beautiful surrounding.
We also heard animal noises from the trees, so we decided to stop and check out where it was coming from. It turned out that there were a bunch of golden langurs on the trees. It was a delightful moment for us because we heard a lot about the Tarai gray langurs but had not come across any until then! These langurs are in the Near Threatened list and only about 10,000 of them are currently available in the wild, with the number continuously declining. The Tarai gray langur is native to northern India, Bhutan, and Nepal, and inhabits the Himalayan foothills. Thukten has trekked to Paro Taktsang multiple times, but this was the first time he saw these animals in this trail. We waited on that spot quietly for about 15 – 20 minutes and the langurs started coming to closer and then we saw them clearly. We clicked a few photographs and then continued walking.
On the way down, we also came across various kinds of birds and stopped every now and then to observe them. One experience stood out the most and is worth mentioning. A Yellow-billed Blue Magpie suddenly landed in front of us just 10 feet away. After taking a few jumps towards us it flew and sat on a nearby branch. We quickly captured this shot before it vanished into the foliage. We tried to track it for a few mins but stopped as it was already getting dark. After a couple of mins, we spotted another bird of the same colour as the earlier, but it looked quite different. We went a little closer and tried to capture a photograph of this bird with his telephoto lens. After looking through the camera and inspecting the photograph we realised that this was a younger bird. As we were standing there and admiring this bird, the bird which we saw earlier came and sat on the branch where this bird was sitting. Before we could capture a photograph of them together, both flew into the jungle. This trek is a nature, animal, and bird lover’s ideal walk because apart from the goal of reaching the Taktsang, it is a beautiful walk amidst nature if you are observant of the surrounding and take it slow.
When we reached the cafeteria, it was 10 minutes to 4 pm and the café closes at 4 pm; we rushed and grabbed our plates for the buffet lunch as we hardly ate anything since morning apart from that tea and water. We had a “very late” lunch – the food was simple and turned out to be comfort food for our tired bodies. After that sumptuous lunch, we came out of the café and was looking around when we spotted a faint rainbow. That made our day incredibly special.
We headed down to the base, this time we had to pace up a little because it was getting late. Finally, we reached the base around 6.30 pm. So, the total trek took us about 10 hours, and we enjoyed every bit of it. It was exhausting but a lot of fun!
Few Tips for Travellers Going on The Paro Taktsang Trek
- You might meet a few people on the trek who treat it like a competition but remember, it is not a competition. Take your time, go at your own pace, and make sure you enjoy the walk too. It is incredible if someone can do the whole trek in 5 hours, but it is also no less incredible if you do it in 10 hours like us. Time really does not matter!
- Enjoy the walk. No matter what your pace is, look around and admire the surrounding. You might encounter some unique birds and animals like we did.
- A backpack is ideal for the trek. Pack light. You just need some water and your wallet, maybe one or two light snack and that is it.
- If you plan on going inside the temple, remember to dress modestly, just as you would to give respect to any religious place.
- Try not using the horses, it is dangerous not only for those animals but for you too, especially when the path is slippery due to rain.
Hosting Our Friends
That evening we had decided to treat Ngawang and his friends for dinner at some nice restaurant. But we were so exhausted after the trek that we called them to dinner at our hotel’s restaurant itself. We freshened up and went over to the restaurant before they arrived. Firstly, the restaurant was almost empty, and we could not even see any staff around. We picked a big table and sat down. Then a server came and rudely said this is for a big group. We said we had a big group who would come in sometime. He did not look happy. We asked if there is any problem then we would have headed out to town. He did not say anything and came back with a menu.
Our friends arrived and one of them, Happy (whose real name is Tashi Phuentsho), lived next door so he knew most of the hotel staff. He went up and talked to the staff. Finally, the server was a little warm, yet no smile, yikes! We had a good time with our friends. Ngawang also got us a bottle of K9, which was exceedingly kind of him. The food was good, but the staff behaviour was a big negative in this hotel. We did get complimentary dessert though, not sure what was that for!
Our friends were also kind enough to give us gifts and wishes to bring back home. We thanked them for the wonderful evening as they left to stay over at Happy’s place. After coming back to our room, we slept like logs that night.
Log Jay Gay, Bhutan!
The day to bid goodbye to Bhutan and the friends we made had arrived. Tashi and Thukten picked us up after breakfast and took us to Happy’s place to show us his apple orchard. He has a beautiful apple orchard in his backyard. We met Ngawang there and bid him goodbye. Then we were off to the airport with a heavy heart. We thanked Tashi and Thukten for the wonderful time that we had with them in the last 7 days and bid them goodbye before entering the airport.
We were flying out with Druk Air this time, unlike Bhutan Airlines, which we flew while arriving into Bhutan, as Shabbir wanted to compare both their services. The check-in was quick and smooth, so we had to wait in the boarding area for quite some time.
Paro airport, as mentioned in our earlier blog, is one of the most picturesque airports in the world – not only for its dangerous and awe inspiring approach, but the airport itself – set in the lap of a green valley at Paro. We were quite lucky to be allowed on the tarmac longer than usual when we landed in the mountain kingdom by Bhutan Airlines officials to take some shots of the amazing landscape and their aircraft. So, when we were flying out of Bhutan, we tried our luck with the Druk Air officials and even they allowed us to get on the tarmac ahead of the other passengers to get some shots of their aircraft as well with the picturesque landscape in the background.
Just like Bhutan Airlines, Druk Air also served their in-flight meals in take-away bags, but the taste of the food and their packaging was not as good as Bhutan Airlines.
The Paro airport sits 7,000ft above sea level and is surrounded by sharp peaks of up to 18,000ft tall. This is one of the few airports in the world whose runway is shorter than their elevation making it one of the most dangerous airports to fly in and out of. The views while the aircraft was taking off were spectacular and mesmerising, and ended our Bhutan trip on a very high note!
What was your experience of traveling in Paro?
Do let us know in the comments.
If you are visiting Bhutan and need any help booking hotels to stay in, looking for restaurant recommendations, itinerary suggestions or need to get connected to a local tour operator, you can get in touch with us and we will help you with the bookings.
First Blog: Our Quest for Happiness: Planning Our First Trip to Bhutan
Second Blog: Terrific Thimphu – Our Days Spent in the Capital of Bhutan
Third Blog: Picturesque Punakha – Our Days Spent in the Old Capital of Bhutan
Fourth Blog: Heavenly Haa – Our Days Spent in Serene Rural Bhutan
Fifth Blog: Pleasant Paro – Our Days Spent in the Historic Town of Bhutan
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The Gear We Used To Take The Photographs You See In This Blog