At an altitude of about 2200m between the Haa and Thimphu valleys, the Paro valley derives its name from the classical ‘Padro’ meaning ‘beautiful’. It has some of the most fertile agricultural land in the country. Its famous red rice, apples, cereals, fresh vegetables and dairy products are substantial sources of income. The airport makes Paro an important gateway to Bhutan. The town centre established in 1985 contains shops, hotels, guest-houses, a bank, post office, several phone offices, a medical clinic and the district hospital.
The impressive Paro or Rinpung Dzong is one of the finest examples of Bhutanese architecture. Its real name, Rinpung Dzong, means ‘fortress on a heap of jewels’. Built in 1644 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel above the foundations of a monastery built by Guru Rinpoche it is one of Bhutan’s strongest and most important fortresses. Strategically placed to command the view of the valleys to the west and the north, it was used on numerous occasions to defend the valley from invasions, especially from Tibet. The dzong was formerly used as the National Assembly Hall and currently houses the district monastic body as well as the district administration and judicial offices. It is the venue for the Paro festival held in the spring.
Ta Dzong ( ‘the watch tower’) which now houses the National Museum is built on top of the hill above Rinpung Dzong. It was originally used to defend Rinpung Dzong and the Paro valley during times of war. Its unusual circular construction resembles a conch shell. Each of its six floors of galleries focuses on specific topics and houses artefacts of cultural, religious or political importance from different periods in Bhutanese history.
The 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang is a temple of historical significance and one of the most sacred shrines in Bhutan. One of 108 similar structures said to have been built in a single day by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in 659 AD, it is believed to hold down the left foot of a large ogress (her left knee is pinned down at the Jambay Lhakhang in Bumthang).
About 14 km from Paro town are the ruins of Drukgyel Dzong. Built in 1649 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the dzong was used as an administrative centre until it was destroyed by fire in 1951. Its location was critical to controlling the route to Tibet (a major trade route after the end of the Tibetan invasions) and its name means ‘Victory of Bhutan’ – it was constructed to commemorate the victory over Tibetan invaders in 1644. Features of strategic significance include a false entrance designed to lure invaders into an enclosed courtyard, the four-storey central tower and a tunnel which was used to obtain water from the river. On a clear day, Mount Jomolhari can be seen in the distance.