Paro, a region in Bhutan, has had years of isolation and a severely limited relationship with it’s neighbors providing for a bespoke adventure unlike any other. Notably, Lonely Planet published a Bhutan Guidebook for backpackers to travel the region.
The small township of Paro as the gateway to the kingdom of Bhutan. In the city alone, however, there are many points of engagement that make Paro a destination in it’s own right. Along the main street you will find the best and most complex sampling of traditional architecture in the country: two lines of richly decorated buildings house small shops, institutions and restaurants. However, the most interesting place in the kingdom is the Paro Dzong, a beautiful fortress and monastery overlooking the valley above which it was built.
Paro Dzong serves as both a civil administrative center and a monastic home for a community of monks. The Paro dzong was started in 1644 on the order of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, known as the unifier of modern day Bhutan. Like most dzongs, it was built to protect the inhabited valleys from invasion by Tibet. It is, easily, one of the most beautiful sites in all of Bhutan as evidenced by it’s alternative name of Rinpung Dzong or the, “Fortress that sits on a heap of jewels.”
Further, the Paro Tsechu festival – the biggest and most spectacular of all buddhist festivals – is celebrated at Paro Dzong every year. People, dressed in their traditional finery, flock to Paro Dzong to bear witness to their staunch Buddhist beliefs and receive blessings. They also watch masked dancers parade around the plaza and perform colorful allegorical dramas in the courtyard of the temple-fortress. Bhutan is one of the world’s most religious countries, buddhism having been introduced there in AD 800 by the revered Guru Padmasambhava or, “He who was born of a lotus flower.” It is in his honor that the festival is held every year.
In an article on Paro Tsechu the adventure travel site WhatsOnWhen describes Paro Tsechu saying:
The festival consists of three parts: the “Pre-festival” on the first day, ceremonies inside the Paro Dzong on the second day, and the main festivities on the festival ground on the remaining three days. For the devout, the highlight undoubtedly occurs on the final day when a huge religious picture (thongdrel) is unfurled at dawn. To witness this event is to gain great merit.
Both monks and lay people perform in the festival dances and dramatizations as an act of meditation in an effort to personify the deity which they are tasked to portray. Wearing masks and dressed in elaborate costumes of silk brocade dancers demonstrate the triumph over good and evil and the power of compassion to the moving sounds of instruments tuned to their rhythms. The performances are naturally spaced with folksongs and clowning, while copious amounts of butter tea and potent barley alcohol are consumed by the crowd and performers.
The history of Paro is undeniably rich as the dances, masks and the costumes of the performers have remained unchanged for nearly 1000 years. Each dance is said to be an exact re-staging of visions seen by the country’s greatest Buddhist saints, and thus any changes made to them would be sacrilegious. Even today this beautiful and sacred festival remains a wonderful manifestation of a religious faith that is still a crucial part of Bhutanese daily life.
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