Essence of Bhutan
A delightful journey taking in the highlights of Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and the Gangtey Valley
At the top of the hill above Paro Dzong is an old watchtower that was renovated in 1968 to house the National Museum. The unusual round building is said to be in the shape of a conch shell, with 2.5m-thick walls; it was completed in 1656 and was originally the ta dzong (watchtower) of Paro Dzong, which lies undefended below. An underground tunnel is said to lead from the watchtower to the water supply below.
At the time of research, the ta dzong was closed owing to the damage suffered in the 2009 and 2011 earthquakes. A sample of the museum's exhibits are currently on display in an adjacent annexe, in what was the portrait gallery. Restoration of the ta dzong is expected to be completed in 2015.
Cameras are not allowed inside the museum, but you can photograph the ta dzong and surrounding grounds.
Displays in the various galleries include an impressive collection of thangkas, both ancient and modern, depicting Bhutan's important saints and teachers, as well as fearsome festival masks. There's a natural-history gallery, while the Heritage Gallery displays a collection of religious statues and early stone carvings, plus a few original iron links from the nearby Tamchhog Bridge.
Driving to the museum involves a 4km loop into the Dop Shari valley. After visiting, you can walk down a path from the museum to the dzong and back to the town, enjoying good views of the valley and of the Ugyen Pelri Palace.