There are days when you simply don’t have the energy to go on a long and tiring hike. But you still want to get away to a beautiful place. A visit to Zuri Dzong is perfect for such days; less than a half-hour walk from Paro Ta Dzong (National Museum of Bhutan). The short, meandering trek is very easy and there are no tough climbs. The sight of Paro valley will keep you entertained on the way and before you know it, you’ll reach your destination. There’s another route from Paro Dzong, but it is tougher due to the steep climbs till the destination.
View of Paro Dzong and valley
Apparently built in 1352, the impressive five storeyed Zuri Dzong still stands tall, secured by double walls and a bridge. Also, the surrounding areas offer pleasing views of the valley, perfect for taking photographs. A local belief exists that people who visit the Dzong will be afflicted by a stroke-like disease called “za” in the local language, if one has bad luck on that day. But it is a mere superstition so take it with a grain of salt.
Visitors can go inside the fortress; the upper chapels have some murals, one of which is dedicated to the protector Zaa. Unfortunately, we could not enter because the caretaker was not there when we visited. We did manage to visit a Ney (religious site) outside, just a few minutes away; a cave believed to be the meditation site of Lord Buddha.
After the short but satisfying visit to Zuri Dzong, we still had most of the day ahead of us. And since the Museum was closed due to the pandemic, we decided to visit Chele la.
Chele La, a scenic drive to Bhutan’s highest road pass
It takes around one and half hours to reach Chele La from Paro, located at an altitude of 3,988 metres. During the drive through the alluring woods, you can enjoy the pretty landscape of Primulas and Rhododendrons. If you’re lucky and the weather is clear, you might even glimpse the majestic snow-capped Mount Jomolhari. But be warned that the road has a lot of turns and is notorious for making people sick, especially those predisposed to motion sickness.
When you finally reach the pass, the first thing you’ll notice is the piercing wind. But the glorious view and the thrill of being so high will make you forget about the cold. Something about the colorful prayer flags fluttering in the wind and the mysterious mountains standing tall can make you feel alive and vibrant. The white colored flags are hoisted in memory of deceased loved ones and is believed to help accumulate merit for their souls. The colorful ones, on the other hand are Lungdars (fortune flags), which people put up to receive blessings of good luck, happiness and long life. Whether you believe in its significance or not, do take some yourself since there’s no harm in adding to the colorful scenery of the place.
Prayer flags hoisted atop Chelela
Spring season is definitely the best time to visit the pass for picnicking when the weather is pleasant and the rhododendrons are in full bloom. Some may prefer to visit during winters to enjoy the snow but you need to be careful on the slippery roads during such times.
Since the pass connects the valleys of Paro and Haa, you can see the Haa valley from Chele La, with its distinctive 3 hills called “Meri Puensum”. Usually, there are vendors on the pass, selling hot porridge and tea along with hand woven scarves to help with the cold. But recently due to the pandemic, the pass has been abandoned. So if you are planning to visit any time soon, make sure to pack your own warm drinks!