My travel agent Singey stays in Paro and I decided to go there in his car. This would be a good way to get to know this country and its people. Singey had done his high school and college from Kolkata, and he is immensely proud of his homeland. Over the next few days he and his family took me around, and they won me over with their hospitality and warmth.
Paro is 175 km from Phuntsholing and it is a pleasant 5 hour drive through well maintained winding roads with majestic mountains, lush green valleys, and sparkling free- flowing rivers. The weather was perfect with clear blue skies and cool winds. There was not much traffic and over here people seemed to be in no hurry. Bhutan is a carbon sink( a fact most seem to know) and about 72 % of the land is forested.
Singey patiently tried to answer my queries. It was more interesting to learn from a local and I was glad that I opted out of having a registered tour guide. Hydropower projects and tourism are the main revenue earners and more than three fourth of the electricity generated is exported to India. So India is an important regional ally. Most of the roads are built and maintained by the Indian BRO(Border Road Organisation). Till 1960 there were no schools, hospitals, proper roads, currency or electricity. Tourism was introduced only in 1974. High value low volume tourism is their mantra.
The population is about 780000. Education up to high school and health care are free. The medium is English and Dzongkha. Depending on the high school grades the college education is also supported by the government. Many go to India, USA, UK and Thailand for higher studies. Singey told me that most of them prefer to come back after completing their education. But unemployment is an issue.
Prayer flags and stupas are regular sights. After crossing this bridge at the confluence of Wang Chhu and Paro Chuu(chhu is river) we are in the Paro valley. Soon the airport came into view. This is the only international airport and was opened in 1983 and is considered to be one of the most challenging. It would have been thrilling to come by air but now I can just look at the tiny airport and admire.
I checked into Hotel Drukchen near the airport. All the buildings in Bhutan are required to have traditional Bhutanse designs and this was a fine example.