On our first day in Bhutan, after a lunch at Uma Paro, we took a 1 to 1.5 hour hike from our hotel to the National Museum in Paro. The hike was pretty–the first of a few hikes we would take, with gorgeous viewpoints down into the valley.It was HOT. Don’t let anyone tell you the weather in Bhutan is not hot in September. It’s hot. Even at 7,000-8,000 feet, the days are very warm. What kind of warm, you ask? You will be drenched in sweat. It’s like a day in Washington D.C. in the summer. It’s a bit unpleasant in the shade, but o.k. if there is a slight breeze and you aren’t moving. DH was shade hopping from shade spot to shade spot just like our dog to stay out of the sun, because in the sun–remember you are at 7,000 feet–you felt like a vampire that stepped out into the light.
Also–you either have to wear (or carry) pants and long-sleeved shirts (for women) and pants and a collared short-sleeve shirt or an uncollared long-sleeve shirt (for men) to enter the temples. I also get all itchy with plants brushing my legs (fear of invisible jungle fungus, I tell you) and don’t like bug bites, so long pants were good for me to wear in the forest in the first place. That said, extra layers of fabric just add to the heat, so be sure to bring breathable, good, tech clothing.It’s amazing to me all the temples in Bhutan that are built into the sides of the valley. You’ll be ambling along, and poof..a temple. It’s pretty incredible and impressive. It must be a slow process to build these, but they are beautiful and it really lends to the picturesqueness of the landscape.After wandering along the side of the valley, we looked down and saw our destination–the National Museum in Paro. The National Museum is easy to sight, with a distinctive round shape that is unusual for Bhutan: a watchtower, dating back to the 16th century. Unfortunately, an earthquake in 2011 damaged the museum significantly. It is under repair, but unfit for visitors as of 2014. The artifacts and information have actually been moved to another administrative building directly behind the watchtower.
While I totally understand and respect their request that photos not be taken in the museum, I really wish that they would be allowed as I did not see the same information on the Tshechus (festivals) anywhere else in Bhutan–in particular, information about the masks. The sheer number of masks is absolutely incredible, but more than that, the meanings behind the masks were amazing. There were animal masks for pride, for humility, for shrewdness, for emotional stupidity, for vanity, for greed, for intelligence, etc. I particularly liked all of these animal masks with all of the complicated emotions and characteristics of humans. There are also other masks symbolizing demons and important people, categorized by the type of dance in which they were used.
They also had an exhibit of important wall hangings, which explained the significance and meaning–again, this information was more exhaustive in the museum than anywhere else, and I wish I had written more down directly after our visit! Additionally, the museum offered a great display on the natural history of Bhutan, complete with information on geology, flora, and fauna. The amount and variety of wildlife is truly amazing; if we were to return to Bhutan–without question–we would figure out a way to travel to the remote eastern part of the country to try to catch a glimpse of a rhino, tiger, takin, blue goat, snow leopard, etc. I’d be thrilled just to see any one of those in the wild!
The National Museum is not that large, and I’d say it’s a great place to visit when you first arrive in Bhutan. We spent probably an hour and a half there, and were walking/exploring leisurely. There is a charge for entry, but if you are not Indian/Maldivian, this charge should already have been included in your ‘package’ and you should not have to pay an additional amount for entry.