For a couple who haven't celebrated Xmas in a number of years, Bhutan is the place to be. There's not a hint of Santa Claus to be found anywhere and that's surprisingly refreshing- even their new year is on a different date so there's no sense that a holiday season and inexplicable shopping frenzy is underway in much of the rest of the world.
We were in Paro for two reasons. First the only international airport in Bhutan is in Paro so if we wanted to leave we had to at least pass through. Secondly, one of the holiest sites in Bhutan (and in all of Buddhism) is located nearby- the Taktsang Palphug Monastery (known more commonly as The Tiger's Nest because the founder of Buddhism in Bhutan, Guru Rinpoche, rode a tigress up the mountain in order to meditate in a cave). It's a challenging one day climb to get to the monastery and DH decided that ignoring doctors advice and climbing a mountain was exactly what we should be doing on Xmas day (her knees strongly disagreed most of the way up and all of the way down). We did take our own prayer flags up in order to remember past friends on this very special day at this very special place. The monastery hangs on a precipitous cliff 3,000 ft above the Paro valley- the rock slopes are very steep (almost vertical) and the monastery buildings are built into the rock face all around the cave entrance where the Guru was said to have meditated in for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century (it's a very isolated, damp, and cold spot so I suspect it was only a few days and it just seemed like three years).
After stopping at a service station to pick up a little 10W30 lubricating oil for DH's aching arthritic joints, we loaded up on as much junk food as we could find in Paro, pulled up a photo of an Xmas tree that Bonnie D sent us, and we had our own mini celebration. Not particularly grand but all you really need.
A destination all of its own, Paro is home to a number of sites including one of the oldest and most celebrated dzongs in Bhutan, the Rinpung dzong which means the “Fortress of the Heap of Jewels“. We did cruise the town- it was a great way to wrap up our trip to one of the most unique countries we have stopped in to visit. It's a country that is cautiously opening itself up to the outside world and while that will bring both good and bad results it will undoubtedly bring change- the very authentic experiences we had will be in jeopardy and that's really unfortunate- there were a number of instances were you felt like you had gone back in time and were in the midst of medieval happenings that were almost magical.
That said, one of the biggest highlights of this trip was leaving- not because we wanted to leave but because we had an up close and personal interaction with the Himalayas as we made our way over to Nepal. Even with the breath-taking vistas and the Mount Everest fly-by, I don't get the the desire of some to immediately start climbing these imposing geographic guardians (even DH seems to be accepting the notion that any mountain that cannot be climbed without the aid of a walker is probably off our must-do list). Not sure why the sight of mountains immediately motivates all passengers on the plane to crowd over to one side (does a pilot have to compensate for a weight shift like that?), but this was one flight that ended too soon.