Of all the cities I have been to in Bhutan, Thimphu had the most modern amenities and yet it seemed like a charming small town when compared to my country India. The many gushing water streams and water falls on the Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway gave way to multi story apartments as we entered Thimphu. A little taken aback and disappointed to see ‘modernity’, my nerves were calmed when the guide (and now friend) Karma told me, “Only upto 5 stories are allowed in Thimphu since it is in the Himalayan Earthquake prone zone.” I was impressed that despite the frills of modernity the capital city of Bhutan has been able to preserve its culture and traditional way of living. It is always heartening to learn that how Bhutan does it right. Every single time! Here are the important sites I visited:
Changangkha Lhakhang :
Lhakhang means a temple in local language. It is the oldest temple of Thimphu dating back to 12th century. As I climbed up the steps, a fat black dog refused to welcome me. He was a typical Bhutanese Dog, lazy, content and sleepy. I stopped and soaked in the views of the city from the top. As I entered the central courtyard, I found myself caught in a flurry of activity. Turned out some important religious ceremony was going to be held in few hours. An ornamental empty chair addressed the many chairs in front of it. I salivated at the half eaten red rice and moved to turn the huge prayer bell at a corner. The unusual black and gold Prayer wheels at Back Kora (aka Pilgrims path) caught my attention. Most tourists miss it but I recommend it for its uniqueness and the sweeping views from the top.
Motithang Takin Preserve:
I was excited to see the weird looking animals unique to Bhutan and Tibet. The national animal of Bhutan looks like as if the head of a goat is fixed upon the body of a cow. The animals are of no use to humans. In a way they are ‘useless’ to humans. However the government protects and respects the bizarre animal. Initially they were kept in a mini zoo but later released on ethical grounds. However, the animals strayed in the main city area. Thus, it was decided to shelter them in a large enclosure in their natural habitat. It was amusing to see them lazing around in the company of more active species such as Sambhar and barking deer.
Pic Above : Takin (Click to enlarge)
Statue of Sakyamuni Buddha:
You can see this statue from most of the places in Thimphu. Even from the suite at Taj Tashi where Indian PM Mr Narendra Modi stayed during his visit. It is one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world not for nothing. I almost felt as if the Lord Buddha was watching over the entire city of Thimphu. The 51.5 meters tall Buddha is made of bronze, gilded in gold. The (good looking) asuras surround the Buddha Statue with offerings in their hands. A board near the entrance tells me that it is adjacent to the Kuenselphodrang Nature Park. Owing to its height it is too windy and one gets the best views of the Thimphu city from here.
This massive Fort cum administrative centre exists in the most important area of Thimphu. Built near the Royal palace and the Parliament. The dzong (Fort) serves as the administrative centre as well as the spiritual hub of the city. Since many offices run in the premises, the Dzong is open for only 1 hour in the evening, i.e., 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Owing to its location, it is a high security zone. All the gadgets are screened before you are allowed in. Also one is allowed to take pictures of the Parliament from the top of stairs at the security check point. It is suggested that one reaches early so that one gets to spend maximum time inside the Dzong. Avoid wearing Shawls since you would be most probable asked to take it down. The inner courtyard houses many impressive buildings. Take time to notice the many painting and carvings on the wall.
Pics above (Tashichhoe Dzong)
Also known as Thangthong_Dewachen_Nunnery or Drubthob Goemba is a religious building run by nuns. An impressive chorten welcomes you. Nice place for those who like quiet a not many tourists go here. The view of the Thimphu city and the Tashichhoe Dzong are impressive from here. A stop here is a must!
Memorial Chorten It attracts people from all over Thimphu and beyond. Many people, especially elderly come here to pray, meditate and socialize. Some even bring along tiffin since they stay here all day. It’s great for people watching or even join the pilgrims as they circumambulate around the impressive chorten. Bhutan doesn’t have beggers. However, you will meet some Buddhists who beg for alms! Do contribute if you can. It was walking distance from my hotel. I passed by the Indian military hospital and as I approach the memorial, the first thing that strikes me was its golden spires. This Tibetan style stupa was built in 1974 in the memory of third Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. As you walk in, the huge prayer wheels on the left vie for the attention and so does the impressive white Stupa buzzing with religious activities. I recommend that you walk into the room where hundreds of butter lamps are lighted daily.
The National Folk Heritage Museum: It is a great place to sample authentic Bhutanese cuisine. You can try the alcoholic drink ara here. The meal starts here with Bhooja (Much like the Indian version) and crunchy cornflakes. I recommend you order buckwheat pancakes (goes with a very spicy salad they make), Ema Datshi and a spinach saag I loved eating there. The place also houses a model of traditional Bhutanese home with each section explaining what that particular room is used for. In many rural areas in Bhutan such homes are still the norm.
The Royal Textile Academy: You will be ushered to view a brief documentary on the sartorial traditions of Bhutan. Watch if you have time. Next you can head to the museum to understand the textiles of Bhutan well. The museum houses many variations of gho and kira, traditional dresses for men and women, respectively, in Bhutan. You can also buy many hand made garments/wallets/knick knacks or watch the women weave in a separate room on the ground floor, just across the courtyard.
GPO: Visit the GPO in case the idea of a personal postage stamp excites you. You can turn a picture of yours into a postage stamp and send it back home on a postcard.
Norzin Lam: The most vibrant lane of Thimphu. A walk here is a must. Evening time, just before the sunset is the best. You can shop for knick knacks, eat at fancy restaurants, loiter around the Clock Tower (If you are lucky you might catch an al fresco music concert here). A late night stroll promises equal fun. The nightlife of Thimphu is vibrant. If you are teetotaler a thick hot Thukpa soup (Nu 20) wil warm your cockles. Many vendors sell it by the roadside. Alcohol lovers can go on pub hopping trail or visit the secret dance bars called Drayangs for an authentic local experience. READ ABOUT DRAYANGS HERE. Try to time your Thimphu visit on a weekend. The mood is more upbeat on Saturday and Sundays. The handicraft market sandwiched between Norzin Lam and Taj Tashi is a must visit.
Pub Trail: I visited 2 pubs and was impressed by the nightlife of Thimphu. The city which appeared calm in the day light revealed its wild side to me. The youngsters ditch the traditional costumes for western outfits, groove to western and Bollywood numbers with abandon and guzzle their beer unapologetically. The cigarettes, which is banned in public areas in Bhutan also show up in discreet corners. I enjoyed dancing away the night at Viva City. There is a live bar here and open air sit outs where I enjoyed conversations as it drizzled lightly. Walking distance from here is Mojo Park where I and my friends glued ourselves to the sofas as the local band belted one chartbuster after the another. Someone told me that a member of the Royal Family of Bhutan was sitting close to us.
Disclaimer: My trip was sponsored and all the logistics were taken care of by Bhutan Bookings. Click here to plan your vacation in Bhutan with them.
I was accompanied by travel bloggers – Dipanshu, Manjulika, Parnashree and Swati in the fun company of Sonam Karma and Dipanjan from Bhutan Bookings. Click on their names to read their stories from Bhutan.
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