A Comprehensive Guide to Explore Thimphu, Bhutan

Thimphu impressed me beyond my imagination and the first thing which amazed me was its perfect fusion of the new and old world charm, which very much remains a part of this city magnetism. While walking through the streets of Thimphu, I couldn’t ignore to notice the new commercial enthusiasm which has hit the city already while retaining its natural small-town feel, constantly highlighting its preservance of deep rooted culture, mixed with modern day image.

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From the traditional Bhutanese architecture and people walking on the streets in their national attire, I could also see how the city has adopted to American style of policing and youngsters shabbing the age old norms yet retaining the sobernity…Thimphu surely has come a long way

By the way, do you know that Thimphu is the only capital city in the world which is comparatively smaller in size and do not have an international airport? This and much more, sharing a comprehensive guide to explore Thimphu in my best capacity

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Memorial Chorten: The Memorial Stupa, also known as Thimphu Chorten is one of the most prominent landmarks of Thimphu. Envisioned by Thinley Norbu (1904–1987) the chorten was erected in 1974 as per Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, to honour the third Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1928–1972). This is to fulfil his wish of building a chorten which represents the mind of Buddha while Jigme Dorji was alive.  The remarkable thing about this stupa is that it does not preserve any human remains unlike other chortens and got only a photo of Jigme Dorji in ceremonial dress. As you will enter the gate 100’s of devotees would be seen praying around this stupa for sanity, located in Doeboom Lam

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Buddha Dordenma Statue: The gigantic statue of Shakyamuni Buddha which has been erected on a mountain top is considered to be one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. Measured at a height of 51.5 meters, the statue was completed on 25th September 2015, which apparently marks the 60th anniversary celebration of fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The statue is made of bronze with a cover of gold which symbolizes indestructibility. The statue is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park blessing the entire valley. Shakyamuni Statue is an insight of two predications which were made centuries ago. The first one where a yogi Sonam Zangpo forecasted a large statue of Buddha to be built in the region and at a point from where it can bestow blessings and happiness on the whole world. The other one discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa in the 8th century A.D, to radiate an atmosphere of peace and happiness in the world. The throne above which the Buddha Dordenma sits is a large meditation hall, where hundreds of devotees meditate every day.

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Motithang Takin Preserve: Takin is the national animal of Bhutan. This one- of- its- kind animal has got face of a goat and the body of a cow and can be found in Bhutan only. Legends have it that the formation of Takin was created by the Buddhist yogi; Drupa Kunley popularly called “The Divine Madman” in the 15 century. This yogi was a religious preacher as well as a proficient tantric. Once he was requested by Bhutanese devotees to conjure a miracle before them. He agreed on a condition that he should be fed a cow and a goat for lunch. After completing his meal, the yogi left the bones. He then joined the head of the goat on the skeleton of the cow. With a crack, he created a live animal known as takin today. Due to religious connection, the animal was declared the national animal of the country Bhutan. Few years ago when Takins was confined in a mini Zoo, the King of Bhutan that time felt bad for the confinement of the animal and ordered to free the animal from the clutches Surprisingly, Takins strayed on the streets of Thimphu in search of food for weeks. There after it was decided to keep them in a forested habitat from where the preserve came in. An area of 8.4 acres was fenced for the preserve. The preserve closes down at 5 PM

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Local Post office: A place which generally skips the list of travellers. The significant thing about this post office is that it has got wide range of stamps which are different from the otherwise paper stamps we generally use. There are musical stamps. Even the person has an option of customising e- local stamp tit according to the preference. The postage stamp can be made with your own photo inscribed on it, which can be used for postage purposes as well. The cost of the service is Bhutanese 300 which include the value of stamp as well

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Simtokha Dzong: Simtokha Dzong is also known as Sangak Zabdhon Phodrang (translates to fort of deep significance of Secret Mantras). It is said to be the first dzong in Bhutan which has survived as a whole structure in comparison to other dzongs. Built in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, this is the first dzong to provide administrative facilities and serves as the home of institute for Language and Culture Studies. Simtokha which translates to simmo (demoness) and do (stone) is said to be build at a site from where it was easy to guard over the demon which vanished into a nearby rock. The dzong protects Thimphu and adjoining valleys leading to the Dochu La and eastern Bhutan.

Changangkha Lhakhang: One of the ancient temples in Thimphu, Changangkha Temple was established on the site chosen by Phajo Drukgom Shigpo, the founder of Drukpa Lineage in Bhutan. The temple was laid in 12th century, the work of which was extended by his son in the 13th century. This oldest temple houses an eleven-headed, thousand-armed manifestation and large prayer wheels. In fact the temple also houses incredibly huge size of Tibetan texts which are unusual from the rest. Enjoy the view from the courtyard, which has got restored in 1998-99

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National Folk Heritage Museum: Established in 2001, National folk heritage museum was build with a motive of introducing tourists to the authentic lifestyle of Bhutanese people. The museum is fabricated in a three storied, 19th century traditional house showcasing the cultural heritage of rural Bhutan. It has done a fabulous work in terms of capturing the rural setting by an impressive display of typical Bhutanese household objects and equipment. The museum keeps organising the demonstrations of rural traditions, skills and customs regularly. You can also avail the offers at a nominal fee booked a week in advance. This includes extracting oil or Markhu Tsene, brewing ara (Local drink) or Ara kayne, hammering rice in the museum premises in traditional way. Don’t forget to taste the authentic Bhutanese cuisine at the museum which is available on buffet system and special arrangements can be made for a group above 5 people. Remarkable thing about the museum is the activities they plan; follow a seasonal pattern of rural life which means you get to see something new every time you make a visit here. Timings are 10:00 am to 4:30 pm- Monday to Friday, from 10:30 am to 1:00 pm on Saturdays and 11:30 am to 3:30 pm on Sundays

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Night Life and Pub hopping: Bhutan’s beauty is best experienced in night. While in Thimphu don’t forget to explore its nightlife. That’s when you will get to see the energetic and well behaved younger crowd. There are many options in Thimphu to make your evenings a memorable one. You can opt to enjoy the live Karaoke music or can go for pub hopping. Viva city is one the best pubs in Thimphu along with Mojo Park which organises Bollywood night every Friday. Also make a visit to the clock tower square one of the most prominent landmark of Thimphu.

Phajoding Monastery: Phajoding Monastery was once regarded as the richest monastery of Bhutan which got destroyed due to ignorance of the administration. The reason why Phajoding was listed among the five most endangered cultural monuments by the World Monuments Fund in 2010. Reaching this monastery requires a hike of 3 hours from Motithang, the ascent of which is quite a challenge for many visitors. Visit this monastery to experience the traditional customs and practices of Buddhism, which homes many scared Buddhist artefacts. It is known for its vast number of temples, meditation retreats and monk quarters, all signifying the fine Bhutanese architectural style. This complex dates back to 13th century when Todgen Pajo, the founder of the monastery and a yogi from Tibet was looking for a place to meditate peacefully. Most of the buildings in the complex date back to the period of 1748 which were constructed by the efforts of Shakya Rinchen, the ninth Je Khenpo. From the top of this monastery get mesmerised with the stunning views of the Thimphu Valley. From Phajoding you can opt to ascend another 3000m to reach Thujidrag Goemba

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Authentic Bhutanese Crafts Bazaar: ABC, the Authentic Bhutanese Crafts Bazaar also known as the handicraft market of Thimphu is a perfect place to get a glimpse inside the art and craft of Bhutan. As you will enter the place, the ever smiling Bhutanese people will welcome you, who are mostly the youngsters. The shops are made using the eco-friendly bamboo and you will definitely get mesmerised with the vibrant colours it displays. While strolling through the market one can simply not ignore the display of pictures, images, royal clothes or batches of king and queen of Bhutan in almost every shop, which clearly denotes the respect that people have for their king. There are few miniatures of symbolic statues including the Buddha which can be bought from here apart from local produced purses and other fabrics

Tashichoo Dzong: Tashichoo dzong which translates to fortress of auspicious religious conviction conventionally was the seat of monastic body and summer capital of the country. The dzong is serving as the government seat since 1952 and presently it houses the king office, secretariat and other government organizations located nearby. It is also the headquarters for central monastic body of Bhutan, which opens up for general public after 5:30 PM. Unlike other dzongs, Tashichoo has two main entrances. One heads towards the south of the administrative section and another leads towards the north to the monastic section, where annual tsechu festival is celebrated. The foundation of Thimphu dzong was first laid by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa in 1216. The dzong is located next to the banks of Wangchhu river which is surrounded by beautiful lawn. Visit this dzong for its authentic and stunning architecture. Don’t forget to spot the parliament building of Bhutan which is quite visible from here

Royal Textile Academy: Bhutan’s best museum is located at Royal textile academy which was started in May 2005 with an aim to preserve and showcase the traditional art of Bhutan, weaving. It was started under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Mother Sangay Choden Wangchuck as a non profit organisation. The objective of this organisation has been to develop conservation center to restore the Bhutanese textile as well as provide the professional training to men & women in weaving and the textile. The training is given free of cost to the women in lieu of promoting women empowerment. The Royal Textile Academy is Bhutan’s first institute to educate, train and fill the younger generation with a comprehensive knowledge of the country’s textiles.

Picture Credit: Dipanshu Goyal

The article was first written for Happytrips.com. I took this trip with Bhutan Bookings

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