Thimphu – The Capital City.
Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan, sprawls along a valley at an altitude of 2,300 meters. It was in 1961 that Thimphu replaced Punakha as the capital. It is estimated that about 100,000 people reside in Thimphu making it the most populated district in the country. Thimphu is a mixture of residents from all over the country as it is the center of government, religion and commerce. The Important monuments to visit in Thimphu are Statue of Buddha, Memorial Chorten, Changangkha Monastery, Cheri Monastery and Tango Monastery. Besides there are museums and institutions to visit like Textile Museum, Folk Heritage Museum, School of Traditional Arts and Crafts, Tashichho Dzong, Takin Preserve centre and Dupthop nunnery.
The city is unique. Thimphu is the only capital city in the world with no traffic lights. Small and secluded, the city is quiet and the traffic jams are hardly a thing of concern. There is so much to see in Thimphu that you can spend several days here. The proximity of many of the sights makes it possible and easier to travel in the town on foot and provide you with the chance of observing the culture and the Bhutanese way of life. Unlike many modern cities, Thimphu has kept a strong national character in its architectural style.
Monuments to visit in Thimphu.
1. Memorial Chorten:
The Memorial chorten, as the name suggests, is built in memory of the Late His Majesty Third King of Bhutan. This Monument is special to the Bhutanese people as the Third King is the Father of Modern Bhutan.
It stands tall in the heart of the city and is white in structure. One can see people circumambulate the temple throughout the day. Its golden finial is adorned with richly painted Thankas, elaborate mandalas and splendid statues. The shrine of this temple is dedicated to Late His Majesty Third King of Bhutan.
2. Simtokha Dzong:
The foundation of this dzong was laid in 1627 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and was completed in 1631. It was the first dzong ever built in Bhutan. It was re-built in 2008 with great emphasis on retaining the original architectural structure intact. At present, it is used as the Royal Institute of Dzongkha Language.
It nestles on a lofty ridge about six kilometers south of Thimphu. The most noteworthy artistic feature of this dzong is the series of over 300 finely worked slate carvings behind the prayer wheels in the courtyard.
3. National Library:
It was established in 1976 in order to preserve ancient texts both in Dzongkha and Tibetan. The National Library is a good resource for books about Bhutan.
Scriptures from all religious schools are represented here, including that from Bon tradition. Most of the books are printed on long strips of handmade paper stacked between pieces of wood and wrapped in silk cloth. Also on display are ancient photographs. A copy of the 1783 letter sent by the Desi (Secular Ruler) to Samuel Turner, a British army officer and surveyor is also on found here.
4. Institute for Zorig Chusum:
This Institute Imparts courses in 13 traditional Arts and Crafts of Bhutan. It is also popularly known as “The Painting School” and is a photographers’ dream. The students learn various skills like paintings, wood carving, embroidery and statue making. The course ranges from 4 -6 years. The institute also houses a showroom that sells their work at a reasonable price.
5. Traditional Medicine Institute (Indigenous Hospital):
The Institute of Traditional Medicines, also called “Indigenous Hospital” was started in 1979 at Kawajangsa. In the institute patients are treated using the various traditional medicines and age-old methods. The Institute also imparts the art of herbal medicines to students.
6. The Folk Heritage Museum:
This old and restored building actually replicates a Bhutanese farm house from about a century ago. This life like museum provides a glimpse into rural Bhutanese life. You can also enjoy an authentic Bhutanese lunch with butter tea, chilies, dried meat and the lot at the restaurant there.
The Folk Heritage museum is dedicated to the traditions and lifestyle of Bhutanese. This Museum portrays the daily life of the rural folk and also allows you to examine a traditional Bhutanese home.
7. National Textile Museum:
To learn firsthand about this tiny Himalayan Kingdom’s art of weaving, the National Textile Museum is worth a trip. A visit will introduce you to the major weaving techniques, styles and the type of textiles made by both women and men. If you are lucky, you may even come across a group of weavers operating their looms inside the museum.
The Dzong (fortress), along the bank of the Wang Chu, is an architectural delight. It houses the Throne room, offices of His Majesty the King and the Ministries of Home Affairs and Finance. It also is the summer residence of the Dratshang (Monk body).
Destroyed by fires in the 1700s and by an earthquake in 1897, it was rebuilt in 1902. Today, surrounded by well-kept lawns and beautiful gardens, the massive structure provides a majestic grandeur to the city. Visitors can marvel at Bhutanese architecture and craftsmanship at its finest, where the entire fortress was built without the use of any nails. Its courtyards are a place of gathering for the locals, dressed in their best attires, during the Tshechu and other religious festivals.
9. Local Handicraft Shops:
There are several handicraft shops in Thimphu offering various selections of hand-woven and crafted products. Visitors will find beautiful weaves in wool, silk, cotton and basketwork. Thangkas and other traditional crafts are also available, including Bhutanese antiques and various souvenirs. There are also special selection of books on Buddhism and modern English writings by Bhutanese authors.
10. The Centenary Farmer’s Market:
The Centenary Farmers’ Market, also called “The Weekend Market” is situated along the bank of Wang Chu. Come Thursday, and vendors from all over the country start pouring in and remain until Sunday night to sell their wares.
Walk around this market and you’ll find the air go from pungent to sweet to aromatic depending on the produce that is on display, from dried-fish to Dachi (Cheese) balls, seasonal vegetables and fruits and spices. Across the market and the footbridge, one can find a collection of clothing and handicraft stalls. While there are wooden bowls, prayer beads, amulets, prayer wheels and the lot on offer. If you look carefully you could find some treasure amid the heap.
11. Changangkha Lhakhang:
This temple perched on a hilltop just above the valley constantly buzzes with pilgrim activity. Tibetan lama, Phajo Drugom Shigpo established it in the 12th century. The protective deity of the temple, Tamdrin, is supposed to bless newborns. Hence parents from near and far come here to bless their children and get auspicious names for them. Only a few minutes of walk up from the road, the monastery offers a magnificent view of the city below.
12. Craft Bazaar:
The Centenary Farmer’s market is under the patronage of Department of Cottage & Small industry. It is in collaboration with the Department of Culture, Tourism council of Bhutan and the Department of Agriculture Marketing and Co-operatives. This market offers genuine Bhutanese arts & crafts thus contributing in promotion, protection and preservation of traditional arts.
13. Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory:
Jungshi Paper factory produces Traditional Handmade paper from natural plants mainly from ‘Daphne’ plant species. These papers are widely used for religious scripts, packing materials, hand carry bags, envelopes, calendars and many more. The paper looks a lot like Japanese “Washi” and in fact a lot of these papers are exported to Japan also.
14. Zangthopelri Lhakhang:
This Temple is located next to the National Stadium. It is thought of as one of the sacred passes to heaven according to the sacred books of Guru Rinpoche. It was renovated in the 1960s and possesses some impressive murals and art treasures.
This site was a former battle ground in the year 1885 that was crucial in proving the political supremacy of Sir Ugyen Wangchuck, the first hereditary king of Bhutan. Therefore, the temple was built to appease all kinds of evil.
15. Buddha Point (Kuensel Phodrang):
The drive up to Kuensel Phodrang is worth it not only for the view of Thimphu valley from up there but also to simply marvel at the immense size of the Buddha statue that sits majestically on the hilltop. The statue was made in China and shipped and trucked into Bhutan after it was cut into pieces. At a height of 169 feet (51.5 meter), it is one of the biggest Buddha Dordenma statues in the world. The massive three-storey throne holds several chapels and the Buddha’s body itself is filled with 125,000 smaller statues.
This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 m, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. Each of these thousands of Buddhas has also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.
16. Simply Bhutan Museum:
Simply Bhutan is an exclusive project under the simply bhutan museum Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF), built to offer a unique experience to its visitors. It is a living museum and studio encapsulating the cultural heritage of the Bhutanese people. A distinctive feature of Simply Bhutan is that it fully operated by young people and job seekers, who receive here on the job training in basic business & management skills, customer care and other spheres of life. The fund generated through Simply Bhutan is utilized to run many of the youth development programmes for vulnerable and disadvantaged youth under YDF. Hence as a visitor, while you get to experience and enjoy this special place, you are also helping to ‘make a better today’, ‘a brighter tomorrow’, for the youth of Bhutan.
17. Drubthob Goema / Zilukha Nunnery:
It is also called Drubthob goemba, one of the few nunneries in Bhutan. Located in Zilukha on a high hill above Tashichho Dzong, it houses over 70 nuns. The name Drubthob is of Thang Thong Gyalpo, popularly known for building iron bridges during the 15th century. One of his later re-incarnations founded the nunnery.
18. Changlimithang Stadium & the Archery Range:
The national stadium in 1885 was the site of the famous battle of Changlimithang. The various sporting events like soccer are held here.
What is fun and exciting is the archery ground next door. Traditional bamboo or carbon fiber bows really don’t matter. The archers show off their skills and camaraderie with jabs and jibes thrown at the opponent. Songs, alcohol and victory dances are all part of the game.
19. Coronation Park:
This Park is located below the stadium on the bank of the river. With the area covering over five acres, the park offers a quiet and relaxing environment. Visitors can either stroll through the park or sit and watch the river flow. One section of the park is devoted as a fun area for kids.
20. Thimphu Golf Course:
It stretches about 2,800 yards, a par 33 golf course is deemed very challenging by golf enthusiasts. The course is well set up with many obstacles like trees, uneven grass and man-made water pools. Along with the game, players can also enjoy beautiful views of the surrounding valleys with Tashichho Dzong right beside the course. There is a clean and homely restaurant where visitors can take a break and also savor some varied local dishes.
21. Botanical Garden
This Garden is located about a 10 km drive south of the city. The lush garden covers the hillside offering a peaceful and relaxing environment. It is a paradise for plant enthusiasts as there are wide varieties of indigenous trees, flowers and herbs. The garden also serves as a beautiful picnic spot.
22. Takin Preserve
This unique animal, with an appearance between a cow and a goat, is the national animal of Bhutan. There are a number of Takins in the zoo, which is located in a serene, natural environment in Upper Motithang. The walking pavement all around the area offers a tranquil leisurely walk. Legend has it that the great Buddhist yogi, Drukpa Kinley, created the animal.
Day hikes & walking tour in Thimphu Valley:
1. Tango Monastery (Goemba):
It was in the 12th century that Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa founded the Tango Goemba. The Goemba is one of Bhutan’s historical monasteries in the Kagyu tradition. It is a 40-minute drive from Thimphu towards Begana, followed by a one-hour hike up the hill. It houses some important relics related to the Kagyu tradition. The visitor can also enjoy spectacular views from the monastery.
In 1616 Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal visited Tango and meditated in a cave near the monastery. His meditation helped ensure the defeat of an invading Tibetan army.
2. Cheri Monastery (Goemba):
Cheri Goemba is said to be the first Drukpa Kagyu Monastery in Bhutan. A steep climb of about 40 minutes, the monastery is located on the hill opposite Tango monastery. It is also the place where Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal is said have gained enlightenment.
The trail commences by crossing a traditional wooden bridge that spans the Thimphu Chhu, before the steep climb to the monastery begins. Being the place where the Zhabdrung spent many years in meditation, Cheri today has numerous hermitages and small temples located on its slopes, commanding spectacular views of the valleys below. The one -way walk to the monastery is approx 4.5 km, taking about 2 hours.
3. Phajoding Monastery (Goemba):
Founded in the 13th century by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo, a yogi from Tibet, this monastic complex is about a four-hour hike from Motithang or the BBS Tower. The area is famous for its sacred spring water. There are also several sacred lakes, which is a full day’s circular hike. Located at a height of over 3,600 meters, the view of the Thimphu city is spectacular. There are also beautiful locations ideal for camping.
4. Lungchuzekha Goemba:
By far, this is the most fascinating three to four hours round trip walk around Dochula pass that offers a spectacular view of the snowcapped Himalayan mountain ranges. From the 108 Chortens and mani wall at Dochula pass, the road ascends gradually into white, red and pink rhododendron forests for about one and a half hours with some steep sections before branching left to Lungchuzekha Goemba.
5. Takin Preserve, Motithang:
On your way to the BBS (telecommunications tower viewpoint), one crosses a fenced enclosure that houses Bhutan’s National animal – the takin. These nonconformist mammals are worth a visit for the sheer fact that they look different from any animal you may have seen so far, trust us on this one. The enclosure boasts of a café and visitor centre. Remember, the best time to see the takins is in the mornings and evenings when they gather near the fences to graze.
The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan, and looks like a cross between a cow and a goat. Legend has it that the animal was created by the great Buddhist yogi, Drupa Kunley, and it can be found only in Bhutan and nearby areas. Taxonomists place the animal in a category of its own as it is not similar enough to any other animal to fit established categories.
6. Botanical Garden, Serbithang:
Located on a lush hillside about 10km from the city, the gardens offer a peaceful and relaxing environment to spend a few hours. A road leads uphill from Babesa to the Royal Botanical Garden, which might be of interest to horticultural enthusiasts. The centre was inaugurated in 1999 and has a weedy collection of 500 species of plants. It’s a favourite weekend picnic spot of Thimphu residents.
7. Tandin Nye:
This sacred lhakhang is about 1km from the main town, built on a cliff, just like the Tiger’s Nest in Paro. The visit to the temples provides an opportunity to feel and see the great work of ancient Buddhist legends. It is believed that there used to be a lake below the lhakhang but now one can find only a marshy area.
8. Sangaygang – Wangditse loop:
Sangaygang viewpoint is situated at an elevation of 2685m and presents a wonderful view of Thimphu valley. A two-hour walk from the viewpoint leads one to the Wangditse loop. The trail leads through ubiquitous prayer flags, oak, blue pine and rhododendron forests until you reach Wangditse monastery. This monastery was founded in 1750 and the inner chapel houses a two-storey statue of Sakyamuni Buddha. The trail also provides excellent views of the Samteling Palace, home to the fourth King. The walking tail ends back at Sangaygang viewpoint.