Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan, and also the name of the valley and Dzongkhag or district. With estimated population of around 100,000, Thimphu is Bhutan’s largest city. Thimphu valley is at an average elevation of 2300m. It was a wooded farming valley until 1951, when massive 17th century Fortress, TashichoDzong, was revamped by King JigmeDorjiWangchuk to form Bhutan’s official capital and replace the ancient capital of Punakha. Today the city sprawls across the western slopes of the Wang Chuu river valley, with several government offices located around Tashichoedzong.
Rapid expansion following the pattern of rural exodus has resulted in considerable rebuilding in the city centre and mushrooming suburban development elsewhere. Norzin Lam, the recently upgraded main thoroughfare, is lined with shops, restaurants, retail arcades and public buildings. Elsewhere, there is a mix of apartment blocks, small family homes and family-owned stores. By regulation, all buildings are required to be designed in traditional style with Buddhist paintings and motifs. A lively weekend market (now open all days of the week) near the river supplies meat, vegetables and tourist items. Most of the city’s limited light industry is located south of the main bridge. Thimphu has a growing number of commercial services and offices which provide for ever-growing local needs. Thimphu is one of national capitals that do not have traffic lights. Instead of traffic lights, traffic police directs the oncoming traffic with their dance-like movement of their arms and hands. The Memorial Chorten dominates the skyline of Thimphu. The Buddha Dordenma statue, the largest Buddha statue in the world, is on a ridge top, overlooking the city.
There were goembas and a small population in the Thimphu valley even before the time of the Shabdrung, but Thimphu didn’t really exist as a town until it became the capital of Bhutan in 1961. The first vehicles appeared in Thimphu in 1962 and the town remained very rural until the late 1970s. The population has grown dramatically since 1990, and is now estimated to be 90,000.
It is often said that Thimphu is the only world capital without traffic lights. One was installed several years ago, but the residents complained that it was impersonal and ugly and it was removed within days. Traffic continues to be directed by policemen stationed at two traffic circles, one at the north end and another near the south end of Norzin Lam, Thimphu’s wide, tree-lined main street. They keep Thimphu’s traffic flowing throughout the day using elegant, exaggerated gestures. They disappear at night and leave drivers to sort things out for themselves.
Given Thimphu’s elevation (2320m), don’t be surprised if you become short of breath or have trouble sleeping your first night or two.
PLACES OF ATTRACTION
TashichhoDzong has been the seat of the government since 1952 and presently houses the throne room and offices of the king, the secretariat and the ministries of home affairs and finance. Other government departments are housed in buildings nearby.
It was first constructed in 1216 A.D. by Lama GyalwaLhanangpa where DechenPhodrang now stands above Thimphu. In 1641, ZhabdrungNgawangNamgyal acquired it but finding it too small, he built another one, known as the lower Dzong. The original dzong was destroyed by fire in 1771 and everything was moved to the lower dzong. The new building was later expanded several times over the years. It was damaged during an earthquake in 1897 and rebuilt in 1902. King JigmeDorjiWangchuck had it completely renovated and enlarged over five years after he moved the capital to Thimphu in 1952 in traditional style using neither nails nor written plans.
The dzong is located close to Thimphu town, next to the banks of the Wang Chhu River. It is an impressively large structure, surrounded by well-kept lawns and beautiful gardens.
2. Changangkha Lhakhang
Changangkha Lhakhang is an old fortress like temple and monastic school perched on a ridge above Thimphu, south-east of Motithang. It was established in the 12th century on a site chosen by Lama PhajoDrukgomShigpo, who came from Ralung in Tibet. The central statue is Chenresig in a 11-headed manifestations, and the books in the temple are larger in size than usual Tibetan texts. There is an excellent view of Thimphu from the courtyard.
3. Weekend Market
starts around noon on Friday and ends on Sunday afternoon. It resembles the farmers market in the west. However since there are no big super markets, Thimphu’s weekend market is the main source of fresh produce. It is an interesting place to visit, where village people jostle with well heeledThimphu residents for best and cheapest vegetables and other food products.
The weekend market is in a permanent set of stalls north of Changlimithang Stadium. Vendors from throughout the region arrive on Friday afternoon and remain until Sunday night. It’s an interesting place to visit, where village people jostle with well-heeled Thimphu residents for the best- and cheapest- vegetables and foodstuffs. This is the only time that fresh produce is easily available and the shopping is enhanced by the opportunity to catch up on the week’s gossip.
Depending on the season you may find potatoes, onions, numerous varieties of chillies, red and white rice, buckwheat, flour, cauliflowers, cabbages, lettuces, eggplants, asparagus, peas, squash, yams, several kinds of mushrooms and ferns, strange species and herbs. Fruits come from local orchards and from the south of the country. You will find oranges, apples, pineapples, bananas, mangoes, apricots, peaches and plums. If you wander off into one corner of the market, you’ll find an odoriferous collection of dried fish, beef and balls of dates (homemade soft cheese that is used to make sauces). During the winter, you can even pick up a leg of yak (with the hoof still attached).
At the northern end of the market is a collection of stalls called “the indigenous goods and handicrafts section”. Here you will find locally produced goods, including religious objects, cloth, baskets and strange hats from various minority groups. They are more than happy to sell these to tourists, but it’s mostly intended for local consumption. If you shop here, you may find a Bhutanese housewife or a monk from a near by monastery to advise you on the quality of your purchase. Bargaining is very much in order here.
4. National Memorial Chorten.
The memorial chorten is one of the most visible landmarks of Thimphu, built in 1974 to honor the memory of third King JigmeDorjiWangchuk. It is a four-storey chorten decorated with richly carved annexes facing the cardinal directions, and features elaborate mandalas, statues and a shrine dedicated to the popular third king. There are numerous religious paintings and tantric statues housed inside, reflecting both peaceful and wrathful aspects of Buddhist deities from complex tantric teachings. Throughout the day people circumambulate the chorten, whirl the large red prayer wheels and pray at a small shrine inside the gate. The early morning is particularly tranquil as elderly people shuffle in and spruced-up kids on their way to school whiz in and out to pay homage.
Memorial Chorten: This landmark of Thimphu was built in 1974 in the memory of third King, JigmeDorjiWangchuk, who is popularly regarded as Father of Modern Bhutan. It is a four-storey tall white building, containing statues and iconography of deities from complex tantric teachings and serves as an important place of worship for Thimphu residents, as well as from other parts of the country.
5. National Textile Museum
The National Textile Museum which opened in June 2001, is worth a leisurely visit to get to know the living national art of weaving. Changing exhibitions introduce the major weaving techniques, styles of local dress and textiles made by women and men. The small shop features work from the renowned weaving centres in LhuntsheDzongkhag, in north-eastern Bhutan. Each item is leveled with the name of the weaver and price. The textile museum’s exhibition are centered around six major themes – warp pattern weaves, weft pattern weaves, role of textiles in religion, achievements in textile arts, textiles from indigenous fibres and the royal collection.
6. National Institute for ZorigChusum
The National Institute for ZorigChusumPedzoe (School of Arts and Crafts) is commonly known as “the painting school”. It operates under the National Technical Training Institute and offers a six-year course that provides instruction in Bhutan’s traditional arts and crafts called ZorigChuksum – meaning 13 crafts.
It follows the regular school schedule (9am-5pm Mon-Fri and 9-1pm on Sat) with exceptions of holidays and breaks.Tourists are allowed to visit the school and take a peek at the classes the boys attend. There is also a small shop at the school that sells the students’ work.
7. Simtokha Dzong
is the first of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal’sDzong or fortress built in 1629. It is much smaller compared to most other Dzongs in Bhutan. Currently it houses the school for language and culture studies. The graduates of the schools primarily become Dzongkha teachers.
Simtokha Dzong is located around 5km south of Thimphu center. In the valley below the road are the plant-and-soil-protection project, the National Mushroom Centre and the large-red-roofed Royal Institute of Management.
Simtokha Dzong officially known as Sangak Zabdhon Phodrang (Palace of the Profound Meaning of Secret Mantras), Simtokha Dzong was built in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It is often said to be the first dzong built in Bhutan. In fact, there were dzongs in Bhutan as early as 1153, but this is the first dzong built by the Shabdrung, is the oldest that has survived as a complete structure, and is the first administrative facilities. It is the home of the Institute for Language and Culture Studies; the students are both monks and lay people.
The site is said to have been chosen to guard over a demon that had vanished into rock nearby, hence the name Simtokha, from simmo (demoness) and do (stone). Conveniently, the site is also an excellent location from which to protect the Thimphu valley and the valley leading to the Dochu La and eastern Bhutan. The dzong is about 60m square and the only gate is on the south side.
The utse is three storeys high and behind the usual prayer wheels around the outside there is a line of more than 300 fine slate carvings which painted faces depicting saints and philosophers. The large central figure in the central lhakhang is of Sakyamuni; he is flanked by images of eight Bodhisattvas: Jampelyang, ChannaDorji, Chenresig, Jampa, and the less familiar SaiHingpo (Shritigarva), DupaNampasel, NamkheHingpo (AkashGarva) and KuentuZangpo. The paintings inside this lhakhang are said to be some of the oldest and most beautiful in Bhutan. One of the Lhakhangs, Gen Lhakhang, may be visited only by lamas. In the west lhakhang chapel are paintings of Chenresig, green and white Taras and an early painting of ShabdrungNgawangNamgyal, which was restored and cleaned in 1995. Large paintings of mandalas and the guardians of the four directions adorn the gorikha (veranda).
During it’s construction SimtokhaDzong was attacked by Tibetans and five Bhutanese lamas who were opposed to the Shabdrung’s rule. The attack was repelled and the leader of coalition, Palden Lama, was killed. In 1630 the Tibetans again attacked and took control of the dzong. The Shabdrung regained control when the main building caught fire and the roof collapsed, killing the invaders. Descriptions of the original SimtokhaDzong were provided by the two Portuguese Jesuit priests who visited here in 1629 on their way to Tibet.
Expansion and restoration of the dzong was performed by the third Drukdesi, MingyurTenpa, in the 1670s after Tibetan invaders attacked it in 1630. It has been enlarged and restored many times since.
8. Tango Goemba
The drive from town to bas will take us about 45 min to 1 hour. The hike up to the Tango Monastery is about an hour long, depending on how much stamina you have. Having never hiked up a mountain before, I found it difficult not to stop and rest frequently, which was a bad idea as it made it even more difficult for me to start hiking once I had sat down. Try to keep a decent pace that you know you can keep for a long period of time. Even if this pace is slow, it is better than going quickly and then having to rest frequently.
Along the hike, we saw pack horses coming down after taking supplies to the monastery. The monastery itself is also a university where monks study religious texts. Only male monks are allowed to live at this monastery. There are female monasteries where nuns live, but they are in a different area.
Once we reached the top and were inside the monastery, we were no longer allowed to take pictures. The inside was breathtaking and filled with interesting sights and sounds. We were able to sit down and view a religious ceremony where we were given tea and bread. If we were to have stayed longer, the monks would have eventually given us money, and shelter, regardless of who we were or why we were there.
9. Cheri Goemba
The drive from town to bas will take us about 45 min to 1 hour .It is situated at (2850m) and it was first built in 1620 by Shabdrung and it was here that the central monastic body (Dratsang) was first established. Many of the important priests of Drukpa Kagyu lineage passed periods here, and so it is an important pilgrim site for Bhutanese. During the weekends, many Bhutanese are seen climbing up the hill from Dodena (2,600m), where the road ends. Cross a wooden cantilever bridge and climb up the hill with moss-laden pine, fir and rhododendron trees, that takes little over 1 hour. Return to the road.
Instead of walking uphill from Dodena, one can make it more interesting by starting the walk from PangriZampa. Drive towards northern end of the valley for about ½ an hr and start an exciting walk to Cheri monastery. This is a 2-3 hours pleasant rural walk, gently up a valley through paddy fields and woodland via a Tibetan villages, following the Wangchu river-upstream till Dodena. Then walk uphill to Cheri Gompa. Return downhill, meet the transport and drive to Thimphu.
A short distance beyond the turn-off to Tango Goemba, the road ends at Dodina (elevation 2600m). A walk of about 1 hour leads to Cheri Goemba (Cheri DorjiDhen). The trail starts by crossing a lovely covered bridge that spans the Wang Chhu, then climbs steeply to the monastery. ShabdrungNgawangNamgyal, built this goemba in 1620 and established the first monk body here. A silver chorten inside the goemba holds the ashes of the Shabdrung’s father.
10. Buddha Dordenma or BUDDHA POINT
The Buddha Dordenma is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfils an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by TertonPemaLingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world.
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. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue; 100,000 statues of which are 8-inches-tall and 25,000 statues of which are 12 inches tall. Each of these thousands of Buddhashave also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.
11. Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory
Traditional papers were made from the daphne plant, using simple methods. Like rice papers, these papers are said to last longer.
Paper Factory: Traditional papers were made from the daphne plant, using simple methods. Like rice papers, these papers are said to last longer.
12. MotithangTakin Preserve
Short distance off the road to the telecom tower, a trail leads into a large fenced area that was originally established as a mini-zoo. The king decided that such a facility was not in keeping with Bhutan’s environmental and religious convictions, and it was disbanded sometime ago. The animals were released into the wild but the Takins were so tame (some people say they are simply stupid) that they wandered around the streets of Thimphu looking for food, and the only solution was to put them back into captivity. It’s worthwhile taking the time to see this strange, quite weird animal. Takin (Budorcastaxicolor) has been chosen as the national animal of Bhutan is based both on its uniqueness and its association with country’s history and mythology. It is said that DrukpaKunley or Devine Madman, a popular 15th century saint is said to have created it with his magical power at a large congregation of devotees. It resembles a cow from back, a goat from the front, and it continues to befuddle taxonomists, who cannot quite relate to other animal.
13. Dechen Phodrang
At the end of the Gaden Lam is the DechenPhodrang, the site of Thimphu’s original TrashiChhoeDzong. Since 1971 it has housed the state monastic school, and a long procession of monks often travels between here and the dzong. A team of 15 teachers provides an eight-year course to more than 450 students. The 12th-century paintings in the goemba’s Guru Lhakhang are being restored by a United Nations Educational, Scientific, Cultural Organization (UNESCO) project. The upper floor features a large figure of ShabdrungNgawangNamgyal as well as the goenkhang (chapel devoted to protective and terrifying deities). The central figure in the downstairs chapel is the Buddha Sakyamuni.
14. Voluntary Artists Studio Thimphu
This studio and art gallery is the capital’s main centre for local artists. The goal of the studio is to promote both traditional and contemporary works of Bhutanese art, to provide vocational training for young artist.
15. Folk Heritage Museum
Folk Heritage Museum or PhelcheyToenkhyim Museum is housed in a 19th century three-storey traditional rammed mud and timber house in Kawangjangsa, Thimphu. It aims to exhibit the life and living styles of upper middle class Bhutanese family of that time. There are households equipments, tools on display, Seasonal vegetable garden, a hot stone bath, a watermill etc can be seen in the premise.
This house has been turned into a replica of a traditional farm house as it would have been equipped about a century ago. A tour of this almost-living museum will give you a glimpse into the way most Bhutanese lived then, and how many rural people still live today
16. Simply Bhutan
Simply Bhutan is an interactive ‘living’ museum that gives a good guided introduction to various aspects of Bhutanese traditional life. Visitors get to learn how to distil arak, dress up in traditional clothes, try traditional game (archery) and most famously gets authentic Bhutanese dish to try ot eat.
17. Changlimithang Archery Ground and soccer ground.
The national stadium occupies the site of the 1885 battle that helped establish the political supremacy of UgyenWangchuck, Bhutan’s first king. It is now the site of the national archery ground, a large football stadium and parade ground, basketball, tennis and squash courts, as well as the headquarter of the Bhutan Olympic committee. It’s always worth checking what event is taking place when you are in town.
18. Nado Poizokhang Incense Factory
Easily Thimphu’s sweetest-smelling excursion, this traditional workshop churns out about 10,000 sticks of handmade incense monthly. You can watch the production process (grinding, extruding and drying).
19. Zilukha Nunnery
DrubthobGoemba monastery also called Zilukha nunnery is located on the slopes, looking down at Golf course and TashichoDzong with around 70 or so resident nuns. The monastery was founded by later reincarnation of DruthobThangtongGyalpo or DrubthobChakzampa, who in the 15 century was known all over Tibetan Buddhist world for building iron bridges and he is also considered the father of Tibetan Opera. Zilukha is among the few nunneries in Bhutan.
After you drive down the road from the telecom tower, you will find yourself on Gaden Lam, the road that runs high above the golf course. There are some great views of the town, and of TrashiChhoeDzong, and above you can see DrubthobGoemba, which now houses the Zilukha Nunnery.
20. National Institute of Traditional Medicine
Institute of Traditional Medicine Services, located near National Library supplies traditional medicines and medical services, trains doctors, and conducts research on traditional medicinal plants to identify the ingredients and develop new products. The Institute has a library dating back to around 1616, when Tibetan Buddhism was introduced to Bhutan. The books and recipes were collected from monasteries where scholars had preserved the medical lore. In 1967 the king directed the Health Department of Bhutan to establish a traditional medicine system for the welfare of Bhutanese people and to preserve the Bhutanese traditional culture. An Indigenous Dispensary was opened in 1968, staffed by doctors trained in Tibet. In 1988 it was upgraded to the Institute of Traditional Medicine Services. In parallel, smaller traditional medical centers have been opened across the country, and were available in all districts of Bhutan by the end of 2001. These centers are integrated into the National Health Service, and are attached to the district hospitals. The institute dispenses traditional medicines produced in its laboratories from minerals, animal parts, precious metals, gems and plants. Generally the patient should abstain from meat and alcohol during the medical course. Over 40,000 patients are treated annually by the institute’s hospital in Thimphu and around 100,000 nationwide.
Established in 1988, one of the more interesting facilities in Thimphu is the National Institute of Traditional Medicine. There is an impressive, large laboratory and production facility that ensures the quality of the products, the components of which may include plants, minerals, animal parts, precious metals and gems.
The production of medicines is directed entirely towards the needs of Bhutanese, though there is a plan to eventually export traditional medicines. There is a day-care facility and clinic where doctors diagnose patients and prescribe appropriate traditional medicines or treatments. Tour operators can arrange visits to the institute. There is a small museum and gift shop where you can purchase Tsheringma, a safflower-based herbal tea that is produced here.
The institute also researches the use of medicinal herbs and plants and has a trial that collect medicinal plants from faraway places such as Lingzhi in western Bhutan, where a number of important medicinal species grow in abundance.
21. Pangri Zampa
Founded in the early 16th century, this complex is a college for traditional astrology. ZhabdrungNgawangNamgyal lived here after he arrived in 1616 because this temple appeared in the vision that directed him from Tibet to Bhutan.
22. National Library
National Library was first established in 1967 with a small collection of precious texts and was initially housed within the central tower of Tashichodzong. Later it moved to a building in the Changgangkha area of Thimphu. To provide a permanent home for the sacred religious books and manuscripts in the growing collection, construction of the present four-storeyed eight-cornered traditional building, which looks like the central tower temple of a Bhutanese Dzong, was initiated and was inaugurated in 1984.
The repository rooms of the archives now house many important documents including old records, old letters and around seven thousand important photographs. The archives also hold microfilms of many other important documents. Particularly rare and important books and manuscripts from the National Library collection are also kept in their secure and controlled facilities.
23. BBS Tower or sangay gang view point.
There’s a wonderful view of Thimphu valley from the hillside below the telecommunications tower (elevation 2685m), high above the town at the end of a road that branches off from the approach to the youth centre. The complex also houses the broadcasting studios of Bhutan television. Don’t photograph the telecommunications installation, but the valley is worth a few snaps. The area is known as Sangaygang and it becomes a lover’s lane late at night.
24. ZangtoPelri Lhakhang
Located near the Weekend Market area is one of the tallest temples and was built in 1990s by a local resident. Zangdopelri refers to the celestial abode of Guru Rinpoche.
This private chapel, built in the 1900s by DashoAkuTongmi, a musician who composed Bhutan’s national anthem, is south of the weekend market. It’s beside the older YigjaDunkharLhakhang and is a replica of Guru Rinpoche’s celestial abode. It is one of Bhutan’s tallest lhakhang and houses many large statues, including a 4m-high image of Guru Rinpoche.
25. Royal Botanical Garden
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.
26. Bhutan Postal Museum Post Office
The Bhutan Postal Museum, Evolution of Communications Systems in Bhutan, was established in November 2015 to celebrate the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth DrukGyalpoJigmeSingyeWangchuck.
The main objective of the museum is to tell the story of Bhutan’s progress and development through the lens of the evolution of communications and postal system in the country. The story is told through anecdotes, artifacts and the rich assortment of stamps the country has produced over the years.
The museum is located on the ground floor of Thimphu GPO building, Chang Lam III, Thimphu.
Bhutan Post is pleased to inform all travel agents that we provide following privileges and discount on existing entry if visit to the museum is included in your itinerary:
27. Wangditse Goemba
A one-hour walk uphill from the telecom tower takes you to 1750 by the attendants of Bhutan’s eighth desi, DrukRabgye, and was renovated in 2001. The lhakhang houses the statues of the guardian deities YesheyGoenpo (Mahakala), PaldenLhamo (Mahakali) and Tsheringma (the goddess of longevity).