Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, sprawls along a valley at an altitude of 2,300 meters. In 1961, Thimphu replaced Punakha as the capital. It is estimated that about 100,000 people reside in Thimphu making it is the most populated Dzongkhag in the country. Thimphu is a mixture of residents from all over the country as Thimphu is the center of government, religion and commerce.
The city is unique. After Pyongyang, North Korea, Thimphu is the only other national capital 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.
This chorten was built in 1974 in the memory of the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. The paintings and Images inside the monument provide a very rare insight into Buddhist philosophy. The National Memorial Chorten is situated near the Jigme Dorji Wangchuk National Referral Hospital, next to the Jangchhub Lam. It is a good place to visit in the evenings when the chorten is crowded with people doing koras (rounds) of the Chorten for their religious beliefs, while some come for the healthy brisk walk.
The Tashichhodzong is the largest dzong in Bhutan and is situated near the Wang Chu River. The Dzong which was initially built in the 17th century by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, was rebuilt in early 1960s by the third King, Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, as the permanent capital of Bhutan. It houses the secretariat and the throne room of the King of Bhutan. It is also the headquarters of the clergy in the capital along with being the summer quarters of the monk body and the Je Khenpo, the spiritual leader and head of the monk body. The dzong is open to visitors during the Thimphu tshechu.
The foundation of the dzong was laid in 1629 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, and was built by Tango Chhoje Mipham Tshweang Tenzin. It was completed in 1631, making it the first dzong ever built in Bhutan. It was rebuilt in 2008, with great emphasis on retaining the original architectural structure intact. At present, it is used as the Royal Institute of Dzongkha Language where Buddhist studies are conducted.
It nestles on a lofty ridge about six kilometers south of Thimphu.
The National Library
Built in the 1960s, the library is located in Chubachu above the golf course and was established to preserve the literary treasures of the Kingdom. The library has a vast collection that includes thousands of manuscripts and ancient texts of Bhutan along with other foreign books. The largest book in the world about Bhutan is also on display.
Bhutan was once known as Lho jong men jong, literally the ‘’southern country of medicinal herbs’’, as Bhutan has an abundance of medicinal herbs. In an attempt to preserve the rich culture and tradition and for the welfare of the people, an indigenous dispensary was opened on 28 June, 1968 at Dechencholing. In 1979 it was upgraded as the National Indigenous Hospital and was shifted to Kawajangsa. In 1988 it was renamed as the National Institute of Traditional Medicine. In 1998, it was upgraded as the Institute of Traditional Medicine Services. 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.
Zorig Chusum, School of 13 Traditional Arts
The school was established in 1971 to preserve the 13 traditional arts of Bhutan. The Zorig Chusum which literally means the 13 arts, includes paintings, carpentry, wood carving, sculpture, casting, metal work, bamboo carving, gold and silver work, weaving, embroidery, masonry, leather work and paper making. However, at the school only seven of the 13 are undertaken. It is located above the National Library and is open to visitors interested in observing Bhutanese traditional art. There is also a small gift shop selling the art work of the students.
The Centenary Farmer’s Market
Thimphu’s weekend market is the biggest market in the country, operating from Friday afternoon till Sunday. A wide range of agricultural produce and other food products from Thimphu and other parts of the country are brought here for trading. A variety of local arts and crafts are also sold at the market. Prices are inflated on Fridays as the vegetables are fresh and as Sunday approaches the prices usually come down. Chilies are the most common of the vegetables sold and one can witness the wide range of in the market.
The Textile and Folk Heritage Museum
Both the museums, opened in 2001, are dedicated to the traditions and lifestyle of Bhutanese. While the Textile Museum beautifully displays the Bhutanese garments from the 1600s up to the present, the Folk Heritage Museum delves into portraying the daily life of the rural folk and allows you to examine a traditional Bhutanese home.
Zangtopelri temple is located next to the Changlimithang Stadium. It is thought of as one of the sacred passes to heaven according to the sacred books of Guru Rinpoche. Renovated in 1960s, the temple possesses some impressive murals and art treasures. The site was a former battleground in 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.
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 animal was created by the great Buddhist yogi, Drukpa Kinley.
Constructed in the 15th century, the lhakhang is considered as one of the oldest temples in Thimphu. Only a few minutes of walk up from the road, it offers a magnificent view of the city below. The main chamber of the monastery houses the graven image of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion.
Tango Goemba, founded by the grandson of the Divine Madman, Drukpa Kinley, is one of Bhutan’s historical monasteries in the Kagyu tradition. It is a 40-minute drive from Thimphu towards Begana, then 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.
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 Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal is said have gained enlightenment.
The Botanical Garden is located in Serbithang, 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 terrific picnic spot.
Coronation Park is located below the Changlimithang stadium on the bank of Thimphu 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.
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.
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.
Also called Drubthob goemba, is one of the few nunneries in Bhutan. Located in Zilukha on a high hill above Tashichhodzong, it houses over 70 nuns. The name Drubthob is of Thangthong Gyalpo, popularly known for building iron bridges during the 15th century. One of his later reincarnations founded the nunnery.
Thimphu Golf Course
Stretching 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 Tashichhodzong right beside the course. There is a clean and homely restaurant where visitors can take a break and also savor some varied local dishes.
Dochu-la is the first mountain pass in the western part of Bhutan under Thimphu District. The ridges are clad with thousands of colorful prayer flags further levitated by the 108 Druk Wangyal chortens, providing a spectacular view. On the hill top stands the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang overseeing the whole pass. On a clear day, the panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain range are simply breathtaking.