One of the world’s most beautiful destinations, Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, attracts tourists from all across the globe. It is famous the world over for its most scenic and natural beauty. Even though Thimphu has developed a lot commercially, it is still deeply rooted in its culture. There’s nothing that makes the atmosphere more serene than the presence of Buddhist monasteries and the musical verses the monks chant. The moment you enter this pristine environment, you feel a hint of positive energy all around. The best part of Thimphu that no one can shrug off is how the old and the new cultures blend so perfectly well together.
Thimphu, of all the incredible places on earth, has a very recent history. It only became the capital city of Bhutan in 1961. It was in 1952 that it was decided to shift the capital from Punakha to Thimphu.
Before being given the capital city designation in 1960 by the then King, Jigme Dorji, Thimphu was only famous as a river valley. The river valley had its hamlets scattered within the region like Taba, Langchupakha, Changlimithan, Motithang… and others. Some of these hamlets are a part of the districts of the city today.
A victorious battle was held in the year 1885 at the Changlimithang sports ground after which the first King of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuk gained control of the whole country. Ever since then this sports ground has held a high importance with major competitions taking place there. Changlimithang Stadium was where the coronation ceremony of Prince Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk happened.
Thimphu shares a part of its history with Bhutan. Buddhist monks used to frequent this region as it was an abode for Buddhist monasteries. And because the history of Bhutan is closely linked to Tibet, it got Vajrayana Buddhism, which is its state religion and cultural identity. The earlier history of Bhutan indicates that many kings frequently fought wars among one another to get a hold of this region. The first king victorious in consolidating the region with the help of the British was Ugyen Wangchuk. As of present day, his successors are the current kings of Bhutan.
It was only in 2008 that there came a transition in Thimphu from having an absolute monarchic rule to a parliamentary democratic constitutional monarchy.
How to Reach
The preferred mode of reaching Thimphu is by plane via Paro, where the country’s only international airport is located. You will have to travel about an hour from Paro to reach Thimphu though.
Also, located in the city center is a bus terminal, from where all inter-district buses arrive and depart. So if you are planning to travel by bus, Thimphu is pretty accessible that way too. Once at the city center, you will not really need transport to get around as it is small enough to be traveled on foot.
Best Time to Visit
Since Thimphu experiences temperate highland climate, the summers are pleasant and warm and the winters are quite chilly. The temperature does go quite low to even -15 degrees Celsius but it happens usually overnight when it snows. If you are not a winter person, then the ideal time to visit Thimphu has to be in the months of September to November (autumn) and March to May (spring), which also happens to be peak tourist season.
Although rain showers are common in the month of September, it shouldn’t really be worrisome as it doesn’t stay for long.
Clothes to Be Carried
It entirely depends on when you’re going. Although the temperature in summers hardly ever exceeds 20 degrees, it is still advisable for you to carry a warm jacket because the nights can get a bit chilly even in summers. Gumboots would also be ideal as light showers are always expected in the summer months.
As for winters, a warm jacket or two is a must along with other usual winter necessities. Don’t forget to carry gloves and a cap to keep yourself warm.
Places to Visit
Located on the northern edge of the city and on the western bank of Wang Chu, Trashi Chho Dzong or Thimphu Dzong is an impressive Buddhist monastery and fortress. You’ll be amazed to know that only within this fortress, there are about thirty temples, chapels and shrines. What is surprising about Tashichö-Dzong is that even though it has been destroyed by fire so many times, it still stands erect as of today.
The Memorial Stupa
Popularly known as Thimphu Chorten, the Memorial Stupa is located in the southern central part of Thimphu on Deoboom Lam. The stupa was built in the memory of the late Third King of Bhutan and when you visit this beautiful large stupa, you will realize how dedicated the Bhutanese are to their Kings. It is what Bhutan is all about, their culture leaves you spell-bound.
The Weekend Market
So this may not really be a tourist attraction per se, but going to the weekend market is an absolute must if you happen to be visiting Thimphu. Although it is a regular farmer’s market yet having to experience the local Bhutanese trade is a different feeling altogether. The market runs from Thursday to Sunday. You could buy local veggies and fruit if you must.
When you’re in Thimphu, you can’t possibly miss this gigantic Shakyamuni Buddhist statue (over 50m high) in the mountains overlooking the valley of Thimpu. If you’re lucky enough, you may even witness the monks’ leader reciting their scriptures and trust us, it is a sight to see. Seeing thousands of monks throng the prayer hall is a common sight and you’ll be amazed to see how wonderful it feels.
National Institute for Zorig Chusum
National Institute for Zorig Chusum or the painting school, as it is commonly called, is the center for Bhutanese art education. When you visit the school you will see how they are so dedicated to preserving, maintaining and promoting their local art and craft. Not only painting but sculpting and wood-work are also taught here. And the way youngsters learn it with utmost dedication is simply amazing to witness.
Motithang Takin Preserve
This place is for the animal lover in you. This is where the national animal of Bhutan - Takin can be found. In appearance, a Takin is a goat-antelope and when you get a sight of this animal you’ll know why people say it is bizarre looking. Motithang Takin Preserve was originally a zoo but was later converted to a preserve. Although it may not be too big for you to spend your entire day, spending a few hours in nature is well worth it. If you’re looking for the best time to visit this preserve, it has to be in the morning as that is when most of the animals gather around the fence for their feedings.
Established in the 12th century, this is one of the most visited Buddhist temples in Thimphu. Most people in Bhutan visit this sacred place for naming ceremony i.e. they give auspicious names to their newly born. It is absolutely full of positive and spiritual energy and you really would not want to go back from there. Make sure you visit this place at least once when you’re in Bhutan.
Royal Textile Academy or The Bhutan Textile Museum
Dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Bhutanese textiles, the Bhutan Textile Museum is considered very important from the traditional and cultural aspects. It was established to train individuals in the traditional Bhutanese weaving art. The wedding clothes worn by the fourth king and his four wives are exhibited here among many other things. This museum is definitely well-worth a visit if you want a closer look at the culture through its fabric weaving.
National Folk Heritage Museum
Located in the heart of the city, this museum takes you back to the lives of people of Bhutan in the past. How they lived a simplistic life, showing the techniques used for constructing homes, milling grains etc. and the best part is that it is very well maintained. Not only that, you’ll witness some of the most intricate embroidery and Thangka painting happening live.
The people of Thimphu are deeply rooted in their culture. But if there’s one thing that distinguishes them from other traditionalist societies is the fact that they are so open to adapting to change, while still holding their grounds. Thimphu is an outwardly vibrant place that leaves a mark on your life. Its pristine surroundings and serene atmosphere make you leave the place with utmost positivity and you want to keep coming back.
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