Altitude : 2400m/7875ft
The Kingdom’s capital city is home to approximately 100,000 inhabitants including the Royal family. This bustling little city is the main center of commerce, religion, and government in the country.
Thimphu is the most modern city in Bhutan with an abundance of restaurants, internet cafes, nightclubs and shopping centers, however it still retains its’ cultural identity and values amidst the signs of modernization. The juxtaposition of ancient tradition and modernity make Thimphu the ideal location for visitors to break away from their tour itinerary and just immerse themselves in the lifestyle of contemporary Bhutanese. Thimphu is one of the few towns in Bhutan that have been equipped with ATM banking facilities and is a good place to stock up on some currency.
Highlights : One of the most curious features of Thimphu is that it is the only capital city in the world that does not use traffic lights. Instead a few major intersections have policemen standing in elaborately decorated booths (small pavilions), directing traffic with exaggerated hand motions.
Places To See
- Longchenpa’s Seven Treasuries – (Longchen Dzo Dun) – The complete set of printingblocks for the edition of the Seven Treasuries originally commissioned by Dodrup Chen Rinpoche in Gangtok (c. 1968).
- Collected Works of Padma Karpo (Kunkhyen Ka-bum) – A complete set of xylographic printing blocks of the complete works of Kunkhyen Padma Karpo.
The Bhutan Post Office, located in the heart of Thimphu City, is a must stop for travellers who want to send post cards and packages to loved ones. The Post Office has a large collection of stamps that are kept for sale. The special feature of the post office is that you can get a postage stamp made with your own photo inscribed on it and these stamps can be used for postage purposes as well. The cost is very nominal which include the value of stamp as well.
Hard-core philatelists might be interested in this new museum, attached to the post office. Five galleries trace the development of the Bhutanese postal system, from the earliest mail runners to Bhutan’s idiosyncratic and highly collectable modern stamps.
The Botanical Garden is a part of the National Biodiversity Centre and will focus on growing plants from Bhutan. The aim is to showcase examples of the country’s beautiful flora and to encourage the conservation of biodiversity. The rock garden is a unique blend of eastern and western horticultural styles. The medicinal plants area is also full of interest. The orchids in the orchidarium and tropical plants in the glass houses are interesting throughout the year. Some of the shrubs and flowerbeds have more seasonal interest.
Taking Preserve is a wildlife reserve area for takin, the national animal of Bhutan. Originally a mini-zoo, it was converted into a preserve when it was discovered that the animals refrained from inhabiting the surrounding forest even when set free. The reason for declaring takin as a national animal of Bhutan on 25 November 2005 (Budorcas taxicolor) is attributed to a legend of the animal’s creation in Bhutan in the 15th century by Lama Drukpa Kuenley. The best time to see them is early morning when they gather near the fence to feed.
Tango and Cheri Monasteries
Tango and Cheri Monasteries are situated in the North of the Thimphu Valley. They are placed on the steep hills facing one another that can summited by a short hike. Tango monastery was founded by Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa as a monastic school in the 12th century. The present Tango Monastery was built in the 15th century by the ‘divine madman’, Lama Drukpa Kuenley. Tango is the residence of an important young reincarnate lama recognized as the seventh reincarnation of Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye. There’s a cave where we will have to go through and come out from the other end. It is a mythological belief that a person having bad intentions will be trapped inside. Cheri Monastery founded by Phajo Drugom Zhipo serves as a meditation center. The present structure was built in 1620 by the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal with a silver chorten inside the temple that holds the ashes of his father.
The two monasteries overlook Dodena that serves as a beautiful lunch spot by the Thimphu riverbank.
Ser Bhum Brewery
Ser Bhum literally translates to Golden Vase. In 2016, Ser Bhum Brewery started producing genuinely Bhutanese high quality and flavorful craft beers with the motto: “Simply Craft, Celebrate Bhutan.” The Brewery has a Tasting Room on the way to Dochhula from Thimphu, where visitors can enjoy the three craft beers on tap, learn about brewing, and different beer styles, or simply relax with a pint of beer at this oasis on the road of life.
Dochula and Druk Wangyel Tshechu
Dochula pass at 3100m/10,170ft is located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu. The pass is a popular location among tourists as it offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of Himalayan mountain range. The view is especially scenic on clear, winter days with snowcapped mountains forming a majestic backdrop to the tranquility of the 108 chortens, known as Druk Wangyal Chortens, gracing the mountain pass. The construction of these 108 chortens were commissioned by the eldest Queen Mother, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck to honor His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Singye Wangchuck.
The pass is also popular spiritual destination for both locals and tourists because an important temple is located on the crest of Dochula pass.
The Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival was established in 2011 in commemoration of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo and the Armed Forces’ victory over Indian insurgent forces residing in southern Bhutan in 2003. Druk Wangyel Festival is an annual festival held on December 13th at the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang Festival Ground in Dochula. Set amidst this breathtaking backdrop, the Dochula Druk Wangyal Tsehchu is an experience unlike any other and truly exemplifies Bhutanese cultural traditions.
The Druk Wangyal Lhakhang was built over a period of four years (2004-2008) under the vision and patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo. The Lhakhang honors the courageous service of the Fourth King, who personally led the troops against the insurgents, as well as the regular Armed Forces of the country
Thimphu Dromchoe and Tshechu
One of the biggest festivals in the country is the Thimphu Tshechu. This festival is held in the capital city for three days beginning on 10th day of the 8th month of lunar calendar. Thimphu Tshechu is witnessed by thousands of people many of which travel from neighboring Dzongkhags (districts) to attend the festivities. The actual Tshechu is preceded by days and nights of prayer and rituals to invoke the gods. Read more about Tshechu here
Besides the annual three day Tshechu, Thimphu also celebrates a one-day festival known as the Thimphu Dromchoe. The day long festival dates back to the 17th century. It was first introduced by Kuenga Gyeltshen in 1710, who was recognized as the reincarnation of Jampel Dorji, son of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel. The Dromchoe is celebrated 3 days prior to the Thimphu Tshechu.
The Dromchoe showcases the sacred dances dedicated to the chief female protective deity of Bhutan, Palden Lhamo. Legend has it, that the deity Pelden Lhamo appeared before Kuenga Gyeltshen and performed the dances while he was in meditation. Based on these dances, Kuenga Gyaltshen initiated the Dromchoe.
Constructed in 1629 by Zhabdring Ngawang Namgyel, Simtokha Dzong is the oldest dzong in the country. The name Simtokha literally means “Atop a Demoness.” The local legend narrates that the dzong was built in order to subdue an evil spirit that was harassing the travelers in the region.
Simtokha Dzong houses a large statue of Yeshay Gonpo or Mahakala, the chief protective deity of Bhutan in addition to countless exquisite religious statues and paintings. Another interesting aspect of the dzong is that it contains the bedchambers of both Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and Jigme Namgyel – Zhabdrung was the revered Tibetan lama who first unified Bhutan as a nation and Jigme Namgyel was the father of the first King of Bhutan Druk Gyalpo Ugyen Wangchuck.
The Jungshi Paper Factory
The Jungshi handmade paper factory uses traditional methods to produce traditional Bhutanese paper known as Desho from the bark of Daphne and Dhekap trees. Desho paper was originally used by monasteries for woodblock, manuscript books, and for writing prayer books.
Visitors can observe the ancient traditional methods that have been preserved and practiced for generations. You can even try your hand at this ancient craft and make some paper of your very own as a souvenir! You can also buy stationery and greeting cards made of Desho paper!
The Centenary Farmer’s Market
People from across the country come to Thimphu to sell agriculture produce and a whole gamut of goods in the weekend farmer’s market. The weekend market is a place where people from all walks of life congregate to buy the entire week’s rations. Some customers, especially the foreigners are more interested in buying small traditional Bhutanese souvenirs with choices ranging from decoration pieces like carved wooden masks, wooden bowls, and hand loomed fabrics to jewelry that are beautiful and antique.
The Craft Bazaar, situated in the heart of Thimphu, is an outlet to sell authentic Bhutanese arts and craft items made in various parts of the country. It a mile-long row of almost 100 shops made of bamboo and other eco-friendly material. The shops were allotted to womenfolk on the condition that they would only sell products that were produced in Bhutan and not imported products from other countries. In addition to providing employment opportunities within the structure, it will also provide indirect employment opportunities to artisans across the country.
Zilukha Nunnery, formally known as Thangthong Dewachen Nunnery, was built in 1976 by the 16th emanation of Thangtong Gyalpo, Drubthob Rikey Jadrel. Currently, the nunnery is home to about 70 nuns.
The temple is one of the oldest in Thimphu, built in the 12th century. The site was chosen by Phajo Drugom Zhipo. After the death of his son Nyima, his descendants took care of the monastery. Its silhouette, perched high on a spur, is a landmark of Thimphu. The prayer books in this monastery are larger than the usual Buddhist texts. Tourists are not allowed inside the temple without a permit, but one can sit next to the prayer flag and enjoy a good vista over the Thimphu Valley.
National Textile Museum
Since its establishment in 2001, the National Textile Museum has generated national and international attention and has garnered a substantial collection of antique textile artifacts, exclusive to Bhutan. It also exhibits colorful and rare kiras and ghos (traditional Bhutanese dress, kira for women and gho for men). The objective of setting up the museum is to promote Bhutan's achievements in the field of textile arts and to sustain and promote interest of the weavers to continue the traditional textile patterns.
Traditional Medicine Institute
The Institute supplies traditional medicines and medical services, trains doctors, andconducts 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.
The Institute offers a five-year course leading to a bachelor's degree for physicians, and a three-year diploma course for the compounders who create the medicines. The pharmaceutical and research unit produces the 103 essential compounds in the traditional medicine list, and directs cultivation of the medicinal plants. You can visit the institute’s museum that showcases ingredients that include herbs, minerals, precious metals, gems and animal parts that have healing abilities.
The National Library was established in 1967 for the purpose of preserving and promotingthe rich cultural and religious heritage of Bhutan. The library’s memory bank houses many important documents including old records, old letters and around seven thousandimportant photographs. The archives also hold microfilms of many other important documents. Some artifacts to look out for are:
Voluntary Artists Studio
Voluntary Artists Studio, popularly known as VAST, was set up in 1998 by a group of professional artists as a non-profitable and non-governmental organization (NGO). This informal organization was set up with the sole aim of providing an opportunity to the Bhutanese youth to participate and develop their potential talents as well as share social responsibilities through artistic explorations and other socially useful and productive work. Its primary objective is to provide potential vocational skills and alternative positive use of free time and facilitate participation in the national and international art realm. The art works of these young artists is also available on sale in the 'Art Shop Gallery' of the studio.
National Institute for Zorig Chusum
Zorig Chusum is the Thirteen Traditional Crafts of Bhutan, an essential part of Bhutan’s cultural heritage that have been practiced from time immemorial. These arts were formally categorized during the reign of Gyalse Tenzin Rabgay, the fourth temporal ruler of Bhutan. The Institute offers 4-6 years of training on Zorig Chusum that are categorized as follows: paper making; stonework; blacksmithing; clay arts; painting; bronze casting; wood, slate, and stone carving; woodturning; woodworking; weaving; silver- and gold-smithing; cane and bamboo work; and needle work. On your visit, you will observe and interact with students under training as well as buy souvenirs made by the students.
Folk Heritage Museum
The Folk Heritage Museum, set inside a three storied 19th century traditional house, was established in 2001. The Museum provides visitors and tourists with fascinating insights into the Bhutanese way of life in addition to artifacts from rural households. The museum also organizes regular demonstrations of rural traditions, skills, habits and customs as well as hosting educational programs for children. The activities of the museum follow a seasonal rhythm, just like the activities of a true rural household, offering you something new to see every time you visit the place. Some objects to look out for are: a traditional water-mill with mill stones more than 150 years old, traditional style kitchen gardens with vegetables that were typically grown during the past 100 years, and one of the traditional hot stone baths that are famous throughout the country.
Tourists may also avail the special offers of the museum at a nominal fee with an advance booking of at least one week. These include demonstrations of the traditional way of extracting oil, brewing local spirits, roasting and pounding rice. The museum also organizes an open-air buffet lunch and dinner for groups of five or more offering visitors a taste of traditional dishes from every region of the Kingdom.
Buddha Dordenma Statue
The Buddha Dordenma Statue overlooking Thimphu valley is one of the largest statues of the Buddha in the world measuring 51.5 meters in height. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. The statue fulfills an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world.
National Memorial Chorten
The Memorial Chorten is a monument honoring the Third King and World Peace. Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’ and serve as a prime exemplar of Buddhist architecture and artwork with its gorgeous paintings and intricate sculptures. Visitors will find elderly Bhutanese people circumambulating the Memorial Chorten throughout the day. The chorten is a large white structure crowned with a golden spire. It is located close to the center of Thimphu city and is one of its most iconic monuments.
Tashichho Dzong 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. The dzong is located close to Thimphu town, next to the banks of the Wangchhu River. It is an impressively large structure, surrounded by well-kept lawns and beautiful gardens.
It was first constructed in 1216 A.D. by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the Tibetan lama who unified Bhutan, 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 Jigme Dorji Wangchuck had it completely renovated and enlarged over five years after he moved the capital to Thimpu in 1952 in traditional style using neither nails nor written plans.