Bhutan Road Trip – Exploring Thimphu
Thimphu is the capital and economic city of Bhutan. The capital is also home to Bhutan’s royal family along with local residents. Thimphu is a blend of traditional and cultural vibes along with comfort of modern amenities. This city is the heart of Bhutan in every aspect. Almost every building, commercial or residential is adorned with beautiful Bhutanese architectural design. The combination of traditional outlook and modern cosmopolitan gives Thimphu a unique identity. Thimphu does not have its own airport, but relies on the Paro Airport connected by road some 54 kilometres away. Thimphu also does not have traffic signal in city and vehicular movement is moderated by traffic police. The culture of Bhutan is fully reflected in Thimphu in literature, religion, customs, and national dress code, the monastic practices of the monasteries, music, and dance, and in the media. We tried our best to cover maximum attractions as well as delve into cultural aspect of Thimphu and in the end it was a wonderful experience. The best part is that all these places are not very far apart and can be reached with 30 minutes maximum time. The first place that we visited was National Memorial Chorten just 5 minutes away from our hotel.
A glimpse of Thimphu’s architecture and streets:
National Memorial Chorten
The Memorial Chorten, also known as the ‘Thimphu Chorten’, is located on Doeboom Lam in the southern-central part of the city. The chorten was built in 1974 to honour the 3rd King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1928–1972). This prominent landmark in the city has golden spires and bells. This chorten is popularly known as “the most visible religious landmark in Bhutan”. It is designed as a Tibetan style chorten, also called as the Jangchup Chorten, patterned on the design of a classical stupa, with a pyramidal pillar crowned by a crescent of Moon and Sun. The feature that is distinct here is the outward flaring of the rounded part to give the shape of a vase, rather than a dome shape. Chorten means ‘Seat of Faith’. Mostly elderly people visit the Chorten to pray, meditate and meet each other particularly near room-size giant prayer wheels beside the main entrance. While visit this Chorten, one should give respect to people who are offering their prayers & meditating. There was another room near the chorten where people offer their prayer light lamp. It was very enlightening experience where we came closer to ourselves. The calmness and positivity was omnipresent there. After offering our prayers we proceeded ahead towards Buddha Statue.
A glimpse of National Memorial Chorten:
Buddha Dordenma Statue
The Buddha Dordenma is a bronze statue, a ‘Vajra Throne’ Buddha, that is constructed amidst the ruins of Kuensel Phodrang, overlooking Thimphu city, about 100 metres above the Wang Chuu river. This location was the palace of Sherab Wangchuck, the 13th Desi Druk. It is a gigantic Shakyamuni Buddha statue and considered as the largest Buddha statue in world with a height of 51.5 meters. It houses thousands of small Buddha statues and they are also being made of bronze and gilded in gold. The throne where this massive Buddha Statue Dordenma has been constructed is a large meditation hall. It has become the most prominent tourist spot in the capital, which also offers a bird’s eye view of the entire city.
The statue can be accessed directly by road or can be approached by a steep staircase as well. After reaching vicinity, it felt like we have reached another world which is free of pride and prejudice. Peace, beauty, & positive energy were omnipresent there. We spent beautiful time near the statue and looked at every sculpture crafted there. An amazing sight indeed!
A glimpse of Buddha Dordenma:
The National Folk Heritage Museum
The National Folk Heritage Museum takes you to the roots of Bhutanese culture and gives a glimpse of traditional Bhutanese lifestyle. It depicts the traditional rural household artifacts, tools, a good collection of typical household objects, and way of life. A rural set up has been created inside that truly shows its visitors the Bhutanese way of life. There were live demonstration of textiles and food items inside the set up. Post visiting museum we went to a restaurant inside the campus that serves authentic Bhutanese cuisines. They have a set menu in vegetarian and non-vegetarian category that predominantly include Red rice, Butter Tea (Suja), buckwheat pancake, Emma Datshi (The national Dish of Bhutan), non vegetarian dishes, and spicy salad. They serve the food in wooded bowls. The taste buds compelled us to have a go at the local cuisine and believe us we enjoyed it to the core.
A glimpse of Heritage Museum:
The Craft Market
The half a kilometre long synchronised and symmetrical shops made up of bamboo alongside main road is a must visit place in Thimphu. It is one the most vibrant place in Thimphu for compulsive buyers. This market offers a wide range of Bhutanese art and craft products. Women are also found weaving in their looms in the shops itself. From handmade papers, bags, paintings, traditional attires, products made of bamboo, to the famous traditional masks, it offers almost everything. It’s actually a great place to buy souvenirs.
A glimpse of Craft Market:
If you think that Bhutan is all about traditional lifestyle, then you will have to change your perception. One must experience the night life of the capital city of Bhutan. There are many pubs in the city with live band performance. We visited one of the popular pubs in the city and were amazed by the atmosphere inside the pub. The crowd was very decent and youngsters were enjoying their drinks with the live band music. Otherwise clad in their traditional attire, the Bhutanese youth come to Pub in their western clothing. We must appreciate the performance of live band at the pub, it was outstanding. Also, the pub had high-quality ambience, entertainment, food, and music.
Overall, Thimphu is a place that needs to be explored and has variety that keeps you on your feet. From a peaceful Momerial Chorten & Buddha Statue to nightlife, a showcase of traditional lifestyle & local cuisine to craft market. There are other places of interest as well in the city which we were not able to cover:
- Tashichho Dzong
- Takin Reserve
- National Textile Museum
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