Sight-Seeing in Thimpu (Bhutan)

Calling Thimpu a city seems to be a misnomer. It’s a town – a small town (by Indian standards). Nestled in a valley, with the Wan Chhu river flowing through the middle, Thimpu looked to me every bit of a happy town. Sonam, our guide, had asked us to be ready by 9.30. And 9.30 on the dot we were out! To see Thimpu thourough J Being keen to see local culture and lifestyle of the country we visit, we had requested Sonam to take us to places with the local feel. He obliged us with a few places which were not in the official itinerary. Will tell you about them in the course of this post.

National Memorial Chorten: National Memorial Chorten, almost right across Hotel Druk, is where we went first. The memorial for the third king of Bhutan, even in the early morning hour, you will find a number of Bhutanese going round the stupa with their rosaries and praying.

Buddha Point: Next, we headed for the giant-sized Buddha (not in the official itinerary) we had seen even before we entered Thimpu the previous day. The gates were closed though as the premises were undergoing repair work. We had to contend with taking photos from the roads and slopes below. Don’t worry, you do get some very good shots from the road as well.

Trashichhoe Dzong (Fortress of Glorious Religion): A 15-min drive from the Buddha Point, and we were at the Trashichhoe Dzong, or the Fortress of Glorious Religion in the heart of the Thimpu Valley. A massive, impressive structure with well-manicured grounds and flowers filled gardens,  the Trashichhoe Dzong is a seat of power housing the Throne Room of the King of Bhutan and that of the Chief Abbot of Bhutan. The Dzong also houses the Main Secretariat Building. The Palace of the Royals is close by and covered on all sides by trees. The Parliament, on the other side of the river, is visible from the grounds and the verandahs of the Dzong. A fantastic structure, it takes about an hour to be oriented with its history, to admire the workmanship and paintings and sculptures, and to take photographs.

Institutes & Museums in Thimpu:Your itinerary will definitely have the following museums as must-visits. They are flocked close to one another and take a total of about 75-90 minutes to tour. We recommend it since you get a good acquaintance of Bhutanese life and values here.

  • Institute for Zorig Chusum: This is the Arts & Crafts School in Thimpu where students are given free training on painting, sculpting, embroidery, weaving etc. About a 30-minute tour, you can see students in their classes while on a visit of the Zorig Chusum.
  • National Library of Bhutan: A 2-min walk from the Zorig Chusum will get you to the National Library housing Bhutan’s ancient books and manuscripts, books for tourists and the largest book in the world. The National Library tour takes just about 10-minutes.
  • Phelchey Toenkhyim or the Folk Heritage Museum: Another 2-min walk from the National Library will get you to the Heritage Museum that gives a peek into the rural life of the Bhutanese — a house that shows how the people of Bhutan live and pray, a garden that shows what they grow for food, an apple orchard, a wheat crushing wheel that runs by water. The tour will take about 20 minutes.
  • National Museum of Textiles: This museum houses the dresses worn by the Royals in Bhutan. The tour takes about 10 minutes. And then there is a small store from where you could buy jewellery, stoles, jackets etc. Found them to be exorbitantly priced!

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Farmer’s Market: Again, not in the official itinerary, Sonam suggested we see the Farmer’s Market to see what the ‘Bhutanese eat’! We jumped at the prospect – true, there couldn’t be a better way to acquaint your self with local flavours! And it’s only when you go to a Bhutanese market that you know why Imrat Datshi is their national dish. So many varieties of Chillies there!!

ChanglimithangArchery Ground in Thimpu: Another diversion from our official itinerary, Sonam took us to see the Changlimithan Archery Ground in Thimpu. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan, and it was interesting to see how even the commoners play it. Just off the main city square, you can enter the ground without having to buy tickets. Generally a group of men gather to play it, and keep making rounds from one end to other for their targets. On a real match day, the place could be crowded though.

Bhutan Takin Preserve in Motithang: Takins, goat antelopes, are the national animal of Bhutan. Considering my daughter’s and husband’s love for animals, we couldn’t leave Bhutan without going to this Preserve. About 10 minutes drive from the city square in Thimpu, the Reserve is well maintained, and you could spend upto 30 minutes checking out the Takins and clicking them. The Reserve is on a high hill, and we couldn’t help walk down about a kilometer on our way back, it being a lovely day and a lovely stretch of road.

Although the list of must-visits in Thimpu seems to be long, Thimpu being a very small town, every place is within a 10 minute drive, without any traffic problems or parking problems. This means, you can actually cover all of the above in a day and still have time for shopping and strolling in the Thimpu city square in the evening!