Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan, is a place to indulge in the city life of a modernized kingdom. The life in the valley gives you an opportunity to experience the magical old-world charm and the modern amenities, both at the same time. The city offers excellent varieties of local and international cuisines for the food lovers, remarkable architecture for the eyes of those seeking beauty and museums and serene landscape for those willing to explore the culture. We spent quite a few days in Thimphu and saw almost all major points of interest at our own pace, without the help of any tour guide or travel agent. In our opinion, some of the best things to do in Thimphu are:
The most prominent structure in Thimphu is Tashichho Dzong or Thimphu Dzong.
The entry for foreign tourists is allowed only between 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm (as of March 2015). Even if you reach early, i.e., during the natural day-light, you should stay till the Dzong is lit up. It is an altogether different sight – feels heavenly. You can hire a local taxi to the Dzong or walk to the place if you are close to the Norzin Lam. I would recommend a walk unless you are hard pressed on time. This gives you an opportunity to see many local places and see lifestyle of people on your feet. The Dzong has administrative buildings and a Lakhang – a place of interest for tourists. Inside the
The Dzong has administrative buildings and a Lakhang – a place of interest for tourists. Inside the Lakhang there is a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha and his two disciples. You can spend some time admiring the huge statues made up of Bronze, the interior of the place, thousands of miniatures of Buddha and sit for a few minutes to meditate or relax. Clicking pictures inside most of the Lakhangs isn’t permitted, however, even the exterior faces of the Dzong are very beautiful and worth capturing.
Buddha Point or Buddha Dordenma Statue
A 51.5 meter tall statue of Buddha is a sheer pleasure for the eyes of Buddha followers. It is situated high up on a hill, somewhere around 5-6 km from the main town, in a serene and blissful environment. The statue stands on a broad flat region on the hill and the place provides you enough space to appreciate the statue from various angles and distances. Construction is still ongoing at this place and the information provided on a standee reads that Bhutanese want to create the 8th wonder of the world by completing this project. Upon completion, the small building below Buddha statue is expected to house around 1 Lakh miniatures of Buddha statue, some of which will be made up of gold and some in bronze. I am very keen to visit it once again when the construction is over.
I think it would be wiser if people (even us) sat and meditated here for a while, or if people tried to experience the breeze and calmness of the surrounding rather than just appreciating the statue and returning back to the town. It would be even better if we could hire a one-way taxi to the top, spend an hour at the Buddha point and then trek down to the town. The Buddha Point and the route to the town both offer many incredible views of the valley and you would be lucky if it’s raining.
We hired a taxi for to and fro and the driver charged us Rs. 500/- which included waiting for an hour at the Buddha Point.
While returning, we spotted a beautiful structure, quite different from the normal buildings, while returning from the Buddha Point and asked the driver to take us to this point. It turned out to be another attraction on our list – The National Memorial Chorten.
National Memorial Chorten
A monument built in the memory of the third king. Usually, the dead remains of the kings or monks are kept inside a Chorten, however, this Chorten has only a picture of the king. We were allowed inside the campus of the Chorten, not inside the main building and hence we just admired the building from outside, clicked few pictures, gave a whirl to the prayer wheels and left.
This monument is also at a walkable distance from Norzin Lam. We reached here around 5:00 pm and found it to be a good time to visit the place.
There are a number of other places to see, but I feel hungry thinking about Thimphu. Yes, Thimphu is a place for food lovers. So let me share you few good places to eat in Thimphu.
Food in Thimphu
Try Authentic Bhutanese Cuisines at Bhutan Kitchen or Folk Heritage Museum
We tried Bhutan Kitchen’s buffet for getting a taste of the local Bhutanese cuisines. The taste was awesome and I couldn’t resist but had more than usual. Their style of serving, cutlery, and the food, everything was just excellent. We sat on the table adjacent to the glass windows from where we could get a good view of the lit up stadium and the neighboring street. The staff started serving with a welcome drink called Saki – a local rice brew. Not sure about the taste as I didn’t try it, but the wooden container that they used for serving was quite an antique one.
The buffet had a number of curries named Emma Datse, Kewa Datse and Shyama Datse, served along with white and local red rice. Datse is a local cheese form made from Yak’s milk which is used in almost all the local curries and Emma means chillies, Kewa means potatoes and Shyama means Mushrooms.
The taste of everything was superb and I found the experience worth the money.
Even the restaurant at the Folk Heritage Museum offers a similar buffet. It’s just that the ambiance is a little different and the place is a little far from the main town. Folk Heritage Museum also has an A-la-carte menu and gives you an advantage if you don’t feel like eating the full meal.
Momos at Zombala 2
Zombala 2 served us the most delicious Momos we had ever tried. They have varieties of Momos which include a combination of fried and steamed veg and meat momos. Though the ambiance of the place isn’t very classy, the quality of food is quite good. Service staff might make you feel awkward but you start liking them after 2-3 visits.
I am sure you too need a cup of tea/coffee or snacks at some point during the day and Ambient café is a good place to choose from varieties of drinks and hang out for some time. The café’s ambiance is quite elegant and modern and you can sit for hours as they also give you good speed free internet. We had tried a Jasmine Pearl Tea and a few sandwich varieties here which were all good at reasonable prices.
Other interesting cafes were:
- The Art café and
- The Swiss Bakery
Both of these are right next to Hotel Peddling, near Norzin Lam. Norzin Lam seems like the most interesting place to stay in Thimphu. Everything of interest is around it only.
OK if you have had enough food and are now in the mood to see some places, I have some more on the list.
National Institute of Zorig Chusum – A School of Art and Crafts
A unique school where students are taught 14 different types of skills and tourists can buy a ticket to go inside their classrooms, watch them working on their projects and to see how Bhutanese are preserving their inherited skills. It was far from Norzin Lam, however, we preferred to walk and saw some interesting craft shops, handicrafts museum and the National Library of Bhutan on our way to the school.
We visited a craft shop called Sangeyn Handicrafts which had quite a good collection of the locally crafted items, souvenirs, and some pieces produced by school of arts and crafts. However, everything was too expensive and hence we didn’t buy anything.
National Textile Museum
A place where you can see local varieties of fabrics and the artwork done on the clothes in the form of embroidery, weaving, coloring, etc. When we visited the place, a competition was ongoing and we could see contestants in the action. The location of the Museum, with green hills in the backdrop, and the architecture of the building, both are ideal to inspire creativity.
Authentic Arts and Crafts Market
About 1 km from ‘Zombala 2’ restaurant is the art and craft market – a long row of small but elegantly constructed cottage like shops which sell the authentic local craft of Bhutan. The pictures of Buddha (created using some form of gold ) on the silk-like cloth, the antique turquoise kettles, the prayer wheels, traditional Bhutanese dresses and shoes, and other local products will definitely win your heart. However, everything being sold here is way too expensive and so is it in the other shops of Bhutan.
Folk Heritage Museum
Folk heritage museum is definitely worth a visit if you want to see the traditional Bhutanese houses, how they use to live, cook, pray and enjoy. Everything to the scale has been preserved/recreated here to give you a feel of the typical Bhutanese houses, the traditional utensils, their kitchens and prayer rooms, the way they smoke cheese in their kitchen and the instruments they use to play music in their houses. So, you can just buy a ticket and go take a walk around all by yourself, as there are explanatory notes glued everywhere.
Zangto Peri Lakhang – South of the weekend market
A lakhang which we came across while roaming around and which was not our list of places to visit. We had to spend a good bit of time here as we got stuck because of the heavy rain. However, it gave us an opportunity to peep inside their prayer place where we weren’t allowed to enter, and to talk to few local people, which was a good experience.
Hotels in Thimphu
There are a number of good hotels in Thimphu. We stayed at two hotels and had good experience.
- Hotel Peddling – The hotel is situated adjacent to the most happening lane, called Norzin Lam in the capital city Thimphu. The hotel rooms are quite luxurious for the tariff. They have nice wooden flooring, a cozy bed, a quite spacious and elegant bathroom and a room heater. Later we realized that unlike other hotels in Bhutan they had quite advanced systems like smart keys for the rooms, and facility to press a switch from the comfort of your bed and give an indication whether you would like your rooms to be cleaned or not, etc. They had a good restaurant as well which offered delicious Indian, Bhutanese and Continental food. I also checked their SPA facility which also had a very pleasant ambiance and aesthetics. The staff was also very courteous and helpful all the time.
- Hotel Taktsang – Hotel Taktsang can be preferred if you are looking for a decent accommodation at a reasonable tariff. The second good thing about the hotel is it’s at a prime location. The rooms have wooden flooring, nicely done bed and a heater. Bathrooms are just average, and the water in the taps was a problem during the time we stayed there. The staff is also courteous and helpful. Most of the tourists staying at the hotel were Indian only, who usually come in a package tour from Jaigaon border. There are many good restaurants and cafes close to the hotel and hence a good choice for food lovers