Having spent a significant part of my life in busy metro cities of India, I always dreamt how life would be in the high mountains, in the mighty Himalayas. I had never thought, in the enormous landscape of the Himalayas, I would first land up to explore the small kingdom of Bhutan. A country, not so usually talked about, not so much described in travel blogs, is flourishing with its well preserved culture and landscape. So, here we are penning down the third part from our Bhutan travel diaries – ‘Best places to visit in Thimphu’ in the form of a Travelogue.
Oh, forgot to mention – this also happens to be my (Sonakshi’s) debut blog-post. 🙂
Our Thimphu Travelogue
with a list of best places to visit in Thimphu…
As soon as we got our entry permit done at Phuentsholing immigration office, we decided to start for Thimphu. It was already 4 pm and being some thousand meters above sea level, it was getting dark quickly. Although we had the option of taking a taxi or the last public bus to Thimphu, we chose the latter so as to experience the local. Bus fare from Phuentsholing to Thimphu is only Rs.230 (~ $4) per person, and advance booking is not required; however, only one bus leaves every hour.
Enjoying the glaze of the setting sun and the cold breeze, we dozed off. Half way, we woke up to realize that the bus was running at high speed crossing through turns and hair-pin bends with ease. It was pitch dark outside but the driver was in full comfort relying on the fog lights and his years of experience. We held each other’s hands and were able to feel our pumped-up heartbeats. We don’t want to dissuade anyone from taking this exciting bus journey, however would recommend to travel in daylight.
Hotels in Thimphu
The roller-coaster ride continued for over 6 hours and at around 10 pm, the bus entered Thimphu town. The terminus is about a couple of kilometers away from the main Thimphu city. After getting down from the bus, we found that roads were empty and there were no taxis available. Taking help from a few locals, we walked to the main city. Norzin Lam is the main road in Thimphu with multiple hotels on both sides of the road. After bargaining through a few hotels, we checked into Hotel Shantideva. (use this link to book your stay, and get Rs.700 off)
All the hotels have the typical Bhutanese architecture; however, inside they are decorated with contemporary furniture and design. It was a quick check-in followed by a delicious Bhutanese dinner and we called off our day.
Places to visit in Thimphu
The next day, we started out early knowing that there are a bunch of amazing places to visit in Thimphu and also that we only had one day. From a local tour agent, we booked a cab at Rs. 2000 to roam around Thimphu city. Taxis in Thimphu or Paro are available at the fixed rates of Rs.2000 for city trip and Rs.2500 for inter-city trip. It’s generally said that Bhutanese don’t like bargaining, however, we bargained to our heart’s content at almost all the places of Bhutan, except restaurants, where the prices are fixed.
So, here is a list of places we visited:
- National Chorten
- Budhdha Dordenma
- Changangkha lakhang
- National Folk Heritage museum
- Royal Botanical Garden
- Motihang Takin reserve forest
- Tashichho Dzong
Bhutanese people and their peaceful prayers
Starting it well..
Our day started with the National Memorial Chorten. Located in the heart of the city, it’s a beautiful piece of architecture, built in memory of the third king of Bhutan in 1974. (Chorten means mind of Budhdha) Looking from a distance, it’s like a giant whitewashed marble piece set among the green pastures. Patterned on the design of a classical stupa with a pyramidal pillar, the golden spire makes it look gorgeous! Entire day, you will find people circumambulating the Chorten. It felt immense peace and tranquility, studying the smiling, contented faces of the elderly men and the women, as they chant silent prayers whirling round the small wheels in their hand. I too took an opportunity to take the wheel and pose for a photo!!
Do note that the large red prayer wheels are to be rotated in a clockwise direction and the rule is followed at all the religious structures of Bhutan.
From there, we went to the higher grounds of Thimphu to see the majestic Budhdha Dordenma. The statue towering at 169 ft overlooks the valley and can be spotted from even far distance. What was not known to us was the fact that there are 125,000 miniature statues of Budhdha housed inside the golden bronze giant statue.
Next, we headed over to the Changangkha lakhang, an old Buddhist temple situated on a ridge in Central Thimphu. As we entered the courtyard, we were fascinated by the beauty of the temple. The multicolored walls, intricate paintings depicting some old legends are a delight to the eyes and the soul. As photography is strictly prohibited inside, don’t forget to immerse yourself in this marvel piece of architecture for a while before leaving, We walked around the entire monastery peacefully, observing the locals.
Authentic Bhutanese delicacies for lunch..
It was lunch time and we asked our driver to take us to a good restaurant and to our delight, he took us to the authentic Bhutanese restaurant inside the premises of National Folk Heritage museum. Bhutanese delicacies are a spicy combination of cheese, chilli and vegetables. The restaurant has a beautiful ambience and seating was offered on cushions with low level tables spread. They had set menu for both veg and non-veg at 450 Nu. ($1=65 Nu, same as INR, and Indian currency is accepted at all places). It was a scrumptious meal with specially, the combination of ema datsi (chilli cheese) and the red rice.
The National Folk Heritage museum provides a glimpse of the Bhutanese culture as well as tradition. It took us through their customs, habits, armory and other tools that formed an integral part of their life.
The best part about Bhutan is that there are no entry tickets. So you don’t feel the pinch while visiting any of the spots, neither you will lose out on time waiting in the ticket queue.
It was 3 pm, by the time we left the museum and we rushed to Motihang Takin reserve forest (Timing: Tue-Sun 9AM to 5PM. Monday closed.). This reserve is the home of the Takins, the national animal of Bhutan and they are in plenty here.
The Takin appears to be a small cow having the head of a goat. The legend behind the creation of this animal by a saint, popularly known as “The Divine Madman” is highly interesting and simultaneously unbelievable. There are other animals too in this reserve like muntjac deer, sambar and serow.
Royal ceremony to close the day..
The next on our list was The Tashichho Dzong which is one of the most impressive structures in Thimphu and houses the government offices as well as the Royal King and his family. The dzong opens at 4:30 pm every day for the tourists and there is strict security check and photography is prohibited inside. However, the scenic beauty around this dzong is marvelous and you can capture them in your camera. Outside, locals including the security guards will be happy to be a part of your photo.
At around 5-5:30 pm, every day, the flag down ceremony is carried out by the guards strictly following the procedure laid out in their books with a monk chanting hymns. It’s spectacular to watch and definitely not to be missed.
Later in the evening, we aimlessly strolled across the streets which are lined up with souvenir shops. Choosing among them will be really difficult as all the shops display amazing handicrafts, and colorful Bhutanese attire on sale. The market is a treasure for the shopping lover.
In Thimphu, every monastery or a Dzong holds some secret legend, which are really interesting and fulfilling to know. Also, there are a few more places to visit in Thimphu (like: the paper factory and the farmer’s market) and details can be found in this page of Tourism Council of Bhutan.
In the end..
The city of Thimphu is a buzzing city, among this otherwise serene and quiet country. There is a positive vibe everywhere as you come across small prayer flags at every corner of the city.
SO, here we come to the end of our travelogue narrating the best places to visit in Thimphu. Read more about Bhutan and get to know about this beautiful himalayan kingdom in our series of articles:
- How to get a Bhutan Travel Visa / entry permit (UPDATED)
- Our Bhutan travel itinerary
- Best places to visit in Thimphu – The Happiness Capital (This one)
- Paro and the Tiger’s Nest (coming soon..)
- Punakha – the ex-capital of Bhutan (coming soon..)
- Chelala Pass – highest motorable road in Bhutan (coming soon..)
- Mouthwatering delicacies of Bhutan (coming soon..)
- Other travel blogs with useful information and travel itinerary (coming soon..)