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Nestled in the Himalayas at 7,874 feet is the charming Bhutanese capital Thimphu. Houses with traditional Bhutanese imagery, roofs lined with red chilies, strings of beef left to dry in the sun, women in colorful kiras, quaint little cafés, running streams and fresh mountain air. These are some of the lovely things that Thimphu has to offer. If you find yourself in the mesmerizing capital city of Bhutan, be prepared for a grand time. Bhutan is known for its phrase Gross National Happiness (GNH), but it is here in Thimphu where GNH can be fully realized.
The city is splendid, and each and every brook and lane is a testament to its magnificence. But there are certain spots in the city that deserve your attention a little more than the rest. Your first stop should be the Memorial Chorten right in the middle of the town. The whitewashed structure, built in 1974, is an exquisite sight of gold spires and elaborate mandala patterns. It is the center of peace in the city. Walk around the shrine and you will notice locals enjoying the spiritual vibe, many with prayer beads in their hands.
Next, head to the Motithang Takin Preserve to meet the national animal of Bhutan – Takin. A strange animal that resembles a goat and a cow, Takin has a folklore behind it. The legend says that in the 15th century, a monk called Lama Drukpa Kunley created this animal after joining the head of a goat to the body of a cow. There isn’t much to see in the preserve itself, but the 15-minute drive from Thimphu is worth it when you look at this marvelous creature. Go in the morning to enjoy the view of the city.
The most iconic structure that has become synonymous with Bhutan is the Paro Taktsang. More popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest, it is the cultural symbol of Bhutan. Situated in Paro, close to Thimphu, this monastery was built in 1692 by Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye. The site is very popular and sacred for Buddhists. There’s a cave in the temple complex where Guru Padmasambhava is said to have rested for three years, three months and three days. The legend has it that the Guru arrived on a tiger; hence the name Tiger’s nest. The monastery is located on a steep cliff at 3,000 feet above the Paro valley. Although a rigorous trek, the peace at the top of the monastery makes the effort well worth it.
Come back to the city and enjoy your lunch in the main market. The Norzin Lam shopping area has much to offer. The Centenary Farmer’s Weekend market will spoil you for choices. From fresh fruits, homemade cheese and wild honey to handicraft and souvenirs like thangkas, masks and prayer wheels. For lunch indulge in the classic Bhutanese meal of brown rice and cheese and chili gravy called Ema Datshi. Another interesting visit can be to the new Textile Museum at the end of Norzin Lam. The museum houses textiles from the 1600s. Traditional dress for women and men – kiras and ghos – are on display, and you can even buy fabrics from the market.
A must-visit for your Thimphu trip is the Great Buddha Dordenma in Kuensel Phodrang. The big bronze statue of Bhuddha overlooks the city from a height of 169 feet (51.5 meters). Built in China the statue cost close to US$47 million. There’s a nature park under the statue and it gives a spectacular view of the entire city.
If it’s after 5pm and you are in the mood, your next stop should be Tashichho Dzong – the seat of Bhutan’s civil government. At the northern edge of the city, the literal translation of the name is ‘the Fortress of the Glorious Religion’. You need to visit the monastery after 5pm to be able to see the intricate artwork – the exquisite woodwork and the stunning paintings.
Thimphu is a wonderful city. With the rich culture and heritage it boasts, it is a lovely place to unwind and disconnect from city life. It’s one of those places that you leave only to know in your heart that you will return one day to its bosom for the stress-free way of life that it offers you; you will and must come back for more. Till then, ‘Log Jay Gay’.