Exploring Capital of Bhutan – Thimphu City7 November, 2011
Being the capital of the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan, Thimphu City offers a glimpse of city life in this country. With almost all offices of the Bhutanese government and major Bhutanese companies based here, it is not surprising that there are lots of shopping centres and hotels (e.g. Thimphu Kisa Hotel) in this city. Norzin Lam is the city’s main thoroughfare – in terms of activities and businesses along the road, it is the equivalent of Singapore’s Orchard Road without the glitzy shopping malls and decorations. Along this road, you will find tourist souvenir shops, hotels and the icon of Thimphu City – a traffic police managing vehicular movements at a busy intersection!
Thankfully, there are no Louis Vuitton, Chanel boutiques along this street and global corporations such as MacDonalds and Starbucks are not allowed to set up shop here (or in the whole of Bhutan). Walking around the street, you might feel a sense of nostalgia on what the early 1980s Singapore was like where kids play simple games like hopscotch by the street (instead of playing with PSP, X-box etc.) and aunties doing grocery shopping at small convenience stores (instead of big supermarket chains e.g. Carrefour).
Thimphu has three kinds of stores: clothing, handicraft and hardware. Between these, there is a small assortment of stationery-cum-bookstores and supermarkets. Almost all stores stock the same goods. Most of the food products sold in the shops are imported from around the area e.g. Thailand (Bangkok), India and you will often see bloated packets of food e.g. potato chips due to the higher altitude of Thimphu City. For local products, you can check out yak milk and various agricultural products. If you are looking for the latest electronics here, you are out of luck – local shops still sell cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs (those bulky TVs)! This is perhaps why we saw lots of LCD/LED flat screen TVs being checked-in at Bangkok airport for our flight to Paro, Bhutan on Drukair.
The Clock Tower at Thimphu City is one of the most prominent landmark in the city. This is also the place for performances, gatherings due to its spaciousness and great location (right in the centre of the city). There are also lots of souvenir shops around the Clock Tower so it is one of the more visited places by tourists.
The typical itinerary for Thimphu City would typically comprise of (after the 45-minute drive from Paro airport) a visit to the Weekend Farmer’s Market and a quick walk around the city (the city centre is quite small and one can easily cover it in 20 minutes) before concluding with a visit to the National Memorial Chorten, located off Jangchhub Lam. A good place to visit in the evening when the locals are doing their evening prayers. The stupa was built in 1974 in memory of the third king. This is where you get an introduction to what is a stupa and how devoted the Bhutanese are towards Buddhism.
The next day’s itinerary would involve driving around Thimphu City to check out:
– Takin Preserve at Motithang. The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan, and looks like a cross between a cow and a goat. Legend has it that the animal was created by the great Buddhist yogi, Drupa Kunley, and it can be found only in Bhutan and nearby areas. Taxonomists place the animal in a category of its own as it is not similar enough to any other animal to fit established categories.
– Trashi Chhoe Dzong. This Dzong accommodates the national government and the central monastic body. You will be only be able to visit the monastery part of the Dzong, separated from the government offices by the central tower.
– Buddha Point. Sitting on top of Kuensel Phodrang hill is a 51.5 metres bronze statue of the founder of Buddhism. The site also offers unobstructed views over the Thimphu Valley. The temple underneath this huge statue is still under construction.
Getting to Bhutan