Carefully hidden gem in the Himalayas, the capital of BhutanThimphu is an extraordinary city that harmoniously combines thousand-year-old traditions and modernity, almost polished in a European way. Despite the fact that a Buddhist fortress-dzong has existed on this site since 1216, city life began to seethe here only in 1961 – when the King of Bhutan proclaimed Thimphu the capital. Today, Buddhist monks are walking along the wide shady alleys of the city, a little further away, avid Go players are sitting on the benches, tourists enthusiastically clicking the camera are scurrying around, and the prayer wheels on Clock Square are constantly spun by the hands of passers-by. Located at an altitude of 2400 meters, Thimphu is one of the highest capitals in the world and the only one that does not have a single traffic light. It was installed, but the locals complained about the callousness of the traffic regulation – and soon a policeman appeared at the place of the car.
How to get to Thimphu
According to wholevehicles, the only international airport in Bhutan, Paro, is located 65 km from Thimphu. It is there that all flights from abroad land, including those arriving from Russia via Delhi, Mumbai, Singapore, Bangkok or Kathmandu.
From Paro Airport to Thimphu, tourists get on a transfer organized by the tour operator. As a reminder, foreign guests are only allowed to visit Bhutan according to a pre-approved itinerary provided by a local travel company. The journey takes from 45 minutes to 1 hour due to the mountainous terrain and winding serpentine, which greatly slows down the movement.
Also, Thimphu can be reached from any more or less large city of Bhutan – municipal buses and minivans of private companies connect almost all settlements of the country. Departures to the capital and back are especially frequent. The bus journey from Paro to Thimphu takes about an hour and a half, the ticket costs about 50 BTN.
Transport in the city
The center of Thiphu is very compact in size, and all distances here are easily covered on foot. For longer trips, tourists use the services of a transport company “attached” to them by a travel company with a driver, so there is no need to get acquainted with the capital’s transport.
Otherwise, in the capital you can travel by taxi and buses. Taxis scurry around the city and can be stopped with a wave of your hand. A trip within the city limits will cost approximately 50-70 BTN. City buses link the center of Thimphu with the outskirts; the network of routes is extensive, but delays are not uncommon. Buses run from 7:30 to 19:30, the fare is from 2 to 10 BTN depending on the distance.
Thimphu has an amazing variety of quality hotels for a capital away from the bustle of the world. There are many options for tourists, from budget guesthouses for unpretentious clients to “five” ones that can cause envy among pompous European hoteliers, and pompous boutique hotels. However, the tourist most likely will not have to book a hotel on his own – accommodation is included in the package of services provided by the local tour operator without fail, and given the solid minimum spending of 250 USD per day, the traveler can stay in an excellent hotel. In general, accommodation prices in Thimphu start from 20 USD; comfortable options will cost 80-100 USD, but in boutique hotels with a full range of services they will ask from 270 USDup to 900 USD “from the nose” per night.
The main attraction of the capital is the 350-year-old royal residence of Tashicho Dzong (“Fortress of the Blessed Religion”).
Thimphu cuisine and restaurants
Thanks to a fairly dense flow of tourists, the “chefs” of Thimphu quickly got used to the cuisine familiar to the traveler, not forgetting, however, about Bhutanese gastronomic traditions. There are a huge number of cafes, restaurants and eateries “on working noon” in Thimphu. Most establishments are concentrated in the city center – on the Clock Square and the surrounding streets. Among the best restaurants of national cuisine are Bhutan Kitchen and Rabten.
Of the national dishes, it is worth trying the nationwide “ema-datsi” – chili pepper pods stewed in a cheese sauce with spices; “kewa-datsi” – the same chili and cheese, but accompanied by potatoes and “shamu-datsi” – again chili, accompanied by cheese and mushrooms. When placing an order, do not forget to warn the waiter about the sparing spiciness of the dishes.
If you are going to spend a pleasant evening in a Thimphu restaurant, it is worth remembering that most establishments (including hotel ones) close at 9-9:30 pm.
But, alas, you won’t be able to drink good coffee in Thimphu – this drink, unlike tea, is not popular among Bhutanese. In a cafe, you will most likely be brought instant coffee, coffee machines are only in a few establishments, among them Ambient and Karma’s.
Shopping and shops
The Bhutanese government supports folk crafts, so the assortment of souvenir shops is really high quality and varied. It is worth paying attention to the woolen fabrics “yatra”, dyed with natural dyes in bright colors, bamboo baskets and mats, wooden bowls, traditional paper, national clothes and accessories. “From a large” (and for an amateur) you can bring very high-quality horse harness and a bow for shooting. Art galleries are also worth a look – the works of Bhutanese artists are very good and inexpensive.
At the Sunday market, farmers from the Thimphu area offer the freshest produce.
Entertainment and attractions in Thimphu
The main attraction of the capital is the 350-year-old royal residence of Tashicho Dzong (“Fortress of the Blessed Religion”). Government offices are located here, and the country’s largest monastery for 2,000 monks once worked, which was damaged by a fire and restored in 1961. It is also worth seeing the memorial stupa of the third king of Bhutan “chorten”, not forgetting to honor the father of the current ruler “in form” (which the guide will instruct about), visit the oldest temple of the Thimphu valley Changangha Lhakhang, dedicated to Avaloketeshvara – the Buddhist emanation of mercy, and see the 51-meter statue of Buddha Shakyamuni.
The National Library holds valuable Buddhist manuscripts. The School of Tanka not only teaches how to create paintings on religious subjects, but also introduces the history and traditions of religious painting. You should definitely visit the most interesting museums of Thimphu: the National Heritage Museum, the Royal Textile Academy, the Alaya and the Water Dragon galleries.
The National Institute of Traditional Medicine successfully treats a range of diseases with herbs. Tourists are not allowed to be tested.