Exploring Thimphu: The Second Chapter | Bhutan
The capital of Bhutan is a magnificent city that has a lot to offer. Thimphu is the perfect destination to experience the apparently seamless amalgamation of the traditional and the modern Bhutanese culture.
Last night I went to sleep praying for a clear blue sky and my prayer is answered! I’m overwhelmed with the sight of the marvellous azure sky. This morning is all about exploring some of the best attractions and places to see in Thimphu. Pretty excited, I get ready soon, have my breakfast done before the stipulated time and step outside the hotel. It’s brilliantly bright and the landscape looks very pretty. I take some quick shots before starting off around 9:20 AM.
Thimphu City Tour – Prime Sightseeing Places You Shouldn’t Give a Miss
There are several attractions and places to explore in this city. However, I have to settle for a sightseeing list that accommodates my short trip. Here are some of the prime sightseeing locations that you should definitely visit regardless of the duration of your Thimphu city tour.
National Institute for Zorig Chusum
Arts and crafts are an integral part of the Bhutanese heritage and this ‘Painting School’ (as it’s often popularly called) is a must-visit to witness the enthralling creations and the students in action. This school preserves the artistic knowledge of the traditional Bhutanese crafts passed down through generations. It provides specialization courses to students on thirteen traditional art forms that include traditional painting, Thangka painting, clay sculpting, woodcarving, mask carving, embroidery, tailoring, silver and goldsmithing, and so on. The duration of the courses usually ranges from four to six years.
The entrance to the institute is beautifully decorated with flower plants and installations that represent the various aspects of Bhutanese culture on either side of the stairs. For example, you can see figurines in the national dress ‘Gho’ and ‘Kira’, the national animal ‘Takin’, florals, etc. A wide open area greets you inside leading to the main building that hosts the royal picture of the King His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Her Majesty Queen Jetsun Pema Wangchuck, and the Prince Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck. The intricate carvings immediately draw attention.
It’s a wonderful experience to visit the classrooms and watch the students practicing their crafts. You can interact with the students as well. There is also a showroom displaying the various creations of the students which are up for sale at reasonable prices. You’ll simply be dazzled by their talent, so don’t miss this out from your Thimphu city tour!
The National Library
This library was initially established with a small collection of rare books or scriptures in 1967 and housed within Tashichho Dzong – the fortress that houses the throne room and offices of the King. Later as the collection of texts started to grow, the library was moved to this building.
You’ll be stunned by the beauty of the architecture of this building and the outdoor space surrounding it. The indoor ambience is typical of any other library but when you stand in front of the world’s largest published book in here, you’ll be absolutely mesmerised! Certified by Guinness World Records, this book weighing 133 pounds opens to 5 by 7 feet and contains 114 pages with life-sized or even larger photographic illustrations of the diverse people and culture of the Kingdom of Bhutan. Named “Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom”, this book was the result of four extensive expeditions carried by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA including local students and tour executive.
Thangtong Dewachen Nunnery
Built by the “Iron Bridge Monk”, the 16th incarnation of Thangtong Gyalpo in 1976, this nunnery is home to about 60 nuns. It’s a small complex on a hillside with modest structures. As you walk inside, you can spot a uniquely carved pillar that hosts the wheel of law and two deer on each side at the top. This is symbolic of the Deer Park located in Sarnath, near Varanasi in present India where Lord Buddha taught the first lesson after his enlightenment. Inside the prayer hall resides a covered chorten and the main idol of Thangtong Gyalpo. Some of the chain-link bridges built by him in the fifteenth century can still be found on several rivers flowing through the country. The road that leads to the nunnery, as well as the premises of the complex, also offer some wonderful views of Tashichho Dzong. A short distance from the nunnery towards the Buddha Dordenma is a view point that presents a brilliant glimpse of the Thimphu valley.
This massive statue of Shakyamuni Buddha cast in bronze and gilded in gold is one of the largest in the world measuring 51.5 metres. The construction was started in 2006 and completed in September 2015. Located at the top of a hill, the throne which the Buddha sits atop and overlooks the valley is a large meditation hall. There are 125000 small Buddha statues inside the hall with heights ranging between 8-12 inches. These miniature statues are also cast in bronze and gilded in gold. Statues of the eight Bodhisattvas can also be seen inside. The wall paintings of the God of Compassion, Buddha, Guru Padmasambhava (who is referred to as Guru Rinpoche and the ‘Second Buddha’), and the first teaching of Buddha after his enlightenment are also remarkable.
It is believed that this statue fulfils an ancient prophecy (8th century) by Guru Padmasambhava. A visit to this point shouldn’t be given a miss for it offers a unique visual and spiritual experience.
National Memorial Chorten
Built in 1974 as a memorial to the Third King of the country, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who is considered as the Father of modern Bhutan, the National Memorial Chorten is one of the most prominent structures of Thimphu. The Tibetan-style Stupa in white and golden finial is amazingly captivating with its elaborate pillars, painted annexes, intricate statues, and a dedicated shrine. You can witness a lot of elderly Bhutanese people praying at the shrine and whirling the large red prayer wheel inside.
The entrance to the Chorten is also visually interesting. The gate leads to a pathway that takes you straight up to the Stupa through a small garden. The exterior and the interior of the gate host three slate carvings with the images of the God of Compassion, the God of Knowledge, the God of Power (representations of the three protective Bodhisattvas), and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Lord Buddha, Guru Rinpoche respectively.
Located on a headland, the inner sanctum of this 800-year-old ancient temple has a stunningly massive statue of the God of Compassion, the deity with thousand arms. You need to climb about 115 stairs to reach the temple that welcomes you with its whitewashed stone walls and metal prayer wheels. Prayer flags are hung uphill all the way that look dreamlike when they’re windblown. Once you enter the door of the temple, there is a small courtyard filled with butter lamp offerings. Towards the right is the entrance to the inner sanctum. There are two giant prayer wheels inside facing the sanctum. If you wish to experience the vibes of compassion and peace, make sure to visit this temple. The location also offers charming views of the valley.
Clock Tower Square
It’s one of the most popular and happening landmarks located at the heart of Thimphu city. With four clock faces, the tower standing at the centre of the vast open arena is a magnificent instance of art. The intricate paintings and carvings on the tower pull attention from afar as soon as visible. There are numerous shops, café, restaurants, and hotels around this place which makes it very popular among the local youths and visitors. Cultural programs are also staged at times in the central area. If you wish to purchase anything as a souvenir of Bhutan, this is the right place to explore in Thimphu valley. Make sure to keep some good amount of additional time in hand if you plan to shop because it’s a vast area. Shops mostly close around 8 PM (BTT).
Other Attractions and Places to See in Thimphu
Bhutan Textile Museum
This is the National Textile Museum of the country located near the National Library. If you’re interested in learning the art of Bhutanese weaving and exploring the royal dresses and local dress styles, it’s the best place to visit. You can also buy fine textiles and books on weaving at the museum shop.
Want to experience a living museum? Visit Simply Bhutan that preserves and promotes local culture. Interestingly, the museum is designed like a Bhutanese village where you get a detailed overview of local life. You can also buy local-made handicrafts at the demonstration stalls and souvenir corner.
Royal Botanical Garden
If you’re a nature lover or particularly take interest in horticulture, one of the best places to visit in Thimphu city is this native plant conservation area that was established in 1999. It houses some 500 rare species of plants.
Built by the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (the great unifier of Bhutan) in 1629, this castle-monastery is one of the oldest architectures in Bhutan and also believed to be the first of its kind in the country. It functions as a monastic centre at present.
This monastery dating back to the 12th century has been housing a monastic school since 1971. There is a statue of Shakyamuni Buddha inside the monastery along with protector deities in the inner sanctum, a huge statue of Zhabdrung and precious paintings of the 12th century.
There are many more to this list such as Folk Heritage Museum, Ludrong Memorial Garden, Motithang Takin Preserve and so on. Make sure to talk about your interests when contacting a tour operator or conductor for your Thimphu city tour. It can be customized based on your needs, budget, and time in accordance with local policies. You can rest assured that they will offer you the best deal.
It’s been a beautiful day! All the sites that I visited, Chang introduced and explained them really well. Before turning off the lights, I write down in my notebook all that I gathered on this day. I’m truly enamored of the smiling blue sky, the scenic beauty, the historic monuments, cultural sites and the soothing vibes of this place.
I feel a light has entered my inner self directing my focus towards myself – something that I had long forgotten about. Today, the illumination has helped me arrive at two vital questions: Why am I draining all my energy thinking about my crisis, and, what am I doing to come out of it?
Yes, of course, a process has begun. I pray that the light guides me through the newly found paths and help me find myself back. I go off to sleep with a revived hope and a will to heal up.
The next day, I’ll be heading to Dochula Pass and Punakha Dzong.