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Exploring Thimphu

By Ryan Merrifield

Posted: 26th March 2015 09:59

The Kingdom of Bhutan’s capital and largest city, Thimphu is an up and coming destination that sits somewhere between the past and modern day. While the bustling city is one of the busiest places in the region – with an abundance of restaurants, nightclubs and attractions – it also retains its cultural identity as it continues to play catch up with the rest of the world. Developments didn’t begin until the king declared Thimphu as the new capital in 1961 so it’s currently undergoing massive changes with new things popping up every day. You’ll find plenty to do in Norzin Lam, the heart of Thimphu and the central tourist spot, which is lined with luxury hotels and vast shopping complexes packed with department stores and cheap local shops. The surrounding area is particularly green with stunning views and plenty of natural wonders for you to discover. Thimphu is the ideal location if you want to immerse yourself in contemporary Bhutanese life. 

THIMPHU ADVENTURE

While Thimphu is experiencing rapid modernisation, it still has a beautiful, natural landscape that’s perfect for budding adventurers. The summers can be wet and humid so the best times to visit are from mid-September to the end of October when the air is cool and the sun is shining. Visit the Botanical Gardens which is situated about 10m from the city in Serbithang. Put your walking boots on and trek though the lush scenic hillside, the perfect environment to catch a few hours peace. Those with a keen eye for nature will appreciate the indigenous trees and native flora that are scattered around the gardens.

Another dose of adventure can be had en route to the Cheri Goemba monastery.  Situated about half an hour walk from Dodena, the hill-top beauty was built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1620. To find the trail you have to cross the wooden bridge that spans the Thimphu Chhu, and then climbs steeply to the monastery. The Hoemba is surrounded by sanctuaries and small temples on its slopes that boast spectacular views of Bhutan’s picturesque landscape. Once you set foot on the trail keep your eyes peeled on the dense forests to see if you can spot some of the native wildlife. 

THIMPHU SIGHTS

With a long list of cultural and historical sites in Thimphu, you’ll always have something to do. Based in the Southern-central part of the city is the Memorial Chorten, a prominent landmark built in 1974 in memory of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the so-called Father of modern Bhutan. Venture inside and see the rich collection of paintings and statues on display, providing a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.   

Another popular tourist attraction is the Simtokha Dzong, which stands on a low ridge 8km down the valley from Thimphu. A former Buddhist monastery, today it stands as an important historical monument featuring traditional Bhutanese architecture. There’s a wealth of historical treasures inside, including 300 incredible slate carvings behind the prayer wheels in the courtyard to look out for.   

For those less interested in religion, why not spend the day at the Takin Preserve in Motithang. The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan, a kind of cross between a cow and a goat. It’s worthwhile taking the time to see these unusual creatures, particularly as its one of the few places in the country to find them. You can also purchase souvenirs at the visitor centre or grab a bite to eat at the cafe. 

ACCOMMODATION

While the choice of budget hotels isn’t massive in Thimphu, there are a select few that offer high standard accommodation at a relatively low price. One of them is Hotel Jumolhari, located in the heart Thimphu at Clock Tower Square. The distinctive look makes it easy to spot, boasting tradition Bhutanese architecture inside and out. The Jumokhari offers guests tasteful, comfortable rooms with fully-equipped kitchen and bathroom facilities. You get a stunning view of the Changlimithang Stadiumfrom your room, so if you’re lucky, you can sit back and listen to any sporting events going on. The hotel bills itself as a boutique hotel and boasts a classy ambience and stylish decor. It’s well known for its excellent restaurant, serving particularly good Indian dishes, among others. All in all it’s a cheap and cheerful place to stay after a long day seeing the sights. Plus you can book a room without needing to pay a surcharge – which is handy for last minute reservations on-the-go.  

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