Photos by Lincoln Potter

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THIMPHU (alt. 2,400m)

Thimphu Festival, Tsechu, panorama of Tashichoedzong

Thimphu Festival, Tsechu, panorama of Tashichoedzong


The modern capital, established in 1961, is the seat of the central government, monastic community and commerce. The population is estimated at 40,000 to 50,000, which makes it the biggest city in the country. For a national capital, Thimphu is a unique city displaying harmony of tradition and modernity. There are no traffic lights and policemen at intersections direct the traffic. But do not be deceived, for a metropolis with a commercial lane that extends for less than two miles, there is enough to demonstrate the Bhutanese ideal of modernity and traditional values. s

Places of Interest in THIMPHU

Trashichho Dzong

The massive fortress, whose name translates as the fortress of the glorious religion, was initially a smaller structure in 1641. It took the present form after expansion/reconstruction commissioned by Late Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk in 1965. Besides being the summer seat of Je Khenpo, Head Abbot, and the central monastic body, it houses some ministries, the secretariat, the Golden Throne of the King of Bhutan and His Majesty’s office. The National Assembly Hall initially in the dzong has since 1993 moved to a new location directly across the river.

Memorial Chorten

Built in 1974 in memory of the third King, His Late Majesty, King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, lovingly known as the Father of Modern Bhutan, it is a rare stupa that has an inner sanctum of temples. There are intricate paintings and statues representing tantric reverence and practice. A very popular religious monument in the city, there are always numerous people circumambulating or turning the giant prayer wheels.

Simtokha Dzong

Five miles outside Thimphu city stands the 17th century fortress, Simtokha Dzong. Built in 1627, it is the first of many dzongs built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It was built to guard the two approaches, from southwest and east, as Shabdrung worked to establish stability and control during his early years of governance. It saw its share of action even during the civil war until 19th century.
Until recently it housed the School of Language and Cultural Studies, which has since expanded beyond the dzong’s capacity and moved on the slope above. It now houses a monastic school. The main temple of the dzong contains huge statues of Buddha Sakyamuni and eight Arhats. The temple is surrounded with finest examples of slate carving from outside.

National Library

Since dzongs where seats of monastic schools, in the past all texts and scriptures including historical references were stored there. Over many centuries most dzongs suffered fires and natural calamities resulting in loss of many valuable records. Historically an oral society loss of any written record was a great loss. So in 1967 the National Library was established as a repository of Bhutanese history and religious texts. It has copies of almost all texts relevant to Mahayana Buddhism and a rich collection of lithographs from whence scriptures and prayer flags where printed in the old days. Besides the ancient texts and manuscripts, the library has built a fair collection of modern academic books related to Bhutan and the surrounding regions.

The School of Traditional Arts and Crafts

The school offers an eight-year course in the techniques of traditional art in religious and secular paintings, woodcarving, clay sculpture and traditional mask making. One can see students working through progressive levels practicing precise rules of Bhutanese art. The school also has a showroom from where student works are sold at very reasonable price compared to town for same quality of work.

National Institute of Traditional Medicine

Bhutan has long and rich tradition of medicine based on natural remedies derived mainly from plants, earth and some animals. This institute has facility for out-patients, training, research and production of traditional medicine. The courses to become traditional doctors, called drungtsho, entail six to eight years of strenuous study after high school.
The institute has an exhibition room that imparts excellent look into the tradition.

Folk Heritage Museum

Established in 2001, this is an interesting museum housed in a very old traditional house. The museum is a walk through the fast changing rural tradition, habits and skills, and those of the past. They organize special exhibitions annually on select subject pertaining to Bhutanese heritage. Demonstrations of traditional way of extracting oil, brewing traditional spirit, husking rice etc. and a buffet of traditional food items can be arranged with prior notice.

Textile Museum

Established in 2000, this is another of the new theme museums in the city. It is dedicated to the rich skill of Bhutanese weaver, primarily women. Literally, women were ones who clothed the family before availability of machine made fabrics. The museum has a good collection of sample including rare pieces and antiques, some belonging to the royal family. Since its establishment, the museum has organized competitions to encourage weavers as well as pay tribute to the rich old tradition and skills.

Weekend Market

Every Saturday and Sunday most of Thimphu’s population descend to the riverside market for fresh vegetables and other food items sold mainly by farmers from neighboring valleys. There is also a whole section of art and crafts, religious and secular ornaments for sale. It is a lively market to watch people and buy souvenirs. Bhutanese are moderate bargainers and prices are usually reasonable.

Changangkha Lhakhang

Perched on a hill with a commanding view of Thimphu city, it is an old temple dating back to the 15th century. It was built by Lama Dawa Zangpo, one of the sons of Phajo Drugom Shigpo. Phajo Drugom Shigpo was a lama-ruler of the valley before the Shabdrung’s arrival. Recognizing the advantage of protection under a strong ruler, many valleys invited Phajo’s sons to become their rulers and any local nobles in different valleys trace their ancestry to these sons.
The central statue in the temple is Avaloketesvara, Buddha of compassion, in his manifestation with 11 heads, thousand hands and eyes. Your guide will explain the symbol of the manifestation.

Excursions around THIMPHU
Tango Goemba and Cheri Goemba

About 15 kms from Thimphu to the north are two famous monasteries, Cheri to the left of the river and Tango to the right.

First founded in the 12th century by Lama Gyalwa Lhanangpa, the main temple of Tango was built by Lama Drukpa Kuenley, the Divine Madman in the 15th century. Later, soon after his arrival from Tibet Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal was offered the temple by the descendent of Drukpa Kuenley. The Shabdrung lived there and meditated in a cave near the monastery until he moved to Thimphu as his work of administration expanded.
The eighth Desi, Druk Rabgye, built the picturesque three-storey tower and several surrounding buildings in the 18th century and Shabdrung Jigme Chhogyel added the golden roof in the 19th century.

Tango is now an important college of Buddhist philosophy.

Chari Goemba was built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1620. A silver chorten inside the monastery holds the ashes of his father, who was himself, a revered saint having visited Bhutan on more than one occasion. Unlike Tango, Chari is a much steeper climb and is situated at about 2600 meters. Chari is distinguished in history as the seat of the first monastic body in Bhutan. Today, it is a meditation center for graduates of Tango. Meditations last as long as three years and three months at a stretch.

Phajoding Goemba
It is a good 3 hours walk to the northwestern slopes above Thimphu. Lama Shacha Rinchen, a pioneer Drukpa Kagyupa teacher, built the monastery in 15th century. It was at one time the richest monastery in the country, reputedly with enough wealth and relics to replenish the main dzong in the valley if it was lost in fire.