Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan and it is the centre of government. The broad Thimphu valley represents mostly the urban way of life. Just like any other place in Bhutan, this valley is clothed with beautiful trees from valleys to the hill tops and with beautiful buildings built and maintained with the traditional Bhutanese architecture. The name ‘Thimphu’ originates from a sinking stone in front of Dechenphu monastery, which ‘Thim’ means to sink and ‘phu’ means to fly in local language. Oral history says that the stone is placed on top of a subdued ogress to prevent her from flying away.
It is situated on a commanding height overlooking Thimphu valley. In the form of a statue, here Guru Padmasambhava is shown in his terrifying appearance The yogic path that turns from India to the mountains of Tibet and Bhutan is set here in symbols with utmost consistency. From Thimphu it is about 4 hours hike to the monastery. The monastery takes its name from the saint Phajo Drugom Zhigpo who meditated there in the 13th century.
This beautiful goemba was built in 1620 on a hilltop. A silver chorten inside the goemba holds the ashes of Zhabdrung’s father Yab Tenpai Nima. The trek to the monastery starts by crossing a lovely wooden bridge that spans the Thimphu Chhu, and then ascending steeply till the monastery. If you have never seen mountain goats and you may spot one here.
This Goemba was founded by Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa in the 12th century. The monastery which is now an important centre of higher learning for monks is also associated with Lama Drukpa Kunley and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The three-storey main temple is dedicated to the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha and it was constructed at Gyalse tenzin Rabgye’s command in the memory of Zhabdrung and earlier masters of the Drukpa lineage. The monastery is situated north of Thimphu, and it is about 30 minutes drive from the main Thimphu town followed by a 30 minutes walk through beautiful forest from the road point. The name ‘tango’ means head of a horse. There is a rock which looks like a head of a horse. It was believed that when Lam Phajo Drugom Zhigpo was meditating in this area, he heard a horse neigh three times, therefore this place was named Tango.
National Memorial Chorten (Stupa)
This chorten serves as a gathering place for the young and old. This stupa was built in 1974 by Her Majesty Ashi Phuntsho Choden Wangchuck in the memory of her wson Bhutan’s late 3rd King His majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, who is popular regarded as the Father of Modern Bhutan. The paintings and statues inside the monument provid deep insight into Buddhist philosophy. This chorten is one of the most visited religious structures in Thimphu.
This dzong is also known as ‘fortress of the glorious religion’, initially erected in 1702 by Sherab Wangchuk, the 13th Desi and later in 1955 after moving the capital to Thimphu from Punakha, this dzong was redesigned and sections were rebuilt. Tashichho dzong houses the main secretariat building and the central monk body. It is open to visitors during Thimphu tshechu, after office hours, and when the monk body moves to Punakha in the winter months.
It is about seven kms away from the main Thimphu town. It was built in 1629 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It is the oldest fortress of the Kingdom and it now houses the School for Buddhist studies. The site is said to have been chosen to guard over a demoness that had vanished into the rock nearby, hence the name Simtokha (‘Sinmo’ mean demoness and ‘dho’ stone). The institute of Language and Cultural Studies is located just above the dzong.
National Institute for Zorig Chusum (Painting School)
‘Zorig Chusum” means the Thirteen Crafts. To preserve our invaluable heritage and promote arts in Bhutan, The Royal government initiated this institute in 1971. Students are taught painting, calligraphy, embroidery, wood carving, sculptures, etc. They also learn to understand he traditional meaning and spiritual values enshrined in Buddhist art. On a visit one can actually see students at work. The students follow a comprehensive course that starts with drawing and progresses through painting, wood carving, embroidery, and statue-making. This institute not only helps preserve our beautiful heritage but also equips future generations with skills and knowledge to keep our own heritage alive. The thirteen arts and crafts comprises of – painting, carving, sculture, casting, blacksmithing, bamboo work, gold & silversmithing, weaving, embroidery, masonry, leather work, and paper-making.
National Institute of Traditional Medicine
In Bhutan, equal emphasis is given to both allopathic and traditional medicines. The rich medicinal herbs are processed as medicines here. It also imparts training courses to parishioners/students on traditional medicine and work on research and quality control functions.
It is a government-run enterprise and you can find a wide variety of handicrafts, beautiful hand-woven textiles.
Weekend Vegetable Market
Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday many farmers and small business vendors gather on the bank of the river Thim chhu to sell their products. This is the best opportunity and place to mingle with the local people.
National textile Museum
With the opening of Textile Museum under the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuk, Bhutanes textiles have reached new heights as one of the most visible traditional crafts and as a distinctly Bhutanes form of art. The textile museum has opened its exhibition on six major themes – warp pattern weaves, weft pattern weaves, role of textiles in religion, achievements in textile arts, textiles from indigenous fibres and the royal collection. The crowns of Bhutan’s Kings, namzas (dresses), the first version of the Raven Crwon and other accessories used by members of the royal family can be found in he museum. The goal of the museum is to slowly become a center for textile studies that will carry out documentation, research and studies on textiles.
Bhutan’s National Library located in Thimphu is a major scriptural repository with a number of important functions dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the rich cultural and religious heritage in the country. The national scriptures and documents are fundamental sources for Bhutanese history, religion, and culture. The National Library was established in 1967 with the primary objective of collecting and preserving mainly ancient Bhutanese written and printed resources. It accommodates a sizeable and a steadily growing stock of books, scriptures and written documents as well as a huge amount of wood printing blocks for religious books.
Folk Heritage Museum
The Folk Heritage Museum, a.k.a as Phelchey Toenkhyim, is dedicated to connecting people to the Bhutanese rural past through exhibits, demonstration, educational programs, and documentation of rural life. The principal exhibit in the museum is a restored three-storey traditional building rammed with mud and timber, which dates back to mid 19th century. In order to present a typical Bhutanese rural setting and flavor, paddy, wheat and millet fields, a traditional watermill (with mill stones that dates back to 150 years), traditional style kitchen gardens with vegetables that were grown and consumed over hundred years, and the famous traditional hot stone bath complement that museum building and the exhibition within.
The concept of establishing a Folk heritage Museum originates from her Majesty the Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk.
Royal Academy of performing Arts (RAPA)
RAPA has four sections namely the Mask Dance section, the Music section, the Folk dance section, and the Drama section. Each one has their distinct roles and responsibilities to play. The Mask dance sections carries out the roles to preserve and promote the tradition mask dances through teaching, learning, research and live performances. The music, fold dance and dance section also helps in preserving and promoting traditional music, folk dances, dances and traditional songs through the same method of research, teaching and learning and live performances. Similarly, the Drama section helps in enhancing and promoting our national identity such as our dress, language, and culture through staging dramas.
Zangtho Pelri Lhakhang
This lhakhang was built in 1990s by Dahso Aku Tongmi a great musician who composed Bhutan’s national anthem. It is a replica of Guru Rinpoche’s celestial abode.
The lhakhang was built in the 12th century on a site chosen by Lam Phajo Drugom Shigpo, who came from Ralung in Tibet. It is an old fortress-like temple perched on a ridge above Thimphu and it has a beautiful view of Thimphu from the courtyard. The main chapel houses a unique statue of seated Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion.
Dochu La Pass ( 10,130 feet / 3088 m)
It is a must see place, about an hour drive from Thimphu. If the weather cooperates you will see spectacular view of the Eastern Himalayas, with 7 mountain peaks including Gangkar Punsum(7497m), the highest peak in Bhutan. The place around has beautiful sights with the 108 chortens(stupas) with myriad of colors of prayer flags.