Visit Thimphu and do following sightseeing and hiking
Thimphu Region overview
Thimphu the capital city of Bhutan, perhaps the most unusual capital city in the world, is the seat of government. This bustling town is home to Bhutan’s Royal family, the civil servants, and foreign missions with representation in Bhutan. It is also the headquarters for a number of internationally funded development projects.
Unlike other regions, in Thimphu you do not have to travel much by car to visit monasteries, temples and handicrafts, these can be mostly reached on foot, plus you will get to enjoy a walk and see around Thimphu. You may spend few days in Thimphu to visit all the following sightseeing and can mingle with local people, which will be the good way to find the difference between people living in rural areas and urban interns of culture, traditions, lifestyle, etc. Thimphu will offer you the best opportunity to briefly break away from the tour itinerary. In addition to its traditional Buddhist sights and attractions, it offers cafes, bars, nightclubs and restaurants. Finding a balance between the esoteric and espresso – the old and the new – is the key to getting the most out of this charming city.
Thimphu Sightseeing (1 to 2 days)
Visit Textile Museum (http://www.rtabhutan.org), you will see the Royal Collection, of Bhutanese antique textile artefacts, warp pattern weaves, and weft pattern weaves including crowns of Bhutan’s kings, Namzas (dresses) and other accessories are worn by the Royal Family, The ground floor of the Textile Museum has displays demonstrating the skills of spinning, colouring fibres, preparing a loom, and manipulating two sets of yarns. Decorative fabrics and textile arts and crafts are categorically displayed in the galleries situated on the first floor of the Textile Museum. There are displays showing the traditional regional garments produced by women and men in Bhutan, and those garments used for special religious occasions.
Visit Folk Heritage Museum https://www.bhutan.travel/attractions/folk-heritage-museum. This museum lets you experience the traditional way of lifestyle at Bhutanese home. The museum also displays an impressive collection of typical household objects, tools and equipment. The Folk Heritage Museum is set inside a three-storied, 19th-century traditional house. The museum also organizes regular demonstrations of rural traditions, skills, habits and customs as well as hosting educational programs for children.
Visit The National Library; was established in 1967 for the purpose of preservation and promotion of the rich cultural and religious heritage of Bhutan. It holds a vast collection of ancient Buddhist manuscripts and contains arguably the best collection of religious and historical literature in the Himalayas.
Visit National Institute for Zorig Chusum. Zorig Chusum refers to the thirteen traditional visual arts and crafts that Bhutanese have practised for generations. The thirteen arts and crafts include; painting, carving, sculpture, calligraphy, carpentry, gold- silversmithing, bamboo work, wood turning, weaving and embroidery, pottery, blacksmithing, masonry and incense-stick making. You can have an interview or conversations with the students and instructors to know more. The showroom sells good-value pieces made by students.
Visit Simtokha Dzong; Built-in 1627 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, (the founder of Bhutan), the Dzong is the oldest fortress in Bhutan. The site is said to guard a demon that had vanished into the rock nearby, hence the name Simtokha, from simmo (demoness) and do (stone). The site was also a vitally strategic location from which to protect the Thimphu valley and entryway to the Dochu La and eastern Bhutan.
Visit Centenary Farmer Market is a must, The Centenary Farmer’s Market in Thimphu is an explosion of colours and scents. Thimphu residents throng the market on the weekends, to buy the freshest local produce (pure organic) from across the country, as well as a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and other products imported from India. You’ll see the variety of food in the country, including basket fiery chillies, fresh cheese, and fruits and the seasonal vegetables are eaten by the Bhutanese, including various types of Orchids and Ferns. In addition, many stalls contain Bhutanese handicrafts and household items. It’s fun to meander the aisles, taking in the lively atmosphere of the market.
Visit The TAKIN Preserve: Located in Motithang about 3km away from the heart of Thimphu city is a wildlife reserve area for Takin, the national animal of Bhutan. The reason for declaring takin as a national animal of Bhutan on 25 November 2005 is attributed to a legend of the animal’s creation in Bhutan in the 15th century by Lama Drukpa Kuenley. When a small number of Takin were confined in a “mini-zoo” in Thimphu, the Fourth King of Bhutan felt that it was improper for a Buddhist country to confine animals for religious and environmental reasons. He, therefore, ordered the release of the animals and the closure of the mini-zoo. To everyone’s surprise, the takin, known for their docile behaviour, refused to leave the immediate area and stayed in the streets of Thimphu in search of food for weeks.
Visit National Memorial Chorten (Stupa): This stupa one of the most visible religious structures in heart of Thimphu city, The building of this landmark was originally envisaged by Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk (“the
father of modern Bhutan”) who has wished to erect monument to world peace and prosperity. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it serves both as a memorial to the Late King and as a monument to peace. Visitors will find elderly
Bhutanese people circumambulating the Chorten throughout the day. Chorten literally means ‘Seat of Faith’ and Buddhists often call such monuments, the ‘Mind of Buddha’.
Visit Buddha Dordenma Statue: This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures at a height of 51.5m, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. 125,000 smaller Buddha statues have been placed within the Buddha Dordenma statue; 100,000 statues of which are 8-inches-tall and 25,000 statues of which are 12 inches tall. Each of these thousands of Buddhas has also been cast in bronze and gilded. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.
Visit Tarayana Rural Products
Bhutan’s Queen Mother Dorje Wangmo (the fourth king’s wife) established this NGO to support rural communities across Bhutan through the marketing and sale of traditional crafts. Crafts here include paper products from Samtse, handwoven scarves, bags and nettle place mats, and the quality is generally high.
Visit Voluntary Artists Studio Thimphu
This studio and art gallery is the capital’s main centre for local artists. The goal of the studio is to promote both traditional and contemporary works of Bhutanese art, to provide vocational training for young artists and to act as a creative meeting venue for artists. It’s a great place to plug into the Thimphu art scene, check out the latest exhibit and chat with artists. Some art is displayed in the public park outside.
Visit Changlimithang Archery Ground
On weekends it’s worth checking to see if there’s an archery tournament going on at this ground near the Changlimithang Stadium: whether it’s traditional bamboo or high-tech carbon-fibre bows, the skill, camaraderie and good-humoured ribbing are always entertaining. Traditional songs and victory dances are all part of the fun. Archers often practise here in the mornings.
Visit Changangkha Lhakhang: This popular temple, perched like a fortress on a ridge above central Thimphu, hums with pilgrim activity. It was established in the 12th century on a site chosen by Lama Phajo Drukgom Shigpo, who came from Ralung in Tibet. Parents traditionally come here to get auspicious names for their newborns or blessings for their young children from the protector deity Tamdrin (to the left in the grilled inner sanctum). Children are blessed by a phurba (ritual dagger) and given a sacred thread. The interior murals are particularly fine. Give the resident astrologer your birth date and he will consult divination charts to decide which kind of protective prayer flags will benefit you (Nu 150 for the flags). Don’t leave without checking out the shrine to the tshomen (mermaid) in the central courtyard and then taking in the excellent view from the back kora (pilgrim path), with its lovely black-and-gold prayer wheels.
Visit National Handicrafts Emporium
This government-run souvenir emporium has fixed prices and takes credit cards. There are a wide range of products under one roof, including traditional boots, bamboo baskets and festival masks.
Visit BBS Tower
There’s a wonderful view of Thimphu valley from the hillside below the Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) tower (2685m), high above the town at the end of a road that branches off from the approach to the youth centre. Don’t photograph the telecommunications installation, but the valley is worth a few snaps particularly in the afternoon. The area is known as Sangaygang and the access road attracts fitness fanatics after work and becomes a lover’s lane after dark.
Visit Zilukha Nunnery
Just above Gadem Lam in the north of Thimphu is this modern nunnery, which is also called Drubthob Goemba. The site has links to Thangtong Gyelpo, and there’s an interesting enclosed chorten in the main courtyard. It’s best visited after the BBS tower, by taking Gaden Lam for great views of Thimphu and Trashi Chhoe Dzong.
Visit National Institute of Traditional Medicine where centuries old healing arts such as acupuncture and herbal remedies are still practised. Established in 1978, this institute collects medicinal plants from remote corners of the Bhutanese Himalaya, such as Lingzhi, Laya and Lunana, and then distributes pills, tablets, ointments and medicinal teas to regional health-care units around the country. The small museum details some of the 300 herbs, minerals and animal parts that Bhutanese doctors have to choose from.Of particular interest is yartsa goenbub (cordyceps) – the high-altitude cure-all ‘Himalayan Viagra’, which is actually a caterpillar that has been mummified by a fungus. The curious ‘worm-root’ sells for up to US$25,000 per kilogram in China.
Visit Nehru-Wangchuck Cultural Centre
This Indian cultural centre in front of the Taj Tashi hotel runs performance programs, documentaries and lectures on South Asian, particularly Indian, culture. There’s also a library covering the religion and culture of South Asia and Tibet, plus a yoga room.
Visit The Bhutan Postal Museum, Evolution of Communications Systems in Bhutan, was established in November 2015 to celebrate the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The main objective of the museum is to tell the story of Bhutan’s progress and development through the lens of the evolution of communications and postal system in the country. The story is told through anecdotes, artefacts and the rich assortment of stamps the country has produced over the years.
Visit Royal Botanical Garden
A road leads uphill from Babesa to the Royal Botanical Garden, which might be of interest to horticultural enthusiasts. The centre was inaugurated in 1999 and has a weedy collection of 500 species of plants. It’s a favourite weekend picnic spot of Thimphu residents.
Visit Dochula Pass: Dochula pass is a popular location among tourists as it offers a stunning 360-degree panoramic view of the Himalayan mountain range. The view is especially scenic on clear, winter days with snowcapped mountains forming a majestic backdrop to the tranquillity of the 108 chortens gracing the mountain pass. Bhutanese families enjoy visiting the pass during holidays and weekends to picnic and simply enjoy the scenery. It is common to see families and groups of friends seated amongst the chortens, enjoying a packed lunch and hot tea. For tourists, this is an ideal location to capture beautiful pictures of the Himalayan mountain range during clear, warm days. If the weather permits, you can see a range of high Himalayan peaks towards the northeast. Following peaks can be seen from this pass, on a clear day ; Masagang (7,158m), Tsendagang (6,960m), Terigang (7,060m ), Jejegangphugang (7,158 m ), Kangphugang (7,170 m ), Zongphugang (7, 060 m ), a table mountain that dominates the isolated region of Lunana – finally Gangkar puensum, the highest peak in Bhutan at 7,497m.
By the evening when the times comes to conclude the day program, Thimphu town remains still lively with full of festive mood. You can visit some of the most famous restraints, club, pubs and Karoke for relaxation and jam-session. There are heaps of both international and local cuisine and fine restaurant in the town.
Day Hike in Thimphu. (1day for each hike)
TIME: 4 – 5 hours.
Difficulty level: Moderate
The hike to Dodedrak involves yet another struggle up the mountainside, but few hikes are as rewarding as this one in terms of scenic beauty and insights to Buddhist architecture, craftsmanship and mysticism. After entering Royal property close to the 4th King’s Palace and walking the first ten minutes on the paved road, the trail sets off steeply up the mountainside for about 1 – 1 ½ hour. As you move upwards, Thimphu town reveals itself, and you will have great views of Wangditse and Dechen Phodrag temples. The last part of the walk takes you along the hillside overlooking Thimphu on your left, past a huge rock used as a study spot for the monks, and to a chorten. Awaiting around the corner is the sight of a beautifully situated, magical monk village established around the mysterious 12th-century temple, Dodedrak. Walk through the parish among the young monks until reaching the first of the three temples. Very often, you will see white languor monkeys playing in the trees below. The courtyard area outside the temples has a great picnic spot. Take plenty of time to let the mystery reveal itself before returning to the real world. When you are ready to leave this magical place behind, set off on the same trail that led you here until you again reach the chorten. From here, follow the upper trail which will lead you gently down towards Dechhencholing Goemba and the Queen Mother’s Palace.
Dodedrak village arose around a temple prophesied by the Chief Abbot Yonten Thaye, the reincarnation of Channa Dorji (The God of Power and Energy) when he was working as a teacher in Phadjodhing in the 12th century. After his vision, he later came to build the temple in the face of a huge rock split in two.
The two altar rooms are equally interesting; both with red carpeted floors and with original 900-year old paintings. As you walk up to the altar rooms on the 1st floor, the view of the temple’s protective deity, Dorji Pelpa, outlined in the stone wall is awesome. This imprinted sketch is believed to be self-created. The roof of the first temple is filled with remarkable mandalas. There are two rock wall paintings at the entrance area of the temples. The extraordinary shapes of the stone walls are believed to be natural, and with help of colours, the first painted wall tells the history of Dodedrak. The second painted wall is the vision of Dodedrak and depicts what the area looks like today.
The second altar room has statues of four chief abbots, where the abbot Jamyang Gyeltshen is believed to have created all the other statues the temple holds as well as the paintings. It is said that when he died, one could observe tears falling from the eyes of the statues and the gods depicted in the paintings.
In the 1980s, the 4th King initiated the development of a lobdra (monastic school) and a shedra (Buddhist college) in the Dodedrak area which now consists of numerous small houses scattered in the hillside among three lhakhangs and a stupa which is believed to bring peace and harmony to the community. 154 monks aged 15-28 now inhabit the village. A three hour hike above the village is a 1000-year old meditation retreat inhabited by hermits who have meditated here for as long as 12 years.
Hike to Tango and Cheri Monastery
Time: 1 – 2 hours.
Difficulty level: Moderate
A 40-minute drive from the town takes you to the starting point for the walk to Cheri Monastery which is believed to have been visited by Guru Rinpoche in the 8th century. After crossing a bridge, the main trail to Cheri zigzags upwards to a chorten. Remember to pass this in a clockwise direction as a sign of respect. Shortly after passing a few buildings, you will see the temple on your left. Sometimes you might spot goral (wild goat) jumping around the cliffs nearby. Cheri is considered very sacred as it contains the remains of Tempi Nima’s sacred body. Tempi Nima is the father of the first Zhabdrung (founder of Bhutan), and beautiful frescoes of Buddhist saints. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal built it in 1620 in memory of his father. Parts were later converted to a nunnery and a few nuns still live here today. Tango and Cheri are located opposite to each other, which there is no direct route connecting, one has to set down on the basement to climb next.
TANGO MONASTERY and Tango Dzongkha
Time: 5 – 6 hours. Difficulty level Strenuous (Moderate, If only hiking to Tango Monastery)
Tango is a beautiful temple which is relatively easy to reach. The hike all the way up to Tango Dzongkha, a meditation retreat for hermits, is more challenging but will reward you with great views across Thimphu and Punakha valleys on clear days. Abundant flowering rhododendrons higher on the ridge make this hike even more inspiring in the spring.
After visiting the Tango monastery, you will follow the upper trail just above the huge prayer flag in front of the temple entrance. The trail passes a few meditation houses occupied by monks before crossing above a small landslide and continuing steeply up a log skid trail in the left side-valley. After leaving the blue-pine behind, the vegetation is dominated by spruce and hemlock, prickly barberry bushes and Daphne plants. When reaching a meadow, you have completed the steepest part, and can proceed through mixed juniper, cypress and spruce forest. There are a number of hidden meditation huts along this route, so remember to be quiet. A small path past a chorten and through prayer flags will lead you to the Tango Dzongkha itself. Although there is no admission (due to the fact that Tango Dzongkha is a meditation temple occupied by hermits), the view from the temple; of Cheri Monastery, Drolay Goemba, Thimphu and beyond, are excellent. The chorten below the temple is a breathtaking picnic spot.
Tango Monastery is a 15th-century temple unique in its architecture. When the monastery was presented to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1617, a battle was going on between the Tibetans and Bhutanese. The Zhabdrung, therefore, meditated in a cave at Tango as a result of which the invading forces were defeated. Today you will see a large stone in the shape of a horse head by the cave which is supposed to frighten the enemies of Buddhism.
TANGO MONASTERY AND DROLAY GOEMBA LOOP
Time : 3 – 4 hours.
Difficulty level: Moderate
A slightly easier hiking option than Tango Dzongkha, yet with beautiful views of the same area is the Tango – Drolay loop. After following the descriptions above to Tango monastery and visiting the temple, you will follow a right-hand trail leading further up the mountain past a few rock outcrops and above a hot stone bath frequently used by the monks. After crossing a creek, you will reach a meadow and the monk’s soccer ground before continuing along a ridge until reaching Drolay Goemba. Hidden between the trees in the mountainside below Tango Dzongkha you can spot numerous meditation huts. There are also excellent views of Cheri monastery, Thimphu and the mountains to the north.
Hike to WANGDITSE AND CHOEKHORTSE LOOP
Time : 3 – 4 hours.
Difficulty Level: Moderate
The walk from the Radio Tower to Choekhortse Goemba via Wangditse is a moderate hike with great views over Thimphu. From the Radio Tower, the trail goes along the tower fence before it passes a chorten and follows the contours along the mountainside until reaching Wangditse. Along the way, there are great views of Trashi Chhoe Dzong. At Wangditse, follow the left trail leading straight up to Choekhortse. After a while, the trail levels out while crossing an open ridge with a field of prayer flags. From here, you will have excellent views of the city. After another section through the forest, the trail ends up at Choekhortse Goemba (9,870 ft / 3,010 m), a private temple where monks often go for meditation. From here you turn left to continue straight downhill back to the Radio Tower.
Wangditse Goemba was founded in 1750 by the attendants of Bhutan’s 8th desi, Yeshey Rabgye. It was renovated in 2002 after it suffered serious damage in a windstorm in 1995. The goemba houses the statues of the guardian deities Yeshey Gonpo (Mahakala), Palden Lhamo (Mahakali) and Tsheringma (the Goddess of Longevity).
Hike to PHADJODHING AND PUMOLA
Time: 7-8 hours.
Difficulty level: Strenuous
This is a difficult hike, yet one of the most popular and enjoyable hiking destinations around Thimphu due to its commanding location above the valley.
From the prayer flag decorated area around the beautiful Radio Tower, where you can have a great view of whole Thimphu valley, you will follow the trail climbing 660 ft / 200 m steeply upwards to Choekhortse Goemba. A gentler trail continues further up from here up through thick blue pine forest until reaching the first of two chortens which you pass before reaching the group of temples in Phadjodhing (12,100 ft / 3,690 m). After visiting one or several temples and enjoying a well-deserved picnic lunch in the temple gardens where goats graze and puppies run around playfully, continue on the one hour journey along the mountain side to Pumola Monastery (12,170 ft / 3,710 m). From Pumola, a trail zigzags down the mountain to the Takin Preserve where you can study Bhutan’s national animal.
Phadjodhing was at one time one of the richest monasteries in the country. It was founded in the 13th century by a Tibetan yogi looking for a place to meditate. Most of the buildings were constructed by the 9th Je Khenpo in the first half of the 18th century. The many buildings spread out over the mountainside include temples, monk quarters, numerous meditation centres and even a guest house. There is also a sacred cave and a holy water source.