Our Bhutan tour was planned long ago … the day we were returning from Nainital last October. I read about Bhutan as the world’s “happiest country”. I also heard a lot about its scenic beauty. Nature is kind here to bestow her treasures upon the Land of Thunder Dragons. Bhutan has mystic mountains, verdant valleys and meandering rivers brimming with crystal clear water. But what amazed me are the people here and their lifestyle. They looked happy and content with a pleasing countenance all the time – in the hotel receptions, in the shops, in the temples and on the roads. I wonder how such a small nation with a small (but growing) economy can live so happily. Discipline and peacefulness are the key, perhaps.
Our first stop was Thimphu, the capital city of the Royal Kingdom of Bhutan.
The journey starts from the border town of Jaigaon in India. As you enter Phuentsholing through the Bhutan Gate you’ll notice a drastic change in the surroundings – the roads are clean and less crowded. The architecture and edifices bear stark differences than what you see on the Jaigaon side.
It took 4 hours to get the permit at the immigration office in Phuentsholing. We spent the night in Jaigaon, the town at Indian border. Next morning we were to leave for Thimphu at 9:30. But the cars that were booked for us got stuck in the landslide and we finally started at 12:30 in the afternoon. Irritated and angry we got on the car. But as we drove along the road to Thimphu landscapes kept changing and Mother Nature seemed to adorn beautifully to uplift our mood.
It was a bright sunny day when we started. But with increase of height weather became cooler. We were driving through the clouds. It was like playing hide-and-seek with the mountains. Sitting on the front seat I was reminiscing about my childhood experience of travelling to Darjeeling. The journey was similar except that we had rain as our constant companion this time until we reached Thimphu.
I enjoyed the journey on a rain-drenched road in front of us and melodious Bhutanese songs playing inside the car. Visibility reduced almost to zero due to thick clouds all around. There were times when we couldn’t even see the cars coming from the opposite until it came within one or two meters distance.
We stopped by a roaring waterfall on our way. It was raining so heavily that no one except me bothered to get out of the car. Luckily I had an umbrella with me. It helped me shooting in the rain. If you plan to travel Bhutan in May-June you must carry an umbrella. It may rain anytime, especially in the afternoon.
We reached Thimphu at around 6:30 in the evening. The hotel, Nirmal Lodge had apartment style accommodation with spacious and nicely appointed rooms. You can check out my complete review of the hotel on TripAdvisor for further details.
Our room offered nice view of the neighbourhood from the balcony. The picturesque cityscape expanded beyond the central valley to the surrounding hills.
It was getting dark when we entered the city.
Next morning I woke up early went downstairs to have a look around. It was wonderful to see golden Buddha gleaming in the morning light. A deep look at his peaceful countenance made my day. For me it was the best way to start my first day in Thimphu. 🙂
That day we covered the local tourist attractions and monasteries in Thimphu.
National Memorial Chorten
Located at the heart of Thimphu, the National Memorial is an imposing structure with beautiful rose gardens all around. Built in 1974 by the then queen of Bhutan in memory of her son the memorial is now an auspicious religious place where hundreds of people come to pray and worship.
Turning these giant prayer wheels was a challenging task for me. 🙂
Buddha View Point
Buddha View Point is an wide open area high on top of the hill where the statue of Buddha Dordenma sits overlooking the city. The view point offers excellent panoramic view of Thimphu and the surrounding areas. The giant statue is itself an attraction for the tourists.
Bhutan Parliament and the King’s Palace
It is the oldest monastery and a pilgrimage in Thimphu, built in 12th century. The vivid colors and traditional stone carvings grabbed my attention.
This cute little devotee, trying to touch the prayer wheels, was actually quite curious about me. 🙂
Takin is the national animal of Bhutan. It is a rare species of goat antelope indigenous to this region of the Himalayas and western China.
Handicraft Market in Thimphu
Although this is a costly place to buy souvenirs the market is the right place to get an idea of the richness of local textile and handicrafts. The colorful handwoven scarfs, bags, tapestries and handcrafted items may pinch your pocket but they are definitely a treat to the eyes.
The next day was planned for Docula Pass and Punakha, the travel story of which I will share with you pretty soon. Till then enjoy the week!
EDIT: Now you can check out the second part of my Bhutan tour photo essay – The Scenic Dochula Pass and Punakha.