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Bhutan Tour: Life in Thimphu

thimphu, bhutan

Life in Thimphu has a unique charm. It is a peaceful place with very low crime rate, high discipline, cleanliness and a nice coexistence of modernism and urban culture with Bhutanese tradition and a laid-back lifestyle. And most importantly, people here are nice and gentle towards you as long as you are also nice to them.

thimphu, bhutan

The Roads

The roads in Thimphu are so inviting that you would enjoy drive anytime. Wide roads, less traffic, and idyllic weather – what more do you need? I haven’t seen any traffic police or traffic signaling on the roads, yet no one breaks the rule. Disciplined driving was evident everywhere.

thimphu roads 4

thimphu roads, bhutan

thimphu, roads, bhutan

The Architecture

The sight of traditional architecture and religious edifices are quite common in Thimphu. You’ll see several traditional style gateways on the roads to usher you to different parts of the country from the capital city. Needless to mention, these structures beautifully adorn the cityscape.

thimphu architecture, Buddhist stupa, bhutan

architecture in thimphu, bhutan

The Shopping Districts

Thimphu is a perfect blend of modernity and tradition – an interesting combination of simplicity and urbanity. It is reflected in the marketplaces. The city has sophisticated shopping plazas and departmental stores.

shopping in Thimphu, Bhutan

thimphu market, bhutan

On the other hand, the handicrafts market in Thimphu is the place you can discover the richness of Bhutanese traditional art and textiles.

handicraft market thimphu, bhutan

Bhutanese handicrafts, handicraft market, thimphu, bhutan

textile, bhutan, thimphu, handicraft market

The streets come alive in the afternoon with young boys playing carrom at the shopping arcades, girls having chitchat at the open-air cafeterias and women go shopping with their little kids accompanying them.

The Vegetable Markets

Vegetable markets in Thimphu, mostly makeshift ones, are vibrant, colorful places where you’ll find a plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables. Most importantly, the sellers and buyers in these roadside vegetable markets are mostly women, in colorful western or traditional clothing.

vegetable market, thimphu, bhutanvegetables, market, thimphu,bhutan

The Women

Bhutanese women are beautiful and in particular, they have excellent dressing sense. Be it their traditional costume Kira or western clothing, women in Thimphu dress up and accessorize quite fashionably. Women here are very active. They work hard both at home and outside. But what is worthy of mention is that they are quite comfortable taking their kids to their workplace.

Look at this woman at a vegetable market in Thimphu.

Bhutanese woman with child, thimphu

Women usually carry their babies on their back while walking on the roads, at the shops, in the markets… everywhere. Hats off to motherhood!

Bhutanese women, thimphu, bhutan

The Men

You’ll see men in Thimphu mostly in their traditional robes, called Gho. Our driver Sangay, a cheerful little young fellow, told me that it is a legal mandate in Bhutan for taxi drivers to drive in their national costume during duty hours. This is also applicable to men and women working in government offices.

boys playing carrom on thimphu streets

The Houses

Thimphu is a booming city. I saw a lot of multi-story houses all around in the neighborhood we stayed and a lot many were under construction. Residential buildings in Thimphu have similar structure and symmetry with the traditionally decorated exterior.  What I loved the most is the happy colors they use to paint their houses. Well… quite natural for a city in the “happiest country in the world” – isn’t it? 🙂

houses in thimphu, bhutan

buildings in thimphu, bhutanhouses in thimphu, happy colors, traditional house in thimphu, bhutan, art and architecture

The Dogs

Dogs seem to be an important part of every household in Thimphu. The people here love dogs. During the day, you’ll see them quietly slugging around in the sun. It is in the night when they are most active, barking all the night to ensure you enjoy “good night sleep”. 😀

Hotel Nirmal, where we stayed in Thimphu, is a family run hotel. The family has a cute little pet dog, Kotah, who was afraid of this distant brother of German Shepherd although I found him very gentle but watchful always. 🙂

dog, thimphu, bhutan

The Neighborhoods

We stayed in a peaceful but lively neighborhood approx 15-minute walk from the main road and the buzzing shopping district of Thimphu. A walk along the winding roads in the morning and afternoon will let you look deeper into the city life.

neighborhoods, thimphu, bhutan

P.S: This is Part IV of my Bhutan Tour Photo Essay Series. You can also check out the first three parts of this series for more photos and information on Bhutan travel.

Click here to find more on Bhutan.


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Bhutan Tour: Thimphu through my lenses

Thimphu, Bhutan

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.

bhutan gate, phuentsholing

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.

cloud, fog, mist, mountain roads

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.

waterfall, streams, thimphu, bhutan, hills, mountain

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.

Thimphu, Bhutan

It was getting dark when we entered the city.

Thimphu gate, Thimphu, Bhutan

Thimphu, Bhutan

But I noticed that Thimphu looked beautiful even in the night.
Thimphu at night, Bhutan

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. 🙂

buddha dordenma, buddha, statue, thimphu, bhutan

buddha, dordenma, buddha statue, buddha view point, thimphu, bhutan

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.

national memorial thimphu, chorten, thimphu sightseeing, bhutan

National Memorial

Turning these giant prayer wheels was a challenging task for me. 🙂

prayer wheels, National memorial, chorten, Thimphu, Bhutan

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.

Buddha view point, Budhha statue, thimphu, bhutan

Thimphu, Landscapes, scenic view, Bhutan

golf course landscapes

Bhutan Parliament and the King’s Palace

kings's palace, bhutan, thimphu, tashiccho dzong

Bhutan parliament, tashichho dzong, thimphu

Thimphu, bhutan, hills, valley

Changankha Lakhang

It is the oldest monastery and a pilgrimage in Thimphu, built in 12th century. The vivid colors and traditional stone carvings grabbed my attention.

changankha monastery, thimphu, bhutan, thimphu sightseeing

This cute little devotee, trying to touch the prayer wheels, was actually quite curious about me. 🙂

Changankha lakhang, monastery, thimphu, bhutan

Takin Preserve

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.

takin, takin preserve, thimphu zoo, bhutan

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.

handicrafts market, thimphu, bhutan

handicrafts market, thimphu, bhutan

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.