Thimphu is an unusual capital city in the world. It’s a small town with a population of little over a hundred thousand. The entire district of Thimphu has a population of about 150 thousand. The city became the capital of Bhutan in 1961. Today it is a bustling town on the bank of the Thimphu Chu (the Chu means River) and is set gloriously in the hills of Thimphu valley. Thimphu is home to the revered Bhutanese Royal Family, the Royal Govt. and Judiciary and to several foreign missions and development projects.
The Thimphu valley is spread south-north along the river Thimphu Chu. The town is about 15 km in length and the width in most places is just about a kilometre. The Clock tower is the heart of the town and all major hotels and government offices are within a 5 to 10-minute drive from here. Nordzim Lam is the main road that passes by the Clock tower, about a hundred meters up the slope is a parallel road called Doeboom Lam, and about 50 meters down on the other side is the Chang Lam, these almost parallel 3 roads are connected by several lanes. The Nordzim Lam and Chang Lam are one-way roads for vehicular movement.
Most tourist attractions are in and around the heart of the town. From one place of attraction to another mostly takes a few minutes of drive. Most shops are on the main Nordzim Lam or on the several lanes and alleys originating from it.
The choice of food is most varied in Thimphu among all Bhutan towns. There are plenty of restaurants in the main town and almost all hotels have running restaurants in the Bhutan capital. However regional food for Indian tourists is not available in most places. Pure vegetarian restaurants are also highly limited. Most restaurants serve both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. Most restaurants serve Beef, pork and chicken dishes among non-vegetarian items. Halal meat is also rare. Continental food is available in most upmarket restaurants and hotels. Indian dishes are available in most hotels and restaurants in the main town. Mushroom and chilli dishes are quite popular here prepared with country cheese.
Bhutanese dishes include ‘Ema Datshi’ arguably the most popular dish here. It is prepared with cheese and chilli and may be quite hot for most foreigners. Red rice is the popular staple food here. Chicken items such as ‘Jasha Maru’ is very popular.
People and Culture
Throughout Bhutan, the government strictly enforces a single dress code and culture. Bhutanese people also take pride in their local culture and dress. Despite the apparent singularity of the people, Thimphu is the most cosmopolitan town in Bhutan. There is a large population of people of Nepalese ancestry who live in Thimphu, and a large number of migrant workers from India can be seen engaged in construction work. The economy and society are dominated by the Ngalop people who are at the helm of affairs.
As a tourist, it is safe to wear Shirts with a collar, preferably with long sleeves. Take off hats white entering religious places and Dzong. Shorts and half-pants are not allowed inside temples, monasteries, and Dzong. Alcohol is freely available, but do not enter a religious place after consuming alcohol.
The right of the way belongs to the pedestrian, unlike in India, so walking on the streets is much safer here. Thimphu is a rare capital which still uses human traffic signalling, there is no light signal here.
The capital of Bhutan does not have a dedicated Airport and is served by the international airport at Paro. The travel time between Paro airport and Thimphu town is about one hour and the distance is about 55 km. Paro airport is connected with Kolkata, Delhi and Bagdogra Airport in India and also with Kathmandu in Nepal and Bangkok in Thailand. Only two airlines Druk Airline and Bhutan Airline operate through Paro airport.
Thimphu is also well connected by road with India through Phuentsholing Border. It is about 165 km and a five to six-hour drive.
Distance from Thimphu to other places
From Thimphu to Paro - 65 km - 1 hour
From Thimphu to Phuentsholing - 180 km - 5 hours
From Thimphu to Punakha - 80 km - 3 hours
Thimphu is located at an altitude of about 8,000 ft on the west bank of river Wang Chu, also known locally as Thimphu Chu (Chu means River in the local language).
What to See at Thimphu
Thimphu's charm is not embedded in its wealth of galleries, museums or places of historic interest. Visitors must wander along the main street and into shops, all of which are decorated in traditional style. Thimphu's shopkeepers are helpful and will do their best to oblige even the smallest request.
Many of the general stores stock a selection of handicrafts and textiles for passing visitors and a selection of specialist handicraft stores are now open. Bhutan's colourful stamp collections can be viewed and purchased at the capital's main post office. The country's two principal banks are located on Thimphu's main street.
On the bank of the river lies Tashichhoe Dzong, the most prominent building in Thimphu Valley. The main secretariat building which houses the throne room of his majesty the king of Bhutan is located inside the Dzong.
The Dzong is a common tourist attraction and is a visual delight, especially during the evening when it is illuminated. Parts of the Dzong can be visited by tourists. There are beautiful murals and fresco work inside the TashiChhoe Dzong.
The National Assembly Hall is located in a new building on the opposite side of the river from the Dzong. During the warmer summer months, the monk body led by his holiness, the Je Khenpo, makes its home in the Dzong.
The Golf Course
Next to the Dzong is Bhutan's only golf course. A nine-hole circuit, popular with Thimphu residents, offers a break from sightseeing for visiting players.
Bhutan's national library is located close to the Dzong. The library preserves the cultural and literary heritage of Bhutan. A huge collection of paper documents can be seen in the library. Part of the library collection has also been microfilmed. The library contains arguably the best collection of religious and historical literature in the Himalayas. There is a small bookstore on the ground floor of the library offering a variety of books on Bhutan.
The Memorial Chorten
The memorial chorten, a pious landmark for Thimphu's residents, was erected in 1974 by the mother of the Third King in memory of her son. Bhutanese pay their respects to his photograph inside the memorial. The Chorten is centrally located and in the evening there is a substantial crowd of locals who visit the chorten.
A short distance from Thimphu, at Dechencholing, is the Royal Palace, the residence of members of the Royal family except for the king. Set among sweeping lawns, ponds and willow trees, this beautiful three-storied building is entirely traditional, both in its architecture and in its furnishings. Beyond the palace is Tangu Cherry, one of the oldest lakhangs (monasteries) in Bhutan. Here monks come to practice the ancient disciplines of meditation and levitation.