Thimphu Travel Guide

Thimphu is the capital city of Bhutan but just unlike any other capital cities. This valley city is filled with younger generation as its also one of the major hub for institutes of the country.

SEE

1. Tashichho Dzong is the Thimphu Dzong located north of the city on the west bank of Wang Chhu river that hosts the city’s biggest annual bash, the colorful Tshechu festival. (This festival is held for 3 days beginning on 10th day of 8th month of lunar calendar.) This Dzong has two claims to fame as it was built without nails and also the first Dzong to be built in the country. The Dzong, itself, is much the same as many others in the country and therefore nothing special about thus, nonetheless, it is still a nice place to visit. The 3D art on the wall makes the visit worthwhile and leaves one with beautiful experience of art and ancient stories. They do have a flag hoisting/ change of guard performed every evening at about 5pm.

2. Changangkha Lhakhang is a popular temple, perched like a fortress on a ridge above central Thimphu. It was built in 12th century and one of the oldest temple (800 years old) that stands still. The design of the walls of the temple have a unique shape and feel to it. The view from the temple is simply beautiful and serene.

3. Buddha Dordenma has a huge 51 meter tall Buddha statue  that commands the entry to the Thimphu valley. The massive 3 storey base houses a large temple while the statue is said to be filled with 125000 smaller statues of Buddha. The best time to visit this statue is morning light while the evening illuminated statue has a lovely charm too. While we were visiting this place, there were about 1000 monks sitting at the feet of the Buddha chanting prayers for day long which was part of a 3 month religious ritual. This Buddha point is also popular biking route with a 3.5km mountain bike trail branching off from Buddha point to Depsi, near Babesa.

4. National Textile Museum gives a peek into the traditional woven art, Thagzo. There are royal garments on display spilling the splendid royalty for the world to see. They have a gallary with details of their weaving techniques and various pieces of their attire. This was a rather fulfilling experience for a clothing lover like me. Their clothing just talks how the people have brought versatility in their garment making them unique piece which definitely made me feel like buying one for me.

5. Weekend market is every photographers dream. There are some souvenir shops to pick from else this place to good to stroll about and get a feel on the local life.

6. Hikes around the city Being a valley city, this place has lots of hiking option to offer lasting from short few hours to few days. Here are some options to explore from.

EAT

1. Zombala (original) is a highly recommended place for Bhutanese cuisine enthusiast. Almost everything is good here though I highly recommend the thukpa & momos. Any local will tell you the best momos in town can be eaten here. Its a cheap & local joint near Hong Kong market and expect a queue. We happened to share our table with a group of monks and I could see the same satisfaction on their face. Slurrrrp!

2. Babesa Village Restaurant is another lovely joint frequented by local in Babesa, which is bit in the outskirts of Thimphu city. This charming restaurant offers traditional Bhutanese cuisine in a lovely century-old building, one of four still standing incongruously right next to the Paro–Thimphu highway. The building is decorated with antiques and the food includes such local dishes as tasty ribs, lom(dried turnip leaf) and mengay, optimistically described as ‘Bhutanese pizza’.

3. Bhutan kitchen is a warm place serving Bhutanese cuisine in the heart of the town. Dive into the local dishes such as ema datshi and thukpa. Dont miss out on the complimentary shot of arra (the local firewater) or sud-ja(butter tea) at lunch.

4. Ambient cafe is highly frequented by expats and chances of bumping into a mountain bikers is very high

5. Hotel Jhumolhari is a lovely place to indulge with your spouse/ family

STAY

1. Druk Heritage Residence is lovely home converted into cottage villa. Along with cohesive homely feeling they offer spacious rooms with bath tub and free wifi. It has bar to soak yourself in the lovely cold evening.

2. Damchoe’s Guesthouse is lovely traditional home located in the outskirts of Thimphu with an organic vegetable garden of their own. It has warm owners & amazing view to offer.

3. Norzin Lam is in the central road and most of the hotels are concentrated on this road, near Clock Tower, almost next to each other.

 

Read complete guide on Bhutan, with detail travel guide on Paro, homestay in Paro and Punakha.

Here is a visual tour of the trip:

View of Bidh Dordenma. That beautiful crazy sky!!!

Thimphu city in evening

They might as well call it gateway to heaven on earth

Just can’t get enough of that sky

Original Zombala restaurant

This old lady was a lovely lady who spoke to me for few mins but i didn’t get a word.

Postcards from Thimphu

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Travel Guide – Paro, Bhutan

Bhutan is an brilliant travel destination for backpackers and hikers. Once we got our permit sorted at Phuntshuling (read details here), our next pits top was Paro – a valley town of Bhutan located in the western part of the country and the only town with international airport. Its a beautiful city with its own pace that i fell in love with.

SEE

1. Monasteries at Tigers Nest (Taktsang Palphug Monastery): Is a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and the temple complex is located in the cliffside of the upper Paro valley. The temple complex was first built in 1692, around the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave where Guru Padmasambhava (a reincarnation of Bhudh who was born to spread the message of bhuddhism) is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours during the 8th century. Padmasambhava is credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan and is the tutelary deity of the country. Best way to reach the monastery is by hiking which is of medium level mainly for the slight altitude complexity that might challenge few tropical souls like us. Locals take about 1.5 hours to hike however, non-hikers especially the not so fit-ones will take about 3.5 to 4 hours. There is an option to reach halfway by horse and rest of the hike mainly consists of steps. So people with knee/ artherities problem will face difficulty. However, the view is breathtakingly beautiful and definitely worth every effort. Make sure to carry enough water and energy bar as there are’nt any supplies available on the way. Take a guide from the base or on top to tell you the mythological stories of the place – its a must as without which its just a temple with statues and paintings. The entry ticket has to be bought at the base costing about Nu 500 and guide cost of about Nu 200-300. Must try the Holly water which is actually stream water coming from Tibet (I tasted Tibet for 1st time and I am so intrigued).

2. Kyichu Lhakhang: is an important Himalayan Buddhist temple situated in Lango Gewog of Paro District. The Jowo Temple of Kyichu is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, originally built in the 7th century by the Tibetan Emperor Songtsän Gampo. We faced a hard luck as the royal mother of Bhutan was living in the temple premise for 21 days for which the temple was shut for visitors, including locals. We could visit the veranda and buildings located in the complex except for the main temple. Still it was lovely touching the temple walls of the 12th century.

3. Chelela Pass: Is at an elevation of 13000 ft and is considered to be one of the highest motorable pass in Bhutan. About an hour’s drive from Paro which  is filled with lush valleys, pine and rhododendron forest. The pass provides stunning views of the sacred mountain Jomolhari and Jichu Drake with buntings of prayer flags everywhere. Its a delight to be at the top of this pass where you may enjoy hot beverage or thukpas and momos. Make sure to carry woolens as it can get quiet chilly up there in most seasons.

4. Archery: Is the national sport of Bhutan and you could be lucky to catch a tournament going on at the nearby stadium/ ground. Only a ground in paro, located in town, allows visitors to try their hands on archery. So make sure not to miss it. However, archery must be done during day time as it is performed in open ground which gives it a time limit till day light. You may catch a tournament of locals in their traditional wear playing their traditional sport. Get more details here.

5. Night life: I was surprised to read about the night life of Bhutan. Paro has few pubs located in the town and couple of clubs to shake a leg – and Bhutanese youth definitely shakes it well. Experience the pub and club culture of Paro as it exposes a very diffrent side of the country. The clubs mainly have Hindi and English music playing along with some Bhutanese music. We visited club Insomnia and the owner of the club made it a memorable trip was us.

There are some more places in recommendation but we gave them a pass.

6. Dzongdrakha Goempa: This monastery is located in a village called Bondey in Paro district. This Goempa is often called mini Taktshang as it is built on a cliff above the village. Dzongdrakha is translated as ‘Temple on a cliff’ in Bhutanese terminology. It takes 20 minutes by car from the Paro town to reach the Goempa. It is located in the altitude of 2227 meter. Dzongdrakha Goempa is a secondary example of a cliff-side temple. We gave this a pass as its very similar to monastries at Tiger’s Nest, only on a smaller scale. Read more here.

7. Haa valley: Haa’s major feature is the Haa Valley, a steep north-south valley with a narrow floor. The name Haa (pronounced “hah”), connotes esoteric hiddenness. An alternative name for the district is “Hidden-Land Rice Valley.” We started our journey to Haa after visiting Chelela Pass but we dropped the idea. The roads are relatively poor quality with too many hair-pin turns making the road trip filled with nausea and motion sickness. But it is a lovely place for camping. Read more here.

8. Drukgyal Dzong: was a fortress and Buddhist monastery, now in ruins, located in the upper part of the Paro District. Read more here.

Bhutan is a paradise for trekkers and here are some mesmerising places to hike which may span for more than couple of days. From the list Bumthang Owl Trek sounds like he perfect way to experience Bhutan mountains if on a short trip.

EAT

1. Ema Datshi is the national dish which is mainly a preparation from cheese and chilies and is available throughout the country. Datshi is a spicy mix of chilies (like a curry) which is combined either with Ema (homemade cheese), Kewa (potatoes), Shamu (mushroom), Hantsey (spinach), etc to create various preparations. Authentically datshi is made from Yak cheese. Try eating homecooked Ema Datshi in somebodies traditional house as the preparation is different in restaurants. We ate at the homestay that we livid in and i must say, i didnt get similar taste at any of the restaurants.

2. Butter Tea also known as po cha is a drink of the people in the Himalayan regions of Nepal, Bhutan, India (particularly in Ladakh, Sikkim) and, most famously, Tibet. Traditionally, it is made from tea leaves, yak butter, water, and salt, although butter made from cow’s milk is increasingly used, given its wider availability and lower cost. We were served butter tea every morning by our lovely host. But i must admit after experiencing it once, i couldn’t drink it as its a heavy drink and definitely didn’t provide me the wake up like my normal tea does.

3. Momos These Tibetan-style dumplings are stuffed with pork, beef or cabbages and cheese. Traditionally eaten during special occasions, these tasty treats are a Bhutanese favourite and surely were mine. There are many tiny joints in the Paro town selling them as snack.

4. Sonam Trophel is a delightful restaurant with lovely owners who are well traveled and have lovely stories to share. Most of the food out here is nice. Must try the momos, hentsey datshi, and chicken maru.

In Paro, since we lived in a homestay, we had most of our meals were home-cooked by the host family. Hence we got to try lesser food at the restaurants. However, here are some popular recommendations.

STAY

1. Paro Penlop Dawa Penjor Heritage Farmhouse is where we stayed and will highly recommend it. Read the detail review on the homestay on my blog.

2. Hotel Peljorling is a budget stay option available in the heart of Paro.

3. Sonam trophel Inn is well frequented option.

Read cover post on Bhutan for cost & details. along with a post detailed homestay. Travel guide on Punakha & Thimphu coming soon.

Here is a visual trip to Paro:

Calling a small prayer at the oldest temple of Kyichu Lakhang

At Paro Zdong with my girls

Coffee at Tiger’s Nest cafe with the brilliant view

The Homestay

Witnessed brilliant performance by these young artist. ;P

At the Chelela Pass

The traditional black mask dance.

Cute kids playing hop

Monks!

Akhil acting all cute