The most strategic location for the defence of Thimpu lies about 6 kms away from the town centre where the three roads from Paro, Thimpu and Punakha intersect. This was where the first dzong of Bhutan, Simtokha Dzong (‘demon submerged in stone’) was built.
It was constructed in 1629 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the man who unified Bhutan. Its full name is, San Ngag Sabdon Phodrang or ‘Palace of profound Tantric teachings’. The dzong successfully repulsed the 1634 attack on it by their rivals, the Five Group of Lamas. It is now the Centre for Buddhist Studies’, earlier known as the Institute for Language and Cultural Studies’. It belongs to the Kagyu sect of Buddhist, the state religion of Bhutan.
Even after the steep climb in a vehicle, you need to negotiate a long flight of steps to reach the dzong. To your right is a massive prayer wheel. After the traditional turning of this wheel, you ascend another flight of stairs till you come to a clearing where the dzong sits. Here, there is a larger prayer wheel. Don’t forget to look out for the large Buddha looming over you from the Buddha Point. Right in the centre stands a long prayer flag.
The first painting to catch your eye is the one on the right-hand side of the entrance. It is that of a burning sword on top of a lotus and a book. There is an image of a bird with two heads on either side of the sword. The sword, representing Trisong Detsen, the great Tibetan king, cuts through ignorance to master knowledge (book), and become one with the lotus, representing Guru Rinpoche in his form of Padmasambhava. The waterfowl is used to represent Santarashita and Kamalasila, the two great Indian masters, while the green parrot stands for the two translators of religious texts from Sanskrit to Tibetan.
Inside the sanctum sanctorum, the statues are exquisite and large. They represent Buddha and his two main disciples, Maudgalayayana and Sariputra. Even the paintings inside are of an exceptional brilliance and intricateness.
Firsat Written: Sep. 9, 2013
The National Chorten Memorial is a recreational park for the elderly of Thimpu to visit, pray, relax and meet up with old friends. It has a quiet dignity about it, a calmness associated with “calm of mind all passion spent”. However, that should not deter you from visiting one of the most picturesque of places in Thimpu, nor should the lone policeman of duty make you think twice. You may even ignore the notice put up on the front wall, beseeching all visitors to be attired in the national dress.
The moment you cross the threshold, you will see 5 large prayer wheels to your left. A number of elderly people will be sitting around, gossiping, saying their prayers, meditating, turning the large prayer wheels, all the while a quiet contented smile lighting up their faces. Visit any or all of the wheels and with your right hand turn them clockwise for a better future. You may notice a number of papers with writings on them stuck to the bottom of these prayer wheels. These are the wishes, dreams, aspirations and prayers of the visitors and the elderly alike.
In the middle of the pathway, there is a large, upright statue below which other elderly people sit and pray. Straight ahead is the main chorten. By the side is the butter lamp hall, a long room lined with burning containers of oil lamps. You pay INR 10/- per lamp and light as many as your heart desires. Send your prayers up as you light the lamps.
As you circumambulate the chorten (clockwise), you will come across wooden planks laid out in the open. These are meant for people to go through a series of postures, including prostrating themselves while praying.
The chorten was built in 1974 in memory of HM Jigme Dorjee Wangchuk, the third king of Bhutan. However, besides a photo of the late king, there are no mortal remains of him here in the chorten. His desire to represent the Mind of the Buddha in a tangible form was fulfilled by his mother, HM Ashi Phuntsho Choegron.
First Written: Sep. 9, 2013
The National Textile Museum is an imposing, tall, white, two-storied structure with the traditional curved roof with painted overhangs. Inside, the emphasis is on a minimalist design with a very high roof, giving the impression of spaciousness.
As you enter, a shop selling the usual curios is to your right, the reception to your left, the ground-floor gallery adjacent to the shop and a broad staircase right ahead. As you climb up, if you look to your left, you will see the imposing statue of the Buddha at Buddha Point, solemnly watching over the entire town of Thimpu. The displays on the first floor are well-laid out and are according to the region from where they emanate. A leisurely stroll along the galleries is an educational experience while you marvel at the intricateness of the designs. There are also colourful ‘kiras’ and ‘ghos’ (traditional Bhutanese dress, 'kira' for women and 'gho' for men).
Most of the displays are 'Thagzo' products or the production of some of the most intricately woven fabrics. This is one of the 13 traditional known as zorig chusum (zo=the ability to make; rig=science or craft; chusum=thirteen) practiced in Bhutan. These art forms were formally formulated during the reign of Tenzin Rabgye (1680-1694), the 4th Druk Desi (secular ruler). The art forms are 'Dezo' or paper-making, 'Dozo' or stonework, 'Garzo' or blacksmithing, 'Jinzo' or clay arts, 'Lhazo' or painting, 'Lugzo' or bronze casting, 'Parzo' or wood, slate, and stone carving, 'Shagzo' or the making of wooden receptacles, 'Shingzo' or woodworking like construction of dzongs and monasteries, 'Thagzo' or weaving, 'Trozo' or silver and goldsmithing, 'Tshazo' or cane and bamboo work and 'Tshemazo' or needlework like making thangkas.
The museum was inaugurated in 2001 by Her Majesty Queen Ashi Sangay Choden. As the Visitor’s Guide proclaims, “… it is a national center to collect, document, preserve, interpret and display Bhutan’s textile heritage.”
First Written: Sep. 9, 2013
One of the oldest houses in Thimpu has been converted into a Folk Heritage Museum to remind the urbanized youth of the country the simple pastoral lifestyle of their forefathers. This was inaugurated in 2001 and is located in the Kawajangsa locality of the town.
It is a three-storied structure made of rammed mud walls, with wooden doors, windows. The roof is made of slates. The furniture in this house must be older than 100 year. A small doorway leads into a simple, small courtyard used for tethering domestic animals. An equally small doorway leads into the ground floor of the house, normally used as a shelter for the domestic animals as well as to keep their fodder. Various agricultural implement hang on the walls.
A steep wooden staircase leads to a spartan first floor housing the kitchen as well as a living room. The entire family slept in such open rooms. Another steep wooden staircase and you come to the prayer room of the house. Newly-married couple would also be allowed to sleep here. From this height, the view of the valley below and of the rolling meadows, is superb.
If you look out of the window you’ll see a large wooden bathtub-like structure on the grounds below. Red-hot stones would be put into this water-filled wooden bathtub for the inmates to relax in. From the other side of the house, a look outside reveals a pole festooned with prayer flags, flapping in the gentle breeze.
Throughout the walls of the house, implements of daily life are hung, all old, coarse but hugely utilitarian. As you exit, you may chance upon a few old ladies embroidering a piece of cloth or a shawl, just as they did in days of yore.
First Sritten: Sep. 9, 2013.
The Authentic Bhutanese Crafts Bazar situated in the centre of Thimpu town is your window of the art and craft of this Himalayan kingdom. It a mile-long row of shops made of bamboo and other eco-friendly material. The shops number almost 100 but the products are hardly replicated. All the shopkeepers are women with the men folk helping them with the more strenuous duties.
The beauty of the products lies in their original craftsmanship and in their indigenousness. The shops were allotted to these womenfolk on the condition that they would only sell products which were produced in Bhutan and not import products from other countries.
The ladies are helpful, courteous and very obliging while you browse through their wares. If you start from one end, it will definitely take you a little more than an hour to window-shop till the end of the road.
First Written: Sep. 9, 2013
The Tashichoedzong is placed picturesquely in the Thimpu valley beside the river, Wang Chu. After you park your car and walk towards the main eastern entrance, you may gaze at the Royal Palace on your right but you may not take photos.
The original dzong was built by Gyelwa Lhanangpa in 1216 who named it, Do Ngong Dzong, meaning, ‘Fortress of the Blue Stone’. It was located strategically to repulse attackers on a spur of the nearby mountain which now houses the Dechen Phodrang. In 1641, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal reconstructed a new dzong at the same spot and named it, Tashichoedzong, or ‘The Fortress of the Auspicious Religion’. A devastating fire destroyed most of this dzong in 1772 which prompted Zhidar, the Desi (Governor) to relocate it to the present site. In 1869, the dzong caught fire again but was promptly rebuilt the following year. After an earthquake in 1897, the dzong was repaired by Jigme Namgyal. When Jigme Dorjee Wangchuk, the third king, shifted his capital to Thimpu, more rooms and floors were added to the dzong to accommodate the civil administration there. It was finally consecrated in June, 1969.
A huge stone staircase leads you to the main entrance from where you turn right, after the mandatory security check and approach another flight of stone steps. The beautifully carved pillars lend a distinctive proportion to the entire structure while the fulsome decorations are a treat to the eyes. As you emerge, you are struck by the vastness of the courtyard. The various ministries and the Royal Chamber are all around this courtyard. The Lhakhang Sarp or ‘New Temple’, built in 1907 has a huge statue of Guru Rinpoche. The mandalas here are worth a closer look as they are of a very intricate nature. Photography is not permitted inside the temple.
As you emerge from the temple, you are once again struck by the vastness of the courtyard. Views from here of the valley below and of the distant hills are simply breath-taking.
First Written: Sep. 9, 2013
The Thangtong Dewachen Dupthop Nunnery is about 8 kms from Thimpu town centre on the Babesa-Thimpu Expressway. It is one of the last surviving nunnery in Bhutan. Park your vehicle by the roadside and admire the view of the valley below. Thimpu sparkles in the sunlight as the bright red and yellow colours of the houses mingle softly with the greenery surrounding it while the river Wang Chu flows gently past. The air is fresh, the mood tranquil.
You turn around, cross the road and walk a few steps up to the nunnery past a traditional gate. Two or three houses, in close proximity to one another, come into view. The one on the left has waist-high prayer wheels all round it. You turn these with your right hand and circumambulate the house in a clock-wise direction. In the centre is the courtyard where children play badminton. The house furthest away is not only a monastery but also an antechamber which doubles up as a place for the nuns to meditate and pray. Inside the sanctum sanctorum, there is a statue of Drupthob Thangtong Gyalpo, the famous bridge builder, depicted as an old man with white hair, white eyebrows and a white flowing beard.
First Written: Sep. 9, 2013
The Buddha Point is about 10 kms out of the town area. A massive statue of the Buddha has been erected on the side of a hill overlooking the entire town. Work is still going on at the site but that does not prevent you from parking your vehicle and walking the few metres to the large cemented courtyard to admire the statue.
The Buddha Dordenma Project of China consists of a gigantic Shakyamuni Buddha statue set amidst the ruins of Kuensel Phodrang, the palace of Sherab Wangchuck, the thirteenth Desi Druk. At a height of 169 ft (51 m), it will be one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. Though its completion was planned for Oct, 2010, site construction was still on as of June 2013. The total cost of the project is well over US$100 million, with the statue alone costing US$47 million. The structure will accommodate 1,00,000 numbers of 8" tall and 25,000 numbers of 12" tall bronze and gilded in gold, Buddha statues.
The erection of the titanic statue is said to fulfill two prophecies - in the 12 century, Sonam Zangpo, the renowned yogi prophesied that a large statue of either Padmasambhava, Buddha or of a phurba would be built in the region. Also, the statue is mentioned by Guru Padmasambhava himself. Next to this site is the Kuenselphodrang Nature Park, formally opened in 2011. The park consists of 943 acres of forest area and surrounds the Buddha Dordenma statue.
First Written: Sep. 9, 2013
Some 24 kms and 45 minutes later, we come to a confluence of two rivers – one which had accompanied us from the airport (Pa Chhu) and the other river (Wang Chu) flowing towards us from Thimpu. At Chuzom, the two meet and happily gurgle their way down to the plains of India. We get off and walk across the concrete bridge to pay homage to the three differently-shaped ‘stupas’ or ‘chortens’ from a distance. The left-most one is the Nepali one, the middle one is the Bhutanese one and the right-most one, hidden behind a clump of trees is the Tibetan one.
On the other side of the bridge is a large prayer wheel. Gripping the base with the right hand and spinning it while walking around it thrice in a clock-wise direction, is the norm. One road leads to Phuntsholing while the other takes us to Thumpu.
The drive from the confluence to Thimpu is equally interesting. The river is now Wang Chu and it continues to stay on our left hand side. The scenery is breath-taking as is the freshness of the air. About 45 minutes and 31 kms later, we are in the capital of the Land of the Dragon.
First Written: Sep. 9, 2013
Barely 5 kms before reaching Chuzom or Chhuzom (confluence) from Paro Airport to Thimpu, there is a temple, Tachog Lhakhang Dzong or Tachogang ('temple of the hill of excellent horse'), on your left, past an iron chain suspension bridge and was probably built around 1420 AD. This belongs to the descendants of Drupthob Thangtong Gyalpo (1385-1464), the famous bridge builder.
It is worth stopping by the roadside and taking in the view from there. It is estimated that some 108 iron bridges were built by him in Tibet and Bhutan, some of which are still in use today. The bridge next to this one, with a wooden floor, is reserved for cattle else the hoofs of the animals would get entangled in the gaps of the iron bridge.
Though built in the 15thcentury, the iron chain bridge has not rusted – a phenomenon similar to the Iron Pillar of Delhi. The bridge is festooned with brightly-colored prayer flags, as is the practice in the Himalayan region. The base of the bridge is made up of metal netting and is quite flexible.
In 1969, flood waters destroyed the bridge. However, parts of the chains were recovered and stored away safely. In 2005, the temporary cable rope suspension bridge was replaced by using original pieces of iron chain bridge from different parts of Bhutan, like Doksum and Tashigang. The red colour of the soil of the hill on which the Tachog Lhakhang Dzong stands is owing to the high iron content found in the valley, a material which was used to manufacture the original chains.
First Written: Sep. 9, 2013
In 2003, Bhutan was pushed towards war. Indian rebels were hiding in Bhutan, and the Indian government had given Butan an ultimatum of either driving the rebels out or the Indian Army would be forced to cross the border and do it themselves. Bhutan's traditions of pacifism and peace wanted to avoid a conflict, with an army of only 7,000 enlisted men, facing tens of thousands of rebels, and war was unpopular. So, the king made it voluntary for the soldiers, and personally led the campaign against the rebels. The mini-war was a success, and the rebels were routed with a minimal loss to the Bhutan army. Some wanted to erect a monument for the victory, but the King replied that war should never be glorified. So instead he commissioned this monument honoring the dead soldiers and the dead rebels from the conflict.
The 108 stupas sit along the main road leading from Thimphu to the east, at Dochula Pass (an altitude of about 3100 m). These solemn constructions are colorful and decorative, and the forest adjoining the monument is festooned with prayer flags, swaying in the breezes. It is impossible to miss if you're driving east from Thimphu, and marks a beautiful area with a serious and touching reminder of war.
For a brief jaunt out of the confines of the city, a good place to visit are the Botanical Gardens at Serbithang. Located about 15 km south of the city, this garden was established in 1999 to protect endemic plants and provide a place for Bhutanese to see some of their own native flora. IT is increasingly popular with locals on weekend excursions from Thimphu.
The gardens, while not large, offer several areas of specialized interest, including medicinal plants and flowering plants. It has several open expanses on its 29-acre grounds, perfect for picnics and letting the kids stretch their legs (there is even a small playground there). And since it is up on the hillside, you have some nice views overlooking Thimphu and a minister's traditional house set in the hills. It is a nice day to relax outdoors, without going on an extended hike or trek, and learn a bit about the plants of Bhutan.
This Dzong is by the Wang Chu river and just across the palace. We've been warned about not to look towards the palace, because The King was in the garden!
The Dzong is the seat of the government. We saw ministers and officers while we were walking to the Dzong. Because of being in the Capital city, this is the most important Dzong of whole country. Coronation of the last King was held here. There are two thrones in the most sacred prayer room for the King and the religious leader Je Khenpo. Both thrones are decorated. King's throne has a dragon carving, Je Khempo's has deer carvings. Deer is the symbol of the believers.
The first dzong had been built here in 1216. After several renovations because of some fires and earthquakes, the final structure was built in 1902. In 1952, Thimphu became the Capital and the government moved in here.
Bhutan has its own strange animals, if you are interested. Takin is one of them and it is also the national animal of Bhutan. Takin are related to sheep but weigh up 650 kg. Takin also has a story with famous Drukpa Kunley. When he came to Bhutan, people wanted to see a miracle from him. He wanted a whole cow and a goat for lunch. He ate both and put the goat's head into the bones of the cow. Then with a snap of his fingers, Takin came out. I only saw a preserved (by taxidermy) example in National Museum, but I heard that there is a zoo in Thimphu to see rare animals living in Bhutan.
The blue sheep, or bharal is another rare specie of this small country.
Visiting the zoo was not in our itinerary, but I think it had to be.
The only pointsman of Bhutan is working in Thimphu. There isn’t much traffic to control but he is there and doing his job. I’ve read that there was a traffic light here once, but then the King decided that it was unnecessary and it removed. This traffic policeman conducts traffic with dance-like movements. Take your time and watch him for a while.