TRAVEL POSTCARD: 48 hours in Bhutan’s capital

THIMPHU, June 15 |
Fri Jun 15, 2013 2:29pm IST

THIMPHU, June 15 (Reuters) – Bhutan’s capital of Thimphu may
be the only world capital without a traffic light, but the
largest city in this remote Himalayan kingdom does boast some
5-star hotels, an increasing range of restaurants, and several

Bhutan, wedged between India and China, is known as the
“Land of True Happiness” after adopting a happiness index to
measure its success. The landlocked country was totally isolated
until it opened to foreign visitors in 1974 – and then allowed
television and the Internet in 1999.

But the tiny, largely Buddhist kingdom is in transition with
growing numbers of Bhutan’s 700,000 people on Facebook and
mobile connectivity reaching almost 100 percent of the nation,
which is about the size of Switzerland.

Bhutan had been wary about foreigners damaging its unique
culture and traditions, so it limited tourism from the outset.
Although these fears have waned it still restricts visitor
numbers by charging US$250 a day, in advance, with this cost
including meals, accommodation, a guide, and internal transport.

The government, however, is aiming to lift tourist numbers
to 100,000 this year from about 65,000 and is trying to attract
more foreign investment in the private sector.

A Reuters correspondent suggests ways to spend a weekend in


5 p.m. – Driving from the international airport at Paro,
buckle up for the winding, hillside road to Thimphu that takes
about an hour. Once you hit the ornately painted arch and turn
left, you know that Thimphu is not far. Soon in view is the
massive Trashi Chhoe Dzong, a dzong being the administrative and
religious centre present in every major community. The present
dzong was built in the 18th Century and at night is lit up like
a ship in the tree-lined Thimphu Valley.

6 p.m. – Check into your hotel, then walk into town and along
Norzin Lam, the city’s main street, which is lined with hotels,
handicraft and food shops. At Clock Tower Square, enjoy a local
beer, a Red Panda or a Druk 11000, overlooking the fountains and
traditional Bhutanese prayer wheels.

8.00 p.m – Take your pick from any of the numerous
restaurants in downtown Thimphu. The Bhutan Kitchen is a
favourite for traditional food and offers a buffet with common
dishes including red rice, curries with chicken, pork, dried
beef, or vegetables, and red chillies. Chillies are a staple of
Bhutanese dining. Most restaurant kitchens close by 9.30 p.m..

10.00 p.m. – A few late-night spots have emerged in Thimphu.
Space 34 is favoured by the younger crowd, many of whom have
dropped traditional dress and instead wear jeans, hoodies, and
boast tattoos. The older crowd opt for Mojo Park which is
located at Shearee Square,a short taxi ride away.


8 a.m. – After breakfast at your hotel head back to downtown
Thimphu for some shopping. Start off at the Centenary Farmers
Market by the River Dhimchu, where local farmers in traditional
dress sell their produce every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The
vegetable stalls are overflowing, while the fruit stalls offer a
more limited choice.

11 a.m. – Pop across the bridge by the market to browse some
handicraft stalls which open only at the weekend and sell wooden
trinkets, elaborately woven cloth, ornamental masks that are
used in festivals, and colourful wall hangings called thangkas.
Thimphu is full of handicraft shops, even though many of the
handicrafts are made in India or Nepal. Haggling is expected.

12 noon – The National Handicraft Emporium on the main
street and the handicraft stalls lined up near the Hotel Taj,
also on the main street, are worth a visit. You can pay using
the Bhutanese currency, the ngultrum, or sellers are happy to
accept U.S. dollars.

1 p.m. – Druk Pizza at Phendey Lam is a favourite with
locals for pizza with a local flavor. Featuring chillis,
coriander and local cheese, the pizzas have a thin base with a
variety of meat or vegetarian toppings. Try your pizza with the
local tea, called suja, that is mixed with butter and salt.

2.30 p.m. – The National Memorial Chorten, located off
Jangchhub Lam, is busy most of the day with locals walking
clockwise around the stupa, a dome-shaped monument that is a
Buddhist shrine, clutching prayer wheels and prayer beads. The
stupa was built in 1974 in memory of the Bhutan’s third king.

4.30 p.m. – For a coffee break, try the Ambient cafe in
Norzin Lam between the Traffic Circle manned by a white-gloved
policeman and the Clock Tower and opposite the PNB Bank and
catch up on your email. This cafe has a good free WiFi
connection – and delicious cakes.

6 p.m. – After freshening up, head to the Hotel Taj Tashi,
the only 5-star hotel in the cente of Thimphu. There are two
5-star resorts on the edge of Thimphu – Amankora and Terma Linca
— where celebrities such as Jack Nicholson, Cameron Diaz and
Leonardo di Caprio are reportedly among past guests. Enjoy a
cocktail at the Hotel Taj’s Ara bar, named after Bhutan’s
traditional spirit distilled from millet or rice, and take in
the cultural show that takes place every night at 7 p.m..

8 p.m. – For dinner, jump in a taxi and head to the
Jamyang Resort, a hotel and restaurant situated on a hillside
about 2 kms out of town. The restaurant serves local dishes and
has a great view over the Thimphu valley.


9 a.m – After breakfast put on some good walking shoes and
join the line of walkers and cyclists heading up the winding
road to the spectacular golden Buddha that is under construction
on the top of Kuensel Phodrang hill overlooking Thimphu. The
Sakyamuni Buddha is a 51.5 metre tall bronze statue of the
founder of Buddhism and offers unobstructed views over the
Thimphu Valley. It’s a 1.5-hour walk up and an hour down but
the views are worth it.

1 p.m. – Lunch at The Zone on Chang Lam where locals
recommend the Yak burger or the momos, which are steamed

2.30 p.m. – Bhutan’s national animal is the Takin, a woolly
creature that is a mixture of a goat and a bull and can be sen
at the Motithang Takin Preserve, a 15 minute drive out of
Thimphu into the forest. Takin are classified as a vulnerable
species so attempts are underway to breed and preserve them.

4.00 p.m. – Archery is Bhutan’s national sport — and a
national passion. Most weekends there will be a tournament at
the National Stadium in the centre of town where competitors are
encouraged to heckle each other and victories are greeted with
traditional songs and a leg-kicking dance.

6.00 p.m. – To end off the weekend, head to Karma’s Coffee
at Phendey Lam, a cafe with good coffee and comfy seats. The
cafe has a selection of local magazines and newspapers giving
the latest news in Bhutan which held its first democratic
elections in 2008 and is heading back to the polls next year.

(Reported by Belinda Goldsmith, editing by Elaine Lies)

Jun 16th, 2012 | Posted in Web Resources
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