Thimphu City Guide – Travel to the Land of Happiness

Having been stuck up in our homes and workplaces over the greater length of every year, all we need is an escape to unwind and gather a good deal of memories to keep fueling us when we get back to our monotonous schedules. Whether you’re someone looking for a place to rejuvenate or a traveler simply in search of heartwarming stories, the Land of Thunder Dragons is the ultimate destination where you can gather knowledge, meet the happiest people on earth and make memories for a lifetime.

The Royal Palace of Bhutan

Bhutan, the last Shangri La is nestled on the Eastern Himalayas, most of which is still untouched. With mighty Dzongs, vast valleys, spiritual centers and the friendliest of people, the country has a distinct vibe and charm. You can visit the developing towns, explore the untrodden valleys and engage in various activities to experience the best of Bhutan.

Thimphu City at night

Among the many other destinations, Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan has a character of its own. Though it is a modern city, there is a portrayal of history and culture in every nook and corner. The ancient traditions are well retained and lived and cherished by every Bhutanese citizen till date. With a never ending list of things to do, you’d often find yourself in a dilemma on which road to take; given that there is so much to experience – picturesque landscapes, enthralling monasteries, cultural centers and meaningful conversations.

 

Thimphu at a glance

    • The Royal family of Bhutan resides in Thimphu and is revered greatly by the citizens.
    • Thimphu is the highest populated city in Bhutan with a population of 98,676 out of a total population of 771,608 in Bhutan.
    • Thimphu is the main centre of religion and commerce and from where governance is administered in entire Bhutan.
    • Thimphu does not have any traffic lights. The traffic is controlled by hand motions of the policemen. This is the only capital city in the entire world to be practicing this system.
    • Thimphu falls under the earthquake prone zone in the Himalayas and thus buildings till 5th floor only are allowed to be built in this city.

 

How to reach Thimphu

    • You can directly fly to Paro Airport in Bhutan and drive for 1.5 hours to cover a distance of 48 kms to reach Thimphu. From Paro, there are intercity buses available to travel to Thimphu. Hiring a taxi is another option that would cost anywhere between NU 800-1000.
    • Fly to Bagdogra Airport in Siliguri and take a drive of 4.5 hours to reach Phuentsholing (the border town In Bhutan). Phuentsholing is the place where you’d need to sort out the immigration procedure and head to Thimphu the next morning. It takes about 7 hours to reach Thimphu from Phuentsholing. This will be one of the most scenic drives you’ve ever been on and thus, entering Bhutan by road is truly an enticing experience.
Views you get to see while traveling to Thimphu by road

Where to stay in Thimphu

While there are many hotels throughout the city, one must definitely consider a homestay to experience the real essence of a Bhutanese lifestyle. Foreign nationals except for citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives have to compulsorily book their trips with a registered tour operator and thus might have to settle with the accommodations they arrange for you. But many tour operators do collaborate with homestays and a good research will land you with one of them.

If you’re booking your stay independently, here are some recommendations:

 

 

Places to visit in Thimphu

Buddha Dordenma

Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Thimphu Valley is a 169 ft tall Buddha Statue made of sparkling bronze, commonly known as Buddha Point. This Shakyamuni Buddha statue, built within the Kuenselphodrang Park, spread over 100-acre of forested land is one of the highest statues in the world.

Buddha Dordenma

Buddha Dordenma is not just about the giant statue of Buddha but also about the intricate designs all over and the meditation hall below the statue. There are 1,25,000 miniature statues of Buddha inside this meditation hall and each of these statues consist of sacred relics. The major events from the life of Buddha are painted on the wall of the meditation hall. It would take you more than an hour to explore this place and its minute details.

Buddha Dordenma – a change in perspective

Interestingly, this place is situated at an elevation of 300 ft above the city of Thimphu from where you’d be able to get a panoramic view of the city and the valley. Buddha Point is a short drive away from Thimphu city and the trail is also famous as a cycling route.

 

Tashichho Dzong

Dzong refers to ‘fortress’ in Bhutanese language. The headquarters for the central monastic body of Bhutan, Tashichho Dzong is located on the banks of Wang Chu River. This iconic structure not only serves as the chief administrative building housing the throne room, offices of the king, the secretariat and ministries of home and finance but also as a religious centre. The incredible arrangement of buildings built in traditional ways is surrounded by beautiful lawns and gardens.

Tashichho Dzong

The Dzong is in a high security zone and is open for tourists only after the officials leave i.e.between 5:30-6:30 pm. People entering the Dzong has to go through scanning and thus it is recommended to reach early to be able to enter just as the fortress is open for visitors and spend the entire hour to explore the place. On holidays, Tashichho Dzong is open between 11am-4pm. The entry fee per person is NU 300.

 

Changangkha Lhakhang

Located on top of a hillock in the heart of Thimphu city, Changangkha Lhakhang is the oldest temple in Thimphu built in the 12th century. The temple shelters an eleven headed and a thousand armed figurine of Chenrizig who is believed to be the incarnation of the primary God of Bhutanese Buddhism, Avalokitesvara.

A local rotating the prayer wheels at Changangkha Lhakhang

Changangkha Lhakhang is the spiritual home for children and they are brought here to receive special blessings from the protector deity Tamdrin. New born children are also brought here to be given names by the resident astrologer according to the date and time of their birth and astrology.

Changangkha Lhakhang – set atop a hill

 

Sitting in the courtyard to watch the monks and the locals rotate the prayer wheels while continuing to pray and the sight of the valley and swirling prayer flags between tall trees is indeed a delight. The place is open for visitors between 6 AM to 6 PM.

 

Semtokha Dzong

Semtokha Dzong, built in 16th century is located atop a hill, 5 kms from Thimphu on the old road to Paro and Phuentsholing. Semtokha literally means ‘atop a demon’ and according to legends, a demon vanished into a rock here that used to harass travelers in this region. The Dzong was then built to subdue the demon. This is the first Dzong to have started functioning as an administrative as well as spiritual centre.

Many ancient carvings, paintings, statues of various Buddhas, deities and religious figures including the eight manifestations of Guru Rimpoche are housed inside this Dzong. There are installations of tails of tigers in the pillars of this Dzong.

 

National Memorial Chorten

The National memorial Chorten, or Thimphu Chorten, built in the memory of Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck is one of the most iconic points in the city of Thimphu. The word Chorten translates to ‘Seat of faith’ and this place is built in dedication to World Peace.

Being the perfect place to experience tranquility, Memorial Chorten has gained popularity among tourists over years. The National Memorial Chorten was actually built in the year 1974 and was later renovated in 2008.

There is an entry fee of NU 300 for adults and NU 150 for students to enter the National Memorial Chorten. It is open between 9 AM to 5 PM.

 

National Folk Heritage Museum

A recent addition to the list of places to visit in Bhutan, the National Folk Heritage Museum is a great place to gain insights on the Bhutanese lifestyle. Established in 2001, the museum is set in a 19th century traditional Bhutanese house.

A visit to the National Folk Heritage Museum would help you learn about every aspect of Bhutanese lifestyle- culture, dressing, cuisines and drinks, household items used on a daily basis, rural settings etc. There are regular demonstrations organized for visitors to get a first-hand experience of the traditions and cultures. A buffet lunch and dinner is also organized for groups of minimum five members or more to savour on delicious traditional meals.

The museum is open from 10 AM to 4:30 PM between Monday to Friday, from 10:30 AM to 1:00 PM on Saturdays and from 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM on Sundays. Indians need to pay an entry fee of NU 50 and other foreign nationals are to pay NU 200. The museum is closed on Government Holidays.

 

Motithang Takin Preserve

Located in the Motithang district of Thimphu, Motithang Takin Preserve was originally a zoo and is now a huge enclosed space that functions as a wildlife reserve conservation park. Resembling the hybrid of a cow and a goat, Takin is the national animal of Bhutan. As the legend goes, Takin was created in 15th century by Lama Drukpa Kunley. The preserve also houses sambar deers, barking deers and beautiful birds.

 

Where to shop in Thimphu?

For people interested to shop and collect souvenirs, a visit to Norzin Lam Market is a must. The vibe of this market is best experienced on the weekends. There are lots of things to choose from that includes handicrafts, textiles, bags, traditional paintings, masks, postcards, religious items and many more. Indian currency is widely accepted throughout Thimphu and thus shopping is easier. The shops in Norzin Lam Market are usually open till about 8 PM.

Collect souvenirs from Thimphu

 

Best places to eat in Thimphu

    • Head over to Bhutan Kitchen to try on some Bhutanese cuisine.
    • Drop in at Coffee Culture  for some amazing sandwiches, pizzas and coffee. Also, their cheesecakes are the best in town.
    • Spend a relaxing afternoon at Thija, located right near the clock tower. The ambiance is to die for.
    • Mojo Park is undoubtedly the best place to experience the nightlife in Thimphu.
Food hopping in Thimphu

 

Best time to visit Thimphu

The months of spring is the most pleasant time to visit Thimphu in Bhutan as the flowers bloom in their full glory adding to the charm of the place. The spring months last over March and April.

Autumn months of October and November are also quiet pleasant with clear skies and traveling during this time would offer a very different shade of the landscapes altogether.

Winter months of December and January should be avoided as it becomes freezing cold with temperatures going down till -10 degrees.

A halt – while returning from Thimphu to Phuentsholing

 

FAQs – Answered

Q. Do I need a visa to enter Bhutan?

Ans. Indians do not require a visa to enter Bhutan. An entry permit can be obtained at Phuentsholing if you’re entering by road. A passport is not mandatory and Indians can enter with the Voter ID Card only. Other foreign nationals need to apply and obtain a visa before arrival through the tour operator.

Q. Do I need to book my trip with a tour operator?

Ans. No. Citizens of India, Bangladesh and Maldives can travel to Bhutan by themselves (as of September, 2020) without having to book a trip with tour operators. For other foreign nationals, it is mandatory to book a trip with registered tour operators. But there is a Sustainable Development Fee of INR 1200 per day that has been levied on Indian Citizens. Clear regulations are yet awaited.

Q. Can Indians take their own vehicle or drive themselves in Bhutan?

Ans. Yes. Indians can take their own vehicles and drive with a valid Indian driving license. At the immigration office in Phuentsholing, the entry clearance for the car has to be made separately and it’s easier to get the car clearance if you take the help of a tour agent (there will be plenty as you enter the compounds of immigration office and they’d approach you by themselves).

Q. Can Indians book their own accommodation in Thimphu?

Ans. Yes, Indians can book their accommodations independently. Homestays are recommended to get an experience of the traditional Bhutanese lifestyle.

 

Things to remember when traveling to Thimphu

    • Exchange currency from authorized money changers.
    • Read up well about the traffic rules if you’re driving yourself. A little mistake can lead you to pay a heavy fine. There’s no second way to sort things out in Thimphu.
    • Buy local SIM cards from the immigration office itself, or in Phuentsholing Town, after getting your Visa, to make your journey smooth.
    • Be mindful of your behavior and actions while visiting religious centres.
    • Thimphu city tour is usually assigned over one day only but you may choose to spend an extra day to explore at a slower pace. Bhutan is best experienced on a slow pace.
    • Add places like Paro and Punakha to your trip and make a 7-day itinerary to explore Bhutan.
    • Read well about the current rules and regulations before planning your trip as they are subject to change.

To plan a trip to other places in Bhutan along with Thimphu, check this Bhutan Travel Guide. 

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18 Replies to “Thimphu City Guide – Travel to the Land of Happiness”

  1. The picture looks fascinating, seems you guys enjoyed a lot. This travel guide is very helpful. You shared everything in detailed. Bhutan is in our over flowing bucket list.

    1. Thank you. Yes, I had an amazing time, as we traveled all by ourselves in our own vehicle, without having to get poked by a guide all throughout.

  2. woww Thimphu City seems like a dream, love the way you have explained all about how to reach, visa, entry point, and especially the food guide. Very informative and bookmarking it to plan the trip here soon

  3. Would love to do a tour of Bhutan but now its become really expensive after the tourism fee was levied…hopefully someday!

    1. That is true. But the fee is only levied on traveling to developed districts. The fee will not be applicable if you’re traveling to the Eastern region. Also, we will get a better idea once a detailed regulation is put out. If the SDF is redeemable on specific activities or on accommodation, then I think INR 1200 a day isn’t a bad deal, because that’s the amount one has to spend anyway.

  4. What an amazing place.
    Would love to visit this place soon.
    It is now on my bucket list as soon as the lockdown ends.

    1. You must be aware that Bhutan is still a monarchical state. The moment you step out of Indian borders and enter the country, there is a different vibe altogether. You would love the unique blend of modernity, history and culture. So yes, the museums and fortresses play a major role in tourism. But to know about something interesting, I’d recommend you to read about ‘Drayang culture’ in Bhutan. It’d be fun to look it up on the internet!

  5. That’s quite a comprehensive post, right there. Reading about Thimphu brought back fond memories from the 16 days I spent in Bhutan back in 2018. We visited Buddha Dordenma and tried to go to the dzong but it was closed and we were too late to catch the Takin Reserve, but had a great time regardless. Thanks for sharing this and making me go down a nostalgic trip!

  6. This post reminds me my days in Bhutan. The city Thimpu has so much to offer, the air was pollution free and so fresh. Food, people, culture, places to visit all are so good … a must visit place 🙂

    1. Yes, Thimphu is one of those places with no traffic rush even after being the commercial hub. Can’t imagine an Indian city with such clean and fresh air.

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