22 May 2021

Thimpu: Culture Highs of the Himalayan Kind

The vertiginous road from India, via the border town of Phuntsholing, meanders by many hairpin bends to the misty heights of Thimphu (7000 ft); it is one of the two options to crack the access to the landlocked Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. The other option is, of course, Druk Air. But, whether you go by road or by air, rest assured you will be treated to the most gorgeous vistas en route to the capital city of one of the world’s top ten bio-diverse hot spots.

Located by the waters of the River Wong Chu in west Bhutan, Thimphu, in fact, was just a picturesquely located settlement, before it transformed into Bhutan’s Fist City in 1961, to replace the old capital of Punakha. A picture of rising modernity Thimphu today is not only the seat of government it is a window to Bhutanese art and architecture and spiritual heritage as well. It’s a great base also for explorations of the Paro Valley, Punakha Valley, Haa Valley and Wangudue Phodrong, the Trongsa region along with the Bhumtang Valley and the Trashigang and Trashi Yangtse regions.

However, exceptional experiences are to be had in Thimphu itself as well. The city with no traffic lights has a gentle ambience and you can wander around to its popular landmarks at a leisurely pace. Of interest here is the much visited Tashichho Dzong and the National Memorial Chorten,  built in memory of in the memory of the 3rd Druk Gyalpo (head of the Kingdom of Bhutan), Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who passed away in 1972.

An inspirational and unforgettable experience awaits you at the Choki Traditional Art School (CTAS) founded in 1999, with the idea of bringing care and education to under privileged children from all backgrounds. It was the brainchild of Dasho Choki Dorji, a veteran artist whose interest and love for the profession and zeal to keep alive the zorig chusum (13 Arts and Crafts) inspired him to teach these children at his house. These represent hundreds of years of cultural practice.  A wander around the Centenary Farmer’s Market is another recommendation, not just for souvenir hunting, but also for its rich cultural significance; with over 400 shops selling a variety of products it’s a great window to the country’s commercial and socio-economic interface. Lessons in ara-making, the local brew can be enjoyed at the nearby Sirigang Village, where a local farmer will teach you the ropes. Made from rice or, millet, this much-loved local tipple is stored in handcrafted wood and silver containers, which make for nice souvenirs as well.

Archery has long been an intrinsic component in Bhutan’s warfare traditions. It’s also a highly competitive sport and events are taken in all seriousness at the Changlimithang Archery Ground where the lively crowds of spectators are treated to a display of expert archery; combatants are decked out in traditional national regalia for the event. You will get to see how traditional bows and arrows, as well as more modern versions are in play.

 Bhutan has been a longstanding bastion of the Vajrayana school of Mahayana Buddhism, the spiritual axis of the country’s populace, ever since Tibetan migrants arrived here in the 9th century. A visit to a local monastery to attend a blessing ceremony also comes highly recommended. The private ceremony is conducted by a senior Buddhist monk with the reading of sacred mantras by the priest, burning of incense and offerings to the deities.

Indulge yourself with a thoroughly refreshing experience — the traditional hot stone Bhutanese bath which involves a combination of fresh river water mixed with Artemisia leaves. You’ll just love it!

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