A Guide to Thimphu – Dzongs, Archers, Food and much more

Thimphu is the capital and the largest city in Bhutan. It is home to the Royal family and is the commercial centre of the country – it is a place where you can experience a blend of Bhutanese culture, tradition and modern lifestyle.

We arrived at Thimphu on Day 2 of our trip (check out the complete itinerary here). Our first stop was the Simtokha Dzong – the oldest dzong in Bhutan built in 1629.

We had arrived in time for a prayer session and got to experience it in one of the halls. The hall was decorated with beautiful multi-coloured victory flags hanging from the ceiling. Butter lamps were burning on one side of the hall in front of the 3 statues – Buddha Shakyamuni, Guru Padmasambhava and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (the founder of Bhutan). The chanting of the monks reverberated inside the hall and it was a truly mesmerizing experience. I had witnessed one such prayer session in a monastery in Ladakh and it was equally amazing. Karma, our guide, took us around explaining the legends and stories.

We then went to the gigantic Buddha Dordenma – the golden statue of Buddha stood on top of a hill overlooking the city.

It is likened to the image of Buddha Shakyamuni. The statue is over 50 metres tall and was opened in 2015. In 2018 when we visited, work was still happening in the complex surrounding it. You can visit the halls inside which has over 100,000 statues of Buddha!

Next up, we were off to visit the national animal of Bhutan – the Takin. Legend goes that the Takin was created by Lama Drukpa Kunley, aka the Divine Madman (more about him in the Punakha post) by placing the head of a goat on a cow’s skeleton. That is pretty much what it looks like as well.

We stopped at the National Textile Museum and the Changlimithang Archery Ground. Archery is the national sport of the country. If you see an archery match going on, do take out some time to watch – it is a spectacle! The targets are so far away that they are hardly visible to an average person. Teams celebrate bullseyes with dances and songs!

This guy hit the target by the way! It was followed with a fair bit of dance and song!

The grounds also have an important history – it stands at the site of the decisive battle from 1885 which led to the unification of Bhutan and ended years of wars.

In the evening, Karma informed us that the founder of Bhutan Travel Guru, Mr Tsheten, would be taking us out to dinner to a traditional Bhutanese place. We were super excited to try out the local delicacies! We were even more amazed at the amount of personal touch being added to our trip – a testament to the Bhutanese hospitality.

FOOOOOD!

Wow, where do I begin? Let’s start with the butter tea. As the night gets colder, this warm cup of happiness comes to your rescue. Enjoyed with crunchy rice either as a topping or a side, it is the perfect way to start. We also had some dumplings, pork and ara (locally brewed rice wine) as starters.

For the mains, we had a huge spread – almost all of them containing good amounts of chillies and cheese – both staples in Bhutan. Here are the dishes we had:

  • Mushroom soup
  • Ema Datshi – chilli with cheese
  • Phakshe Paa – Pork Bacon
  • Jasha Maru – Chicken curry
  • Shamu Datshi – Mushroom with cheese
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Khaktem – fried bitter gourd
  • Azey – chilli paste with a mixture of green chilli, onion, tomatoes, salt and cheese
  • Khuli – buckwheat pancakes
  • Red Rice
  • Druna Ghu – nine different grains found in Bhutan mixed together

Let’s see if you can identify them in the pics below!

As we found with other foods we ate in Bhutan, it was simple and delicious! My mouth waters as I attach these pics.

Dochu La

Early next morning, we started on our way to Punakha. On the way, we had to cross the mountain pass of Dochu La. On a clear day, you can see the snow-covered peaks of the Himalayas from here. But we were greeted by a thick sheet of fog. This gave the place a mystical other-worldly look!

Right in the middle of the road are 108 chortens (or stupas). These stupas were built as a memorial to Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in a battle with rebels.

Near the chortens, a short walk up will take you to the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang – a beautiful temple with flowers on both sides of the steps leading up.

On the other side of the road, we saw signs pointing towards hidden meditation caves. The mist added to the experience as we climbed up the slope looking for the caves.

We really enjoyed the experience here! After spending a little over an hour here, we proceeded to Punakha for the next leg of our Bhutan adventure.  

Tip: If you happen to be in Thimphu during the weekend, do check out the weekend market!

Read all our blogs on Bhutan here. Do leave us a comment if you enjoy reading our blogs. Check out all our latest travels and stories on our Instagram page @fridgemagnet.tales. Don’t miss out our Bhutan Highlights.

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