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Location: Western part of the country
Distance from Paro: 65 km (1 hr 30 mins)
Elevation: 2320m, 7,610ft
Area: 1,819 sq. km
Thimphu became the capital of Bhutan in 1961. The city is located in the heart of the Wang Valley and is the most happening place in the whole of the country. All the head offices of the various government ministries and agencies are located here.
Thimphu is comprised of 1 Drungkhag and 10 Geogs. The lower region is much more developed than the upper region in terms of economy, infrastructure, and social services contributed mainly by the wide telecommunication and road coverage, and good access to local markets. Besides the southern Dzongkhags that share border with the Indian States, Thimphu is one big commercial centre for vibrant business transactions. Though, in remoter regions the main economic activities are rice, wheat and vegetable cultivation, orchard plantation and livestock farming.
Hundreds of Buddhist temples, monasteries and stupas are found scattered atop rocky cliffs, on remote hillsides, on uneven enclosures and all the other possible regions indicating that in Bhutan, Buddhism is flourishing in its ever youthful state. The unique Bhutanese architecture is validated in all the buildings considering that it is one of the most striking features of the country, besides the rich cultural heritage and definitive symbols that embody Bhutan’s distinctive quality.
Tashichho Dzong (the Fortress of Auspicious Religion), is located in the capital and is the seat of the government as well as the monk body. His Majesty the king has his office here. During the winter, the monk body moves to Punakha, the old capital of the country, where the weather remains moderate when it freezes in Thimphu.
Re-erected in 1968, the fortress suffered several major conflagrations. The central tower around which the fortress is built around is an original section of the old fortress.
The outstandingly complex and subtle architecture of the fortress is one of the finest in the country. The fortress stands with the perfect expression alongside the Wang Chhu River in the Thimphu valley.
The picturesque fortress that stands on the hill across the road 6 km away from Thimphu is the oldest Dzong built in 1629 by the Shabdrung. Since 1961, the Dzong has been used as the Institute for Language and Cultural Studies.
Very soon, the institute will be relocated to Taksi under the Trongsa District. Presently, the Dzong is undergoing renovation, and will be accessible to tourists. The 20 rooms below the basement which has remained closed for more than a century will now be open as an exhibition room preserving many intricate and original designs of the Dzong. The prodigy of Shabdrung will also be exhibited. In addition, there will be a souvenir shop and a reception hall among others. Of the peculiar features of the Dzong, one notable characteristic is the way in which the toilets below the basement were originally designed to let the rain water flush it out.
The entrance on the right side of the Dzong, which has been closed till date would be opened for visitors. An additional entrance at the left side of the Dzong, which was used in the olden days to go to the water source nearby, would also be opened.
The renovation of the Dzong would be aligned with the conservation and maintenance of its unique feature and restore it to its former glory. The present renovation is being done in such a way as to have enough space for prayers and congregation. The Dzong is planned to become a centre for monastic arts after its completion.
Being the oldest fortress in the country, it boasts of the age old articles that belonged to the Shabdrung, the first king’s father and the venerable teachers who have spent a portion of their life time here.
The Dochu-La, which is 45 minutes steep climb from Simtokha, is marked with a beautiful cluster of Chortens and wind-blown prayer flags. In winter or exceptionally clear weather, the view of the mountains is stunning; Masang Gang (7,194m, 13,602ft) above the Laya region, Tshendagang (6,960m, 22,835ft), Terigang (7,060m, 23,163ft), Jejegangphugang (7,158m, 23,484ft), Kangphugang (7,170m, 23,524ft), Zongaphugang (7,060m, 23,163ft), and Gangkar Punsum (7,541m, 24,741ft) the highest peak in Bhutan.
National Memorial Chhorten
An important historical landmark in the Thimphu city, the National Memorial Chhorten was constructed by the revered Dung–se Rinpoche at the behest of the late Royal Grandmother Ashi Phuntsho Chhodron in 1974 in memory of her son the third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who died in 1972. His remains are in Kuje Lhakhang in Bumthang but people pay their respects to his photograph mounted on an alter inside. The Chhorten has great significance in the religious life of the people and symbolizes, as do all stupas, the levels of the Buddha’s mind and teachings. It is ritually circumambulated clockwise to gain merit for the next life and atone for present sins, considering it one of the most magnificent of all contemporary Tibetan or Bhutanese style monuments.
The Chhorten contains three chapels representing the main spiritual themes of the Nyingmapa school, preached by Guru Rinpoche and rediscovered by the great Lamas, Phurba, Kagye and Lama Gondu. The three storeys contain enormous three-dimensional Mandalas of meditational deities. The painting and sculpture is of excellent quality and reflects the devout faith of the Bhutanese. Occasionally a religious ceremony is performed here. People throng to offer fragrant incense, butter for the lamps and white scarves (Khadars), and to receive blessings from venerated Lamas.
In preparation for the coronation celebrations, the Chhorten is undergoing a major renovation after 33 years of its erection. Covering an area of approximately 14,000 sq meters, a bigger prayer hall behind the Chhorten will be built for religious ceremonies along with two bigger butter lamp rooms.
The temple is one of the oldest in Thimphu, built in the 12th century. The site was chosen by Lam Phajo Drugom Zhipo. After the death of his son Nyima, his descendants took care of the monastery. Its silhouette, perched high on a spur, is a landmark of Thimphu.The monastery houses Chenrizig (Avolokitesawara), an 11-headed, thousand-armed manifestation as the central statue. The prayer books in this monastery are larger than the usual Buddhist texts. There are large prayer wheels inside the monastery and small wheels on the walls outside the monastery. The main guardian deity is named Dom-Tshang.
Tourists are not allowed inside the temple without a permit, but one can sit next to the prayer flag and enjoy a good vista over the Thimphu Valley.
The Zangdopelri (Paradise of the Guru Rinpoche)
Located right next to the national playground Changlimithang, the Zandopelri was built by the late Aku Tongmey. Within, there are the striking statues of the Guru Rinpoche in standing position.
World’s Largest Buddha Image
The tallest Buddha image, which will perhaps be the 8th wonder of the world, is being built in Kuensel Phodrang, a hill overlooking the Thimphu Valley. This is an attraction exclusively designed to commemorate the centenary and the coronation of the fifth king, Druk Gyelpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck in 2008.
The 169 feet bronze Buddha Dordenma image, fits exactly on a one-acre land and will be completed with 17 storeys of different Lhakhangs (monasteries) within it, including the throne. These include three storeys within the throne, two each inside the lotus, waist, chest, face and shoulder and one each in the legs, neck and head.
The Lhakhangs will have, among other things, 25,000 12-inch copper images of Buddha Dordenma, gilded with gold, eight 10-feet standing bodhisattvas, sixteen 6-feet high Arahats, King Hashang (Maitreya Bodhisattva), Dharmata Tiger, Sutra Holder, the four direction kings, and the third storey up to the top will accommodate 100,000 eight inch statues of Buddha Dordenma. There will be a meditation hall inside the throne.
Kuensel Phodrang was one time the palace of the 13th Desi Sherab Wangchuk, which now stands in ruins. The one Lam Sonam Zangpo, a renowned yogi, was said to have prophesized that construction of such an image in this region would bring stability, peace and prosperity in the country. It is five kilometers away from the highway.
In addition to the attraction solely presented by the image, an additional 10 acres of land will have public galleries, restaurants, large parking spaces, camping grounds, dharamsalas and lodgings for monks. The royal government will also build a national park, and develop picnic spots at the site.
Tango, Cheri & Phajoding Monasteries among others
Tango and Cheri Monasteries are situated in the North of the Thimphu Valley. They are placed on the steep hills facing one another. Whereas the Tango monastery was founded by Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa as a monastic school in the 12th century, the Cheri Monastery founded by Phajo Drugom Zhipo serves as a meditation center.
The present Tango Monastery was built in the 15th century by the ‘divine madman’, Lama Drukpa Kuenley. Tango is the residence of an important young reincarnate lama recognized as the seventh reincarnation of Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye. There’s a cave where we will have to go through and come out from the other end. It is a mythological belief that a person having bad intentions will be trapped inside.
The banks of the river at Dodena serve as a beautiful lunch spot. The trail at the opposite side of the valley leads to Cheri Lhakhang. Cheri Lhakhang– built in 1620 by the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, a silver chorten inside the temple holds the ashes of the Zhabdrung’s father. There are narrow stone steps that lead to the lhakhangs above. It is believed that if one ascends these steps without resting in-between, he will atone himself from the sins which are a result of his dire actions against his parents.
Handicrafts Emporium/ Textile Museum
The Handicrafts Emporium is located in the heart of the Thimphu city. It has thangkas, bamboo wares, textiles, woodcarving, jewellery, books, pottery and all kinds of Bhutanese souvenirs. Only American Express credit cards are accepted.
Institute of Traditional Medicine Services
Traditional Bhutanese medicine is practiced at the Indigenous Hospital, built in 1978, a blend of Indian and Chinese ayurvedic and herbal procedures. Traditional medicine is actively encouraged by the government.
Zorig Lobdra Choekhor Painting School
Not so far from the Indigenous Hospital, the Painting School and National Library are located close to each other. At the Painting School, children follow a course in religious drawing and painting, sculpturing, carving and mask making.
The National Library was established in 1969 and is relocated in a new Bhutanese style building inaugurated in 1984. It contains an important collection of foreign books on Bhutan, the Himalaya and Buddhism as well as a unique and very rich series of Bhutanese and Tibetan books, manuscripts and xylographs.
People from across the country (especially from the west) come to Thimphu to sell agriculture produce and a whole gamut of goods in the weekend market located next to the national playground, Changlimithang. The market is momentarily shifted to the school soccer ground alongside the river, to revamp the old one into something like that of a shopping precinct.
The weekend market is a place where people from all walks of life, congregate to buy the entire week’s rations. Besides being apparently exotic, some vegetables and fruits are also mouth-watering and delectable. Some customers, especially the foreigners are more interested in buying small traditional Bhutanese souvenirs with choices ranging from decoration pieces like carved wooden masks, wooden bowls, and hand loomed fabrics to jewellery that are beautiful and antique.
Botanical Garden in Serbithang
This young garden’s foundation was laid by Her Majesty Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuk on 26th may, 1999 and was inaugurated in 2005. The Botanical Garden is a part of the National Biodiversity Centre and will focus on growing plants from Bhutan. The aim is to showcase examples of the country’s beautiful flora and to encourage the conservation of biodiversity.
The garden is still developing and many of the trees are still small. The rock garden is a unique blend of eastern and western horticultural styles. The medicinal plants area is also full of interest. The orchids in the orchidarium and tropical plants in the glass houses are interesting throughout the year. Some of the shrubs and flower beds have more seasonal interest.
Notice: Please do not pick any of the flowers or leave litter behind.
Lama Sangay Jamtsho founded this temple in 1669. It is located on a hilltop above Tandin Nye. It was pre-ordained by Guru Rinpoche that Sangay Jamtsho will go to a place where he will find a mountain in the shape of a Phurba (ritual dagger) and to build a monastery there. When he came to Bhutan he felt the present site fit with the description he was given in his dreams. As a result, Sangay Jamtsho built a small temple on top of the mountain. He also installed the Kilkhor of Phurba (Mandala of ritual daggers) as the principal relics. It is said that Sangay Jamtsho built more than one hundred Phurbas in a day. These were the first Phurba Kilkhor being built in Bhutan. This temple was named Gaden Neepa as it is the second place in the world which possesses the Kilkhor (Mandala) of Phurba.
Pagar Goemba was established in 1707 by Geshe Kuenga Gyeltshen. It is located about an hour’s walk uphill from Pagar village. A feeder road from a little further down the Chuzom check post toward Chapcha, leads to the Pagar village.
Geshe Kuenga Gyeltshen resided in a small temple known as Jangkhocheng located slightly above where the present temple stands. The Jangkhocheng is now in ruins. One day while Geshe Kuenga Gyeltshen was performing a ritual, a black crow picked up his Tingcha (a small ritual cymbal) and dropped it at the site of the present Gonpa. Taking it to be a good omen he built a small monastery there and started a monastic school with few monks. Once when the monks were having tea, Geshe Kuenga Gyeltshen pointed at one small monk and told he’ll be the one who will take over as the next Lama and expand the Gonpa. That small boy was Damchoe Gyeltshen. As said Damchoe Gyeltshen was appointed as the 2nd Pagar Lama.
This temple was founded by the 12th Abbot Je Kunga Jamtsho in the 18th century and is located in the Toebi County under Thimphu District.
The temple is situated on the top of a mountain, where it stands majestically making it a paradise. It was in his dreams that he was prophesized to build this temple. When he followed the directions to the site where the temple stands today, he met a yak herder on the way. He considered this meeting as a good sign as the yak herder was carrying milk. Je Kunga Jamtsho built the monastery in 1768 and named it Tashigang Goemba, after the yak herder’s name.
Chizhing Samten Choling Lhakhang
Located in Geney Gewog (county) in Thimphu Dzongkhag, the monastery was founded by Lama Thinley Rabyang
Lama Thinley Rabyang the founder of Chizhing Lhakhang was a Tibetan who was deputed to Bhutan. He belonged to the Sakya school of Buddhism. This tradition of deputing Tibetan Lamas to Bhutan and vice versa finally came to an end in 1959 with the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Since then the Lhakhang was handed over to the Central Monastic Body and Lamas for the temple were appointed by them. Today the people follow Drukpa Kagyu, the state religion of Bhutan.
In the earlier times the temple was used as the summer residence by the Lama of Dekiling Lhakhang. The principal relics in the monastery are the statues of Due Sum Sangay.