Thimphu – the Capital of Bhutan and much more!
Because of my dad, I had the chance to see some great places.I had been to Bhutan as a tourist when I was 7 years old but it was only when dad started working there that I was able to fully discover the country.
Bhutan’s Kingdom is a landlocked country lying between India and Tibet. The country’s landscape varies from lush plains to Himalayan mountains. Thimphu is the capital and the largest city. Other noteworthy locations are Paro (international airport), Phuentsholing (economic hub), Punakha and others. Gangkhar Puensum is the highest mountain in Bhutan.
The people speak Dzongkha and the currency is Ngultrum (Nu) which is of the same value as Indian Rupee (INR). Bhutan is a constitutional monarchy, but the government is parliamentary. The King (known as Druk Gyalpo) is the head of the state. This is likely the only nation where the Gross National Happiness index measures it growth. People are also very warm and friendly. Majority of the population are Buddhists.
Traveling from Kolkata to Bhutan is comparatively easier. Fly with Druk Air (the royal airline) or Tashi Air to Paro (the country’s only international airport), which takes just over an hour. It requires another 1.5 hours on the highway from Paro to Thimphu.
There are overnight buses from Kolkata to Siliguri (the NBSTC buses or the more comfortable Royal Cruiser Volvo AC ones) and to Jaigaon / Phuentsholing border (Royal Bhutan Govt buses). The buses depart from the Esplanade bus depot. It takes roughly 12-14 hours to reach Siliguri and another 4-5 hours to reach Jaigaon. The road conditions on both legs are not favorable.
Traveling by train is simpler than by bus. It is an overnight journey to either NJP (any train that goes till NJP / New Alipurduar / Guwahati can be taken) or Hasimara (Kanchankanya Express). From NJP, one can hire a taxi to the border that would cost INR 3000-3500 and it takes roughly 3-4 hours. You can book a taxi till the border for INR 200 if you get down at Hasimara and it takes about 20 minutes. The train journey is fantastic as both sides are dotted with tea plantations, forests and hills can be seen from afar.
Indian nationals must receive a permit, arranged from Kolkata or Phuentsholing. There is no need for a visa. It is advisable to do the permit from the Bhutan Consulate in Kolkata (Tivoli Court) to save time at the border.
The first thing that catches your eyes when you reach the border is the decorative Bhutan Gate. The Bhutan Gate, built in the typical traditional style, stands tall as it demarcates the two countries. Jaigaon is the town on the Indian side, while Phuentsholing is on the Bhutan side. The border towns are shanty-like and have become a popular business hub. The only thing that distinguishes the two nations here is that once you cross over to the other side of the gate, your phone stops working (unless, of course, its BSNL)!!!
How To Reach Thimphu:
You can remain overnight at Phuentsholing although there is not much to see or you can go straight to the taxi stand and book your seat to Thimphu / Paro if you have the permit handy. They charge INR 800-900 per person in a shared taxi and if you want to hire a full taxi, it will cost you no less than 4000 INR.
It takes 5-6 hours to reach Thimphu / Paro. There are several check-posts on the way where they will document and stamp your permit. On the way you cross Chukha, famous for its hydro power project, and Gaedu, which houses Bhutan’s only MBA institute.
Once you reach the last checkpoint at Chuzom, it takes about an hour to reach Thimphu. The highway splits into two from Chuzom, the left one towards Paro and the other towards Thimphu. The road conditions are very good and the landscape is beautiful.
Where to Stay:
Thimphu has a range of hotels from low budget to mid-range to high class luxury resorts. Pick one that suits your budget.
Mode of transport:
For sight seeing, you need to hire local cars / taxis. Shared taxis are also common.
Things To See:
1. Tashichho Dzong:
Thimphu Dzong is Thimphu’s primary administrative building. It also serves as a monastery and fortress. It is the main government building and houses the throne room, cabinet secretariat, home affairs and finance ministries. The whitewashed buildings are constructed in the traditional style with intricate designs. The 3-day long Tsechhu festival also takes place at this dzong.
2. Buddha Point:
Now known as the Great Buddha Dordenma, it is the site of the great statue of the Shakyamuni Buddha. Situated on the edge of a mountain, the sculpture is 169 ft tall and marks the 60th anniversary of 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. It provides a clear viewpoint of the valley of Thimphu.
3. Motithang Takin Reserve:
The Takin is the national animal of Bhutan. It is a unique animal that has a similar body to a yak’s and the head resembles that of a goat. The Takin has two horns on either side of the head and is a hoofed animal. It is advisable to visit the park early in the morning as it becomes quite windy in the afternoon and tree branches keep falling.
4. Memorial Chorten:
It is a stupa built by 3rd King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The chorten does not contain human shrine. It should be circled in the clockwise direction.
5. Dechencholing Palace:
The royal family members stay here. The palace was constructed by Bhutan’s 3rd king. It is situated among willow trees, lawns and lakes and is constructed in the traditional style.
6. India House:
This is India’s Embassy spread over 67 acres of land. It houses the administrative offices and a large golf course. Entry is restricted.
Cheese is a staple ingredient in all Bhutanese delicacies. Populat dishes include Ema Datshi, a side of cheese and chili, usually eaten with red rice (produced in Paro). Other versions are also available, such as Kewa Datshi (cheese potato) and Shamu Datshi (cheese mushroom). The local home-made cheese is very textured and has a pungent smell. Do not forget to taste the cheese momo or beef momo.
Where to eat:
Thimphu has many choices of restaurants. Try Ama Restaurant on Norzin Lam which serves Chinese and local delicacies. This place is quite popular and you may have to wait for your turn to get a table. And even if you do, it’s a humongous job to get the waiters ‘ attention. Chula Restaurant is my favorite among many. The dishes are delicious and not heavy on the pocket. For Italian, try the beautifully decorated Seasons Pizzeria. Do not undermine the appearance of Zombala as its Thimphu’s finest momo joint. Try cheese, pork or beef momos there.
Thimphu also has a lot of cafes like the Ambient and the Zone that are popular with locals and visitors alike.
You can even opt for the buffet at Taj Tashi or Druk Tashi for a delicious spread.
Every store in Bhutan has a distinct space with tables and chairs where liquor is served. Almost everywhere in Thimphu you’ll get liquor.
There are plenty of shops around the main traffic point. Clothes, shoes, incense sticks and other souvenirs can be bought at a bargain price.
Safety & Precaution:
Thimphu is a very safe place and there are very less offenses owing to rigid laws. Follow the normal safety precaution you would in any part of the world and you would not come across any difficulties.
For Foreign Nationals:
N.B: Nationals of countries other than India, Bangladesh and Maldives, needs to pay a daily tariff of $250 per night during peak season (March – May & September – November) and $200 per night during low season (December – February & June – August). The tariff includes:
- A minimum of 3 star accommodation
- All meals – Breakfast, lunch, dinner
- A licensed Bhutanese Tour Guide for the extent of the stay
- All internal transport – excluding any internal flights
- Camping equipment and haulage for trekking tours
- All internal taxes and charges
- A royalty of $65
This tariff is only applicable for a group of 3 or more. For 2 person there is a surcharge of $30 per night and $40 per night for individuals.