Thimphu is the capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan and has a population of around 100,000, making it the countries largest city. Ker and Downey’s Kingdom in the Clouds itinerary takes you through Thimphu and Paro in Bhutan and Delhi in India.
Although the valley in which Thimphu is located has supported villages for nearly eight centuries, there was no sustained habitation for much of the time and the city didn’t grow until the king declared Thimphu the new capital in 1961. Amazingly, It wasn’t until a year later that automobiles first appeared on the streets. The city center is small enough to negotiate by foot so the most adventurous tourists can take in the many cultural heritage sites of the city by means of walking.
The city’s main street is, undeniably, one of the foremost culture and natural tourism destinations in the world. The Tashichoedzong hosts a colorful masked-dance festival at the end of summer, which is very popular with travelers. Most interestingly, Thimphu is one of two national Capitals in Asia that does not have traffic lights. Instead, the local traffic police direct the oncoming automobiles.
Thimphu is home to dozens of religious structures, museums, and landmarks. Most notably, Changangkha Lhakhang – a temple constructed in the 15th century – is one of the oldest structures in the Thimphu Valley. It is by far the oldest temple in Thimphu and hovers over a ridge above the city near Motithang.
Phajo Drugom Shigpo, one of the principles of the Drukpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, is acknowledged as the primary catalyst in the building of the temple. During the building of the shrine, he dedicated the temple to Avalokiteshvara – the Buddhist emanation of compassion. Because of its unique location atop the city, the dzong has wonderful views across the entire valley.
In a recent New York Times Article, Seth Mydans writes of the tranquil setting he found in Bhutan saying:
If the rest of the world cannot get it right in these unhappy times, this tiny Buddhist kingdom high in the Himalayan mountains says it is working on an answer.
No more than 700,000 people live in the kingdom, squeezed between the world’s two most populous nations, India and China, and its task now is to control and manage the inevitable changes to its way of life.
It is a country where cigarettes are banned and television was introduced just 10 years ago, where traditional clothing and architecture are enforced by law and where the capital city has no stoplight and just one traffic officer on duty.
“How does a small country like Bhutan handle globalization? Survive by being distinct, by being different.”