Thimphu Sightseeing

Thimphu is the capital of Bhutan, and also the name of the valley and Dzongkhag or district. With estimated population of around 100,000, Thimphu is Bhutan's largest city. Thimphu valley is at an average elevation of 2300m. It was a wooded farming valley until 1951, when massive 17th century Fortress, Tashicho Dzong, was revamped by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk to form Bhutan's official capital and replace the ancient capital of Punakha. Today the city sprawls across the western slopes of the Wang Chuu river valley, with several government offices located around Tashichoe dzong.
Rapid expansion following the pattern of rural exodus has resulted in considerable rebuilding in the city centre and mushrooming suburban development elsewhere. Norzin Lam, the recently upgraded main thoroughfare, is lined with shops, restaurants, retail arcades and public buildings. Elsewhere, there is a mix of apartment blocks, small family homes and family-owned stores. By regulation, all buildings are required to be designed in traditional style with Buddhist paintings and motifs. A lively weekend market (now open all days of the week) near the river supplies meat, vegetables and tourist items. Most of the city's limited light industry is located south of the main bridge. Thimphu has a growing number of commercial services and offices which provide for ever-growing local needs. Thimphu is one of national capitals that do not have traffic lights. Instead of traffic lights, traffic police directs the oncoming traffic with their dance-like movement of their arms and hands. The Memorial Chorten dominates the skyline of Thimphu. The Buddha Dordenma statue, the largest Buddha statue in the world, is on a ridge top, overlooking the city.

There were goembas and a small population in the Thimphu valley even before the time of the Shabdrung, but Thimphu didn’t really exist as a town until it became the capital of Bhutan in 1961. The first vehicles appeared in Thimphu in 1962 and the town remained very rural until the late 1970s. The population has grown dramatically since 1990, and is now estimated to be 90,000.

It is often said that Thimphu is the only world capital without traffic lights. One was installed several years ago, but the residents complained that it was impersonal and ugly and it was removed within days. Traffic continues to be directed by policemen stationed at two traffic circles, one at the north end and another near the south end of Norzin Lam, Thimphu’s wide, tree-lined main street. They keep Thimphu’s traffic flowing throughout the day using elegant, exaggerated gestures. They disappear at night and leave drivers to sort things out for themselves.

Given Thimphu’s elevation (2320m), don’t be surprised if you become short of breath or have trouble sleeping your first night or two.

Thimphu VIDEO

Attractions in Thimphu, around and from Thimphu

  • Changangkha Lhakhang Changangkha Lhakhang is an old fortress like temple and monastic school perched on a ridge above Thimphu, south-east of Motithang. It was established in the 12th century on a site chosen by Lama Phajo

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    Changlimithang Stadium The national stadium occupies the site of the 1885 battle that helped establish the political supremacy of Ugyen Wangchuck, Bhutan’s first king. It is now the site of the national archery ground, a

  • Tashicho Dzong as seen from north

    Day Excursions from Thimphu Outside of Thimphu, there are number of interesting sights that you can visit. Some take a day, others take a half a day and sights such as Phajoding may require one night stay there.

  • Dechen Phodrang At the end of the Gaden Lam is the Dechen Phodrang, the site of Thimphu's original Trashi Chhoe Dzong. Since 1971 it has housed the state monastic school, and a long procession of monks often travels

  • Drolay Goemba It’s a two to three-hours round trip from the parking lot below Tango Goemba to Drolay Goemba at 3400m. The walk offers amazing views of the Thimphu valley and you can combine it with a walk to Tang

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    Heritage Museum Folk Heritage Museum or Phelchey Toenkhyim Museum is housed in a 19th century three-storey traditional rammed mud and timber house in Kawangjangsa, Thimphu. It aims to exhibit the life and living styl

  • Memorial Chorten The memorial chorten is one of the most visible landmarks of Thimphu, built in 1974 to honor the memory of third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. It is a four-storey chorten decorated with richly carved ann

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    National Library National Library was first established in 1967 with a small collection of precious texts and was initially housed within the central tower of Tashichodzong. Later it moved to a building in the Changga

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    Painting School The National Institute for Zorig Chusum Pedzoe (School of Arts and Crafts) is commonly known as "the painting school". It operates under the National Technical Training Institute and offers a six-year

  • Paper Factory Traditional papers were made from the daphne plant, using simple methods. Like rice papers, these papers are said to last longer.

  • Phajoding Goemba It is a 5km walk uphill from the youth centre in Motithang to Phajoding Goemba (3640m), a large monastic complex with 10 lhakhangs and 15 monastic residences, many of them used for extended meditation

  • view of Thimphu from Sangaygang.

    Sangaygang View Point (Telecom Tower) There's a wonderful view of Thimphu valley from the hillside below the telecommunications tower (elevation 2685m), high above the town at the end of a road that branches off from the approach to the y

  • Simtokha Dzong is the first of Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal's Dzong or fortress built in 1629. It is much smaller compared to most other Dzongs in Bhutan. Currently it houses the school for language and culture studies.

  • Takin Sanctuary Short distance off the road to the telecom tower, a trail leads into a large fenced area that was originally established as a mini-zoo. The king decided that such a facility was not in keeping with Bh

  • Tashichho Dzong Tashichoedzong, meaning the fortress of "auspicious doctrine" has traditionally been the seat of the Dharma Raja and summer capital of the country. The original Thimphu dzong was built in 1216 by Lama

  • Textile Museum The National Textile Museum which opened in June 2001, is worth a leisurely visit to get to know the living national art of weaving. Changing exhibitions introduce the major weaving techniques, styles

  • Thimphu to Paro Road The drive to Paro from Thimphu takes about 1hr. covering distance of 55 km. The road has been recently broadened. The western branch of lateral highway from Thimphu, runs close to the Wangchu river in

  • Traditional Hospital Institute of Traditional Medicine Services, located near National Library supplies traditional medicines and medical services, trains doctors, and conducts research on traditional medicinal plants to

  • VAST Voluntary Artist's Studio, Thimphu located along Chang Lam is a busy place with after-school and weekend drawing and painting classes for youngsters conducted by volunteer artists. A gallery on the to

  • Wangditse Goemba A one-hour walk uphill from the telecom tower takes you to 1750 by the attendants of Bhutan’s eighth desi, Druk Rabgye, and was renovated in 2001. The lhakhang houses the statues of the guardian dei

  • Weekend Market of Thimphu starts around noon on Friday and ends on Sunday afternoon. It resembles the farmers market in the west. However since there are no big super markets, Thimphu's weekend market is the main source of fr

  • Zangto Pelri Lhakhang Located near the Weekend Market area is one of the tallest temples and was built in 1990s by a local resident. Zangdopelri refers to the celestial abode of Guru Rinpoche.

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    Zilukha Nunnery Drubthob Goemba monastery also called Zilukha nunnery is located on the slopes, looking down at Golf course and Tashicho Dzong with around 70 or so resident nuns. The monastery was founded by later r