7 ultimate must-visit places in Thimphu, Bhutan

7 ultimate must-visit Places in Thimphu, Bhutan

The country of Bhutan is full of experiences unsurpassed by anywhere else you have ever been. It is impossible to take it all in in just one visit, so here we have listed the seven places you should not miss while you are there.

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1. Buddha Dordenma

Buddha-dordenma

The giant Buddha statue sits atop a hill in Thimphu giving a magnificent birdseye view of the valley below. It is the biggest bronze Buddha statue in the world towering up to 169 ft , and this massive statue holds 125000 miniature Buddhas inside. The statue was built to bestow blessings, peace, and happiness to the whole world.

2. National Memorial Chorten

Memorial-chorten

The Memorial Chorten was built in 1974 as a memorial to the third king of Bhutan and holds great religious significance. It is one of the most apparent landmarks in Thimphu where the elderly and also families circumambulate the Chorten to gain merit before going about their way. It is a peaceful site. 

3. Bhutan Post Office

Bhutan-post-office

The Bhutan Post Office is situated right in the heart of Thimphu town. It is the only place in the world where you can get personalized stamps made. The post office has a vast collection of stamps and is a must-visit for the philatelist to get hold of some unique postcards and stamps.

4. Motithang Takin Preserve

The Takin - Bhutan's national animal.

The Taken Preserve is located on the outskirts of town on the way to the BBS tower. The preserve is made of 8.4 acres of land to provide shelter to the takins (Budorcas Taxicolor), the national animal of Bhutan. Legend has it that Lam Drukpa Kunley, a 15th-century saint, brought this animal to life after putting the head of a goat atop a cow’s skeleton.

5. Weekend Market

locally produce products at Thimphu weekend market

Witness the hustle and bustle of the farmers and buyers coming together. You can spot stalls of farm-fresh vegetables, a colorful display of chilies, local pickles, and cheese and butter. There is also a cereal section where you can buy the famous red rice, zow (a tea snack), and flours of all kinds. The incense area holds aromatic plants brought from the high altitudes. The weekend market is a scene not be to missed.

6. National Institute of Zorig Chusum

Zorig-Chusum

The National Institute of Zorig Chusum also known as the School of Arts and Craft is a must-visit in Thimphu. The school was introduced to preserve and promote traditional arts and crafts established by great Buddhist saints to promote Buddhism. You can watch students at work- painting sculpting, masonry, calligraphy, and more.  You can even buy some of their work.

7. Gagyel Lhundrup Weaving Center

women weaving in Khaling Trashigang

Learn more about the traditional Bhutanese art of weaving by visiting this private center. You can see weavers in action producing intricate high-quality textiles such as scarves, belts, jackets, and national dress – Gho and Kira. There is also a collection to shop from.

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How to make Ema Datshi

How to make Ema Datshi

A quick and easy recipe that takes less 30 minutes to prepare. Very delicious and healthy and can be made as spicy or as mild as you like!

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Bhutanese national dish ema datshi with green chilli

Reading Time : 2 minutes

As Bhutan remains a mysterious place to much of the outside world, it is unsurprising that Bhutanese cuisine is also mysterious.

Bhutan is not a culinary destination like France or Italy or Japan, where travelers know exactly what to expect and what to order at each restaurant they plan to visit. Most travelers anticipating a tour of Bhutan likely have no idea what might be on the menu.  

And the rumors are true. There is no Starbucks in Bhutan. No McDonald’s. No chain stores or franchises of any kind. On your tour of Bhutan, you certainly will not be able to find every one of the familiar things you are used to “back home.” But you may find local versions of “comfort foods” along with culinary traditions as unique as the Bhutanese culture itself.

Watch how easy it is to make Ema Datshi!

What is Ema Datshi?

Bhutanese cuisine is, in a word, hot. Green and red chillies abound. Ema datshi is the most famous dish in Bhutanese cuisine, also the national dish of Bhutan. It is made from hot chili peppers and cheese; “ema” means “chili” and “datshi” means “cheese” in Dzongkha, the national  language of Bhutan. Sometimes, potatoes are added, making kewa datsi. Other times, wild mushrooms (a locally grown delicacy) are added, making shamu datshi served with white or red rice. To the Western palate, any of these preparations may be shockingly spicy.

Ema datshi can be made with Different varieties of chilies: green chili, red chili, and/or white chili (green chili washed in hot water and sun-dried). There are so many variations to Ema Datshi, and people have their own personal preferences. Some like to have it cheesy with no soup, while others like to have it with soup. Some love to add ingredients like tomatoes, garlic, onion & stalk onion leeks. Some prefer it simple with only garlic, chilli and cheese. Some make it spicy while others prefer it mild. 

What will you need?

*1-2 per serving

* Substitute Jalapeños/ Bell Peppers for green

* Cheese Chilli best with some spice. If bell peppers are used, add few Jalapenos/ other Chilli to make spicy.

How to make Ema Datshi?

A quick and easy recipe that takes less 30 minutes to prepare. Very delicious and healthy and can be made as spicy or as mild as you like!

* Best served with Rice, Quinoa, Chapatti and Bread.

* Do not over cook. The Chilli Tastes the best when its eaten green.

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Bhutanese national dish ema datshi with green chilli

How to make Ema Datshi

Hike to the Abode of Floating Goddess

Hike to the Abode of Floating Goddess

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Chumo phu ney in Paro

Reading Time : 7 minutes

The bump of the car against the rough road heading away from Paro town woke me up. We had now started our journey towards the starting point of the hike to Chumophug Nye (Nye- sacred site). A Nye is simply a rock with some patterns or maybe none, which could seem nonsensical for some but for an enlightened being it’s very sacred. The visibility of houses thinned as the blanket of the green forest thickened. My father, uncle, two sisters and I started the hike at 9:20am, each wearing hats for protection against the scorching sun. With packed lunch in hand, bearing backpacks we walked up the narrow trail leading to our destination.

The first 2 hours of the journey to Chumophug Nye was a gradual ascent from 2308m. Walking along the gushing turquoise Pa chhu with the dark green leaves of the forest and the birds chirping; I fell in love with nature again. The trail leading to the Lhakhang (Temple) was filled with many Nyes of Guru Rinpoche and Dorji Phagmo. On peculiarly shaped rocks we viewed the foot and body prints of Guru Rinpoche, Dorji Phagmo and Khandro Yeshi Tshogyal (The spiritual Tibetan consort of Guru Rinpoche). We were blessed to see the multiple Ters (hidden treasures) and also the holy sites where Guru Rinpoche subdued demons. But the most sacrosanct Nye to witness was the meditation cave of Dorji Phagmo. From the roof of the cave dripped holy water due to the immense blessed value it holds.

Devotion is of paramount importance in Buddhism. There is a story where a son took a dry tooth of a dog to his mother and told her it was Buddha’s tooth. The mother believed it. Her tremendous devotion to this tooth led to a miracle where holy water dripped from the tooth. Devotion rids one of doubt. It’s also said that Buddha’s body is a big cube and for ordinary people this is difficult to comprehend but that is what sets an ordinary person apart from an enlightened mind.

The last hour was a steep hike towards the temple. It was a fascinating journey and we got to the temple at 12.30pm. From 2308m we had now ascended 783m. The white temple and a few meditation homes enveloped with the vast green hills seemed majestic. Chumophug Nye lies at an altitude of 3100m above the sea level. After lunch, we saw the main relic of Chumophug Nye—the floating goddess, Dorji Phagmo (Vajravarahi). It was an astonishing experience to visit this sacred relic, a reward after the long tiring journey. This bronze, brass statue built in the 17th century lay 4-5mm off its base, floating. The story behind the name Chumophug (Chumo-rice and phug- Hill) is that grains of rice are hidden in the form of a Ter on the large rock below the hill. It is prophesied that famine will strike and during that time this Ter will be rediscovered making food available again.

Bhutan is a paradise of options for the adventurous traveler. Many come for trekking as Bhutan is home to ruggedly beautiful terrain – and to friendly and knowledgeable guides who can lead travelers over mountain passes, through remote villages and past alpine lakes. Shorter or day hikes are equally possible, including the hike to the popular “Tiger’s Nest” (“Taktsang”). This sacred monastery appears to hang precariously off the side of a cliff overlooking the Paro valley. Prayer flags, strung along the path to the top, flutter in the wind and frame the memorable and photogenic views.

Cycling is another great way to enjoy the mountains and landscapes of Bhutan. Mountain bike tours, some crossing the country, are becoming increasingly popular. Residents are also picking up the cycling habit. The Fourth and Fifth Kings are even rumored to enjoy it – if you are very lucky, you might catch a quick glimpse of one of them speeding by!

Less active visitors will also find much to enjoy in Bhutan. A tour by bus or car offers spectacular views of the snow-capped Himalayas at every turn of the road. Ponies are available to help those who want to enjoy the beautiful path to Taktsang but do not relish the prospect of a steep hike at altitude.

We walked five minutes away from the temple to see the lake at the base of the waterfall where Guru Rinpoche bathed in. The lake wasn’t large in diameter but it seemed rather deep. We went down a different route and were once again faced with many more Nyes along the way. But on our way back the umbrellas we had tucked away in our backpacks saw light. It rained very heavily and after three hours we got back to the car, drenched and exhausted.

We headed back to Thimphu with memories of the beautiful hike and pictures we took along the way on our devices. Truly blessed and sated after the visit to Chumophug Nye we got back home. That was a good day!

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In The Footstep of Divine Mad-Man

In The Footstep of Divine Mad-Man

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Reading Time : 7 minutes

Among the first things that many visitors to Bhutan notice are the colorful paintings of phalluses that adorn many buildings. Many tourists do a double take when they see the more anatomically correct specimens: is that what I think it is? (Yes. Yes it is.) Visitors to Bhutan can buy postcards depicting the more vivid paintings, or wooden keychains carved in a likeness.

The phallus motif is believed to ward off evil spirits and to prevent spiteful gossip.  It is generally believed that the popularity of this symbol can be traced to the infamous Buddhist saint, Drukpa Kuenley.

Lama Drukpa Kuenley is a notorious figure throughout Bhutan. Called the “Divine Madman,” Drukpa Kuenley was an enlightened eccentric, an adept in the “crazy wisdom” tradition of Buddhism. Drukpa Kuenley was unlike other saintly figures who are often associated with celibacy and asceticism. For him, song, dance, humor, drink and sex — in other words, indulgence, intoxication, liberation — were important aspects of his spiritual teaching and practice.  

Drukpa Kuenley, born in Tibet in 1455, was a precocious youth, thoroughly mastering at a young age the doctrine and practice of his monastic training. The “Divine Madman” is almost always depicted as carrying a bow and arrow, wearing large rings in his ears, and accompanied by his hunting dog. 

Picture of phallus craved with stone - simply bhutan

Drukpa Kuenley was a wandering teacher. He traveled Bhutan, subduing demons with his Flaming Thunderbolt of Wisdom (yes, this is the part of Drukpa Kuenley’s anatomy that you think it is!), scorning convention and established authority, drinking and eating to excess, and, shall we say, enjoying the company of women. Accounts of Drukpa Kuenley’s powers include the ability to magically transport himself from place to place within the merest instant. 

The outrageous life and exploits of the “Divine Madman” have inspired legends, temples, artwork, scholarly research, and poetry. Many of these legends are earthy and bawdy. Some are lewd and scatological. A few others cannot be repeated in mixed company without blushing.    

In one story, Drukpa Kuenley visits a monastery and finds the monks therein engaged in a metaphysical discussion. To demonstrate his own philosophical understanding, Drukpa Kuenley grabbed a fistful of his own fart and thrust it under the noses of the monks. Which came first, he asked, the air or the smell?

Another tale recounts Drukpa Kuenley’s arrival in Bhutan from Tibet. He was directed there through a dream and was told to shoot an arrow towards the south (in the direction of Bhutan) as a hallmark of his arrival. He followed the arrow to its resting place, in the roof of the home of a man and his beautiful wife.  Drukpa Kuenley retrieved his arrow, seduced the beautiful wife, and fended off the man’s jealous assault by tying the man’s sword into a knot. Realizing Drukpa Kuenley’s power, the man handed over his wife and became one of the Divine Madman’s followers.

Drukpa Kuenley’s love of and success with women is the subject of many of the most popular (and ribald) legends. In one such tale, he meets and seduces a Buddhist nun who then gives birth to his child. The nun was not punished for her transgression since the father was the Divine Madman. Her fellow nuns, envious of her tryst, took note and, a year later, the monastery was filled with babies, all allegedly fathered by the (apparently very busy) Drukpa Kuenley.

Another tale tells that Drukpa Kuenley created the takin (“drong gemtse”), the national animal of Bhutan. The legend is that, in his enormous appetite for, well, everything, Drukpa Kuenley one day ate for lunch an entire cow and an entire goat. After wiping his mouth and unleashing a belch demonstrating his great satisfaction, he took up the bones of both devoured animals. He took the head of the goat and attached it to the skeleton of the cow and, using his powerful magic, brought the assembled creature to life. The takin does indeed look as though it was repurposed from leftover parts of other animals. (Today, visitors can travel to the Takin Preserve in Thimphu for a glimpse of this truly curious-looking creature. Hint: for the best viewing opportunity, go around noontime, when the takin are served their lunch.)

The Takin - Bhutan's national animal.

Signs of Drukpa Kuenley’s influence can be found all over Bhutan. In addition to the ubiquitous phallus paintings, many sacred sites are associated with the Divine Madman. One, Chimi Lakhang, is a popular destination for tourists and Bhutanese alike. This small temple (“lakhang” means “temple” in Dzongkha) in the southern Punakha valley is dedicated to the Divine Madman and is considered a temple of fertility. Women hoping to conceive travel to the temple, often staying overnight, to receive blessings that they hope will, and often do, result in children. Others visit to pray for the safety and protection of the children they already have. “Chimi” is a common name in Bhutan amongst the children of those who are grateful for the blessings of the lakhang.

The temple can be reached by a short walk through paddy fields. These fields are considered particularly lush and thriving — this agricultural success is usually attributed to Drukpa Kuenley. The path to Chimi Lakhang is particularly muddy during the summer monsoon.  

Visitors to Bhutan may not be able to (or want to) trace the meandering path that Drukpa Kuenley took across the country. But the tales of his exploits and the traces of his legend offer a fascinating look into Bhutan’s culture and history. And helps explain all the phalluses.

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