The happy place
Visit Tashichho Dzong and indulge in ema datshe during a long weekend getaway to Thimphu
From the moment you land in Bhutan’s Paro airport, a small, traditionally designed building awash with crisp, chilly mountain air, you know that you’ve left Delhi behind. There’s a distinct impression of ease, which insists that you slow down and take in the view.
And it’s a view worth taking in. The entire city lies encircled by mountains covered by lush, thick forests. August spells rain for Bhutan, and when I land, it is drizzling in a persistent but gentle way. The flight from Delhi to Paro has been just under three hours long, but every airplane journey leads to a little travel weariness, which usually lingers till your holiday really starts (hotel rooms with hot showers and a spot of sightseeing on the first day). In Bhutan, your holiday begins from the moment you land and Bhutan’s beauty greeting you immediately.
From Paro, the drive to Bhutan’s capital city of Thimphu is 90 minutes long, and the drive is spectacularly scenic. Long, winding mountain roads with rivers cutting across; little shops selling chillies and peaches and apples, colourful prayers flags moving in time with the breeze— it’s impossible to look away. There are hardly any houses, and the ones that there are exist in sync with nature, all constructed in the traditional architectural style, with intricate carvings and colourful edges.
Surprisingly, when we reach Thimphu, I notice that the landscape doesn’t change drastically. Of course, there are more shops, banks, post offices and cars on the road, but not so many that they overwhelm the natural beauty of the place.
Even though my schedule is almost full, but I have decided to squeeze in a little time to experience the city, and visit the mustsee places on my list.
Fortunately, I discover that four days in Thimphu allow me to take in most of the city, and do it in an unhurried and unrushed manner. First comes the short, fifteen minute drive uphill, to the gigantic Buddha Dordenma, a Shakyamuni Buddha Statue. On a relatively clear day, this golden Buddha is in fact visible from many parts of the city itself. From up at the Buddha Point, the entire city lies before me, and makes it impossible not to gasp in awe.
I also make my way to the stamp shop at the General Post Office, which is a treasure trove of square, rectangular, triangular and even 3D stamps, representing different themes and events. The personalised stamps which converts your own photograph into usable stamps is a special attraction, as is the Crafts Bazaar close by. The bazaar is a long line of little hut-shops, which sell Bhutan’s handicrafts; colourful bags, beautiful kiras and so much more. Even if you don’t pick up much, just the experience of walking down this bazaar in all its colourful glory is worth it. Of course, it won’t do to leave Thimphu without indulging in a little local cuisine. Almost every eatery serves the classic Bhutanese dish, ema datshe, which is a concoction of chilli, cheese and ezzay, a kind of Bhutanese salsa. Eaten with brown rice, ema datshe is a local favourite.
There is a lot to see in Thimphu itself — the beautiful, sprawling Tashichho Dzong, a fortress monastery, the Motithang Takin preserve where you can see Bhutan’s national animal, the Takin, and the new textile museum to learn more about the traditional Bhutanese dresses –– Kira for the women, Gho for the men.
That everything is a short distance away ensures that you don’t spend too long on the road. One of the other ways to take in Thimphu is on foot. With little traffic on the road and wide streets, walking is safe, and allows you to linger over tiny cafes and gift shops. If the uphill climb does tire you, you can always hail the readily available cabs.
Each day, after all the sight seeing, coming back to the city centre makes for a perfect way to unwind. The large courtyard flanked by beautiful, intricately carved prayer wheels and a generous number of park benches, dominated by the clock tower at its centre, allows you to just sit and watch the city’s people walk by and the clouds drift over the mountains.
(The writer was in Thimphu for the 6th edition of the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival, an India-Bhutan Foundation initiative, powered by the Government of Rajasthan)