We rolled into Thimpu after coming back over the Dochu La pass. The guides weren’t flattering about Thimphu as it has been significantly developed in the past few years. While much of the new architecture isn’t lovely, it isn’t anywhere near as bad as most capital cities. We checked in to the glamorous Taj Tashi, and hubby headed to bed for the afternoon (he had been ill on some dodgy fish for 20 hours), and I had a sandwich and went for a long walk around town.
Thimphu is quite adorable! They had installed Bhutan’s only set of traffic lights on the Main Street a few years ago. So many people complained, that they took them out and went back to the original model of a man with a white glove directing traffic. I wandered past a few sights, and the highlight of the afternoon was watching worshipers circumambulate the National Chorten Memorial…., it was super calming sitting in the sun listening to the prayer wheels spin and the monks hum their mantras.
I wandered past the archery stadium, where the archers were using the modern carbon bows (apparently they cost $3000, and bhutanese men are as likely to buy a bow as a car). Today’s competition appeared more serious (and definitely more sober) than the one we watched in Paro.
Wandering along the river I chatted to some locals. Everyone here smiles, and they smile even more if you give them a hearty Guzuzamphola (Dzongkha for ‘hello’). I stumbled across the Zangto Pelri Lhakhang Temple, which appeared to be in the middle of a some sewerage pipes. I did three tours of spinning the prayer wheels for extra good karma.
I headed to the market for a quick wander around, though I planned to come back tomorrow as the weekend is when it all happens at the Thimphu market. The sun drops behind the mountains early in Bhutan, and it gets chilly, so at 4pm I headed back to the hotel for a long bath and a light dinner.
The next morning, hubby was somewhat recovered, and we headed up the valley to visit two important monasteries. First stop, a quick stop to see the fantastic Tashi Dzong – another fantastic fortress housing the administration of the government.
Then we headed up the river valley, pausing again to check out the gold rock painting of Guru RImpoche with his crazy moustache.
Then off to Tango Goemba – hiking up a nice steep hill (300m of climb) to visit this monastery is named for a natural rock formation which looks like a horses head (ta = horse, ngo = head).
The monastery was built by the Divine Madman in the 15th century. It is a beautiful curved building, and is undergoing renovation. I wanted a good photo so we clambered up a precarious ramp built for the building materials, to get a picture of the outside of the building, and ended up having to come down on all fours so I wouldn’t fall off. We had tonnes of fun with the cheeky monkeys on the site, who were helping themselves liberally to the fruit offerings that the monks had left. Most of the visitors to the monastery were locals (we only saw two other foreigners), so it was an entirely different atmosphere than the Tigers nest.
After Tango, we crossed the valley and then headed up to Cheri Goemba – which was the very first monastery built in Bhutan to educate the monks. Cheri was also under renovation, but was a total delight.
We spotted some adorable wild mountain goats (goral) in amongst the villas where the monks go to meditate for three months, three weeks and three days – inconceivable.
The trail up to the monastery was lovely, so I couldn’t resist jogging back down instead of hiking – 9 minutes to come down :-), and quite a few raised eyebrows from the pilgrims coming up who can’t fathom why anyone would jog. We met some lovely friendly locals at the bottom, as we were spinning the prayer wheels, and we had a chat about how lovely Bhutan is. The Bhutanese are incredibly proud of their country, and rightly so. Everyone we met was lovely!!!
The Bhutanese are immensely proud of their approach to gross national happiness, rather than gross domestic product. The government priorities are all anchored around sustainable development, protecting the environment, providing free healthy care and schooling and preserving the culture. It seems to be working. While there are downsides to GNH in terms of personal freedom (i.e you can’t buy tobacco in Bhutan, meat is allowed but only if it is imported, you must wear national dress inside any government office or temple and western advertising is banned), the upsides in terms of quality of life are worth it. I wish NZ had a similar approach.
We headed back down into Thimphu town for lunch and then went down to the weekend market. They had amazing dried cheese, a great assortment of vegetables and some truly unique dried pork. Modernisation has clearly taken hold as almost everyone in the market under the age of 40 was glued to their smart phone. Young girls shelling peas whilst simultaneously looking at snapchat was amusing……, but I preferred the two old ladies we photographed who were having a long afternoon gossip.
It was our last evening in Thimphu, so we were good tourists and went to the dancing demonstration at the hotel accompanied by some of the prized local butter tea (its as vile as it was when I tried it in Kathmandu years go). The dancing was lovely, but thirty minutes is probably all the Bhutanese dancing I need to see in my life. Another huge dinner and then off to bed.
We were really sad heading back to the airport. Bhutan is expensive, as the government has adopted a wise policy of high value low impact tourists. It costs a minimum of $200 per day per person, but this does include food, a guide, hotel and transportation. However, this will only cover a basic level of accommodation, so if you want luxury, expect to pay more. Honestly for us, it was worth it, as one of those few holidays in our lives where we really went luxurious. Bhutan is delightful, and I cannot wait to come back.