JOIN US IN AN INTERVIEW WITH SONAM RINCHEN FROM THIMPHU, BHUTAN!
Sonam Rinchen (Acho Rinchey) is a Bhutanese who is free-lancing as a self-established photojournalist in Bhutan. An educator as well as an itinerant, he is successfully capturing the soul and substance of Bhutan in his camera. The Metro, one of the British newscasters has globally recommended his Instagram page for striking images of Bhutan’s scenery and people.
Thimphu is the only city and capital of Kingdom of Bhutan with a population of 1.15 lakhs. It is a unique city with unusual mixture of modern development alongside ancient traditions. Landlocked between India to the South and Tibet in the North, Bhutan remains completely separate from the rest of the world in many aspects.
Thimphu is perhaps the smallest capital in the world and the only capital without any traffic lights.
When is the best time to visit Thimphu?
The ideal time to visit Thimphu is between October to December, where the monsoon ends and the climate becomes fresher than earlier seasons with the late spring blooms and early autumn falls. If fortunate enough, most of the city’s celebrations such as Thimphu Tsechu (the grand annual religious festival) and Dashain (a celebration of the victory of good over evil) fall in this period. (Most of the celebrations in Bhutan are marked in accordance to Bhutanese calendar, which is tentative to general calendar.)
If visiting during winter, read about the challenging trek along Bhutan’s northwestern border with Tibet by Pioneer Expeditions which will bring you closer to Himalayas.
Which is the most convenient and favoured transport of Thimphu?
Bhutan is enclosed from sea coasts, where there is no waterway transportation. At the same time, there are no railways in the country. However, road and air transportations are the most convenient and operational mode of transportation in the country.
Having a sole international airport in Paro, you have to travel 55km/34.1 miles from airport to reach Thimphu. Moreover, Bhutan is a mountainous country and even the drones are restricted to fly over certain extend. Therefore, road transport is the most favored and convenient mode of transportation in the city.
What are the top three must visit places in Thimphu?
Amongst numeral sights, Kuensel Phodrang or Buddha Point located on the hill top of city is one of the wonders and the largest statue in the country. The site is remarked with the 54 meters/177ft tall “sat postured Buddha’s statue” made of bronze gilded in gold, circulated with other statues. From there, you can take a glimpse of the entire city.
Tashi-Chhoedzong or “the fortress of the glorious religion” is located at the outskirts of the main city on the banks of the Wang chu(name of the river). It is traditionally been seats of the head of Bhutan’s civil government, which both political and religious matters are administered in the fortress. Currently, it is not only used as administration and religious center, but also as an address to welcome the foreign delegates in the country.
The Folk Heritage Museum is located few km from the main city, and it exhibits the traditional and rural features of the country. It also encapsulate cultural heritage of the Bhutanese people.
What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Thimphu?
The given sights (excluding the above top 3 sights) are the best tourist attracted places in and around the city –
Memorial Chorten (Culture and History) : This white stupa with spires of gold, was built in honor of the the third king of the country, His Majesty Jiqme Dorji Wangchuck. It is different from the other structures since it does not enshrine human remains. It is located on Doeboom Lam in the southern-central part of the city.
National Library (Culture and History) : If Bhutan’s rich culture and religious heritage are the reason behind your visit there, then do visit the National Library for an extensive collection of Buddhist literature preserved from centuries. You will also get to see the World’s largest book there. It is located above the Royal Thimphu Golf Course, in the Kawajangtsa area of Thimphu.
Institute of Zorig Chusum (Culture) : It was set up with the objective of preserving the rich culture and tradition of Bhutan. Training on Bhutanese traditional art forms such as drawing, painting, wood carving, embroidery, and carving of statues are given in this institute.
National Textile Museum (Culture) : Visit this museum to to know the living national art of weaving also called thagzo. The museum also houses clothes worn by the Royal family. It is easy to reach this place by a cab from any part of Thimphu.
Handicraft Stalls (Culture) : Check out local handicrafts and souvenirs at this handicraft market. If shopping is on your mind, then one side of the Kundeyling Baazam cantilever footbridge is the weekend market while on the other is the handicrafts stalls.
Centenary Farmers Market (Culture) : Centenary Farmers Market gives a platform to local farmers to display their fresh produce. A leisurely visit to this market will bring you face to face with assortment of organic produce and explosion of colours.
Jungshi Handmade Paper Factory (Culture) : The word Jungshi in English means natural. This age-old tradition of making Bhutanese deh-so (paper) from bark of Dephne and Dekhap tree is a delight to watch. Visit this factory which is located opposite to Centenary Farmers Market.
Simply Bhutan Museum (Culture) : Simply Bhutan Museum is a small traditional farmhouse like museum where you can even try your hands on archery which is the national sport of Bhutan.
Changangkha Lhakhang (Culture and History) : Changangkha Lhakhang is a fortress like monastery situated on a high edge of a hill beside Motithang Takin Preserve. It is a pilgrim for locals who pray there for fertility.
Takin Preserve (Nature) : Takin is the national animal of Bhutan. It is a herbivorous animal that looks like a cross between a goat and a cow. The Motithang Takin Preserveis a wildlife preserve for takins and situated on the outskirts of Thimphu Valley. It is also home to the colourful Himalayan Monal.
Sangaygang (Nature) : Sangaygang is also known as BBS tower or the Bhutan Broadcasting Service tower. Built on the hilltop at a height of 2685m, it offers jaw- dropping views of the city.
What is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Thimphu?
Excluding the national celebrations, Thimphu Tsechu (annual religious festival) and Thimphu Drubchen (the grand sacred mask dance) are two of the main celebrations remarked in the city.
What is the most loved local food of Thimphu? Is it a vegetarian friendly city?
You can relish almost all of the local and quite a few international cuisines in the restaurants located in Thimphu. With the consideration of national dish, Ema-Datsi(“ema” means chilli and “datsi” means cheese) is the most famous dishes in and around the city.
Although Bhutan is a religious country, there is no direct restriction on non-veg cookeries. On other hand, there are numerous households and restaurants sustaining on pure green sustenance.
Where to head for shopping in Thimphu?
Having countless of handicraft shops in the main city, there is a site occupied with the souvenir stalls which you can get different kinds of product crafted in the country. Additionally, you can get the produce of the country directly from the mini-factories and institutes such as traditional paper making, paintings and other crafts institutes which are opened for the tourist to sight through.
There are also quite few of commercial centers such as dance clubs, discotheques, bar and open restaurants where both local and tourist can delight in their leisure times. As a notice, Bhutan is tobacco free country and has to be conscious enough to smoke at marked zone. On the other hand, alcohol is not restricted and it is open.
Which are the best streets of Thimphu worthy of taking a stroll on?
If you want to visit the main city and its life around, Norzin Lam will lead you to sights of main city. There are numerous hiking trails in and around the city to visit at certain destinations.
Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of the city?
The sight of the city can be seen from numerous hill sights such as Kuensel Phodrang(south) , Sangaygang or BBS Tower (north-west), way to ELC school (south east) and Jamyang Resort (east).
Would you suggest any shows in Thimphu to drama, music or art lovers?
Usually countless of performances are showcased to people at central of the city (Clock Tower), and there are also centers which are founded mainly to showcase traditional folk music and dance of country.
If you are art-lover, there are merely two-three traditional painting schools in the city and quite few of contemporary art shops in the city.
How hard is it to travel in your city without knowing the local language?
Almost every local in the city can understand English and for the Indian tourists, it is much more convenient to communicate in Hindi because Bhutanese are usually fluent in speaking Hindi. However, English is the suitable language in the city and if one knows English, it will not be a tough journey.
Bhutan is considered as one of the happiest countries in the world, what according to you is the reason behind it?
With a diminutive economy in the period of modernization, the country is well gripped and showcased equally in the line of developed nations. More significantly, the reforms were bought incessantly in accordance with the GNH (Gross National Happiness) and fulfill every modest aspirations of the citizen of the country.
How is Bhutan getting affected by sudden surge in tourism there? Is there any message locals of Bhutan want to convey to tourists in their country?
Bhutan merely opened its isolation in late 1960s, and tourism is one of the factors that helped in the firm progression of the country. At the same time, the intact cultures are even preserved due to the growing number of tourists in the country.
Although Bhutan is expensive for a tourist to visit, each penny spend on its trip has a significant gain. As a Bhutanese, we always try to show people that we are the “happy people” in the world, and there are many intact culture and traditions to be relished. Therefore, a touch on the Bhutanese land will earn you values and give you homely exposures over materials well beings.