The season we chose for our visit, has major festivals taking place in Thimpu. It is also true Bhutan has festivals all year round in each of 4 seasons. That means whenever you choose to visit Bhutan, it is always a good time. Apart from many things to do in Thimpu & Paro, there are other places like Punakha valley & Haa Valley, which require permission from the capital city of Thimpu only, nowhere else. We took the border route from Phuentsholing via West Bengal, there is another route option from Assam as well – though I do not have much first hand information on that. Now lets get back on about Thimpu…
In Thimpu, we were lucky to have landed in Hotel Nemo, which was surprisingly a good deal and in a good location on Chang Lam Street. We reached there at about 7:30 p.m. on 28th Sep (Sunday night). We got a room for 3 people at a cost of Nu./Rs. 1200/- per night. The hotel was clean and well maintained. We instantly liked the place, the owner was very cordial and helping. The street was full of hotels and restaurants with neat sidewalks. The good thing about Bhutanese cities is the number of casual bars and pubs in every building or street corner, but most of the street appears closed by 8 p.m. As we were tired from day long drive, we decided to eat in the hotel restaurant itself. Unlike India, the food in the restaurant of the hotel you are staying at is always reasonable, and ambience is made such so that you feel most comfortable there. You wouldn’t really want to venture out for meals. It is like home, you sleep, eat and relax there, watch some TV, chat up with the hotel staff, and go out for sight-seeing, come back and do the same at the hotel. Indian hotels could learn to provide that comfort at reasonable costs, they don’t yet know what a personal touch would mean (without charging a bomb for it)
Though the restaurant cum bar Menu at Nemo boasted of too many cuisines, we stuck to typical items that can be screwed up the least. Drinks were nominally priced ofcourse (probably due to less taxation). The hotel owner can always be found hanging out in the bar with some local whisky to go with, often a pleasant talker and very helpful. All his family members and staff are equally friendly, and the hotel is named after his cute lil’ daughter ‘Nemo’. Other landmarks to this hotel are Hotel Kisa and the football stadium.
We were told by many locals that ‘Thimpu Drubchen’ festival was held starting on 29th (typically 28th Sep – 2nd Oct), with the first day on Monday, the rest of the festival ‘Thimpu Tsechu’ would continue through Friday-Sunday(3rd-5th Oct). We were going to be in Thimpu only for the Monday celebration for ‘Thimpu Drubchen’. We enquired about where it will take place and the timings. Apparently the festival celebrations begin as early as 4 a.m. in the morning. We weren’t going to be that early ofcourse. We got ready by 8 a.m. and got out. Being the festival, everything in Thimpu was closed, usually everything would open by at least 9 a.m. and streets would be more crowded, but not today. We didn’t find any place for breakfast, not even our own hotel restaurant. Without much choice we began walking down the same street, with a faint idea about the direction towards the Dzong, where the celebrations will be taking place. It was not very far, seemed to be about 5-6 kms. We kept asking passers-by for direction, the answer was always ‘straight ahead’. We saw few locals heading towards somewhere, all dressed up in their traditional attire, called as the ‘Gho’ for men and ‘Kira’ for the women. It seemed they were also going to the Dzong, it was the only direction anyone on the street seemed to take. We simply followed them…
Most people had cars or taxis transporting them to the Dzong. Almost no one except us walked the entire route. Even the local buses appeared somewhere or the other calling out and picking up locals, but they never responded to us tourists as such. After a 30 min walk, following random locals, we finally reached the Dzong. It was crowded, huge mobs were entering the Dzong, a palace like structure. It was packed, and you tend to squeeze and rub and stifle to reach the celebration area. The pushing does not stop until you come out of the place. We all had split right after entering the mobbed area, and enjoyed the event separately from our self-found corners. If you have a good camera lens, you will enjoy a better view of the dance for sure. I did.
After a couple of hours, we came back into the town, walking straight into a restaurant for lunch. It was like a house, that had placed a small board at the door for you to guess its a place to eat. It served only local traditional Bhutanese Datshi dishes (usually Red rice with some kind of vegetable and cheese curry). Few went into the De-lite Cafe on the same street, to have some burgers and coffee instead. You can read about our food experience on this blog post. After lunch, we decided to check out the Buddha Point, a monument of Buddha erected on the hill. We bargained with a taxi to take us there and bring us back in Nu.300/-. The Buddha point was magnificent.
On this ride, some of us turned stupid and pushed the driver to show us the King & Queen’s Residence (which by common sense will not be such an easy tourist sight to visit), as the driver agreed it was infact open for view. The Driver took advantage of our ignorance and instead just showed us the Tashiccho Dzong in a different dimension, but charged us another Nu.150/-. All of us could make out it was the same place we had been in the morning for the festival, this was just a view from the hill. But somehow were yet thinking it could be the King’s Residence (it can’t be that simple!). Later in the evening our hotel owner enlightened us that the King’s residence is somewhere hidden in the hills, not allowed for access to taxis or any traffic. We were ofcourse duped for money, and because of some silliness.
After the hectic day we thought of strolling through the market street to buy some souvenirs. Although our shopping had begun earlier just below our hotel, at a shop for clothing, running a discount at that time. We couldn’t help but barge in to dig out stuff. For Indians its a treat to find good quality stuff at dirt cheap prices. There are many good shops loaded with cheap and good quality stuff on the shopping street parallel to Chang Lam. Another good shop is near by Clock tower on the market street. Evening walks could fetch you some good stylish buys.
In all, the entire stay at Thimpu was comfortable and quite well-spent for 2 nights and 1 day. On Tuesday morning, we found a taxi to Paro, with help of our last taxi driver who had dropped us in Thimpu the day earlier from P’ling. Packed and ready, we said goodbye and thanked Thimpu weather for being so pleasant and the people for being so warm. Our home for next few days was Paro..all about it here.