From the rustic hamlet of Paro, I found myself heading for the equally sylvan surroundings of the capital Thimphu and Bhutan’s most populated city.
Getting there took about an hour and a half, vending through highway and all the while being treated to a still unblemished scenic beauty on either side. The capital city came into being in 1961 and the valley that envelops it stretches along the Wang Chhu river. It does have some of trappings of a bustling city but omits some features that we have come to accept as standard fare these days – airport, traffic lights ,MNCs and billboards.
My hotel was near the main street and opposite the National Stadium. This stadium has historical significance as it is built at the site of a famous battle which led to the unification of Bhutan and the coronation of their first king. When I went in a football match was going on. Though archery is their national sport, football is quite popular.
A short walk took me to the main throughfare of Zorin Lam Street and the clock tower square. This is a city landmark and remains an ever popular hangout for the young and the young at heart. A gig in connection with 4G launch was going on .For a country which introduced internet as recent as 1999,their telecom sector is booming.
I was quite tired after the epic Tiger nest trek and was looking forward to a comfortable night’s kip . Clearly, I knew nothing about the notorious dogs there. They were barking all night and the canine symphony kept me awake most of the time.
Later I came to know that stray dogs are a major problem here and being a Buddhist country they cannot euthanise them.Singey told me that they have an ongoing spay neuter and vaccination program.Well,that did put me at ease.These dogs are fiercely territorial and one can see chorten dogs,monastery dogs , restaurant dogs,etc.My tormentors could be the downtown pack.
I got out of the hotel as the city was waking up to a new day. My first stop was the clock tower centre. Souvenir shops,restaurants,cafes, and bars are seen around the well maintained streets.A few elderly ladies were seen turning the prayer wheels.I think this is their morning ritual.
From there I walked down towards the traffic kiosk. Thimphu being the capital has the heaviest traffic in the country and it also boasts of having no traffic lights.Traffic police from the Royal Bhutan Police controls the traffic.In 1995 traffic lights were installed but they were taken off soon as most people failed to follow and there were accidents.So the traffic cops were reinstated and this spot has become a major tourist attraction. The kiosk also sports the traditional look. The night revellers were seen curled up and sleeping cosily.They must be the kiosk pack.
Symbols of Buddhism and pictures of the King and the royal family can be seen everywhere.
Most of the commercial buildings are 4-5 storey structures made in the traditional style with brightly coloured hand painted floral, animal and religious motifs on the walls and embellished windows.All the shops are numbered.
Few old mud houses share space with their modern concrete counterparts.
Impressive government offices are also scattered in and around the main street.
I wandered into an alleyway and couldn’t help noticing the red stains on the wall.These are betel nut stains.Doma pani is the local term and quite a few Bhutanese are addicted to its use.
The high point of the morning was seeing the flowers in bloom and I knew I was in the right place.