Bhutan – Thimphu – Day 2
According to Wikipedia Thimphu – the Bhutan‘s capital – has some 100 thousand inhabitants. However, due to its location in the valley between the Himalayan peaks it rather mirrors the style of a peaceful French or Swiss mountain resort than a dynamic administrative centre of the country.
Being curious and hungry for exploration of the real life of Bhutanese middle class we decided to spend the entire day there.
We started our day from the visit to the Central Post Office to buy some collectors‘ stamps. Not many people know that Bhutanese Post is one of the most active stamp issuers in the world. The stamp issues are not similar to other issuers of philatelic wastepaper. Except of beautifully printed normal stamps or stamps sheets, Bhutanese Post issues the stamps in form of mini-discs or printed on silk.
After having spent some time in the post office we moved towards the paper factory where the production process of handmade paper can be watched.
From the paper manufacture we went to the most famous incense factory in the outskirts of Thimphu where the production process is a mix of manual and mechanic activities with no involvement of electric or electronic equipment. Incenses in Bhutan are of various quality, to be easily recognized by price. As a matter of fact, top quality incenses purchased at the factory store are some 30% cheaper than the price offered by the gift shops in the centre of Thimphu or Paro.
On the way back to the city centre we visited the park hosting the national animals of Bhutan – takins, the goat antelopes living in the Eastern Himalaya only.
Unfortunately, we were not lucky enough to visit the Thimphu Dzong, the administrative central place of the country hosting the Royal Palace and the summer residence of the Chief Monk. We could only admire its spectacular architectural shape from the view point on the hill.
Before exploring the city life we visited two other amazing attractions namely the Semtokha Dzong located 6 kilometers from Thimphu, a place where you can easily take pictures with the monks and the gigantic 52-meters-tall Buddha statue overlooking the capital from the hills. The Buddha statue, the construction of which started in 2010 is not complete yet. Continuously increasing project cost requires new funding by the sponsors in order to finalize works around the statue. Despite the freeze of relationship between Bhutan and China and the strong economic dependence on India, the Statue was erected by a Chinese contractor.
After having returned to the city centre we got to the archery tournament, a unique show by two teams combining the elements of the Bhutanese tradition, culture and the social life. The guys were amazing when shooting from the distance of 150 meters and performing ritual dances.
The afternoon was marked by admiring the views from and to the hills surrounding the city…
… and observing the city centre, the inhabitants and visiting the gift shops offering the local (and imported) handicraft, older post stamps and the jewelry. Due to the Chinese occupation of Tibet, there are numerous refugees from Tibet living in Bhutan. These people cross the border with all their possessions which they cash after arrival to cover the living costs. Therefore, attractive local jewelry is relatively easy to find in the gift shops. However, the buyers should always ask for an invoice when buying the jewelry and make sure that it is not older than 100 years which by law prevents its export from Bhutan.
Bhutanese people willingly observe international trends. Although the air pollution is very low, people in the masks could be seen in the streets of Thimphu. Also, the coffee which is not anchored in Bhutanese culture became the fashionable drink with the constantly increasing number of cafeterias with good, Italian-styled coffee equipment.