Thimphu, with a population of approximately 26,000, is the capital of Bhutan. It is a relatively new city that was started by the late King Jigme Dorje Wangchuk in 1955 as a replacement for the former capital of Punakha.
Thimphu was by far the busiest city that I visited in Bhutan, though by the standards of many of the world's capital cities it is a picturesque country town. The sprawling Tashi Chodzong, like other dzongs throughout Bhutan, is built in a traditional fortress style and serves as both a seat of government and a monastery for Buddhist monks.
One of the main attractions in Thimphu is the Memorial Chorten, constructed in 1974 at the behest of the Royal Grandmother, Ashi Phuntsok Chodron, in honor of the former king, Jigme Dorje Wangchuk. During our visit to Thimphu, we were lucky to catch a festival that brought many Bhutanese to the chorten with offerings. North of Thimphu, one can catch a distant glimpse of Dechen Choling, the royal palace and home of the present king, Jigme Senge Wangchuk, and several monasteries, one of which I visited after a steep climb up one of the hills.
While in Thimphu we were also treated to a colorful performance of traditional dances. A separate slide show is available below for those interested in seeing the dance performance separately. Also, just outside of Thimphu, I was able to enter a Buddhist temple – the only one I could enter in Bhutan.
A Buddhist Temple: Unlike Tibet, where temples and monasteries have become tourist attractions, the interiors of religious sites in Bhutan are generally off limits for foreigners. Thanks to one kindly caretaker, however, I did manage to make it inside one temple. (5 photos). [Preview This Slide Show]
Paro, Bhutan: To the west of Thimphu is the town of Paro, which is relatively new, with construction beginning only in 1985, though the traditional style makes it seem much older. It is near Bhutan's only airport and thus has become a gateway for many foreign visitors. Although much of the town is new, the area has a long history. Two dzongs, one now ruined and another rebuilt, have guarded the area over the centuries from outside invaders. (15 Photos) [Preview This Slide Show]