The capital’s most visible religious structure, the Memorial Chorten was built in 1974 in memory of the third king Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the Father of Modern Bhutan. The three-storied structure was built with the objective of removing the evil forces, promoting peace, stability and harmony in the world. The finely executed wall paintings and delicately fashioned statues within the chorten provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy. For many Bhutanese it is the focus of their daily worship and for tourists it is a must-see monument. The top floor of the Memorial Chorten offers a beautiful view of Thimphu town and its pristine surroundings.
Known as “the fortress of the glorious religion”, Tashichho Dzong is an impressive structure that houses Bhutanese government. It stands on the right bank of the Wangchu. In 1641, Zhabdrung built Tashichho Dzong and in 1960s, the entire dzong was rebuilt in the traditional fashion, without nails or written plans. Today it houses the secretariat, throne room, and offices of the King of Bhutan. The northern portion is the summer residence of the Je Khenpo and the Central Monastic Body. The annual Thimphu tshechu is held at the ceremonial ground outside this dzong. Bhutan’s only golf course is situated adjacent to Tashichho Dzong. The National Assembly Secretariat building is just across the Wangchu facing the iconic dzong.
Institute of Traditional Medicine Services
Under the command of the third king to preserve the rich traditional medicine system in the country, the first indigenous dispensary was opened in 1967. Accordingly, the formal training of traditional medical practitioners was started in 1971 and 1978 respectively. The Institute of Traditional Medicine Services today has a traditional medicine production unit, treatment hospital and the school. It provides training on indigenous medicine system. The indigenous diagnosis is based on studying the symptoms and examining the patient’s pulse and urine. Treatment includes the use of homeopathic drugs, therapy and preventive cures that involve lifestyle changes in diet, hygiene and behaviour. Today the traditional medicinal system is fully integrated with the modern health care system with its presence throughout the kingdom. It is today centrally managed by the Ministry of Health.
Institute for Zorig Chusum
Established as a Painting School in 1971 to preserve and promote the traditional arts and crafts or zorig chusum of the kingdom, the Institute for Zorig Chusum today provides training in the thirteen traditional arts and crafts for the underprivileged group of the society, school dropout and unemployed youths. Thus, it helps to enhance their skills for employment. Bhutan’s thirteen traditional crafts include calligraphy, painting (mural, scroll and house), sculpture (statue and masks), woodworks (bowl and paper making, carpentry and furniture), leather craft, casting, embroidery (appliqué, needle works, tailoring and boot making), weaving, bamboo crafts, pottery, gold and silver smithy, black smithy, and masonry (slate carving). The institute falls under the ambit of the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources.
National Library and Archives
Established in 1967 with the sole objective of collecting and preserving the ancient Bhutanese written and printed resources, Bhutan’s National Library and Archives today holds one of the largest treasures of Mahayana Buddhist literature in the world. Most of these materials are written in the classical dharma language, which was for well over a millennium the lingua franca of the Himalayan and Central Asian Buddhist world. Located close to the Institute for Zorig Chusum at Kawang Jangsa, the library has a representative collection of English and western language books relating to the Himalayas, Bhutan and Buddhism. Moreover, it accommodates a steadily growing collection of a large number of handcrafted wooden blocks for printing traditional religious books. The library has a branch at Kuenga Rabten in Trongsa, which was once the summer palace of the second king. Today it falls under the administrative jurisdiction of the Department of Culture under the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs.
Folk Heritage Museum
Opened under the royal patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo in July 2001, the Folk Heritage Museum preserves the rural culture of Bhutan. The museum is dedicated to showing people the Bhutanese rural past through exhibition of items and artifacts used in rural households. It is housed in a nineteenth-century rammed earth and timber farmhouse, typical of the Thimphu valley at that time. All the rooms are with original furniture, tools, agricultural implements, containers, clothes and ritual objects.
Opened under the royal patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Sangay Choden in June 2001 with a primary aim of preserving and promoting Bhutanese textile arts, the Textile Museum pays homage to the local weavers and theirs skills. Ancient textiles such as poncho-like garments worn in eastern parts of the country, motifs which are today not woven anymore, costumes from royal family, and unique costumes of different people, are displayed in an attractive and spacious setting. It presents all the raw materials used for weaving, different looms used by weavers, and is also a centre for conservation, restoration and documentation of Bhutanese textile.
Royal Academy of Performing Arts
Located at Chubachu, the Royal Academy of Performing Arts is the face and sound of Bhutanese music, which upholds the tradition of classical and folk music and dance alive in the face of modernization. Established as a mask dance centre in 1954, over the years, it grew into a centre for performing arts and school for artists from all the twenty districts who come to learn and perform traditional Bhutanese music, theatre, folk and mask dances. Today the academy falls under the administrative jurisdiction of the Department of Culture of the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs.
Buddha Dordenma Statue
With a height of 169 feet (51.5 metres), the Buddha Dordenma Statue under construction in Thimphu will be one of the largest Buddha statues in the world. Located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park overlooking the southern entrance to Thimphu valley, this place has become a major tourist spot although the construction is yet to be completed to date. The statue will house over one hundred thousand smaller Buddha statues, each of which, like the Buddha Dordenma itself, will be made of bronze and gilded in gold. The statue is being built by Aerosun Corporation of Nanjing in China. The spot offers a picturesque view of the serene Thimphu valley.
Bhutan’s forerunner of the dzong system, Semtokha Dzong symbolises the start of the dual system of governance instituted by Zhabdrung. Built in 1629, its strategic position overlooks and commands the entire Thimphu valley. In 1961, the third king decided to turn the dzong into a Rigney School, and over the years, it evolved into the Institute of Language and Cultural Studies, which is now shifted to Taktse under Trongsa district in central Bhutan. In fact, the Rigney School took care of the dzong until the Central Monastic Body took it over in 1997 to establish a monastic school. It was fully renovated recently to establish as a centre for ‘living monastic arts’. As the oldest dzong, Semtokha Dzong possesses varieties of antique statues and unique arts and crafts, which add vastly to the cultural and spiritual distinction of the country.
Popularly known as Motithang Zoo, the preserve contains takin (Burdorcas Taxicolor), the national animal of Bhutan. It is an extremely rare bovid mammal of the ovine-carpine family. It lives in flocks in places 4000 metres high, and eats bamboo. It can weigh as much as 250 kilograms. Of late, however, it has been found that the takin population in the preserve has been declining due to inbreeding within the animals of same parental origins. Accordingly, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forest has planned to shift to the preserve wild takins with fresh genes. It also plans the present takin preserve to be upgraded, housing not only takins but also other unique animals found in Bhutan, like the Red Panda, Himalayan Serow and other rare animals and birds. Apart from takin, the 8.55-acre enclosure at Motithang today houses sambars and barking deers rescued from different parts of Bhutan.
About an hour’s hike from the road point, the Tango Monastery was founded by the saint Phajo Drugom Zhigpo but rebuilt in its present form in 1688. It was called Tango (horse-head) after the saint’s association with the deity Hayagriva (Tamdrin or horse-head). Tango Monastery is today one of the premier Buddhist colleges of the country and it offers a great view of the Thimphu valley. Today, this beautiful monastery is home to young reincarnate lama, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye. On the base of the monastery, there is a ‘sin-testing’ tunnel, it is said that sinned people will get stuck in the tunnel, and those without sin can go through the tunnel with ease!
Located on the left at the same level, as Tango Monastery, is the Cheri Monastery. The trail starts by crossing a bridge with cantilevers and shingles that spans over the Wangchu River. Cheri Monastery was built in 1619 by Zhabdrung to bury the ashes of his father Tenpey Nyima. Zhabdrung was said to have established the first monk body of Bhutan at Cheri Monastery.