Bhutan Day Two (Thimphu)

Today we spent a busy day in Thimphu. I woke up around 5, but drowsed off and on until about 6:30. We had a nice breakfast in the hotel, then met Namgay and Lama in the lobby to set out at 9. Our first stop was the Textile Museum.

Entrance to the Textile Museum

First, we watched a DVD showing the history of textiles in Bhutan and the various techniques used. We weren’t allowed to take any photos inside the museum, but the first floor was a fascinating exhibit on the life of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, the Tibetan who unified Bhutan in the 17th century. The second floor held examples of many different textiles, including the traditional dress of Bhutan, which many Bhutanese still wear today.

Our next stop was the post office, where we did the obligatory cheesy tourist thing and had stamps printed with our photo. We then toured the post office museum, which was really interesting. The Bhutanese love their stamps! There were so many different ones on display.

History of postage stamps in Bhutan

We were going to go to the takin reserve (the national animal of Bhutan) next, but it turns out that it’s closed on Mondays, so we’re saving it for tomorrow on our way out of town. We did a short one-hour hike, the Wangditse-Chokhortse Gomba trail, above the reserve through a beautiful forest with many great views of Thimphu along the way. There was restoration work being done on the temple at the top of the hike, so we weren’t allowed to take any photos of it, but I was allowed to take this photo of a worker trimming a beam with a large scythe.

Lunch was at the restaurant attached to the National Folk Heritage Museum, and I think it may have been our favorite meal so far. As usual, we were brought a ridiculous amount of food: rice, cheesy potatoes, ema datshi (made with fresh green chilis, which we much preferred to the one with dried red chilis), fried spinach, a cauliflower and broccoli mix, chicken curry, the same dried pork that we had the previous evening, and buckwheat pancakes. And then they also brought us a mushroom broth.

After lunch, we toured the National Folk Heritage Museum. Again, no photos were allowed, but it was a traditional farmhouse filled with examples of traditional household items. The first floor is for the cattle, with calves kept in their own separate room so that they don’t drink all their mothers’ milk and make the mothers skinny. The second floor is the kitchen area and food storage, and the third floor is where the household altar is. There is no designated bedroom, and family members tend to sleep in the kitchen and third floor.

Our next visit was to the Thimphu Institute for Zorig Chusum, a secondary school offering training in 13 traditional arts & crafts such as wood carving, embroidery, and painting. We observed several classrooms but I felt a little self-conscious as a tourist there. Students study only one craft and the school year (like all schools in the country) runs from February to December. Exams are rigorous and in some of the courses, less than half pass and move on to the next level (e.g. Painting I, Painting II, up through Painting V).

We had encountered so few other tourists and moved so quickly through our day that Namgay was able to add two extra stops to our itinerary. The first was to the National Library, where we were the only visitors. We had to take off our shoes to enter and tour it, but the cold floors were worth it to see the wealth of old framed photographs adorning the walls of the library. We also saw the world’s largest published book, Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom. It is 200 square feet of 5-feet high photographs, weighs over 130 pounds, and opens to 5 x 7 feet.

The first floor of the library contained the aforementioned world’s largest book and many reference books. We saw multiple stories, and all the other floors contained prayer books. Every floor had its own altar.

After the library, we stopped by the archery field and caught a few men practicing their skills. Like the darts game, the archery targets seem very small and far away from the shooting area. There was a sign at the entrance to the field stating that anyone coming to practice needed to be attired in traditional clothing.

Our next unscheduled stop was a handmade paper factory, where we got to see the process from the beginning to the end.

We had about half an hour before our next destination would open to the public, so we convinced Namgay and Lama to let us buy them a coffee/tea at a coffee shop. There was an older Western couple at the next table celebrating the man’s birthday, and they were kind enough to share some of his birthday cake with us.

Last but not least, we returned to Tashichhodzong, the fortress that houses the government’s administrative offices. After passing through security, we visited a large temple with giant, elaborate thrones inside for the 4th king (retired), the current 5th king, and the chief abbot.

Dinner was a quiet affair back at our hotel, where we had an excellent Indian meal of malai kofta and paneer butter masala.

Distance walked: 4.6 miles
Flights climbed: 28

Full photo gallery from Day Two in Bhutan

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