Sunday, 21 September 2014

Destination Thimphu - The capital city

Thimphu is a bustling capital city with 5 storey buildings packed like sardines. It is the rolling mountains beyond the building line that makes it different. The first thing I noticed as we drove in was the multiple car showrooms right from Toyota, Hyundai to Maruti and many others and cars of all sizes on the road.  The second thing that was pointed out to us by Tintin was that Thimphu is a signal free city. My immediate reaction was to admiringly assume Bhutanese were disciplined enough to follow rules without traffic lights. But then we came across a junction manned by a police man.

Till date, license plates have never caught my interest. Bhutan changed it. I was drawn to the private vehicles with red license plate immediately. The number has prefix of "BP". Taxis are yellow in color with "BT" written on them. The diplomatic vehicles are green/blue with "CD". Royal Bhutan police have  blue license plate with RBP. The government vehicles have "BG" written in yellow on a red plate. So do the royal Bhutan guard vehicles with "RBG". The present King of Bhutan is driven in a Range Rover and Mini Cooper and the license plate say "BHUTAN" and is in red color. Only the royal family have "BHUTAN" on their license plate with the exception of the chief abbot.  Fascinating, right? Time to pay attention to license plates across the world.

"Happiness is a place". No doubt about it. Bhutan is the place. One of the places that introduced us to the Bhutanese culture, architecture and civic sense was the Tashichho Dzong. The fluttering yellow orange flag in front of this part administrative part religious building immediately draws you to it. The yellow is representative of civic tradition and the orange the spiritual tradition and the dragon unifies both.

The experience as you walk by the fortress with the serene immaculately clean surrounding, is enhanced by the gushing sound of Thimphu river by its side.  The cypress which is their national tree and the maple  were among the many trees, plants and shrubs around the Dzong. The silence was occasionally broken by the red billed choughs  with their call "Chee-ow". I was indeed in the place of happiness.

What you see at the present day is the rebuilt dzong of 1962 but with the traditional architectural style intact and the construction technique followed as per the tradition without nails or plans drawn by architects. The splendid proportion, the perfect composition with not one element out of the place is inspirational.

South side of the fortress of glorious religion 

East side of the fortress of glorious religion

The entrance to the fortress on the east side is through a series of steps which culminates against a blank wall with paintings or sculpture. There are more steps on the side to reach the inner courtyard which is close to 4.5-5 m above the outside ground level. I wonder why this was done . Is there a hidden basement with no windows.  Or could there are hidden tunnels connecting the different dzongs and the spies use them all the time. Or is there buried treasure waiting to be unearthed. Maybe there is a laboratory where secret experiments are taking place. Or is it the closed quarters where the mysticism becomes reality. Interesting right?

The exit from inner courtyard

The northern assembly hall  houses Shahkyamuni Buddha,Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal , other protective deities that i cannot recall and thrones of fourth king,present king and the chief abbot. The wide red strip along the roof signifies a religious building.

Lhakhang Sarpa (new temple) is one of the buildings that separate the administration side from the religious side. Its ornate doorway, bay window "rabsey" with the auspicious symbols and ravens supporting the four corners is breath taking.

Utse or the central tower beyond the new temple which typically separates the two sides

Tashichho Dzong today. Click on the link to see how it looked in 1905

The inner sanctorum was off limits for my faithful companion Sony. So let me describe in brief. The entrance porch has paintings of mandala and the statues of the deities tower us in the inner room. Bowls of water line up in front of statue. Butter lamps are integral part of the altar. Also placed are the offerings of food like puffed rice, biscuits, sweet crisps, fruits etc along with the ritual cake torma. The side walls  are lined with multiple Buddhas. Ceiling had more mandala painting and decorated with colorful silk kafens ( vertical strips of tailored fabric)  embroidered to perfection.

Tzhem zo or the art of tailoring is a popular art amongst the Bhutanese - See more at:
Tshem - Zo or art of tailoring is one of the popular crafts in Bhutan. It includes art of embroidery Tashem Drup, art of applique Lhem drup and art of traditional Bhutanese boot making Tsho Lham and of course sewing. The practice of any of these 13 crafts by itself is a form of connecting with Buddha. The Royal family is literally holding a parasol or dug  which is an auspicious symbol and protecting the local culture from illness, harmfulness and any obstacles. Respect!!
Tzhem zo or the art of tailoring is a popular art amongst the Bhutanese - See more at:

Date : September 2014
Place : Thimphu, Bhutan

Tip :  No t shirts or 3/4 pants allowed in the dzong. Use a jacket or wear full sleeved top with collar and wear only pants or full length skirts.
First : Fascination for license plates
The travel connection :  Architecture!

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