What You Need To Know about Thimphu

Thimphu is the capital and largest city of the Kingdom of Bhutan. It is situated in the western central part of Bhutan and the surrounding valley is one of Bhutan’s dzongkhags, the Thimphu District. The ancient capital city of Punakha was replaced by Thimphu when it was established as capital in 1955, and in 1961 Thimphu was declared as the capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan by His Majesty The 3rd Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The city is spread out laterally in a north-south direction on the west bank of the valley formed by the Raidāk River, which is known as the Wang Chuu or Thimphu Chuu in Bhutan. Thimphu is the third highest capital in the world by altitude and is spread over an altitudinal range between 2,248 metres (7,375 feet) and 2,648 metres (8,688 feet). Unusually for a capital city, Thimphu is not served by an airport, but relies on the Paro Airport connected by road some 54 kilometres (34 miles) away. Thimphu, as the political and economic center of Bhutan, has a dominant agricultural and livestock base, which contributes to 45% of the country’s GNP. Tourism, though a contributor to the economy, is strictly regulated, maintaining a balance between the traditional, development and modernization. Thimphu contains most of the important political buildings in Bhutan, including the National Assembly of the newly formed parliamentary democracy and Dechencholing Palace, the official residence of the King, located to the north of the city. As a metropolis and capital city, Thimphu is coordinated by the “Thimphu Structure Plan”, an Urban Development Plan which evolved in 1998 with the objective of protecting the fragile ecology of the valley. This development is ongoing with financial assistance from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The culture of Bhutan is fully reflected in Thimphu in respect of literature, religion, customs, and national dress code, the monastic practices of the monasteries, music, dance, literature and in the media. Tshechu is an important festival when mask dances, popularly known as Cham dances, are performed in the courtyards of the Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu. It is a four-day festival held every year during autumn (September/October), on dates corresponding to the Bhutanese calendar.

Area: 26 km²

Population: Estimate 104,000



Bhutanese Ngultrum is the official currency.


The culture of Bhutan is fully reflected in the capital city in respect of literature, religion, customs, and national dress code, the monastic practices of the monasteries, music, dance, literature and in the media. Modernity has been blended without sacrificing on the traditional Buddhist ethos


Ancient literature of Bhutan is preserved in the National Library. The script used in Bhutanese literature is in the Bhutanese script (though evolved from Tibetan script) known as jo yig developed in the 16th century. The printing process of these books on handmade paper and its binding are display items at the National Library. Modern literature is still evolving and a religious biography of women titled delog is a popular religious work. There are many writers who write in English now, mostly short stories and collection of folk tales of Bhutan; a popular author is Kunzang Choeden.

Royal Academy of Performing Arts

The Royal Academy of Performing Arts (RAPA), located in Thimphu, was established at the initiative of late King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in 1954, with the basic objective of preserving and promoting performing arts traditions of Bhutan. In 1967, it was institutionalized as an academy and the Royal Dance troupe was its creation. The institution provides training in national dance forms of Bhutan such as mask dances and also preserves the folk dance heritage. The professional dancers of the Academy hold performances during the annual Thimphu Tsechu dance festival that is held in the premises of the Tashichhoe Dzong. Performances lasting for one hour are also arranged on specially requested occasions. The present activities at the academy are being reorganized with further expansion of its programs, including curriculum development for teaching. Established in 1967, built in the style of a traditional temple, the National Library houses many ancient Dzonghka and Tibetan texts. It has been planned as “a major scriptural repository and research facility dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the rich literary, cultural and religious heritage” of Bhutan. The building is very lavishly decorated and is said to represent the finest vibrant Bhutanese architecture. On the ground floor of this building, among the highly prized collections, there is a book reported to be the heaviest in the world, weighing 59 kilograms (130 lb), known as “Bhutan:a Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom “. Traditional books and historic manuscripts written in Tibetan style, on handmade paper bound between wooden flats and tied together are also preserved here. The library also houses an old printing press that was used for printing books and prayer flags. The library is also circumambulated by devotees as a mark of worship by the devout as it enshrines holy books and images of Bhutan’s famous people such as the Zhabdrung, Namgyal, Pema Linga and Guru Rinpoche. Also on display here are a model of the Punakha Dzong and the Chorten architecture.


Thimphu is the political and economic centre of Bhutan and the location of the central government. Agriculture and livestock contribute to 45% of the GNP. The use of hydropower plants to generate electricity has also substantially contributed to the economy. Tourism is also a contributor to the economy but its adoption is on a graduated scale maintaining a balance between development and modernization. India is its major trading partner with most of the electricity produced (90%) exported to India, with imports from India limited to 70%. The ngultrum (ISO 4217 code BTN) (Dzongkha: དངུལ་ཀྲམ) has been the currency of Bhutan since 1974. It is subdivided into 100 chhertum (called chetrums on coins until 1979). In 1974, the ngultrum was introduced as the Bhutanese currency replacing the rupee at par. The ngultrum is equal in value to the Indian rupee, since Bhutan’s economy is largely dependent on Indian financial and other forms of assistance. Although a city, agriculture is still important to Thimphu and the surrounding district. Even around the royal palace are terraced fields. The main crops grown in the area are rice, corn (maize), and wheat and the lumbering trade is also important to the economy.  A morning market is held on the central square during weekends. These are the only days when the residents of Thimphu can buy fresh fruit and vegetables. The inhabitants rely on the supermarkets for other provisions throughout the week. The market also sells yak butter, cheese, wooden bowls and fabrics. A number of cheap souvenirs from Nepal are also sold at the market. Behind the open market, several shops sell Chinese and Bangladeshi crockery, appliances, shoes, silks and carpets. For many years merchants would come to the central square from all over Bhutan and market their goods and would sleep in the open air. However, in 1986, platforms were erected and in 1989 covered market halls were built over the platforms. A special building for meat products was constructed on the north side of the market. In 2006, the handicrafts section was moved to the new stalls on the other side of the new bridge, built in the traditional style in 2005. The Loden Foundation, Bhutan’s first registered charity, has been based in Thimphu since 2007. It is run by a board of trustees composed of prominent citizens, and the foundation has a working team in the United Kingdom (UK). The organisation was established to support education and promote learning and entrepreneurship in Bhutan and other Himalayan areas and to promote Bhutanese culture and religion in other parts of the world.


As the capital of Bhutan, most of the important political institutions in the country are based in Thimphu, including the embassies and the National Assembly of Bhutan. The National Assembly has 47 members, who were elected in the first ever general elections on March 24, 2008. Jigme Thinley’s Druk Phuensum Tshogpa Party won a landslide victory, securing 45 seats. The People’s Democratic Party won the other two, but its leader Sangay Ngedup lost the election in his constituency.


Dzongkha is Bhutan’s official language. It literally means ‘the language spoken in the dzongs and administrative centers in all the districts of Bhutan’. It has its roots in the old-Tibetan language, spoken by the people of Western Bhutan. In 1992 the first edition of a book was published, describing the grammar of Dzongkha. Besides Dzongkha there are two major languages spoken by the people of Bhutan: Sharchokpa (spoken in Eastern Bhutan) and Nepali (spoken in Southern Bhutan).

Law and order

 A traffic policeman at a circle on Thimphu road. Law and order in Thimphu and in the country as a whole are the responsibility of the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP), a national police branch of the armed forces, established in Thimphu in September 1965 when 555 personnel were reassigned from the Royal Bhutan Army. The organization is responsible for law and order, traffic control, and crime prevention. In 1988, a fingerprint bureau was established in Thimphu, for which a female second lieutenant received specialized training. Bhutan became a member of Interpol on 19 September 2005; since then, Interpol has maintained a National Central Bureau at RBP headquarters in Thimphu. The RBP is headed by a chief of police who is under the control of the Ministry of Home and Cultural Affairs. He is assisted by a deputy chief of police. The headquarters of the RBP is located in the capital city of Thimphu and is divided into three branches directly under the chief of police. The RBP has grouped districts into “ranges,” which are under the administrative control of range police officers. A district police officer heads the police force in a district. There are a number of police stations, outposts, and checkpoints in a district; the highest-ranking officer is usually designated the officer in charge of that particular area. Thimphu district and the city fall under Range I. Recruits are trained at the police training centres in Zilnon, Namgyeling–Thimphu, Jigmeling–Gelephu, and Tashigatshel–Chukha.


Basic health facilities are provided free of any charge to all citizens in Bhutan. There are no private practitioners operating any clinics anywhere in Thimphu or Bhutan. Every citizen is treated free of any charge including foreign tourists needing medical care. The health care centre established in Thimphu is the National Referral Hospital. ‘Traditional Medicine’ is also in vogue and the “Institute of Traditional Medicine” has been set up in Thimphu to promote this widely practiced herbal medical cure in rural areas of Bhutan.

National Referral Hospital

The National Referral Hospital (full name Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital) in Thimphu was established in 1972 and is the main hospital in Bhutan. The National Referral Hospital provides free basic medical treatment as well as advanced surgeries and emergency services to citizens from all over the country. The hospital provides sophisticated health evaluation and management services in the country and has facilities of CT and MRI diagnosis equipment and improved lab services. The hospital has a library with many current textbooks. The hospital is one of five medical service centres within Thimphu. The others are: two Indian hospitals (DANTAK hospital at Semtokha and IMTRAT hospital in the main town), the BHU in Dechencholing and the Outreach Clinic in Motithang.

Institute of Traditional Medicine

The Institute of Traditional Medicine was set up in 1979 with assistance from World Health Organization (WHO) to develop and popularise Bhutanese herbal medicine, which has been used by the rural people in Bhutan for many centuries. The Institute is located on a hill promontory above the Thimpu town. It is a semi-wooden structure built colourfully like a “Manor House”. Traditionally, Bhutanese medicine has been influenced by traditional Tibetan medicine and also some aspects of Indian medicine, particularly the “Three Humors of bile, wind and phlegm” that “dictates the state of our physical and spiritual health.” The Institute is well manned by scientists who claim that they have now developed a “mixture of five herbs that could “possess spermogenitic powers” (a kind of a herbal viagra), which is under testing before development and marketing on a commercial basis. The main herb used is stated to be Cordyceps sinensis (caterpillar fungus), whose productive buds are available in the hills of Bhutan.


Vajrayana Buddhism is the state religion and the dominant ethnic group is Drukpa of KagyuBuddhism, while in southern Bhutan Hindus of Nepali ethnicity are dominant. The main monastic body with membership of 1,160 monks is headed by a chief abbot (presently Je Khenpo) who spends six months in Tashechhoe Dzong in Thimphu and the other six months in Punakha. A Council of Ecclesiastical Affairs, under the chairmanship of the chief abbot, is located in Thimphu, which is responsible for the management of the National Memorial Chorten in Thimphu, and all Buddhist meditation centres, schools of Buddhist studies and also central and district monastic bodies. The day-to-day affairs of the council are under the charge of the chief abbot.



The layout and position of the city roads in Thimphu are dictated by its unique topography. Most premier roads, typically wide, are aligned in a north-south direction, parallel to the river; the most important artery is the Norzin Lam (Lam – road/street). Branch roads wind along the hill slopes leading to residential areas. Foot paths are also well laid with access to the commercial areas and the Wang Chu River. However, its entry point is at a narrow location from the south crossed by a wooden bridge. South of the bridge is the road to Paro, Punakha, Wangdi Phodrong, Tongsa and further to the east and north. The expressway which has been built has had a large impact on development, shifting land values, decreasing transportation costs, and increasing potential growth opportunity in the southern part of the valley. Bhutan Transport Corporation runs a regular bus service from Siliguri (which along with nearby New Jalpaiguri station are the nearest railheads) in India. It takes about four hours to reach Phuentsholing. From there, buses ply to Thimphu every day. Taxis can also be hired. The unique aspect of Thimphu roads and the traffic control over the road network is that it is one of the two national capitals in the world that does not have traffic lights (the other is Ngerulmud, Palau). Local authorities had installed a set of lights but before they became operational the lights were removed. Instead of traffic lights, the city takes pride in its traffic police that directs the oncoming traffic with their dance-like movement of their arms and hands. City Bus services operate throughout the day. There are plans to introduce tram services in the city.


Thimphu is served by the only international airport of Bhutan, Paro Airport, which is about 54 kilometres (34 mi) away by road. Druk Air had its headquarters in Thimphu but now there is only a branch office. Druk Air is the only airline flying into Bhutan excluding charter flights by Buddha Air and is a lifeline with the outside world for the Bhutanese people, also supporting emerging inbound tourism and export markets. The airline has in recent times been criticised for its unreliability, particularly from the Bhutanese tourism industry which is still in its infancy, and regards the very company upon which it relies as its biggest threat. Tashi Air is a private airline recently launched in the country.


Initially, when Bhutan was opened up for tourism in 1974, the Government-owned Tourism Corporation was set up in Thimphu to encourage and organize individual and group tours to destinations of cultural importance in Bhutan, concentrating on Buddhism, weaving, birds, nature and trekking, and any special package. This organization was privatized in 1994 and named as Bhutan Tourism Development Corporation. The corporation also owns and manages hotels and tourist lodges at all major tourist centres in Bhutan. It has its own fleet of cars and also interpreters in several international languages to cater to tourists of various denominations. Thimphu does not have a vibrant night life but the number of nightclubs and pool rooms for young people is growing quickly. Of note is the Om Bar which attracts a number of the Bhutanese elite and expatriates who dine and discuss their business ventures there. The Plum’s restaurant is frequented by civil servants. Other nightclubs and pool rooms include the Buzz Lounge, the Space 34 nightclub and the pool venues 4 Degrees and the Zone. The main street, Norzim Lam, contains a number of shops and small hotels and restaurants. The Bhutan Textile Museum, the National Library, the Peling Hotel, Wangchuck Hotel, the Chang Lam Plaza, the Art Cafe, the Khamsa Cafe, the Swiss Bakery, Yeedzin Guest House, the Mid-Point South Indian restaurant, the Benez restaurant, the Bhutan Kitchen and the sports field are buildings of note around this street area. Other notable hotels in the area include the elegant Druk Hotel, Druk Sherig Guesthouse, Hotel Jumolhari (noted for its Indian cuisine), Hotel Dragon Roots (established in 2004) and Hotel Senge. Near the main square is a clock, decorated with dragons, which is now an open-air theatre site and art and craft stores and the Tashi supermarket. In the building in front of the old cinema there is a Chinese restaurant and trekking stores. Some of the grocery stores such as Sharchopa are noted for their cheeses, namely Bumthang and Gogona. The Drentoen Lam street is located off the main street and contains the post office and bank and administrative buildings and several music stores. Doebum Lam road runs parallel to the main Norzim Lam and also contains the Chamber of Commerce, Department of Tourism and the Ministry of Trade buildings and the odd bakery. In 2006, a new shopping district opened between Doebum Lam and Norzim Lam which includes the Zangdopelri shopping complex, the Phuntsho Pelri Hotel and Seasons, an Italian restaurant.


Thimphu is situated in the constricted, linear valley of the Raidāk River, which is also known as the Thimphu River (Thimpu Chuu). While the surrounding hills are in an altitudinal range of 2,000 to 3,800 metres (6,562–12,467 feet) (warm temperate climate between 2,000 to 3,000 metres (6,562–9,843 feet) and cold temperate zone between 3,000–3,800 metres (9,843–12,467 feet)), the city itself has an altitude range varying between 2,248 metres (7,375 feet) and 2,648 metres (8,688 feet). It is these two variations in altitude and climate which determine the habitable zones and vegetation typology for the valley. The valley, however, is thinly-forested and is spread out to the north and west. At the southern end of the city, the Lungten Zampa bridge connects the east and west banks of the Wang Chuu which flows through the heart of city. The Raidāk River raises in the snow fields at an altitude of about 7,000 metres (23,000 ft). It has many tributaries that flow from the Himalayan peaks that largely dictate the topography of the Thimphu valley. The Thimphu valley, so formed, is delimited by a steep eastern ridge that rises from the riverbed and a valley formation with gradually sloping topography, extending from Dechencholing and Simtokha, on the western banks of the Raidāk. The north-south orientation of the hill ranges of the valley means that they are exposed to moist monsoon winds which engulf the inner Himalayas and its lower valleys. However, the windward and leeward sides of the hill ranges have different vegetation patterns depending on the varying rainfall incidence in the two sides. Thimphu valley lying in the leeward side of the mountains is comparatively dry and contains a different type of vegetation as compared to the windward side. Hence, the coniferous vegetation in the valley is attributed to this phenomenon. Punakha, the old capital of Bhutan, is on the windward side with broad-leaved trees dominating the topography. The city experiences a southwest monsoon-influenced Subtropical highland climate (Cwb) of a warm, temperate climate. The southwest monsoon rainfall occurs during mid-June to September. Lightning and thunder often precedes rainfall in the region with cumulonimbus clouds and light showers dominating the weather.[1][3] Continuous rainfall for several days occurs resulting in landslides and blockage of roads. Streams and rivers swell up carrying huge amounts of debris from forests. Deep puddles, thick mud, and landslides along roads form barriers to transportation. Cold winds, low temperatures at night, and moderate temperatures during the day, cloudiness, light showers and snowfall mark winter weather in this zone. Fog causes poor visibility, which poses a threat to vehicular traffic in the city. As spring approaches, the landscape is marked by violent winds and relatively dry and clear skies. Thimphu experiences a wet season, which runs from May through September and a dry season that covers the remainder of the year. Rainfall in the valley varies between 500 millimetres (20 in) and 1,000 millimetres (39 in) per year, the bulk of which is received during the monsoonal wet season. The average temperature recorded during winter varies between 5–15 °C (41–59 °F) while in summer the variation is between 15–30 °C (59–86 °F). The coldest average (minimum) temperature in January is −2.6 °C (27.3 °F) and the average highest temperature recorded during August is 25 °C (77 °F).