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Introducing Thimphu

You approach Thimphu along a winding, single-lane access road, little wider than the trucks that suddenly emerge around each curve. Each blind bend promises a glimpse of your destination; however, for most of the journey all that is revealed is another curve followed by another. The steep hillsides are dotted with houses, some abandoned, their massive earthen walls slowly crumbling, and the occasional white-washed temple. Suddenly the road drops to a modern expressway on the valley floor, whisking you through paddy fields to the capital of one of the world’s most intriguing countries.

Established as the capital in 1961, Thimphu has a youthful exuberance that constantly challenges the country’s conservatism and proud tradition. The ever-present juxtaposition of old and new is just one of its appealing qualities. Crimson-robed monks, Indian labourers, gho- and kira-clad professionals and camera-wielding tourists all ply the pot-holed pavements, skirt packs of sleeping dogs, and spin the prayer wheels of Clocktower Square, and nobody, it seems, is in a hurry. Thimphu is the world’s only capital without traffic lights. A set was installed, but the residents complained that it was impersonal, and so gesticulating, white-gloved police continue to direct the ever-increasing traffic. As well as being a classic Bhutanese anachronism, it may well be the city’s most photographed spectacle.

Thimphu offers the best opportunity to do your own thing. It’s relaxed, friendly and pretty informal, and is most rewarding if you can be the same.