We arrived in Thimpu in the early afternoon, and headed for the hotel in the downtown. We got a suite with a separate living room – quite luxurious.
Rinzin took us to a fabric store, where Peter bought some fabric, usually used to make a women’s kira (skirt), to make a shirt. This fabric was made in India, with a Bhutanese design and was to be taken to Bangkok to have made into a shirt.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the downtown checking out the bookstores and souvenir stores. Most of the stores had similar stuff to buy. We were on the look out for a mandala painting, similar to the one that Peter had bought in Nepal in 1989. However, the Bhutanese ones were a lot more detailed and a lot more expensive.
We visited the Post Office and made our personalized stamp using the picture we had taken at Dochula Pass that afternoon. We sent some postcards to friends and family back home, more to show off our new found philatelic fame than as a means of communicating. We had an extra sheet of stamps made for posterity and vanity!
That evening we had dinner with the Dorji’s, the owners of the tour company, at their house, with some other clients. Michael Rutland, originally from England, was a tutor to the fourth king (father of the present king), was there, dressed in a local gho. Reminded me of the expat Brits I had met in Jamaica and other places who feel that they are living in the Colonies. Interesting fellow, spends half his time in Bhutan and half in England. Two other couples were there, one who lives in Bali, and the other from the UK.
We had a discussion about the future development of Bhutan, and whether an increase in tourism was really the right way for Bhutan to develop. Bhutan is also developing hydroelectricity; in fact it is there number one industry today. I suggested that expansion of this was far more productive, and would be much more sustainable in the long run than tourism. Most agreed, but apparently there is a push to increase tourism by 400% from some parts of the government.
Day 8 we spend exploring Thimpu and seeing the cultural sights of Bhutan. The morning started at the archery range down by the river where two teams were competing with each other. The archery range is 145m long. A small target is setup at one end, and the teams try to hit the target. What amazed us, was how close to the target the members of the opposite team were standing. This showed incredible respect for the accuracy of the opposing team, or complete ignorance of the potential danger if the arrow went astray. Whenever the target was hit, the team members to celebrate the event performed a ritualistic dance. We watched this for about twenty minutes, and were told that this was a before work event that occurs quite frequently in Thimpu.
We visited a paper-making studio which also sold thangkas and mandala paintings. The paper making process was similar to the one we had seen in Japan for making Washi paper, and we couldn’t help wondering whether the foreign companies that buy the paper to sell in the US, pass Bhutanese paper off as Japanese paper, and make a tidy profit from the transaction.
We visited more book stores and souvenir stores, as well as the library. The School of Traditional Art was a very interesting place to tour as we could see students learning the thirteen traditional arts and crafts in Bhutan. This included sculpture, painting, and weaving.
The Takin Reserve Park outside of the city is home to the Takin, the national animal of Bhutan. These animals along with Barking Deer, come up to the fence looking for food from the tourists. The natural surroundings set in the forest was a nice natural diversion from the townscape of Thimpu.
That night we visited a resort owned by the mother of a Bhutanese student that Marg met at UBC. The food was cooked in traditional claypots on an open fire, and was the best meal that we had on the trip. We then had a Bhutanese stone bath. This involves heating up rocks to be white hot, and inserting them in water. This hot water is then piped into a wooden bath/hot tub and combined with regular cold water to a temperature comfortable for soaking in. This was the Bhutanese version of a Japanese outdoor bath and very relaxing in the cold evening.
The next day was the day we had been waiting for – Tiger’s Nest Monastery. This was probably the most famous building in Bhutan, and used in all the marketing material for tours of the country.