Travelling solo is sometimes fun if you are going to the right place with an open mind and an explorer’s soul. My thirst for such an adventure took me to Thimphu, the capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan.
If travelling by road from Sikkim, as I did, Phuentsholing is the first stop. It is about 7.5 hours give or take from Gangtok or Siliguri, West Bengal. You can also enter Bhutan through the border town of Samdrup Jonkhar, which is about a 2.5 hours drive from Guwahati (Assam); your immigration happens at either of these places. For Indians and citizens of SAARC countries, you need a permit, while for other nationals, a visa is required. If travelling solo, you will need an additional letter of undertaking to be addressed to the Director of Immigration there.
Thimphu, the capital of this bountiful nation, is about 2.5 hours drive from Phuentsholing. The weather is very pleasant here, and you can also find snow for a few days during peak winter.
Here are my top 5 things to do in Thimphu other than the regular sightseeing that everybody talks about:
1. Take a walk around Clock Tower Square
This is the main town square and is dotted with an array of shops catering to different needs: from clothes to knick-knacks, essentials to antiques. You name it and you will find it. NOTE: If you are looking to buy the Bhutanese national dress ‘kira’ (for women) and ‘Gho’, you will find better bargains close to Century Market or even better at Phuentsholing/Jaigaon.
2. Saunter through Crafts Bazaar
Situated right next to the Indian Embassy and the local Immigration office below Norzin Lam, is an alley decked with a single row of 70-80 bamboo huts. Taking a walk through it will open you up to the world of traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan such as thangka paintings (Buddhist paintings on silk with appliqué) to Chubus (silk lanterns) that adorn monasteries across the nation. You may even catch a glimpse of an artisan at work. Ms. Sonam Lhamu’s shop (No. 13) has an eclectic mix of crafts, textiles, and interesting traditional musical instruments such as Drangyen (a Bhutanese lute) and Nga (drums used during traditional occasions). There is also a wide assortment of souvenirs that you can pick from all along the crafts market.