Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Radio Tower Hill

Timotheus reached the top of Rado Tower Hill

Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Radio Tower Hill

Some may say that Radio Tower Hill cannot be counted as one of the Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan. But I do find the location very pleasing and definitely worth taking the long and tiring hike up to the peak.

I was staying a friend’s apartment and you could see the radio antenna sticking out of the hill from afar. See the photo below, it is circled in red.

It was a bright sunny afternoon, and that was to be the goal for my friend and I that day. We were going to take a walk all the way up to the top of that hill.

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Radio Tower Hill from afar
Radio Tower Hill from afar, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

In the above photo, it looked quite near, doesn’t it? In reality, it was quite far away. And made more distant because we had to walk from my friend’s apartment all the way to the top of Radio Tower Hill.

To my friend, who had regularly walked up and down mountains on weekends as part of his regular exercise regime, the trek was no problem. But to me, I was panting in no time. Plus, the thin mountain air made  it more strenuous for me. Fortunately, my friend was patient and kind enough to stop and wait for me to catch up every once in a while.

At some point, just for levity, my friend joked that the rate I slowing us down, he had images of him being discovered missing from work on Monday, and by nightfall, emergency evacuation helicopters from the United Nations would be scouring the mountains for us, with bright searchlights flashing through the trees and other dark places. haha



Prayer Flags in Bhutan

In Bhutan, everywhere we went, there were prayer flags. Even in the city area. So naturally, the mountain was no exception.

I spotted a long string of prayer flags flapping in the wind.

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Prayer Flags High Up on Radio Tower Hill
Prayer Flags High Up on Radio Tower Hill, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

They were strung between very tall trees on treacherous slopes. I wondered how did anyone managed to get the flags up there? I asked my friend in case he knew. He did not but had a few theories.

One was that a very strong person climbed one of the trees with the flag. Then another climbed up the other tree that the string of flags would be tied to.  With a heavy object (e.g. a large stone) tied to one end of the string of flags, the stone would be thrown across to the guy on the other tree.  And … ta da! … a string of prayer flags!

Credible? If not, here’s the other theory.

One person climbed a tree with the flag as well as bow and arrow in tow.  The string of flags would be tied to the arrow.  The person, most probably a marksman in archery, would shoot the arrow across to the other tree.  Another person would quickly climb up, grabbed the arrow, and tie that end of the string of flags to the tree.  Ta da!  A string of flags!

Which one is it?  You choose.


The Mysterious Tsa Tsas

Higher up the mountain, there were these small white objects nestled along the side of the mountain.

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Tsa Tsa placed along side of Radio Tower Hill
Tsa Tsa placed along side of Radio Tower Hill, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

I was mystified by these small white objects. They looked like they were made of some form of clay, and looked very delicate. I asked my friend what they were.

He explained that they are called Tsa Tsas. They are made of ashes and clay into a shape of a stupa. Tsa Tsas were made to clear obstacles or negativity in one’s life. Some were made to bless and protect the life force of a person or an entire family.

When placed in an area that is high on a mountain, they are there to bless the area, and prevent any disasters. Also, Tsa Tsas are believed to benefit sentient beings, and the world we live in.

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Closeup - Tsa Tsa placed along side of Radio Tower Hill
Closeup – Tsa Tsa placed along side of Radio Tower Hill. © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

True enough, the latter was the case. My friend told me that there was a very major accident in that area some time ago. Many people died. The Tsa Tsas were created from the ashes of the people after they were cremated. He also told me that there was a large stupa dedicated to those who died in that tragedy.

We came upon the stupa, and my friend advised me not to take any photos of it as it may offend the locals. So, out of respect I did not.


The Largest Om Symbol In The World

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Huge Om Sign painted on side of one of the slopes of Radio Tower Hill
Huge Om Sign painted on side of one of the slopes of Radio Tower Hill, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

This may be the largest Om symbol in the entire world. It is very large. About 50 meters in height. I wondered how they managed to paint it on the slope of the hill?


The Top of Radio Tower Hill

Finally! We arrived at Radio Tower!

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Timotheus reached top of Radio Tower Hill
Timotheus reached top of Radio Tower Hill, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

I was perspiring and panting by the time I reached the peak of Radio Tower Hill. Yet, I could not resist a photo opportunity.

My friend exclaimed ‘Welcome to Radio Tower Hill!’, then pointed to the back of me and informed me that we could see the city of Thimphu from that vantage point. And also said it was a great place to take a photo.

So I passed him my camera, and he took the photo above. Isn’t it an amazing sight? The entire city of Thimphu and the mountains around it? Magnificent!

I had to take the next photo below too. I have noticed this mountain for quite some time now.  No one seemed to know her name.  I decided to call her ‘Rolling Clouds Mountain’ because there always seemed to be clouds continually flowing over her peak.

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Clouds rolling on top of mountains
Clouds rolling on top of mountains. © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

We could have spent hours at Radio Tower.  The views on all sides were breathtaking (pun intended).  The prayer flags, teased by strong winds, flapped loudly in unison, like an orchestra playing a symphony of a long forgotten song.  As the flags twirled in the air, in rich and varied colors, it appeared as if rainbows were everywhere on Radio Tower mountain.  It was as if rainbows had come home.

But soon it would get dark. My friend suggested for us to leave before it got too dark, and we would not be able to find our way back to his apartment. The entire scenario with the emergency evacuation helicopters could then become a reality.  haha



If you have ANY questions about this article, ANY at all, please submit your questions as comments below. I will be happy to help you out.

Thank you for reading this.

Wishing you and your loved ones safe and happy travels,

Timotheus

Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Tashichho Dzong

Tashichho Dzong as seen from afar

Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Tashichho Dzong

Off the Main Town, alongside Thimphu River known as Wang Chhu, is one of the Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan. It is known as Tashichho Dzong. You can drive there or take a healthy and scenic walk to this fortress monastery that is now the seat of Bhutan’s government.

It is in the same direction as towards Radio Tower, or the National Preserve where the Takin is, but instead of going up the hill, you walk down towards the valley.


Bhutan’s Public Housing

As my friend and I walked towards the bottom of the valley, we came across a cluster of houses that looked the same, with the same green roofs. My friend pointed them out to me, and told me in a matter of fact manner that those houses are Bhutan’s version of Singapore’s HDB. (HDB stands for Housing Development Board, and they build government public housing).

Bhutan's version of public housing
Bhutan’s version of public housing, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

In Bhutan, a family is given a house (one of those buildings with the green roof, photo above), and a plot of land.  The land was for them to farm and raise animals such as cows.  With the harvest and animals, they can feed themselves and make a decent living by selling any surplus at the markets.  Great idea.  But my friend shared with me that it may not be working out.



Tashichho Dzong

We continued our trek downwards. It was beautiful with lots of green trees and fresh air. Very invigorating! Shortly after, we arrived at a part of the mountain that had a splendid view of the entire valley and Tashichho Dzong.

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Tashichho Dzong as seen from afar
Tashichho Dzong as seen from afar, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

Tashichho Dzong is a fortress monastery on the northern edge of the city. It was built in the 17th century.  The structure has been the seat of Bhutan’s government since 1952. Below is the view of Tashichho Dzong from another angle.

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Another angle of Tashichho Dzong
Another angle of Tashichho Dzong, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

Each district in Bhutan has a type of fortress known as the dzong, which also served as the religious and secular administration for that region.  In Thimphu, this fortress was Tashichho Dzong.

Some sources said that Tashichho Dzong was built in the 17th century.  Some said 18th century.  Some even claimed that a dzong existed in Thimphu since the 13th century, but never gave specifics if it was Tashichho Dzong.

Originally built as a fortress with a monastery within, whenever it was actually built (what’s a hundred or a few hundred years difference eh?), the fact is Tashichho Dzonghas been the seat of Bhutan’s government since 1952.  Hence, there is high security measures outside, around and inside this important building; such as gunmen outside the dzong, guards at the entrance, and watchful eyes everywhere at Tashichho Dzong.


Bhutan’s Knights

As we walked from the car park to the main entrance of Tashichho Dzong, my friend’s behavior changed a little. He switched from a relaxed and casual demeanor to a more serious one. He cautioned me to follow his lead.

There are rules, regulations and etiquette to follow when one visits Tashichho Dzong. Outside, on the grounds of Tashichho Dzong, the soldiers who stood guard suddenly became alert.  My friend noticed the sudden tension in the air.  He looked around, and urged me to stop, stand still, and lower my head.

I did as I was guided.  A dashing man of obvious stature walked by.

“Good afternoon, Sir.” my friend greeted the gentleman, whom I later learned is one of the knights of the kingdom.

The handsome knight smiled, and answered, “Good afternoon.” as he walked on.

I was struck silent in awe. I have finally met a knight! In person! Wow!

After the knight passed by, my friend explained to me that it was customary or people (locals and foreigners) to show respect to the knights and politicians in Bhutan. The standard way is to stop in our tracks, stand very still, and lower our heads with respect when a knight or politician walked or drove by.

The etiquette when in the presence of royalty was even more strict.  One would be expected to move to the side, stand very still, lower one’s head, and not speak unless spoken to.  It was frowned upon should one dared to glance up and steal a look.

You can see how tensed I look when I took the photo below. haha

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Timotheus outside Tashichho Dzong
Timotheus outside Tashichho Dzong, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

After the above shot was taken, my friend nodded, and waved for me to hurry up. We rushed to the entrance, showed the letter of permission to the guards.  (In Bhutan, one needs to have a letter of permission before being allowed to visit Tashichho Dzong, and my friend managed to acquire such a letter)

The guard made a thorough check of the letter, our belongings and us, and we were allowed to enter.  After this point, no photo taking or video shooting was allowed.  So I have no photos to show of my time inside Tashichho Dzong.

But … thanks to my friend’s boss, I managed to get a few photos of a festival held inside the place. He was kind enough to send the photos to me, and allow me to share them here. (Thanks to my friend’s boss)


Inside Tashichho Dzong

There were many people who attended this special festival. Look at that large painting on the wall! It looked amazing and colorful!

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Religious festival at Tashichho Dzong
Religious festival at Tashichho Dzong, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

Tashichho Dzong also hosts Tsechu, a colorful masked dance festival, at the end of every summer. While such festivals are popular with tourists, one must remember that these festivals are not held as tourists attraction.

They are genuine events manifested from thousands of years of religious traditions. Outsiders like you and me are very honored to be given the privilege to attend and witness it. Should you ever visit Bhutan and attend such a festival, please remember that, and please remember to be respectful, and listen to the instructions from your guide.

While it is true that there will inevitably be lots of socializing, more importantly, it is an occasion for prayer and blessings. Every Dzong has images of Buddhas and Bodhisatvas. Whenever people visit, whether during a festival or not, they take the opportunity to pray and ask for blessings for themselves and their loved ones.

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Inside Tashichho Dzong, a well crafted image of Budddha
Inside Tashichho Dzong, a well crafted image of Budddha, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

Tshechu

Coming back to the Tshechu, it is a festival honoring Guru Padma Sambhava, “one who was born from a lotus flower.”  This Indian saint contributed enormously to the diffusion of Tantric Buddhism in the Himalayan regions of Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan etc. around 800 AD.  The festivals take place on or around the 10th day of the month according to the Bhutanese calendar.

Thousands of locals dressed in all their finery, some of whom traveled for days, attend these Tsechus as it was believed that everyone will gain merits by mere presence.  Better  when one participated.  Hence, it would be no surprise to see laymen as well as monks perform in the mystical masked dances (known as Chaam) accompanied by traditional Bhutanese music.

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Monks dance and perform with drums at festival at Tashichho Dzong
Monks dance and perform with drums at festival at Tashichho Dzong, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

Thimphu’s Cantilever Bridge

Alongside Tashichho Dzong flows the Thimphu River known as Wang Chhu, or Thimphu Chhu. The river separates the east and west of Thimphu valley. A couple of hundred meters away from the main entrance of the dzong was an ancient bridge that connected east and west Thimphu.

It is one of the remaining cantilever bridges.

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Cantilever Bridge next to Tashichho Dzong
Cantilever Bridge next to Tashichho Dzong, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

When you visit Tashichho Dzong, do ask to see the Cantilever Bridge (if you guide does not do it or if it is not in your itinerary). It will be an amazing experience, I promise you.

The bridge is truly an elegantly crafted structure. Built during ancient times, it is truly an engineering marvel. It is still so sturdy after all the years. On the bridge, there are lots of prayer flags. These flags are almost everywhere in Bhutan. And they really add so much color to the city.

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Timotheus on the Cantilever Bridge that is beside Tashichho Dzong
Timotheus on the Cantilever Bridge that is beside Tashichho Dzong, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

Thimphu River, Wang Chhu

When you stand on the bridge, and look out back into the main town of Thimphu, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Thimphu River, also known as Wang Chhu. The waters flow gently towards the point where two mountain slopes meet. Thimphu, as always, is so serene and quiet that you can hear the lilting sounds of the flowing water very clearly. The entire scene composes into a masterpiece image that will remain in your mind forever.

One of the Best Places to Visit in Thimphu Bhutan - Beautiful River beside Tashichho Dzong, so peaceful and serene
Beautiful River beside Tashichho Dzong, so peaceful and serene, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

Below is a video taken from the cantilever bridge of the river. On the right, you can see Tashichho Dzong. On the left, for a few seconds, you can see one of the royal palaces.

I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed sharing it. I love writing these posts as they remind me of the time in Bhutan. I truly had a fantabulous time!



If you have ANY questions about this article, ANY at all, please submit your questions as comments below. I will be happy to help you out.

Thank you for reading this.

Wishing you and your loved ones safe and happy travels,

Timotheus