Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Tashichho Dzong

Tashichho Dzong as seen from afar

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!


We have come to the end of this article. I hope you enjoyed reading this.

If you have ANY questions about this article, about Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Tashichho Dzong, ANY at all, please submit your questions as comments below. I will be happy to help you out.

Wishing you and your loved ones safe and happy travels.

Timotheus

Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Takin Preserve

What To Do In Bhutan - See Takin, Bhutan National Animal

When you are in Bhutan, here is one of the Best Places to Visit In Thimphu Bhutan, and one of the things to do there. It is the Takin Preserve at the Jigme Dorji National Park to see the rare Takin – Bhutan’s National Animal.

It is located at the Radio Tower Hill. You can easily spot it as there is a sign at the entrance, which is a little way from the actual preserve.

Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan - Takin Preserve - See Takin, Bhutan's National Animal - Main Entrance Sign of Takin Preserve
Main Entrance Sign of Takin Preserve, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

You can see the WWF logo on the sign. WWF is for World Wildlife Fund. The Takin is classified as a ‘Vulnerable’ species. As such, it is Protected. The species survival is threatened by competition with the domestic yaks for food, and loss of habitat due to logging.

At the preserve, the Takin is safe and continues to survive. The numbers of the Takin is slowly but surely growing.

I visited the Takin Preserve with my friend who worked in Bhutan. We climbed long and steep flights of steps to get there. I was practically almost out of breath and panting by the time we reached the destination.

Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan - Takin Preserve - See Takin, Bhutan's National Animal - long, steep and exhausting climb to Takin Preserve
Long, steep and exhausting climb to Takin Preserve, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

 


Road to Takin Preserve

When we reached the place, my friend asked me to take a photo of this road (see photo below). I took the photo, and out of curiosity, I asked my friend what was so special about that road?

He answered nonchalantly that there was nothing special. Just that we took the shortcut that saved time. That road was the usual road tourists would take to visit the Takin Preserve. It was less steep and more scenic, too.

Well, what do you know? The journey to the preserve could have been nicer and less exhausting. So when you visit this place, please take note. Consider this path.

Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan - Takin Preserve - See Takin, Bhutan's National Animal - road to the preserve
Road to Takin Preserve, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

All About the Takin

We reached an area at the entrance that looked like a stopover before stepping into the preserve. There were signs with details of the Takin – Bhutan’s National Animal. Here is one of them, and I have transcribed what was on the board to the text below.

Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan - Takin Preserve - About Takin - Bhutan's National Animal
About Takin – Bhutan’s National Animal, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

Here was what the sign said:

Takin – Bhutan’s National Animal

On 25 November 1985, the Royal Government of Bhutan declared the takin (Budorcas taxicolor) the National Animal of Bhutan.

Takin is one of the larger and stockier of the goat antelope. Plump, bovine-like body is covered with dense, long yellow to brown hair. Short, stocky legs supported on large two-toed hooves and strong dew claws as an adaptation to the mountainous environment. The large head is made distinctive by the large arched ‘Roman’ nose. Both sexes have strong horns, 25 to 20 cm / 10 to 12 inches long, and curve out backwards, and upwards at the tip.

Range: Found in the Himalayas and western China.

Subspecies: Budorcas taxicolor whitei (the Bhutan Takin) has a distribution range from Bhutan eastward to Myanmar and China. In Bhutan, found primarily in the Jigme Dorji National Park.

General Characteristics:

Body length: 170 to 220 cm / 5.7 to 7.3 feet

Shoulder height: 100 to 130 cm / 3.3 to 4.3 feet

Weight: Up to 350 kilograms / 770 pounds

Status: Classified as ‘Vulnerable’. In Bhutan, the takin is Protected. Threats include competition with domestic yaks for food, loss of habitat and logging.

Predators: Bears, snow leopards and wolves.

Habitat: In summer, they are found in forested valleys, migrating to rocky, grass covered alpine zones in winter; altitudes range between 1,000 and 4,500 meters above sea level.

Food Habits: The takin is a generalist herbivore, mostly a browser, it feeds, primarily in the early morning or late afternoon and eats leaves found on deciduous trees or shrubs, but also grasses, bamboo and herbs. They also have been known to drink from hot springs.

Reproduction: Gestation Period: 7 to 8 months

Young per birth: 1, rarely 2; Weaning: 7 to 8 months; Babies weigh 5 to 7 kilograms / 11 to 15.4 pounds

Sexual maturity: at 2.5 years

Life span: 12 to 15 years

Mating: July and August


Mythology of the Takin

There was another sign that you must not miss! This one presented the folklore of how the Takin was created. It is quite fascinating!

Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan - Takin Preserve - See Takin, Bhutan's National Animal - Folklore about how Takin was created
Sign with folklore about how Takin was created, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

Text from this sign read:

THE TAKIN – a unique animal closely associated with Bhutan’s religious history and mythology.

Lama Drukpa Kuenlay (1455 – 1529, is one of Bhutan’s favorite saints, known for his outrageous antics.  One day his devotees were gathered to witness his magical powers and they asked him to perform a miracle.  Before complying, he demanded that he be given a whole cow and goat to eat.  Having devoured both, leaving only the bones, he stuck the goat’s head on the bones of the cow.  To everyone’s amazement, upon a command uttered by Drukpa Kuenlay, the animal came to life, arose, ran to the meadow and began to graze.  The animal came to be known as the dong gyem tsey (Takin) and can still be seen grazing in mountain meadows of the kingdom.

Due to its uniqueness, the Takin continues to befuddle taxonomists.  Unable to relate it to any other animal, they have put it in a category by itself, budorcas taxicolor.”

Of course, I could not resist taking a photo next to this fantabulous sign.

Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan - Takin Preserve - See Takin, Bhutan's National Animal - Timotheus with folklore signage
Timotheus with folklore signage, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

The Takin

We proceeded to the enclosure where the Takin was. There was a fence all along the perimeter, and we did not see any Takin for a short while. Then suddenly, we chanced upon a few of them. The first thought that came to my mind was that they looked like deers!

My friend looked around, and wondered where all the Takin where. He commented that usually there would be quite a lot of them. And they are very friendly.

Round a corner, we found a few, grazing. Here are some photos of them.

What To Do In Bhutan - See Bhutan National Animal - Takin side view
Takin side view, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems
What To Do In Bhutan - See Bhutan National Animal - Takin, front view from afar
Takin, front view from afar, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

This particular Takin was very friendly. One of the locals, a Bhutanese man, was feeding it grass that he plucked from the area outside the fence. The Takin seemed to appreciate it. And looked at me when I took this photo.

It had a slow and gentle demeanor. Its horns had a green metallic sheen at the top that gave the Takin a unique and almost pretty look.

What To Do In Bhutan - See Bhutan National Animal - Takin, front view close up
Takin, front view close up, © Timotheus Lee for Asia Travel Gems

The Takin Preserve is a very peaceful and tranquil place. It was winter and most of the grass were dry and mostly brown. Everywhere there were tall pine, juniper and cypress trees that provided much shade from the hot sun.

My friend and I sat on a bench, and enjoyed the immense beauty of the preserve. The quiet environment was very good for rest and respite. We chat and had a lovely time while we breathed the sweet scents of the pine, juniper and cypress trees.

Do visit the Takin Preserve when you are in Thimphu Bhutan. It is definitely worth the climb up the hill to see it.

We continued on to the top of Radio Tower Hill. To read the blog post about this, Click Here.


We have come to the end of this article. I hope you enjoyed reading this.

If you have ANY questions about this article, about Best Places To Visit In Thimphu Bhutan – Takin Preserve, ANY at all, please submit your questions as comments below. I will be happy to help you out.

Wishing you and your loved ones safe and happy travels.

Timotheus