Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Bhutan's capital

Fri Jun 15, 2012 5:47am EDT
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By Belinda Goldsmith

THIMPHU (Reuters) - Bhutan's capital of Thimphu may be the only world capital without a traffic light, but the largest city in this remote Himalayan kingdom does boast some 5-star hotels, an increasing range of restaurants, and several nightclubs.

Bhutan, wedged between India and China, is known as the "Land of True Happiness" after adopting a happiness index to measure its success. The landlocked country was totally isolated until it opened to foreign visitors in 1974 - and then allowed television and the Internet in 1999.

But the tiny, largely Buddhist kingdom is in transition with growing numbers of Bhutan's 700,000 people on Facebook and mobile connectivity reaching almost 100 percent of the nation, which is about the size of Switzerland.

Bhutan had been wary about foreigners damaging its unique culture and traditions, so it limited tourism from the outset. Although these fears have waned it still restricts visitor numbers by charging US$250 a day, in advance, with this cost including meals, accommodation, a guide, and internal transport.

The government, however, is aiming to lift tourist numbers to 100,000 this year from about 65,000 and is trying to attract more foreign investment in the private sector.

A Reuters correspondent suggests ways to spend a weekend in Thimphu:


5 p.m. - Driving from the international airport at Paro, buckle up for the winding, hillside road to Thimphu that takes about an hour. Once you hit the ornately painted arch and turn left, you know that Thimphu is not far. Soon in view is the massive Trashi Chhoe Dzong, a dzong being the administrative and religious centre present in every major community. The present dzong was built in the 18th Century and at night is lit up like a ship in the tree-lined Thimphu Valley.   Continued...

The ParoTaktsang Palphug Buddhist monastery, also known as the Tiger's Nest, is photographed in Paro district, Bhutan on October 16, 2011. Picture taken on October 16. REUTERS/Adrees Latif