Thimpu in Forty Hours (Part One)

This day, last year, after passing through the most picturesque countryside, driving up hill and down dale along giddy curves, I arrived at the Dragon Roots Hotel in Thimpu.

Adjacent to the Clock Tower Square, the hotel had hosted refreshments (lunch actually, but yours truly clocked in at tea-time) for participants as and when they zipped into the parking lot. Tired, yet excited to begin exploring the quaint capital city of Bhutan, I quickly wolfed down the customary salty tea served with sweet rice, before re-loading my plate with crisp, spicy fried rice, momos and a samosa-like snack called shingara. The tea would take some getting used to; the rest of the spread was all delicious.

Later, checking into the Pedling Hotel, I all but threw the contents of my rally-battered Samsonite into the laundry basket, showered and layered up for the stunning cold outdoors. I had about an hour to browse around before the official reception back at the Dragon Roots.

Walking around a marketplace in the vicinity, I was struck by the uniformity around me. Shop-fronts, hotel facades, residences had proudly adopted traditional architectural styles and features, notably nail-less wooden frames and elaborately painted trefoil-shaped windows. Infusing it with a look generally associated with lovingly manicured lawns, beautifully laid out flowerbeds, hedges trimmed to perfection.

Well-laid out streets were coming alive with lights as I trudged my way to Dragon Roots once again. While everyone had scrubbed up squeaky clean, the Bhutanese stood out in particular. They are required to attire traditionally for all official and ceremonial occasions.

The girls had exchanged their overalls/ tracks/denim wear for the kira (ankle-length wrap-around skirt) and toega (jacket with undershirt), and the guys for the kangaroo-pouched gho (knee-length robe); justifiably earning their men-in-skirts sobriquet!

Making our excuses soon after, a few of us headed out for a taste of the local night-life at a popular hangout, the Om Bar, before calling it a night.

The next day began early as the Indian Embassy was hosting breakfast for the participants at its sprawling India House Estate. Our cavalcade snaked up along a broad, weeping-willow-lined boulevard, into the Embassy grounds and past the Chancellery to halt at the golf course.

The spot marked by colourful fluttering shamianas, backed up by thickly forested mountains, provided one of the finest panoramas of the valley; the Dzong in the foreground, the Thimpu Chu (river) shimmering back at the sun as it playfully bobbed by, and the faint silhouette of a scaffold-wrapped statue of the seated Buddha. The course was perfect in its quietude and serenity, yet I was unwilling to linger beyond breakfast, as the city attractions beckoned…

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