Thimphu is the bustling capital city, located in western Bhutan, where the ancient practices of a mystical kingdom are challenged by an emerging nightlife scene. Yet the juxtaposition of old and new charm lends itself to a buzzing city where commercialisation is kept in check and the nation's powerful Shangri-La image shines through.
Regal monasteries, crimson-robed monks, and a beautiful valley setting make the region a delight to explore. Haggle at the city's notorious weekend market, where traders come from afar to sell an assortment of red rice, banana pods, aromatic spices and the popular tsampa – roasted barley – of the highlands. Discover local artisanal handicrafts and woven fabrics amongst prayer wheels and yak tails, and walk the traditional cantilever bridge, decked in assorted prayer flags.
The Tashichho Dzong is a fine example of Bhutan's exquisite architecture. Flecked with gold and housing the King's throne, the fortress has been destroyed, rebuilt and expanded throughout fires and earthquakes since the thirteenth century. Each year the spiritual Tshechu festival is held here, one of the most important events of the Bhutanese calendar. Nights of prayers and rituals precede the annual event, where masked dances reenact Buddhist teachings of the spiritual master, Guru Rinpoche.
Beyond the thriving culture of the city, the pristine wilderness of an unspoilt kingdom can be seen in the surrounding mountains, where temples, rural villages and nature trails wait to be explored.