Thimphu is the capital and largest city of the Kingdom of Bhutan. It is situated in the western central part of Bhutan and the surrounding valley is one of Bhutan’s dzongkhags, the Thimphu District. The ancient capital city of Punakha was replaced by Thimphu when it was established as capital in 1955, and in 1961 Thimphu was declared as the capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan by His Majesty The 3rd Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.
The city is spread out laterally in a north-south direction on the west bank of the valley formed by the Raidāk River, which is known as the Wang Chuu or Thimphu Chuu in Bhutan. Thimphu is the third highest capital in the world by altitude and is spread over an altitudinal range between 2,248 metres (7,375 feet) and 2,648 metres (8,688 feet). Unusually for a capital city, Thimphu is not served by an airport, but relies on the Paro Airport connected by road some 54 kilometres (34 miles) away.
Thimphu, as the political and economic center of Bhutan, has a dominant agricultural and livestock base, which contributes to 45% of the country’s GNP. Tourism, though a contributor to the economy, is strictly regulated, maintaining a balance between the traditional, development and modernization. Thimphu contains most of the important political buildings in Bhutan, including the National Assembly of the newly formed parliamentary democracy and Dechencholing Palace, the official residence of the King, located to the north of the city. As a metropolis and capital city, Thimphu is coordinated by the “Thimphu Structure Plan”, an Urban Development Plan which evolved in 1998 with the objective of protecting the fragile ecology of the valley. This development is ongoing with financial assistance from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.
The Tango Monastery is located to the north of Thimphu near Cheri Mountain. It was founded by Lama Gyalwa Lhanampa in the 13th century and built in its present form by Tenzin Rabgye, the 4th Temporal Ruler in 1688. According to local legend, the location of this monastery is the holy place where Avalokiteshvara revealed himself as “the self-emanated form of the Wrathful Hayagriva”. The location had been prophesised in Tibet. In 1616, the Tibetan Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal meditated in its cave. The self-emanated form of the wrathful Hayagriva is deified in the monastery. It belongs to the Drukpa Kagyu School of Buddhism in Bhutan. The word ‘Tango’ in Bhutanese language means “horse head”. This name conforms to the main deity Hayagriva (local name Tandin) deified in the monastery.
Tango Monastery is built in the dzong fashion, and has a curved (semi-circular) outside wall and prominent main tower with recesses. It covers the caves where originally meditation and miracles were performed by saints from the 12th century onwards. Behind the series of prayer wheels are engraved slates. Inside the courtyard is a gallery, illustrating the leaders of the Drukpa Kagyupa lineage.
The Buddha Dordenma is a bronze statue, a ‘Vajra Throne’ Buddha, that is under construction amidst the ruins of Kuensel Phodrang, overlooking Thimphu city, about 100 metres (330 ft) above the Wang Chuu river bed. This location was the palace of Sherab Wangchuck, the 13th Desi Druk. It is a gigantic Shakyamuni Buddha statue under construction. The statue will house over one lakh (one hundred thousand) smaller Buddha statues, each of which, like the Buddha Dordenma itself, will be made of bronze and gilded in gold. Upon completion, it will be one of the largest Buddha rupas in the world, at a height of 51.5 metres (169 ft). The statue alone is being built at a cost of US$47 million, by Aerosun Corporation of Nanjing, China, while the total cost of the Buddha Dordenma Project is well over US$100 million. The interior will accommodate 100,000 8-inch-tall and 25,000 12-inch-tall gilded Buddhas respectively. It is planned to be completed by October 2010. Apart from commemorating the centennial of the Bhutanese monarchy, it fulfils two prophecies. In the 20th century, the renowned yogi Sonam Zangpo prophesied that a large statue of either Padmasambhava, Buddha or of a phurba would be built in the region “to bestow blessings, peace and happiness on the whole world”. Additionally the statue is mentioned in the ancient terma of Guru Padmasambhava himself, said to date from approximately the 8th century, and recovered some 800 years ago by terton Pema Lingpa.