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Himalaya

Day 105: Gantey to Thimpu

Michael Palin - HimalayaThe Central Road, which is the only road connecting east and west Bhutan, is less than 20 years old, an indication of the government's ambivalent attitude to the opening up of the country. It twists and turns dizzily around the spurs and shoulders of the mountains. They say the longest stretch of straight road in Bhutan is the runway at Paro airport.

Nevertheless, journeys that took two days now take two hours, and we are in Thimpu by afternoon, and the near white-out on the pass already seems a distant memory.

So too is the gentle timelessness of the Gantey valley.

Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, is no rip-roaring metropolis, but it has roads and roundabouts (where policemen direct traffic with wonderfully flowing arm movements, as if they're doing t'ai chi) and car parks and cosmopolitan restaurants and banks and hotels and, according to Benji, its very own property boom.

When Thimpu was chosen to be the capital in 1952, it was little more than a few houses clustered around the majestic Tashioedzong, and it grew slowly until 1974, when Bhutan was opened to foreigners for the first time. Since then it has mushroomed and has a current population of 50,000. To accommodate everyone, the rules on traditional house-building seem more liberally applied here and the streets of boringly respectable four- or five-storey blocks look more Mitteleuropean than Bhutanese.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 105: Gantey to Thimpu
  • Country/sea: Bhutan
  • Place: Thimpu
  • Book page no: 246

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