The sun has slipped halfway through the horizon, with an evening that is embodying a lull before the storm in the streets of Thimphu. Thimphu is the capital city of the Kingdom of Bhutan, where I am traveling solo for leisure. The evening is so beautiful that I don’t have a list of things to do in Thimphu, and I am totally fine with it. I am an Indian girl, out to experience the nightlife in Thimphu. I am being hosted by a beautiful soul called Sania who is from Pakistan. Another girl from India, Kavya, is my fellow guest and has become my co-traveler for Thimphu.
The Kingdom of Bhutan allows unaccompanied access to very few nations, and India is one of them. Because of this, I am able to experience the life of a local person in the city. The nightlife in Thimphu is one of the most well-kept secrets of the travel industry.
My Experience Of Nightlife In Thimphu
As the sky amalgamates orangish-yellow with blue, we walk downtown from the quiet, hilly, residential area Sania lives in. She warns us that it is a bit too early to hit the Karaoke bars in the city. Instead, we decide to go to a place with great music and good food called Ama Restaurant. It is one of the most amazing places to visit in Thimphu city!
The walk takes us through some of the landmarks of the city. The main town has the hustle-bustle of a crowd with mixed intentions; some are headed home, others are looking for watering holes, and many have stepped out from work just now. Once in a while, we pass by the oily fumes of food being fried, which I assume are the snacks for people strolling the streets.
Twenty minutes later, we step into a dark and dingy place, located in the narrow alleys of the main town. Inside, it is a place set in a time period everyone else seems to have moved on from, citing ‘development’ and ‘progress’. In spite of the loud music, the three of us manage to weave some conversation. We talk about the Bhutanese lifestyle vis-à-vis how it is done ‘back home’ in Pakistan and India.
From what we understand, Thimphu is an ‘elder offspring’ on the weekdays and ‘the younger one’ on the weekends. Responsible by the weekdays, and living a life of careless abandon coupled with generational wealth by the weekends.
Inside the Ama Cafe, a while later a waiter places a menu, a small writing pad, and a pen on the table. The last two are new to me. I look at Sania in askance. “You write your order so that there is no miscommunication”, she explains. Wow!
Half an hour into the restaurant and we feel the floor beneath us pulsate, and so do the tables and walls. The karaoke bar next door has started its performances for the evening. We hurry through our dinner and decide to hop to the place next door. As we wait for our cheque, Sania bumps into an old work associate. They discuss what is happening in the town that evening, and who is partying where. All the while, carefully skirting any work talk that could have come up.
We settle our payables and step out to go deeper into the alley, in the direction where the vibrations are emancipating from. Right outside the pub was a long queue, which was growing longer by the minute. This pub looks like it is bursting at its seams. It gives the impression of being a place akin to a black hole; no one was stepping out from the tightly packed space, yet there was just enough room for a couple or more people all the time.
After waiting for some time, we give it another thought and decide to go to Mojo Park instead. For Karaoke lovers, Mojo Park is one of THE places to visit to in Thimphu. Since the mojo at Mojo Park comes alive in all its full glory only after dinner time, we decide to take a stroll on our way.
As we loaf around the place, we notice that the streets have a lot of ‘real noise’- people, chatter, the clacking of high-heeled sandals, and laughter. Back home, we drown in honks (not allowed here in Bhutan), announcements, and music blaring from radio sets and I am not missing any of it. It is a kind of time travel. This city with a single manned-traffic-light has a multitude of layers about it. After a bit of strolling, we decide to head towards our destination.
A quick taxi ride later, we are outside Mojo Park. It is 9:00 pm, and the streets of Thimphu are changing to live up the night as if it is their last one. Once inside, I wonder what the fuss is about, as the place has a skeletal crowd and a band playing some home-grown music, apart from popular numbers. We perch ourselves on the bar stools to have an unobstructed view of the band and an unabated supply of liquor.
Please do not reproduce the video without permission.
Local Liquor in Thimphu
The most endearing thing about Thimphu is that every place has books for people to read, and this bar is no exception. Like all things Bhutan, ‘home-made’ scores precedence over imported. Therefore, the local liquor ‘ara’ sits in the center of the display, sharing the space with various homemade fruit wines.
A man sporting mohawk with neon pink hair and punk jewelry is sitting next to me, drowning himself in ara and minding his own business. Another one who I had seen in a monk’s garb during the lunch hour at Zombala 2, sat a few chairs away from us. Bhutan has to be the safest place I have ever traveled to!
A while later, after we have discussed everything funky about the place and the people, I turn to face the band. The airiness of the place has traded itself for a crowd out straight from the pages of a high-end fashion magazine from the Far East. I haven’t seen hairstyles this fashionable anywhere in mainland India. The funkiest of clothes replace the day-time wear ‘Kira’ for women and ‘Gho’ for men. Soon enough, there is barely any place to sit and we step out to breathe. “South Korean influence dominates the lifestyle trends here,” explains Sania, once we move to a more audibly suited area outside.
Right outside Mojo Park, the taxis make a beeline, dropping off and picking up people who are walking in and out purposefully. Just as we stand undecided on our next pitstop, our hostess bumps into someone who is friends with her. She invites us to go with her to a place where her mom was performing; Thimphu is really a small town that way. We decide to join that group.
While everyone seems to have a roadmap for the evening, we are all about here-and-now. We are enjoying this spontaneity to the hilt. Who says Bhutan has nothing to do post the sun-down hours? I can recommend a host of things to do in Thimphu at night.
Viva City— The Soul of Nightlife In Thimphu
Sometime later, we pack ourselves in a car and head towards a less busy area in the town. A deserted road, an alley without a sign or life, or sign of life. It led to another dingy staircase which ended at a door that opens into an eclectic world of music and fashion. Here, my eyes take forever to adjust.
Finally, when I can see, I spot some familiar faces from Mojo Park, and the earlier place with a queue where we stood waiting but didn’t go in. Wearily, I feel I know half the population of Thimphu by now. (I can’t recall the name of the place, but I think it was Viva City. Any local person who can help?)
Please do not reproduce the video without permission.
Every time the door opens, people are streaming in thicker groups now. This is one of the few places that are open till late, it seems; a ‘hidden gem’ that everyone knows about. It is an hour past midnight and our group decides to jam at one of the group member’s house, up in the hills.
After 15 minutes of hilly drive, we are at a log house in the woods. There is a mild drizzle that cannot be heard, but it can be felt if one faces the sky.
Our host happens to be an ardent lover of music, as the place spells of a bachelor pad which is carefully curated with everything that an impromptu jam session calls for; including a ‘hookah’ for the listener. The night is cool and quiet with occasional croaks and buzzes in the vicinity. The mist and the chill in the air can, at its mildest, be described as ‘romantic’. We take turns singing some English classic numbers, and then some latest Hindi ones. We finally rounded off the night with classic Hindi songs from Bollywood.
When I say classic Hindi songs from Bollywood, which song comes to your mind and why is it “Pal, pal dil ke paas…”?
Also Read: Paro: Bhutan’s Docile Progeny
Bhutan has a special love for Indian cinema and music, which is evident right on its surface. You hear songs from Bollywood everywhere; cabs, restaurants, and people humming them. As the night deepens, the croaks of the frog grow louder than our music.
As we unwillingly call it a night and head home at approx 3:00am, I know that this night in Thimphu is going to be etched in my heart forever, and I can’t thank Sania enough for this.
FAQs If You Are Looking To Experience The Nightlife In Thimphu
Can a female solo traveler experience the nightlife in Thimphu safely?
Yes, Thimphu and its nightlife are 100% safe for female solo travelers.
What is an acceptable dress code for pub-hopping in Thimphu?
Thimphu is an exceptionally fashionable city, and you can wear your most jazzy outfit ever. However, I would advise that you keep it comfortable for yourself since you will be going to several places in one night.