There were goembas and a small population in the Thimphu valley even before the time of the Shabdrung, but Thimphu didn’t really exist as a town until it became the capital of Bhutan in 1961. The first vehicles appeared in Thimphu in 1962 and the town remained very rural until the late 1970s. The population has grown dramatically since 1990, and is now estimated to be 90,000.
It is often said that Thimphu is the only world capital without traffic lights. One was installed several years ago, but the residents complained that it was impersonal and ugly and it was removed within days. Traffic continues to be directed by policemen stationed at two traffic circles, one at the north end and another near the south end of Norzin Lam, Thimphu’s wide, tree-lined main street. They keep Thimphu’s traffic flowing throughout the day using elegant, exaggerated gestures. They disappear at night and leave drivers to sort things out for themselves.
Given Thimphu’s elevation (2320m), don’t be surprised if you become short of breath or have trouble sleeping your first night or two.