The Hub Club

Posted on May 23, 2009

Dorji is our trusty guide, but when in Thimphu I suggest he spend the night with his family. My friend Rabten is in charge of the nights, the night guide I've christened him. He is 27 years old, and like any normal 20 something wants to step out in the evening. So he takes us to the hot spots in Thimphu. The dance clubs are, as the world over not happening until after midnight (never mind it might only be Tuesday night). So we spend our nights at the Hub Club. The sign reads Hub Bar, but known to all as Hub Club. Down a set of stairs, into a bar with live band at one corner. Both men and women, the Thimphu trendies hang out here. About 1/3 of the clientele in gho or kira, the rest in their best frayed and faded jeans. There is no cover charge, Rabten is puzzled by the idea, "you must pay money to enter a bar in the US, why is that?" Yes Rabten good question, why is that? The bartenders and waiters men, or better said, boys. As Rabten seems to know everyone in Thimphu, always stopping on the street to talk, it's no surprise he knows everyone at Hub Club. He also knows Sonam, the 26 year old lead singer who is there every time we drop in. Travel agent by day, chanteuse by night. Tiny at just over 5 feet, her enormous voice makes up for her tiny stature. She sings in Dzongha and Nepali, songs we've never heard, but easy on the ear. Extroverted, and bold, she always comes to our table to talk. She has several CD's and one night lets slip that she gets invited to sing at parties for the royal family. So I'm palling around with the Madonna of Bhutan, hanging out in the hippest place in the kingdom. I never had it this sweet back home.

While Bhutan itself seduces, Thimphu gets mixed reviews. An Indian couple we've met, here on vacation put it well, saying "we hated it the first 3 days, by day 4 never wanted to leave."

While Bhutan itself seduces, Thimphu gets mixed reviews. An Indian couple we've met, here on vacation put it well, saying "we hated it the first 3 days, by day 4 never wanted to leave." As we usually spent some time in Thimphu at beginning and end of each trip, it's the second go around that most prefer. I love the place, offer me the opportunity to live there and I'm ready. With 80,000 people, it's 4 times larger than any other place in Bhutan.

Set in a valley, river at the bottom and the town climbing the hill mostly on one side of the river. Essentially just 3 parallel streets, and a warren of side streets and walkways between streets. Ground Zero is the clock tower, a small one at that, set in plaza, with benches and prayer wheels and lots of teenagers, looking too cool to want to talk to anyone outside of their demographic, but wander near them and they politely say hello, and then engage you in conversation.

Every building in Bhutan must be built in traditional style, so while Thimphu construction is concrete and re-bar, (capped at 5 stories) not rammed earth or stone, the finished product is all painted white and given the embellishments that makes this country look so distinctive. Even the gas stations have this detailing. Red robed monks seem to float along the streets, their robes covering their foot movements. Most men are in ghos, women in kiras.. The sidewalks are uneven, and covered with red betel nut stains. The traffic is mild, horns never honk. The people quiet and friendly, and the overall feeling completely safe and nonthreatening. Pairs of policemen (and policewomen) patrol (for what? there is no crime) the streets at night, at a minimum they say "good evening sir, how are you?" Shopkeepers are friendly, if they don't have what I want, often they send someone to accompany me to a place that has the item I need.

My big find this visit is the Art Cafe. Virtually hidden next to the very disappointing Swiss Bakery (this was Thimphu's first attempt at a non-Bhutanese cafe/restaurant). Never mind the Art Cafe has art, it has, to my knowledge the only non instant coffee in the entire country. And excellent at that.. Also, pastries and cakes, such as I've not seen before in Bhutan (OK, now you don't come to Bhutan for dessert, but I'm pleased to know where to find tasty empty calories ).

Tomorrow we ascend Tiger's Nest Monastery again, day after that fly to Laos..