A fun thing about Thimphu

Many things have been written about Thimphu. It is easy to find lists telling you the ten best things to do in Thimphu. All of them miss out on the most fun thing to do: play carrom at night with the locals. Back from Bumthang, we were feeling warm in Thimphu. After dinner we started looking for ice cream, and wandered into a street lined with carrom boards, all in use.

There were groups of young men playing. This is a game all of us had grown up playing, and it was fascinating. The Family noticed that there was no female player. "Why," she asked, and did not stay for an answer.

Carrom players and kibitzers, Thimphu, Bhutan

We stopped at some of the games to comment on the technique and play. We were not the only ones. Several boards were crowded with onlookers and kibitzers. In India, any carrom board attracts its share of people who give unwanted advice: kibitzers. Bhutan was no exception. If we knew Dzongkha we would have joined in. At some point we did discuss the finer points of strategy on one of the boards. Since we spoke English, and the players did not, we managed not to give away a national advantage.

If you are in Thimphu one night, you can have a good time joining one of these groups to play carrom.

Social games

A game of carrom in progress near the Resh hot springs in Sikkim

When you travel across the eastern Himalayas you cannot help but notice the popularity of carrom. In Thimphu we found a street lined with carrom boards after dark, each board had a game going on. It’s hard to be excited by a game of carrom unless you have been exposed to it since your childhood. In the streets of Thimphu no game was without a little band of appreciative spectators. The photo above was taken at mid-day near the Reshi hot springs in Sikkim. We saw similar scenes in Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, parts of Assam, and even as far away as Tripura.

Football is tremendously popular as a sport in the hills. One can understand that in the narrow ledges on hills it might be difficult to kick a ball around in an impromptu game of football. Cricket is not very popular; presumably a boundary would not be hard to score. Archery is a widely practised competitive sport in the hills. But these are not games you sit down to with a bunch of friends.

Chinese pavements are full of games which often attract large audiences. Sometimes they seem to be strategic board games of various kinds, but often they are games of luck: cards, for example. The Chinese way of life involves accepting luck as a cosmological principle. Perhaps the Himalayan cultures, with their guardian deities, are different?