Photos by Ed Pelle, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 0.00
Changlimithang Stadium Chang Lam Thimphu, Bhutan
Year Opened: 1974
Land of the Thunder Dragon
It is said that the second Buddha, Padmasambhava, did descend from the sky while riding a tiger to the sanctuary of a small cave at the top of a remote Himalayan mountain in what is now known as the Kingdom of Bhutan. Here he would meditate for three years and three months before emerging to spread his teachings throughout the region.
From the many chortens, prayer wheels, and golden statues that dot the mountainous countryside to the remote dzongs(fortresses) and monasteries, Buddhist culture is reflected in nearly every aspect of society in Bhutan, which is the worlds only officially Buddhist country.
Bhutan is located south of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China and utilizes the Dzongkha language which is descended from the Old Tibetan language. Often referred to as the hermit kingdom, Bhutan was only accessible by foot until the early 1960’s. Today it remains one of the least visited countries in the world. In 1885 a major battle occurred on the site that is now occupied by Changlimithang Stadium. The result of this battle established the first king of the newly united country.
Changlimithang Stadium is the home of the Bhutan national football team and several club teams that play out of Thimphu. The stadium was first opened in 1974 and has undergone several renovations since then. At approximately 7650 feet above sea level/2331 meters above sea level, it is one of the highest elevation soccer pitches in world competition.
Bhutan joined FIFA officially in 2000 and attempted their first ever qualification for a FIFA World Cup on March 15, 2015. In a shocking win they defeated Sri Lanka 1-0 as a road team, despite being the lowest ranked team in World Football at the time. They would go on to defeat Sri Lanka in a second game at home, advancing to the second round of Asian Football Confederation World Cup Qualifying, their best result to date.
Food & Beverage
Food and beverages are not available for sale in the stadium. There are however many dining options located directly across the street from the main entrance to the stadium for pre or post game meals.
It should be noted that meat is not commonly served in Bhutan outside of establishments that cater to tourists as the population is mostly vegetarian in accordance with Bhuddist practice. In some local restaurants meat may need to be ordered in advance. Bhutanese food tends to be very spicy for western palettes. One of the most common food items is chilis and cheese.
Use of Betel Nut, a drug common to South Asia is widespread and sold at local markets. It is chewed similar to tobacco. The use of Betel Nut is very common while attending sporting events or engaging in other pastimes in this region of the world.
The tone of any event held at the stadium is set by the large golden Buddha statue posing in the Kataka mudra, overlooking the field from Centenary Park on the east side of the stadium.
Also located on the eastern side of the pitch is the Royal Pavilion, the most iconic and heavily photographed area of the stadium. This limited seating area, which is not connected to the other seating areas is surrounded by highly stylized intricate woodwork, and is generally reserved for VIPs.
The rest of the seats in this stadium, that can accommodate up to 8000 at full capacity in its latest renovation, are located along the western side and a small section that curls behind the northern goal. There is a large video replay screen located behind the northern goal as well.
On the southern end of the stadium is a practice soccer field and further south an archery range. The seating area continues on along behind the practice field but tickets aren’t sold for this area when an event is happening on the main field of play. Despite this, some fans will choose to sit here as the area is not closed off and there is more room to stretch out.
The best time to visit is in the spring or fall seasons. June to September is considered the monsoon season and very few people visit during this time due to the near daily rain fall.
Most visitors to Bhutan will experience some form of altitude sickness initially. The best method for combating its effects are lots of rest and eating lightly in the first 24 hours to allow the body time to adjust.
Bhutan is referred to as Druk Yul in its native language which means land of the Thunder Dragon.
Thimphu, despite being the capital and largest inhabitance in the country, is not a large city with a population of slightly more than 100,000. Most areas within the city are walking distance apart. There are no traffic signals in Thimphu or the country for that matter, as they simply aren’t necessary.
Like many of the population centers in Bhutan, Thimphu is located in a long thin valley surrounded by large mountains. Overlooking the city on the Southwest corner of the valley is the giant Buddha Dordenma statue, one of the largest Buddha statues in the world and one of the major tourist points in Thimphu. Inside it is filled with thousands of smaller Buddha statues and the Buddhist monks that look after the site offer free blessings to those who wish them.
The main downtown area is located around Clock Tower Square. Most tourists will stay in the hotels located near this junction. Changlimithang Stadium is one block east as is the archery range. Archery is the national sport of Bhutan and matches both formal and informal are held nearly everyday here.
The Tiger’s Nest which is also named Taktsang Monastery is a holy pilgrimage site and the image that most would associate with Bhutan. It is located near Paro, and is the most frequently visited tourist destination. Many tourists choose to photograph the monastery from a distance because to enter inside requires a hike from 7000 feet to 10000 feet up a sharply inclined path for several hours. Once inside the Tiger’s Nest, you will find many different meditation areas and various statues depicting the incarnations of Guru Rinpoche also known as Padmasambhava.
When the national team plays fans fill the stadium as a matter of national pride. The vocal supporter section sits midfield lower level and leads the cheering. Although most attendees will be wearing the traditional Bhutanese dress (a gho for men, a kira for women) most will find a way to incorporate yellow or orange into their outfit. The supporters will wear Bhutan team jerseys, bang on drums and wave flags throughout the contest. Thunder sticks are dispersed to help create a more raucous environment.
Most of the players on the national team are college students, as opposed to highly paid professionals found on other national teams. After the game many of them just walk home from the stadium or meet up with friends for dinner. It is not hard to approach a player and thank them for their efforts on the day.
While it is not impossible to visit Bhutan is certainly is not easy. A tourist visa for all countries other than India costs $250(US) per day per person. All non Indian tourists are required to hire a registered tour guide and pay for all expenses before arrival including meals and accommodation. A tour guide can book flights for you or you can book them on your own, but tour guides get significant discounts on the only two airlines that serve the country which are Drukair and Bhutan Airlines. I used heavenlybhutan.com for my travel guide and would recommend their services. Once receiving payment the tour guide will apply for your travel visa and forward it to you electronically. Citizens of India, due to a special partnership, are allowed to cross the border without a visa and are free to travel about within the country without a guide. On average more people will visit Disney World in one day than visit Bhutan in one year.
There is only one international airport in the country, located in Paro, Bhutan. It is arguably one of the most dangerous places to land a plane in the world due to the fact that the pilot has to maneuver the aircraft sharply around the peaks of several mountains before nosediving into a small landing strip located in a valley. The pilot cannot see the runway until he is only five hundred feet above ground and has to turn off normal computer guidance that would steer the plane away from mountains. Only 8 pilots in the world are certified to make this landing and it can only be attempted in daylight hours under clear conditions.
After arrival in Paro, the drive to Thimphu is about a forty-five minute trip on a one lane winding mountain roadway with some spectacular views. There is no shoulder on this road and there will occasionally be some roadway obstructions like slow moving trucks or yaks.
While it is possible to meet your guide at the Bhutan-India border and then drive to Thimphu, this would not be a recommended option. The drive would take around six to eight hours depending on roadway conditions, effectively wasting an entire day of your visa.
Paro International Airport is only linked to a few other international destinations. There is service from the airport to New Delhi, India via Kathmandu, Nepal, to Kolkata, India to Dhaka, Bangladesh and Bangkok, Thailand. By far, the most popular route for tourists, is to fly from Bangkok.
The flight from Paro to Kathmandu will fly you on a route that will pass Mount Everest to the south. If the weather is clear you will be treated to some spectacular views of the world’s highest peak. When traveling during the right time of year it might even be possible to view some mountaineers attempting to stand on “rooftop of the world”.
Return on Investment
For the vast number of local people in attendance, a ticket would only cost roughly a few American Dollars and would constitute the only expenses associated with the event, resulting in a huge return on investment.
Anyone requiring a visa to enter the country can expect expenses to add up extremely fast. During a hypothetical three day stay, a budget of around $1500 would be advisable. This does not include airfare to a connection point like Bangkok, Thailand, where you will likely have to stay a night before reaching the final destination. From North America, travel time to Bangkok is approximately twenty-four hours. After a layover, forty hours plus on a one way trip to Thimphu would be a reasonable estimate of the time needed to reach this area.
There is no other place in the world that is quite like Bhutan.
By royal decree, happiness was determined to be more important than economic development. Preservation of the environment and preservation of culture are two ways in which this is accomplished. Absent are all major western companies and sixty percent of the country by law, must remain forested. All students are taught to meditate two minutes per day, contemplating happiness. The result of these efforts is that ninety one percent of the population surveyed reported feeling a sense of happiness and fulfillment within their lives.
When traveling in the country you will commonly encounter little painted chortens that kind of resemble a cupcake. These are the cremated remains of the dead left to weather away and return to the earth, a constant reminder between the relationship of life, death and rebirth.
As I conclude this highly Buddhist influenced review, I am reminded of the concept of Samjna or perception. How can I possibly know the true nature of this experience without my mind being clouded by past events and biases? Has my obstructed mind built a veil of illusion around the distorted way in which I perceive reality?
For this reason I have decided to refrain from assigning a numerical ranking to the various categories.
To quote his Holiness the Dalai Lama,” the absence of judgement is love”.