Outdoor gyms in Thimphu are more than just free facilities

COVER STORY: It is 6:30 in the morning. The road towards Kuensel Phodrang in Thimphu is buzzing with the early birds who are heading towards something gainful in life. The baby blue of the sky is rapidly changing to dark gray. Looks like there will be rain.
Aum Thinley Dem, with a few of her friends, is at one of the outdoor gym facilities on the way to the Buddha point in Thimphu. Hopping from one spot to another Aum Thinley is making the best use of the facilities set up by the health ministry.
There is a long queue waiting for their turn. Some of them, growing impatient after waiting for sometime, decide to continue running and try their luck at the next stop, a few minutes run from Aum Thinley’s spot.

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A man works out big time at the centre

Thimphu residents are fast becoming health conscious. The outdoor gym facility at the track and field centre in Thimphu is also being used to its full capacity by the public.
“I just arrived here. I can’t leave now,” says Aum Thinley to one of the individual who protested to be given a chance. “Why can’t she use the other equipment?” she mutters.
Aum Thinley, 39, is a housewife, and a mother of two. She spends her day cleaning her house and cooking for her family. And if time permits, she is on the loom. Aum Kinley is not an outgoing kind of person. She loves staying at home, spending quality time with her family.
Lately Aum Thinley has picked up the habit of going out for morning walks because most of her friends and neighbours do so.
“I came to realise that I need to keep myself fit and healthy because throughout the day I don’t do nothing but take care of household chores. My daughter said that I was becoming fat by the day,” said Aum Thinley with a grin on her face. She is plump and shy.
This is Aum Thinley’s second week at the outdoor gym. She says that the exercise have really helped her feel healthy in the last seven days. “This is too early for me to say that I have lost five or 10 kilograms, but I’m feeling much lighter and healthier. I would like to continue this from now onwards.”
Now the rain is coming down, full on.

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A family engages on open air gym at Buddha Point

Twisting her body on a hip-twister, Aum Thinley is drenched in sweat. “This is the best part,” she said. “I feel like I have lost about 12 kilograms when I see myself like this, soaked in sweat. But maybe this is because of the rain,” she bursts into laughter. She looks like a large bird, fluttering with heavenly glee in the rain.
Like Aum Thinley, people from all age groups have gathered at the two outdoor gym facilities at Kuensel Phodrang.
A group of three women head down from the road to give a try on the equipment. They are laughing and twisting as they come down, and they step on the equipment. They are the professionals, it appears. A small kid is using the equipment the wrong way. One of the women in pink sweatpants and white t-shirt looks concerned. She steps off from her equipment and quickly lifts the kid and puts him in the correct position. “This is how you should do,” she says tapping on the kid’s head gently. “You’ll spoil the equipment if you don’t use it properly. Where are your parents?”

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Kids on double unit rambler at Centenary Children’s Park

The kid looks puzzled and jumps off the equipment.
The rain that started lightly is now pouring down heavily. People are rushing out of this place. Aum Thinley is nowhere to be seen.
All of a sudden, a white i-20 car comes and stops near the facility. Two heavy women in raincoats get off the car and approach the gym. They have the whole facility to themselves. One of them puts on her earphones and starts working out. They wont speak to me. I leave the facility. The rain is too heavy.
Dorji Lhamo, a housewife, goes to work out at the track and field centre for the some serious workout. The mother of one, Dorji Lhamo walks from her house at Zangthopelri Complex in the heart of the town to the track below Lungtenzampa bridge every morning.

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Aum Dorji at Track and Field Centre

“It’s a refreshing experience. I feel very different. I feel light and fresh throughout the day after I come here,” said Dorji Lhamo.
It has been a week since Dorji started with her working out routine. “It was difficult in the beginning. My whole body was aching and I couldn’t walk properly. But after the third day, I felt serenely at ease with the routine,” said Dorji. “I’ll continue to come here, not just to lose weight, but also to freshen my whole being.”
Like the ones in Buddha Point and Lungtenzampa, there is an outdoor gym facility at the Changjiji Housing Complex. But here at Changjiji, the facility has been overused.
Children and adults use the equipment all day. Some have come apart. There is no maintenance done to the broken parts.
Urban Bhutanese are increasingly becoming health conscious. Non-Communicable Diseases are on the rise. It is a good sign that increasing number of urban dwellers is taking interest in physical and mental wellbeing.
Outdoor gyms are government’s initiative to address the risk of Non-Communicable Diseases. Here, the government’s intent and public interest seems to have met.

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Women working out at Buddha Point

Thimphu is becoming a crowed and difficult place by the day. But this city’s best face can be seen in the mornings when hundreds of people, young and old, come out for some good physical exercises. It is a different place altogether.
The traffic is low, almost silent. You can see people walking along the roadsides. People greet each other. This is also a special time to build communal bond.

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