Chhimi Dema 

Nestled beside the police detention centre in Thimphu lies a hidden gem. Tashi Yarphel, a small fast-food restaurant, has become a unique tourist attraction in Bhutan’s capital city. 

As soon as you enter the restaurant, you are welcomed by a vintage feel, with the walls adorned with yokes, retired saddles, retro cameras, and lenses.

Tashi Yarphel is renowned for its vintage camera collection. The restaurant is home to several film cameras such as bellow, polaroid, Rolleiflex, Kodak, Nikon, Loreo, Sony, and Canon, to name a few. Additionally, an old stereo and a Sony camcorder are on display at the restaurant counter. The refrigerator even has a rotary dial telephone camera, and the chandelier is a giant camera lens.

In its own way, Tashi Yarphel is a vintage camera museum, which has been created by its owner, Leki Dorji, a 52-year-old cinematographer. He said that he wanted to find a use for the old cameras lying around his home. 

“Initially, I just had three or four cameras on the wall. After a while, friends and customers started to donate their old cameras to put on the walls,” he said.

Karma Wangdi, the founder of VAST Bhutan, contributed a 19th-century bellow camera, and Pelwang Photo Studio also donated some of their old cameras. The restaurant was opened in 2018 and has become a hub for tourists and locals alike.

“People enjoy the display,” said Leki Dorji. “I have had people walk-in just to take pictures of the restaurant. I feel good that people appreciate the decor.”

The restaurant sits between Leki’s passion for photography and cooking. “I feel at home with the cameras around me while I work,” he said.

While some of the cameras are functional, others have lost their camera parts. Nonetheless, visitors can still capture the vintage camera experience. Additionally, people come to learn from Leki Dorji about the basics of photography.

Leki Dorji is unsure how long he can run the restaurant. However, as long as he can, he intends to continue with it. “If I close down the restaurant, most of these cameras would become scraps,” he said.

Tashi Yarphel is not just a restaurant; it is an experience. With its vintage camera collection and cozy atmosphere, it has become an exciting and unique destination for people to enjoy good food and appreciate the beauty of the past.