Punakha district is an hour and half drive away from Thimphu city. Relatively underdeveloped as compared to Thimphu and Paro however the destination offers authentic country side experience in Bhutan. Majority of the local residents are farmers. Punakha’s lack in modern infrastructure is made up with significant historical events. Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan in the olden days and continues to serve as the winter capital for the state monk body led by the Chief Abbot. Punakha also has one of the most beautiful Dzongs in the country. In 1907, the First King of Bhutan was crowned at the Punakha Dzong. It is also a river rafting destination. Authorities have identified more than 10 kilometer stretch on the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu River. The Pho Chhu river is ideal for anyone looking for adventure and the fast flowing river presents challenging rapids while the Mo Chhu River is calm and thus riders can enjoy the scenery.
TOP ATTRACTIONS IN PUNAKHA
Mountain passes are considered sacred in Bhutan and it is usually adorned with temples and prayers flags. Travelers passing through the mountain pass offer prayers and circumambulate the temples for safe passage. One of the most popular and scenic passes in Bhutan is the Dochula Pass. The pass is at an altitude of 3100 meters and it is 30 minute drive away from Thimphu en route to Punakha valley. When the weather permits, it offers a 360 degree panoramic view of the eastern Himalayan range including Bhutan’s highest mountain Mount Gangkhar Puensum. The 108 Druk Wangyel Chortens add to the tranquility of the place. The monument was built in the honor of the King and the military in successfully flushing out the insurgents in early 2000.
Punakha Dzong is one of the most beautiful and historically one of the most significant Dzongs in Bhutan. The architectural aesthetics of the Dzong embodies the traditional arts and craft of Bhutan. It is said that the architectural design of the Dzong was revealed to the chief carpenter in his dream. The Dzong is approached by a cantilever bridge as it is built on the confluence of two rivers. The Dzong has a central tower housing sacred shrines, an assembly hall for the monks and vast open courtyards where the festivals are held. The spiritual leader who unified Bhutan was laid to rest in the Dzong. It is said that his embalmed body is housed in one of the temple within the Dzong and the temple is off limit to everyone except the King and the Chief Abbot. The Dzong also witnessed the crowning of the First King of Bhutan in 1907.
En route to Punakha, visitors will arrive at a village with an unusual culture. Locals celebrate the legacy of a great Buddhist saint who lived 500 years ago. He was known to indulge in alcohol, music and women. Casual sex was one of his ways of imparting wisdom and blessing. Thus he was known as the Divine Madman. He advocated painting phalluses on the walls of the house to raise harmony among the household. Every household in this village has flamboyant phalluses painted on their walls and in the honor of the saint; a small temple was built to celebrate his legacy. There is a local believe that any couple who is unable to conceive must visit the temple and offer prayers in hopes of conceiving. The monk at the temple blesses the couple with a wooden phallus.