Punakha: The ‘picture postcard’ valley town in Bhutan
Punakha, the administrative centre of Punakha dzongkhag is an important district of Bhutan. Situated at a distance of 72 kilometers from national capital Thimphu, Punakha is a picturesque region spread over the valleys of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. It takes only a 3-hour car ride to reach Punakha from Thimphu and you as a worshipper of Mother Nature would simply love the journey through picturesque serpentine roads with the valley on one side and the mountain wall on the other.
At the middle of the journey your car will reach Dochu La Pass, one of the most romantic sites in Bhutan. Dochu La is famous as a view point and while looking downwards from there you will feel like standing above the clouds. Dochu La is the site from where you can get the first glimpse of the Eastern Himalaya. Dochu La is located at an altitude of 3100 metre and from there your car will start going downwards towards the lowland of Punakha. Situated at an altitude of 1200 meters, Punakha was the capital of Bhutan before shfting the base permanently to Thimphu. Punakha is warmer than other regions of Bhutan and is hence an ideal spot for winter vacation. Thousands of tourists from the close neighboring countries make trips to Punakha every year and enjoy their time experiencing its enthralling scenic beauty and historic sites.
The first thing that will delight you in Punakha are the two rivers that have passed by the town. The green valleys lying behind the town forms a perfect backdrop for Nature lovers and shutterbugs. You may well opt for a guided tour to the town but to excite the explorer inside you, a gentle stroll through the bank of the river would be great.
Punthang Dewachen Gi Phodrang: If you opt for a guided tour to Punakha, the site that you must visit first is the Punthang Dewachen Gi Phodrang or the Punakha Dzong. It is the Palace of Great Happiness, created by Tuebi Zaow Balip during the time of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and is one of the most important historic sites in the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan. The Buddhist Dzong that stands on the river bank offers a stunning view of its scenic surroundings. However, that is not the only attraction of the Dzong. Today Punthang Dewachen Gi Phodrang serves as the winter residence of Bhutan’s Central Monastic Body and inside the building, you will get to see sacred relics of Rangjung Kasarpani, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Terton Padma Lingpa. Punakha Dzong is also the witness of the coronation of first Bhutanese King Ugyen Wangchuk. It is also the place where a treaty was signed by the British, agreeing to stop interfering in Bhutan’s internal affairs. Another thing that will attract you at Punakha Dzong is a traditional wooden cantilever river that connects the Dzong with the other side of the Mo Chhu river.
Chimi Lhakhang: Situated at the top of a hillock in the heart of Punakha valley, the Chimi Lhakhang is a site dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley. Known as the ‘Divine Madman’, Lama Drukpa Kuenley is said to made use of songs, humour and his outrageous behavior to preach his teachings. Chimi Lhathang is actually a temple and is believed to be the temple of fertility. Bhutanese hold a strong belief that Couples who do not have children get blessed by Lama Drukpa Kuenley if they visit the temple and pray for a child. A picturesque rural trail through a paddy field takes visitors to the temple from the road. After crossing the paddy field you will find a tiny stream from where Chimi Lhakhang is a just a short climb away.
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten: At the end of a small hike on the upper part of Punakha Valley stands the Khamsum Yuelley Namgel Chorten, which was built with the aim of removing evil forces from the world and promoting peace, harmony and stability. Being situated at a high altitude, the site offers a fantastic bird’s eye view of the valley, the serpentine Mo Chhu river and peaks of Gasa.
Punakha Ritsha Village: The soil of Punakha valley, is heavily blessed by the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers. The high fertility of the soil makes Punakha the biggest rice growing region in Bhutan. Both white and red rice grow in Punakha, especially at the Ritsha village. Situated at the foot of a hill, Ritsha is a typical village that beautifully showcases the rural image of Bhutan. You will get to see houses made of mud standing on foundations of stone. All houses in this Bhutanese village are two-storied and you will find gardens and rice fields within the compound of every house. Papaya and oranges are common plants in every garden.