Punakha (alt. 1300m/4265ft)
as the capital of Bhutan until and still it is the winter seat of Je
Khenpo (the chief abbot). Blessed with temperate climate and owing to
its natural drainage from Pho Chhu (male) and Mo Chhu (female) rivers,
the Punakha valley produces abundant crops and fruits. There are
splendid views of the distant Himalayas at Dochula pas (alt. 3,050m) on
Thimphu – Punakha road.
Places of interest in and around Punakha
Built strategically at
the junction of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in 1637, by Shabdrung
Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative centre of
the region, Punakha Dzong has played an important role in Bhutan's
history. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong
has been fully restored by the present King. The Dzong is open for
visitors during Punakha festival and in summer months when the monk body
moves to Thimphu.
Opening Hours: Monday – Sunday, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. & 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. (summer) & 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. & 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. (winter)
Punakha Suspension Bridge
One of the oldest and longest suspension bridges of Bhutan measuring about 160 meters is built over Pho Chhu river and located near the iconic Pungthang Dechen Phodrang Dzong, connecting Dzong with Punakha town and the scattered villages. Believed to be built by Thangtong Gyalpo, a pioneering engineer who introduced the construction of suspension bridges into Bhutan and Tibet, this bridge has undergone several renovations since then. Its enthralling experience walking over the bridge, decked with vibrant prayer flags and enjoying awe-inspiring view of the valley, surrounding mountains and the river.
The Chimi Lhakhang, situated on a hillock in the centre of the valley,
is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who in the late 15th century used
humour, songs and outrageous behavior to dramatise his teachings and due
to this also known as "Divine Madman". This temple is also
known as the temple of fertility. It is widely believed that couples who
do not have children and wanting one, if they pray at this temple, they
are usually blessed with a child very soon. It is about 30 minute walk
across field from the road to the temple. The trail leads across rice
fields to the tiny settlement of Pana, meaning "field". It
then follows a tiny stream downhill to Yoaka and across more fields
before making a short climb to Chimi Lhakhang.
Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang Nunnery
Perched on a ridge amid pine trees and overlooking valleys of Punakha and Wangduephodrang, gleams the magnificent structures of Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang(Temple). The temple houses a 14-foot main bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara (Chenrigzig chagtong chentong). Other statues include those of Guru Padmasambawa, Gautama Buddha, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Tsela Namsum, the 21 Taras and Tsepamay (Buddha of longevity). The Avalokiteshvara statue, one of the biggest in the country, was the handiwork of entirely local Bhutanese artisans.
The temple complex also houses a permanent higher learning and meditation centre for nuns where, apart from religious trainings, it provides life skill training such as tailoring, embroidery, statue making and thangka painting.
Excursions around Punakha
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten
A beautiful hike takes one to the regal Khamsum Yuelley Namgel Chorten,
which was built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability
and harmony in the changing world. The Chorten dominates the upper
Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu and up towards
the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond.
Drive towards Punakha Dzong and later walk across the suspension bridge
(about 200m long) through absolutely fresh breeze and fascinating view
of Dzong. Follow the farm houses gradually climbing towards Dompala
hills. The view of Dzong, Pho Chhu, Mo Chhu rivers and surrounding
village is superb amidst chirpine forests. The climb is another two and
a half hours to Limbukha. Limbukha farmers grow Bhutan's famous red rice
which is supposed to have medicinal values. This particular rice needs
clean mountain spring so that the taste is good and nutritional value
maintained. Limbukha is also known for its love of peace and
tranquility. Legends says that during medieval wars the "limpus"
or the people of Limbukha always volunteered as peace negotiators. This
is also depicted during yearly festival called 'Serda' when the men are
found carrying peace flags instead of swords and fireworks.
The village of Talo (alt. 2,800m) which is scattered along the hill
slopes, known for its cleanliness and hygiene among Punakha villages.
Talo Sangnacholing is built on a plateau and has majestic view of
surrounding villages. The beautiful farm houses of the village have its
own flower gardens and on the hill slope corns and sweet peas are grown
in abundance. The women of Talo are particular known for their beauty.
Punakha Ritsha Village
Bhutan’s Punakha valley is famous for rice farming where both red and white rice are grown along the river valleys of Pho and Mo Chhu, two of the most prominent rivers in Bhutan. ‘Ritsha’ meaning ‘at the base of a hill’ is a typical village in Punakha. The village houses are made of pounded mud with stone foundations. Each house is only two storey high surrounded with gardens and the rice fields. The gardens also usually have fruit bearing plants like oranges and papaya among the organic vegetables. In the recent years, the farming work is mechanized and power-tillers instead of bullocks are used to plough the fields and villagers have become relatively prosperous. This is a model rice growing village in western Bhutan.
Nalanda Buddhist College
Locals call this place ‘Dalayna’ while the monks refer it as ‘Nalanda Buddhist College’.
Drive here in the afternoon and enjoy your evening tea supplemented by the ravishing view in front, along with interaction with local monks.