Punakha: Elevation 1,300m
Punakha is the ancient capital of Bhutan about 2 ¼ hours drive from Thimphu across Dochu-la pass. Once you cross the pass, you wind down into a warm fertile valley and meander along a gently flowing aquamarine river that leads you to the Punakha Dzong, the second Dzong to be built in Bhutan.
Built in 1637, the Dzong continues to be the winter home for the clergy, headed by the Chief Abbott, the Je Khenpo. It is a stunning example of Bhutanese architecture, sitting at the fork of two rivers, portraying the image of a medieval city from a distance. The Dzong was destroyed by fire and glacial floods over the years but has been carefully restored and is today a fine example of Bhutanese craftsmanship.
WHAT TO SEE IN PUNAKHA
PUNAKHA DZONG: “palace of great happiness” was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal after Simtokha Dzong and is located strategically between the confluence of Pho Chu and Mo Chu Rivers. The Dzong, which was damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, has been fully restored by the present King. Punakha served as the capital of the country until second king who moved the capital to Bumthang as summer and Trongsa as the winter. It was here on 17th December 1907, Bhutan’s first king, Sir Ugyen Wangchuk was crowned as the first hereditary ruler of Bhutan. It is also the venue for Punakha Festival held in February or March.
Chhimi Lhakhang: it’s a 20 minutes walk across fields through the village of Sopsokha from the roadside to the small temple located on a hillock in the centre of the valley below Metshina. Ngawang Chogyel built the temple in 15th century after the ‘divine Madman’ Drukpa Kuenlay built a small chorten there. It is a pilgrim site for barren women.
Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal: a three-storey chorten built by Her Majesty the Queen Ashi Tshering Yangdon in 1999 for the protection of the country, stands on a beautiful hillock called Ngezergang, and is about 6 miles from Punakha. It presents an incredibly complex iconography, which belongs to the Nyingmapa tradition.
Samtengang Winter Trek: this three day low altitude cultural trek not exceeding an elevation of 8500 feet connects you to Wangdue District. The trek offers great scenic views of snowcapped mountains and pristine forest. There are various places for day hike, bird watching and trekking in Punakha.
Limbhukha: Drive to the Punakha Dzong and walk across the suspension bridge. Follow the farmhouses gradually climbing towards Dompola Hills. The view of the Dzong, Phochu, Mochu Rivers and the surrounding village is superb amidst chirpine forest. The climb is another two and half hours to the Limbhukha. Limbhukha is also known for its love of peace and tranquility. The legend say that during the medieval wars the “limpus” or the people of Limbhukha always volunteered as peace negotiators. This is depicted during the yearly festival called “Serda” when the men are found carrying a peace flags instead of swords and fireworks.