Location: Western Bhutan
Distance from Thimphu: 77 km(3 Hrs)
Elevation: 1350m/ 4430ft above sea level
Punakha (1,310m) is Bhutan's ancient capital and the winter seat of the Central Monastic Body due to its sub-tropical climate. Punakha has been inextricably linked to some of the most momentous events in the Bhutanese history and deserves its reputation as one of the most beautiful and significant regions at the heart of Bhutanese culture.
The Punakha Dzong, built in 1637 by the Shabdrung (the unifier of Bhutan), is situated on a triangular spit of land at the confluence of two rivers. The body of the Shabdrung, who died in 1651 while in meditation at Punakha, is preserved at the Dzong. Its main temple is breathtaking with four intricately embossed entrance pillars crafted from cypress and decorated in gold and silver.
Placed strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, the dzong was built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative seat of the Punakha: The ethereal ancient capital.
Punakha: The ethereal ancient capital region. It was here that the dual system of government was introduced in the 17th century and in 1907, enthroned the first King Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the dzong has been fully restored in the recent years by the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. At the dzong enrich your trip with the opportunity to see the highest standards in woodwork. Do not miss the massive Kuenray, the Coronation Hall of all Bhutanese kings, the Dzongchung at the entrance to the dzong and the cantilever bridge over the Mochu that has been recently renovated.
Khamsum Yuley Temple:
There is no temple in Bhutan built elaborately as this. This fascinating temple was built by the Queen Mother of the 5th King to bring universal peace in this world. The best of the spiritual art works are painted on the inner walls. There are also paintings of Buddhist teachers and tutelary deities of the country. This is a great temple to study the symbolic meanings from frescoes and sculptures.
The divine madman also known, as Drukpa Kinley is a famous teacher with whom the phallic symbol is associated. Tales told by your guide would have excited you to visit Chhimi Lhakhang. The Divine Madman sits there though a statue this time. Do not miss the master's deeds painted on the walls. Japanese and several American couples visited this temple and were blessed miraculously with children. Ask yourself, do I need this Fertility Tour or not?
A day excursion to Talo would be great with picnic lunch. The festival there happens in spring and will capture any visitorâ€™s attention. Let your tour take you there in summer during corn harvest. Itâ€™s an adventure to enjoy corn harvest with the farmers and also an opportunity to look for Himalayan bear. A walk through Talo and down to the other village of Nobgang will be a great dayâ€™s itinerary.
Nalanda Buddhist College:
Locals call this place Dalayna and the monks call it Nalanda Buddhist College. If you want to chat up with monks in English then this is the place to go. The monks here are dying to practise the new language they learn. Drive there in the afternoon and enjoy your evening tea supplemented by the ravishing view in front of you.
Chorten Nigpo walks:
The walk to Chorten Ningpo passes through several villages. Many visitors love this walk in summer and in autumn. In summer the rice fields are lush and gardens are filled with multitudes of vegetables and fruits. Likewise autumn enchants visitors with the golden hue of ripening rice. For adventure loving hard core walkers we recommend a detour to Hokotso, a lowland lake that holds many legends.
Punakha Festival is unique festival in the country. It depicts deeds of Guru Rinpoche and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Punakha Dromche takes place in the first month of the lunar year. Punakha Festival is held for 6 days long, three days for Punakha Dromche and another three days of Punakha Tshechu.
In 17th century Bhutan was invaded several times by the Tibetan force to seize a very precious relic, the Ranjung Kharsapani during which Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal defeated the Tibetan army and to commemorate the victory he introduced the Punakha Drubchen. Since then Punakha Drubchen became the annual festival of Punakha district. In addition to Punakha Drubchen in 2005 another festival known as Punakha Tshechu was introduced by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley on the request made by Punakha District Administration and people for upholding the Buddhist teachings and keeping alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rimpochhe.
The Three day Punakha Dromche is Drama like festival which narrates the noble deed of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel 17th century to win the battle from the Tibetan. It is a recreation of the scene from the battle with Tibetan army. The pazaps or local militia men, dressed in battle gear showcase a battle scene of this distant past recalling the days when in the absence of a standing army, men from the eight Tshogchens or great village blocks of Thimphu came forward and managed to expel the Tibetan forces out of the country ushering in a new-found internal peace and stability. The Thongdroel unveiled during this festival is of enormous significance. Measuring 83 ft by 93 ft, Punakha Thogdroel (thongdroel = huge painted scroll) is the largest ever made.