Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan and seat of government until 1955 and still it is the winter seat of Je Khenpo (the chief abbot). Linked to some of the most momentous events in Bhutanese history, in 1651 Punakha was chosen to be the capital and two and half centuries later, in 1907, Punakha was, again the place where Bhutanese people elected the first king, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk. Blessed with temperate climate and owing to its natural drainage from Pho Chhu (male) and Mo Chhu (female) rivers, the fertile Punakha valley produces abundant crops and fruits. Located at an elevation of 1300m above sea level, Punakha enjoys mild winters and is popular year round destination. There are splendid views of the distant Himalayas at Dochula pass (alt. 3,880m) on Thimphu – Punakha road.
Places of Interest in Punakha (Altitude 1,300m)
Also known as ‘The Palace of Great Bliss’, Punakha Dzong was 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. The Dzong has played an important role in Bhutan’s history and on 17 December, 1907, the first King of Bhutan Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuk, was crowned here . Damaged by six catastrophic fires, an earthquake and once by flood, the Dzong has been fully restored by the fourth King. Dzongchung (or the little Dzong), built in 1328 by saint Ngagi Rinchen can still be seen opposite the main Dzong.
Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang Nunnery
Perched on a ridge amid pine trees and overlooking valleys of Punakha and Wangduephodrang gleams Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup temple. It houses a 14-foot main bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara and of Guru Padsambhava, Gautam Buddha, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, Tsela Namsum, the 21 Taras and Tsepamay (Buddha of longevity). The temple complex also houses a permanent higher learning and meditation center for nuns where, apart from religious training, it provides life skill training such as tailoring, embroidery, statue making and thangkha painting.
Excursions around PUNAKHA
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 behaviour 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.
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 to Punakha Dzong which can be visited from the month of April to November when the Je Khenpo (chief abbot) moves to Thimphu. 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.