The trip to Punakha from Thimphu via. Dochula Pass is a must if you want to experience the architecture, culture and tradition of Bhutan. Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan, hosted the grand royal wedding ceremony of reigning king of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetson Pema, on 13th Oct, 2011 and it still serves the winter capital due to more favourable climate.
This small and sleepy Bhutanese town is where time slows down and is free from hustle-bustle of any city in outside world. Peace and sublimity are truly synonymous to this small hamlet in the heart of the Himalayan Kingdom.
After a day of stay and sight seeing at Thimphu on 26th Oct, 2011, we left for Punakha early morning on 27th Oct, 2011 at about 7:30 am. Punakha, the former capital of Bhutan, is cultural hotspot of the Himalayan Kingdom and is located at about 75 kms north-east of the current capital, Thimphu. Our exclusive guide along with the cabbie reached at our first landmark en-route to Punakha, the Dochula Pass located at an altitude of nearly 3000 mars above MSL, but not before savouring fresh apples, dry fruits and cheese cubes made from Yak milk little far from Thimphu.
Dochula Pass is one of the favourite spots for nature lovers as well as architectural connoisseurs visiting Bhutan. It boasts of offering commanding and panoramic views of Himalayan ranges on one side (especially when skies are clear) and on the other side, cultural & architectural masterpieces in the form of Druk Wangyal (108 chortens) and other colourful temples & praying flags. From the Dochula Pass, we had beautiful view of the Himalayan ranges with mountain capped peaks but intermittently due to clouds, the view were not so clear for sharpe and crisp photography. Even the highest mountain peak in Bhutan, the Gangkhar Puensum, which has the distinction of being the highest unclimbed mountain in the world, at 7,570 metres (24,840 ft) could be seen among small patches of clouds. The 108 chortens is located at the centre of the road at the pass around which the vehicles encircle twice before continuing on their journey. This famous historical cum spiritual structure was built by Queen Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk to commemorate the martyrdom of Bhutanese soldiers who laid down their lives fighting Indian insurgents who were operating from the camps in Bhutanese territories. After spending some 2 hours at the pass, we resumed our journey to Punakha.
The most famous attraction at the small & sleepy town of Punakha (though it used to be seat of ancient kings of Bhutan) is the Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong (meaning "the palace of great happiness or bliss), also called as Punakha Dzong, which houses the administrative buildings of the entire Punakha Dzongkha (Bhutanese for districts or provinces). Located on the confluence of Pochhu (father) river and Mochhu (mother) river , it is one of the oldest and largest Dzong in Bhutan which was originally established in 1637 and thereafter, renovated several times to preserve its architectural splendour and majesty. After spending a lion's share of the time at the Dzong in personal photoshoots and capturing the landscapes around the structure, we visited a 14th century built monastery dedicated to a Buddhist saint Drupka kunley (also regarded as divine madman), called as Chimi Lhakhang. The monastery is quite modest and is marked by a Black Stupa where the divine madman had subdued a powerful demon. The monastery also famous for several penis like structures of Drupka kunley, which if worshipped, brings fertility among aspiring mothers. Then, at the end of the day we checked in a local inn for the night stay before moving to our next destination via. Thimphu the next day.