Punakha is the fourth largest city in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. It used to be the capital of Bhutan until 1955 when the capital was shifted to Thimphu. Punakha, situated along the banks of the river Pho Chu (Father River) and Mo Chu (Mother River) is a 3 hours drive from Thimphu. It is the most scenic city in Bhutan.
How to Reach: Punakha is a 3 hrs drive from Thimphu. Hire a car or take a bus from Thimphu.
N.B: Keep in mind, to visit Punakha you must get a permit from the immigration department. Please carry the Bhutan entry permit along with you (would advise you to carry the permit everywhere).
Where to Stay: Punakha has a lot of options ranging from budget to boutique to luxury resorts. Pick one that suits your pocket.
Things to See:
On your way from Thimphu to Punakha, do stop at the amazing Dochula Pass.
Dochula Pass (10,171 ft):
On the mountain pass between Thimphu and Punakha, the eldest Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, has built 108 chortens or stupas known as the "Druk Wangyel Chortens". These chortens are built in honour of the soldiers who were killed in 2003 while fighting against Assamese insurgents. There is also a monastery built in the name of the fourth King or Gyalpo of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. It is a splendid viewpoint for the Bhutan Himalayas when the weather is fine. There is also a Dochula Cafe and clean toilets for offering refreshments to tourists.
1) Punakha Dzong: Situated at the confluence of the rivers Pho Chu and Mo Chu, the beautiful dzong of Punakha or the Pungthang Dewachen Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness), is a site to behold. A covered wooden cantilever bridge aproaches the dzong. The dzong serves as the winter residence of HH Je Khenpo (Head of the Monastic body).
Punakha Dzong was also the coronation site of the first King of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuk in 1907 and then the next 4 monarchs. It is also where the very handsome fifth King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk got married to the beautiful Jetsun Pema.
The Punakha Dzong is the most beautiful dzong amongst all in Bhutan. Along the river bank, the Jacaranda trees are in full bloom in Spring and it imparts a heavenly beauty to the dzong. One should visit Punakha in April-May to see this beautiful sight.
2) Suspension Bridge: Another famous attraction in Punakha is the hanging bridge on Pho Chu. It gets quite windy here and the bridge sways vigorously giving you an adrenaline kick.
3) Chimi Lhakhang: Around 10 kms away from Punakha, near Lobesa is situated Chimi Lhakhang. It is believed that one Lama Kunley subdued a demon and trapped it under a rock near the chorten. He was known as "Divine Madman" since his way of preaching Buddhism was informal and had sexual overtones. He is also believed to be the one who started the use of phallus symbols to ward off evil eye. The tradition at this monastery is to hit pilgrims on their head with a 10 inch long wooden phallus, especially women seeking blessings to conceive.
Punakha is quite safe, probably safer than any other places in Bhutan. Just be aware of your surroundings as you would in any other city/ country.
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