Punakha is also administrative centers of their Dzongkhang or districts. It takes around 3hours drive from Thimphu to either of these towns. Compared to Thimphu or Paro, the valley is at much lower elevation at about 1250m above sea level. Therefore it enjoys subtropical climate with warm summers and pleasant winters. The valley boasts at least two crops a year and subtropical plants like Cactuses, Manadrin, and Bananas grow here. The town of Punakha was relocated recently to Khuruthang from its location near PunakhaDzong. Punakha was former winter capital of Bhutan, the tradition that is still kept by the monastic body, who moves their capital to Thimphu in the summer and return to PunakhaDzong in the winter
PLACES OF ATTRACTIONS
1. PUNGTHANG DECHEN PHODRANG
Its proper name is PungthangDechenPhodrang, which means the Palace of Great Happiness. The Dzong is located on the confluence of Phochu and Mochu rivers and was constructed by ZhabdrungNgawangNamgyal in 1637-38 near Dzongchung or the little Dzong, built in 1328 by NgagiRinchen (which can be still seen opposite the main Dzong). The Dzong was damaged by flood, earth quake and several times by fire and was rebuilt each time to its original grandeur. The Dzong houses the most sacred relics of the Drukpa Kagyu school including the RangjungKasarpani, and the mummified remains of ZhabdrungNgawangNamgyal, who passed away here in 1651. In 1907 (on 17 Dec) PunakhaDzong was the site of the coronation of UgyenWangchuck as the first King of Bhutan. It is the district administrative center of PunakhaDzongkhag and the winter home of Bhutan’s Central Monastic Body led by HH the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot).
2. Dochula pass
Dochula pass is located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu. The pass is a popular location among tourists as it offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of the Himalayan mountain range. The view is especially scenic on clear, winter days with snowcapped mountains forming a majestic backdrop to the tranquility of the 108 chortens gracing the mountain pass.
Bhutanese families enjoy visiting the pass during holidays and weekends to picnic and simply enjoy the scenery. It is common to see families and groups of friends seated amongst the chortens, enjoying a packed lunch and hot tea. For tourists this is an ideal location to capture beautiful pictures of the Himalayan mountain range during clear, warm days.
3. KHAMSUM YOUELAY NAMGYAL CHORTEN
KhamsumYuleyNamgayChorten was built in 1990s and took period of nearly 10 years. It was built by Queen Mother and dedicated to the King and for the well being of Bhutanese. It majestically located on a ridge, with amazing views of the country side. It is one of the finest Bhutanese architects. It is located in idyllic countryside north of Punakha, about 30 minutes drive from town. From the parking, it is another 45 minutes uphill walk through the rice fields and the return portion downhill takes around 30 minutes. In the summer or during the rainfall, the trails could be muddy and slippery. After return walk back, there is an option to walk along the riverside, following the ancient trail that goes through farmlands, homes, Sonagasa village and arrive near PunakhaDzong. This extra walk takes another two hours or so. It is particularly interesting for those interested in birding and to enjoy the walk viewing the countryside.
4. CHIMI LHAKHANG
The essence of the experience
ChimiLhakhang, known to the English speaking world as The Fertility Temple, is a Buddhist monastery, in the Punakha District of Bhutan, idyllically placed on a rotund hill. The temple was built over half a millennium ago by NgawangChoegyel, the 14th Drukpa hierarch. The stupa, meditation hall, was constructed by the “Divine Madman,” the eccentric Yogi and saint DrukpaKunley, who blessed the entire grounds. The monastery is renowned throughout Bhutan as a fertility inducing magnet, pledging that all who wish to conceive will find guidance at the temple. Thousands pilgrimage to The Fertility Temple in the hopes of having a child, as well as receiving a wang, blessing, from the saint with the ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom.’ Couples with new-borns often visit the temple so that a local lama, Buddhist teacher, can bestow a resounding forename on the child, whilst eager travellers can approach lamas for their unique Bhutanese name and special meaning. Myth and folklore cloak ChimiLhakhang and its maverick saint, DrukpaKunley. He preached Buddhism is an unconventional manner, by way of song, comedy, and shocking sensual connotations. Legend has it that the Yogi buried a dog-like demoness under the rotund earth, shaped in the female form, that now stands under the Stupa floor. He actively encouraged phallus symbols to be used throughout the design of the temple in paintings and carvings. To this day, the monastery safeguards the original wooden phallus symbol, embedded with a silver handle, from Tibet, that is used to bless visitors and pilgrims.
5. LIMBU KHA VILLAGE
Limbukha is accessible by feeder road from Punakha and Wangdue. Limbukha farmers are known for growing Bhutan’s famous red rice which is supposed to have medicinal values. Limbukha is also known for its love of peace and tranquility. Legends says that during medieval wars the people of Limbukha always volunteered as peace negotiators. This is also depicted during annual festival when the Limbuk men are found carrying peace flags instead of swords and fireworks.
6. SangchenDorjiLhendrubCholing Nunnery
Above Wolakha on the way to DrolayGoemba is this thriving nunnery, which was financed by the fourth king’s father-in-law to serve as a Buddhist college for 120 resident anim (nuns). The attached ridgetop Nepali-style chorten is visible from as far away as the Dochu La to Metshina road.