After two days of wonderful cultural experience, we’ve left the Capital city of Thimphu and headed to the scenic Punakha Valley. On the way to Punakha, we passed by Dochu La Pass about forty-five minutes outside of Thimpu which is at 3000 meters above sea level is overlooking the mighty Himalayas.At one of the viewing points, 108 stupas (chortens) were constructed as a memorial built by the queen, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, to honor the victory of the Bhutanese army in the 2003 war of Southern Bhutan.
From the high pass of Dochu La, the mountain road descended into the serene countryside of Punakha Valley which is beautifully landscaped with the dense forests. The highlight of our journey to Punakha is a visit to its majestic Dzong (means fortress and is the administrative and monastic center of this town). It is also called as ‘Punthang Dechen Phodrang’ (The Palace of Great Bliss), Punakha Dzong is beautifully situated between the convergence of Phochu and Mochu Rivers ( ‘male’ and ‘female’ rivers), It is said to be the most magnificent of all the fortresses in Bhutan.
Built by Ngawang Namgyal, 1st Zhabdrung Rinpoche, in 1637 and completed in one year. Punakha Dzong served as the capital and seat of government of Bhutan before it was moved to Thimphu in 1955. It was expanded in 1639 to celebrate victory over invading Tibetan army. Frequent fires, glacial burst and an earthquake damaged the dzong and it has since been repaired and restored. Today, it houses the administrative and judicial offices of Punakha District.
The dzong has three courtyards. The first courtyard is for administrative functions and houses a huge chorten with a Bodhi tree. The second courtyard houses the monastic quarters. The third courtyard has the main temple. Entering into this temple was like entering into another world. The door was opened for us, and as we stepped in, the grand interiors of the temple seemed mesmerizing with exquisite wall murals depicting the life of Sakyamuni Buddha. Sacred remains and relics are placed in a closed room inside the temple and only the two guardian Lamas, the King and the chief Abbot or Je Khenpo may enter the room it seems.
Unfortunately, photography in the interior of the temple is prohibited. This Dzong is a perfect example of the traditional Bhutanese architecture. Then we got out at 5pm by spinning the last prayer wheel at the Punakha monastery and left the place by wishing to visit again.
Info-tips from my perspective:
- A special permit is required for all the foreign nationals in order to visit Punakha or any place other than Thimphu & Paro.
- There are some road restrictions due to the new construction of roads they’ll only open the gates for every 2 hours and not more than 15mins. And is entry of Punakha is prohibited after 6pm until the construction is finished.
- The Royal wedding of the Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and his fiancée, Jetsun Pema, was held at the Punakha Dzong on 13 October 2011.