Punakha valley in considered one of the most beautiful and fertile valleys of Bhutan. About three hours drive (71 km) from Thimphu but much at lower altitude (1200m), Punakha valley is warmer than any other valleys in Bhutan.
Before reaching Punakha (about 22km from Thimphu) you will pass through a mountain pass “Dochu La” at 3100m above sea level. On a clear day, the view of the Eastern Himalayas from this pass is one of the best in the country. There are a hundred and nine chortens (stupas) in three tiers of forty five, thirty six and twenty seven circumscribing a single larger chorten at the top. This chortens are called Druk Wangyal Chortens or ‘Chortens of the Victory of the Druk Gyalpo’. The building of these chortens was initiated by Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck when her husband the fourth King, travelled to the South-East of the country in December 2003 leading his army against the insurgents from India.
Besides these magnificent chortens in an amazing setting you will be able enjoy the view of some of the great Himalayan peaks starting from the left with Masangang (7165m), which dominates the district of Laya. The next is Tshendagang ((7100m) and the following peaks are Tserigang (7300m), Jejegangphugang, Kangphugang, the Table top mountain’ Zongaphugang (7100m) and finally the highest peak of Gangkar Puensum at a towering height of 7541m.
MONUMENTS TO VISIT IN PUNAKHA
Chime Lhakhang: This Lhakhang dates back to 1499 which was built by Lama Drukpa Kinley who is till this day known as a Divine Madman. Located beautifully on a hilltop, it is about 30 to 40 minute walk passing through a charming village set in lush terraced fields. Lama Drukpa Kinley is beleived to have subdued a demoness residing in Dochu La with his ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom’ and a wooden effigy of this is preserved within. There are also statues of him along with those of Lama Zhabdrung, Sakyamuni and Avalokiteswara. Devotees receive blessings from his wooden phallus and iron Bow and arrow that lie here and childless women are said to have their wish fulfilled after visiting this Lhakhang.
Punakha Dzong: The Dzong straddles the confluence of two rivers- Phochu (male river) and Mochu (female river) is the most beautiful fortress in Bhutan. It was named as ‘Pungthang Dechen Phodrang’ or ‘Palace of Great happiness’. This impressive fortress was built in 1637. It was the second of the mighty dzongs built by Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel (person who unified Bhutan) and was the seat of government till the end of the reign of the second King.
The site of the Dzong is believed to have received the blessings of Guru Padmasambhava (the Great Buddhist teacher who introduced Buddhism in Bhutan). In the eighth century he is believed to have prophesied: “…on the edge of the hill that looks like an elephant’s trunk, a man named Namgyal will come and build a fortress…”
The most recent historic event, the wedding ceremony of the present King His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema’s was held inside this Dzong.
Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten: About 7km drive from Punakha Dzong and about 40 to 50 minutes hike from the road point is Khamsum Yuelly Namgyal Chorten which was completed in the year 1999 after eight years of construction. Located a top a hill commands a very beautiful view of the valley below.
Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge: The 160 metres Pho Chhu Suspension Bridge is known for the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan, which gives you spectacular views of Punakha Dzong and the Pho Chhu Valley.