Punakha is the old capital of Bhutan and hence is has a lovely monarch charm to all the buildings. It’s a beautiful and peaceful city.
Most of the roads in Bhutan are bumpy and full of hair pin turns which made it difficult to commute from one city to other. Few years back Bhutan government decided to change its capital to Thimphu to make it more accessible for locals and international. One of the reason why we chose Paro, Punakha and Thimphu in our tour as they are very well accessible.
Visiting Punakha can be a day’s trip as there are limited tourist attractions, incase there are no hike plans.
1. Punakha Dzong is arguably the most beautiful dzong, especially with the beautiful flowers growing around in contrast with the huge white walls of the dzong. Punakha dzong was the old building of government until the new Thimphu dzong. This is still a very important dzong as all the kings of Bhutan have been crowned here. This dzong has stood the test of time and many calamities such as fire and earthquake. The courtyard has a beautiful bodhi tree which was transported from Bodh-Gaya, India about 40 years ago to bless the dzong. The body of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal is still said to be preserved in this dzong but definitely only monks and monarchs are allowed to visit on special occassions. ps. Zhabdrung is a title used to refer great lamas in Tibet. This dzong is a must visit and do not forget to hire a guide to tel you the history of Punakha & dzong.
2. Chimi L’hakhang Temple was built in 1499 located in Lobesa after the site was blessed by the “Divine Madman” the maverick saint Drukpa Kunley. He is known to have subdued a demon of Dochu La with his “magic thunderbolt of wisdom” and trapped it in a rock. He was known as the “Mad Saint” or “Divine Madman” for his unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism by singing, humour and outrageous behaviour, which amounted to being bizarre, shocking and with sexual overtones. He is also the saint who advocated the use of phallus (errect penis) symbols as paintings on walls and as flying carved wooden phalluses on house tops at four corners of the eaves. The monastery is the repository of the original wooden symbol of phallus that Kunley brought from Tibet. Make sure to get the divine blessing by the priest who shall bless by touching the phallus on visitors head, particularly women who would like to beget children.
3. Suspension bridge is located very much near to the Punakha Dzong and is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan built above the Po Chu river. The bridge is broad and built in a very nice way and you will be amazed to see that it doesn’t shake so much which can cause a sudden amount of panic among the tourists. The bridge also connects to the nearby villages. There are mountains surrounding the bridge from all the sides which also gives a breathtaking view.
4. Dochula Pass is technically a place to visit when travelling from Thimphu to Punakha. Its a beautiful pass which has 108 stupas built as a memorial in honour of the Bhutanese soldiers who were killed in the December 2003 battle against Assamese insurgents from India. This place is especially popular for the panoramic Himalayn mountain range view in the days of clear sky.
5. Rafting in Puna Tsang Chu river which is a confluence of Po Chhu (male) and Mo Chhu (female) rivers of Punakha. The rafting is a day trip, however, warm weather is preferable to enjoy the rafting experience. Read more details on rafting here.
In Punakha, most good places to eat are either located in Khuruthang or Lobesa.
1. Phuenzhi diner is one of more recommended restaurant located in Khuruthang. unfortunately i couldnt eat here as they had the entire diner booked for party.
2. Lobesa village restaurant
3. Dochula resort restaurant
4. Druk Wangyel Cafe is a brilliant place for especially for breakfast located near Dochula Pass. The food and service is really good here. The chocolate eclair was delicious and creamy. The restaurant overlooks the mountains and huge stone fire place in the middle of the restaurant makes it a very cozy and warm place to spend time with family, friends or just by yourself.
5. Roasted corn sold on the highway is lovely way to exprience the Bhutan corn while you munch away through your journey. They have a unique style of roasting the corn. Make sure to see by yourself.
While visiting Punakha, we stayed in Thimphu hence i did’nt get to experience any stay experience here personally. However, some of the famous recommendations are Zhingkham Resort, Hotel Yeosel Rabtenling, Hotel Zomlha, & Damchen Resorts.
Here is the virtual look at my Punakha visit: