Travel Guide – Punakha, Bhutan

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.


Read my other travel guides on Bhutan, Paro, Thimphu and about the homestay experience in Paro.

Here is the virtual look at my Punakha visit:

Serene moment with precious people

Student at the monastery with pepsi bottles – after all everybody likes to have a taste of modern life.

Mandatory group pictures

The 6 storey administration office building in the dzong. People in olden days really loved stairs

I love how a keera/ simple scraf is used to carry the kids around by locals of Bhutan

Temple of Mad man. Look around and you shall notice phallus even on prayer flags

Huge phallus painted on a house wall

Bodhi Tree at the Punakha dzong

Adorable kid at highway on a corn stop

108 stupas at the Dochula Pass

Beautiful vintage Druk Wangyel cafe at the Dochula pass


Beautiful dzong of Punakha overlooking the MoChhu river

Prayer wheels


Thimphu Travel Guide

Thimphu is the capital city of Bhutan but just unlike any other capital cities. This valley city is filled with younger generation as its also one of the major hub for institutes of the country.


1. Tashichho Dzong is the Thimphu Dzong located north of the city on the west bank of Wang Chhu river that hosts the city’s biggest annual bash, the colorful Tshechu festival. (This festival is held for 3 days beginning on 10th day of 8th month of lunar calendar.) This Dzong has two claims to fame as it was built without nails and also the first Dzong to be built in the country. The Dzong, itself, is much the same as many others in the country and therefore nothing special about thus, nonetheless, it is still a nice place to visit. The 3D art on the wall makes the visit worthwhile and leaves one with beautiful experience of art and ancient stories. They do have a flag hoisting/ change of guard performed every evening at about 5pm.

2. Changangkha Lhakhang is a popular temple, perched like a fortress on a ridge above central Thimphu. It was built in 12th century and one of the oldest temple (800 years old) that stands still. The design of the walls of the temple have a unique shape and feel to it. The view from the temple is simply beautiful and serene.

3. Buddha Dordenma has a huge 51 meter tall Buddha statue  that commands the entry to the Thimphu valley. The massive 3 storey base houses a large temple while the statue is said to be filled with 125000 smaller statues of Buddha. The best time to visit this statue is morning light while the evening illuminated statue has a lovely charm too. While we were visiting this place, there were about 1000 monks sitting at the feet of the Buddha chanting prayers for day long which was part of a 3 month religious ritual. This Buddha point is also popular biking route with a 3.5km mountain bike trail branching off from Buddha point to Depsi, near Babesa.

4. National Textile Museum gives a peek into the traditional woven art, Thagzo. There are royal garments on display spilling the splendid royalty for the world to see. They have a gallary with details of their weaving techniques and various pieces of their attire. This was a rather fulfilling experience for a clothing lover like me. Their clothing just talks how the people have brought versatility in their garment making them unique piece which definitely made me feel like buying one for me.

5. Weekend market is every photographers dream. There are some souvenir shops to pick from else this place to good to stroll about and get a feel on the local life.

6. Hikes around the city Being a valley city, this place has lots of hiking option to offer lasting from short few hours to few days. Here are some options to explore from.


1. Zombala (original) is a highly recommended place for Bhutanese cuisine enthusiast. Almost everything is good here though I highly recommend the thukpa & momos. Any local will tell you the best momos in town can be eaten here. Its a cheap & local joint near Hong Kong market and expect a queue. We happened to share our table with a group of monks and I could see the same satisfaction on their face. Slurrrrp!

2. Babesa Village Restaurant is another lovely joint frequented by local in Babesa, which is bit in the outskirts of Thimphu city. This charming restaurant offers traditional Bhutanese cuisine in a lovely century-old building, one of four still standing incongruously right next to the Paro–Thimphu highway. The building is decorated with antiques and the food includes such local dishes as tasty ribs, lom(dried turnip leaf) and mengay, optimistically described as ‘Bhutanese pizza’.

3. Bhutan kitchen is a warm place serving Bhutanese cuisine in the heart of the town. Dive into the local dishes such as ema datshi and thukpa. Dont miss out on the complimentary shot of arra (the local firewater) or sud-ja(butter tea) at lunch.

4. Ambient cafe is highly frequented by expats and chances of bumping into a mountain bikers is very high

5. Hotel Jhumolhari is a lovely place to indulge with your spouse/ family


1. Druk Heritage Residence is lovely home converted into cottage villa. Along with cohesive homely feeling they offer spacious rooms with bath tub and free wifi. It has bar to soak yourself in the lovely cold evening.

2. Damchoe’s Guesthouse is lovely traditional home located in the outskirts of Thimphu with an organic vegetable garden of their own. It has warm owners & amazing view to offer.

3. Norzin Lam is in the central road and most of the hotels are concentrated on this road, near Clock Tower, almost next to each other.


Read complete guide on Bhutan, with detail travel guide on Paro, homestay in Paro and Punakha.

Here is a visual tour of the trip:

View of Bidh Dordenma. That beautiful crazy sky!!!

Thimphu city in evening

They might as well call it gateway to heaven on earth

Just can’t get enough of that sky

Original Zombala restaurant

This old lady was a lovely lady who spoke to me for few mins but i didn’t get a word.

Postcards from Thimphu

Travel Guide – Paro, Bhutan

Bhutan is an brilliant travel destination for backpackers and hikers. Once we got our permit sorted at Phuntshuling (read details here), our next pits top was Paro – a valley town of Bhutan located in the western part of the country and the only town with international airport. Its a beautiful city with its own pace that i fell in love with.


1. Monasteries at Tigers Nest (Taktsang Palphug Monastery): Is a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and the temple complex is located in the cliffside of the upper Paro valley. The temple complex was first built in 1692, around the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave where Guru Padmasambhava (a reincarnation of Bhudh who was born to spread the message of bhuddhism) is said to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours during the 8th century. Padmasambhava is credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan and is the tutelary deity of the country. Best way to reach the monastery is by hiking which is of medium level mainly for the slight altitude complexity that might challenge few tropical souls like us. Locals take about 1.5 hours to hike however, non-hikers especially the not so fit-ones will take about 3.5 to 4 hours. There is an option to reach halfway by horse and rest of the hike mainly consists of steps. So people with knee/ artherities problem will face difficulty. However, the view is breathtakingly beautiful and definitely worth every effort. Make sure to carry enough water and energy bar as there are’nt any supplies available on the way. Take a guide from the base or on top to tell you the mythological stories of the place – its a must as without which its just a temple with statues and paintings. The entry ticket has to be bought at the base costing about Nu 500 and guide cost of about Nu 200-300. Must try the Holly water which is actually stream water coming from Tibet (I tasted Tibet for 1st time and I am so intrigued).

2. Kyichu Lhakhang: is an important Himalayan Buddhist temple situated in Lango Gewog of Paro District. The Jowo Temple of Kyichu is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, originally built in the 7th century by the Tibetan Emperor Songtsän Gampo. We faced a hard luck as the royal mother of Bhutan was living in the temple premise for 21 days for which the temple was shut for visitors, including locals. We could visit the veranda and buildings located in the complex except for the main temple. Still it was lovely touching the temple walls of the 12th century.

3. Chelela Pass: Is at an elevation of 13000 ft and is considered to be one of the highest motorable pass in Bhutan. About an hour’s drive from Paro which  is filled with lush valleys, pine and rhododendron forest. The pass provides stunning views of the sacred mountain Jomolhari and Jichu Drake with buntings of prayer flags everywhere. Its a delight to be at the top of this pass where you may enjoy hot beverage or thukpas and momos. Make sure to carry woolens as it can get quiet chilly up there in most seasons.

4. Archery: Is the national sport of Bhutan and you could be lucky to catch a tournament going on at the nearby stadium/ ground. Only a ground in paro, located in town, allows visitors to try their hands on archery. So make sure not to miss it. However, archery must be done during day time as it is performed in open ground which gives it a time limit till day light. You may catch a tournament of locals in their traditional wear playing their traditional sport. Get more details here.

5. Night life: I was surprised to read about the night life of Bhutan. Paro has few pubs located in the town and couple of clubs to shake a leg – and Bhutanese youth definitely shakes it well. Experience the pub and club culture of Paro as it exposes a very diffrent side of the country. The clubs mainly have Hindi and English music playing along with some Bhutanese music. We visited club Insomnia and the owner of the club made it a memorable trip was us.

There are some more places in recommendation but we gave them a pass.

6. Dzongdrakha Goempa: This monastery is located in a village called Bondey in Paro district. This Goempa is often called mini Taktshang as it is built on a cliff above the village. Dzongdrakha is translated as ‘Temple on a cliff’ in Bhutanese terminology. It takes 20 minutes by car from the Paro town to reach the Goempa. It is located in the altitude of 2227 meter. Dzongdrakha Goempa is a secondary example of a cliff-side temple. We gave this a pass as its very similar to monastries at Tiger’s Nest, only on a smaller scale. Read more here.

7. Haa valley: Haa’s major feature is the Haa Valley, a steep north-south valley with a narrow floor. The name Haa (pronounced “hah”), connotes esoteric hiddenness. An alternative name for the district is “Hidden-Land Rice Valley.” We started our journey to Haa after visiting Chelela Pass but we dropped the idea. The roads are relatively poor quality with too many hair-pin turns making the road trip filled with nausea and motion sickness. But it is a lovely place for camping. Read more here.

8. Drukgyal Dzong: was a fortress and Buddhist monastery, now in ruins, located in the upper part of the Paro District. Read more here.

Bhutan is a paradise for trekkers and here are some mesmerising places to hike which may span for more than couple of days. From the list Bumthang Owl Trek sounds like he perfect way to experience Bhutan mountains if on a short trip.


1. Ema Datshi is the national dish which is mainly a preparation from cheese and chilies and is available throughout the country. Datshi is a spicy mix of chilies (like a curry) which is combined either with Ema (homemade cheese), Kewa (potatoes), Shamu (mushroom), Hantsey (spinach), etc to create various preparations. Authentically datshi is made from Yak cheese. Try eating homecooked Ema Datshi in somebodies traditional house as the preparation is different in restaurants. We ate at the homestay that we livid in and i must say, i didnt get similar taste at any of the restaurants.

2. Butter Tea also known as po cha is a drink of the people in the Himalayan regions of Nepal, Bhutan, India (particularly in Ladakh, Sikkim) and, most famously, Tibet. Traditionally, it is made from tea leaves, yak butter, water, and salt, although butter made from cow’s milk is increasingly used, given its wider availability and lower cost. We were served butter tea every morning by our lovely host. But i must admit after experiencing it once, i couldn’t drink it as its a heavy drink and definitely didn’t provide me the wake up like my normal tea does.

3. Momos These Tibetan-style dumplings are stuffed with pork, beef or cabbages and cheese. Traditionally eaten during special occasions, these tasty treats are a Bhutanese favourite and surely were mine. There are many tiny joints in the Paro town selling them as snack.

4. Sonam Trophel is a delightful restaurant with lovely owners who are well traveled and have lovely stories to share. Most of the food out here is nice. Must try the momos, hentsey datshi, and chicken maru.

In Paro, since we lived in a homestay, we had most of our meals were home-cooked by the host family. Hence we got to try lesser food at the restaurants. However, here are some popular recommendations.


1. Paro Penlop Dawa Penjor Heritage Farmhouse is where we stayed and will highly recommend it. Read the detail review on the homestay on my blog.

2. Hotel Peljorling is a budget stay option available in the heart of Paro.

3. Sonam trophel Inn is well frequented option.

Read cover post on Bhutan for cost & details. along with a post detailed homestay. Travel guide on Punakha & Thimphu coming soon.

Here is a visual trip to Paro:

Calling a small prayer at the oldest temple of Kyichu Lakhang

At Paro Zdong with my girls

Coffee at Tiger’s Nest cafe with the brilliant view

The Homestay

Witnessed brilliant performance by these young artist. ;P

At the Chelela Pass

The traditional black mask dance.

Cute kids playing hop


Akhil acting all cute

Travel Guide | Bhutan – Land of happiness!

This post is a summary of the activities, travel route and most importantly how to reach to Bhutan. Read detailed posts on Paro, Thimphu and Punakha on things to do there.

How to reach here Bhutan:

There are mainly two ways of reaching this country;

Directly fly to Paro (via Mumbai or Delhi). Alternately you may fly to Bagdogra, West Bengal, for an onward journey to Phuentsholing by car (roughly 4-5 hours, Rs.2,500 on average). Here you have an option to either stay in Jaigaon (which is Indian border city) or stay in Phuntsholing (Bhutan border city) – which we did. Its ideal to stay in Phuntsholing as the permit office is located there.

Permit/ Visa:

Citizen of India/ Bangladesh/ Maldives don’t need a visa. You may just carry your voters id/ passport/ ration card along with photographs and legitimate hotel/ stay letters to receive the permit which is valid only for 7 days. Any further stay needs an extension which can be obtained either from Phuntsholing of Thimpu permit office.

In our research I noted that mostly travelers had hassle free experience in getting their permit/ visa. However, we had a different experience.

The permit & visa offices stay shut on Saturday, Sunday and all Bhutanese public holidays. We reached Phuntsholing on sunday night and monday morning we were at the permit office. It was chaotic and no clear information of what to submit and to whom. Mainly first we submitted a form which we got from permit office along with photograph, letter from all stays and passport as ID card. These documents are then processed on the their 1st floor office wherein they call each person at the counter while entering the details in their system. We verified each detail filled in and gave our finger impressions. Post which the forms are further processed and permit is issued. This entire process most people have listed to take about 20mins to 2 hours at max. It took us 6 hours and we ended up wasting our day in Bhutan.

Later we got to know that since our visit was during the main Tshechu festival along with rush accumulated on Monday (since permit office is shut on weekends) which we didn’t expect at all.

Also, from some cities such as Punakha, you need special permit. Since we werent very sure of visiting Punakha, we got the permit done from Thimpu, which was an easy breeze and took only 15 mins.

For other nationals, Bhutan has a Visa on arrival at the Paro airport and its said to be hassle free, provided you have all the required documents listed on their website.


Thumb rule – Southern Bhutan is tropical, East is warmer than the West, and in the high Himalayan region expect perpetual snow. Bhutan’s Tshechu festival calendar is also a very good way to understand best seasons – there are none (or few) Tshechu festival during January, February, June, July & August.

WINTER: December, January & February – Much of the east-west highway remains snowbound during winter. One of the chief attractions in winter is the beautiful Gangtey (Phobjikha) valley where you can expect to see a wide expanse of rolling plain with bamboo shrubs. The graceful Black-Necked Cranes and Yak come to roost at the plain from the Tibetan plateau during this time of the year offering wild-life picture opportunities.

SUMMER (SPRING): March, April & May – Best time and most preferred time to visit Bhutan (means most expensive time and definitely getting bookings in last minute is going to be a challenge). This season is considered the most beautiful time of the year in Bhutan, resplendent and ablaze with a spectacular array of bright colors. This is the time when the valleys are green with fresh vegetation and fruit trees are blossoming. Paro Tshechu festival is held in this season.

MONSOON: June, July & August – Bhutan receives the most amount of rainfall than any other region in Himalaya.

AUTUMN: September, October & November – Its lovely with clear and crisp blue skies, providing a grand view of some of the tallest unclimbed mountains in the world. It is the best time for trekking and traveling Also a good time to catch the solitude of parks and somber views of dzongs and monasteries. Thimphu Tshechu festival is held in this season.

Get the entire festival list for Bhutan here.





Travel map:

We travelled from Bagdogra >> Phuntsholing >> Paro >> Punakha >> Thimphu

Individual travel guide for Paro, Punakha, Thimphu and Paro homestay is on its way. Do check them out for details on see, eat and stay.

Here is a quick sneak peak into the trip.

Monks enjoying beautiful skyline

Foggy road to Phuntshuling

Fur ball

Bhutanese girls in their traditional attire

Lady chanting in monastery

Just cant get enough of this skyline