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.

SEE

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.

EAT

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.

SLEEP

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

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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.

SEE

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.

EAT

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

STAY

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