Punakha

Punakha is the administrative centre of Punakha dzongkhag, one of the 20 districts of Bhutan. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan and the seat of government until 1955 when the capital was moved to Thimphu. Unlike Thimphu, it is quite warm in winter and hot in summer. It is located at an elevation of 1,200 metres above sea level and rice is grown as the main crop along the river valleys of two main rivers of Bhutan, the Pho Chu and Mo Chu. Dzongkha is widely spoken in this district. Punakha valley is famous in Bhutan for rice farming. Both red and white rice are grown along the river valley of Pho and Mo Chu, two of the most prominent rivers in Bhutan. The Punakha Dzong is the main attraction here and an important site of religion.

The Punakha Dzong, also known as Pungtang Dewa Chhenbi Phodrang (meaning “the palace of great happiness or bliss”) is the administrative centre of Punakha District in Punakha, Bhutan. Constructed by Ngawang Namgyal in 1637–38, it is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of its most majestic structures. The Dzong houses the sacred relics of the Southern Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, including the Rangjung Kasarpani and the sacred remains of Ngawang Namgyal and the Terton Pema Lingpa.

Legend: According to the legend, Guru Padmasambhava prophesied that “a person named Namgyal will arrive at a hill that looks like an elephant”. Ngawang Namgyal found the peak of the hill, which appeared in the shape of a trunk of an elephant as prophesied, and built the dzong in 1637-38. Zowe Palep, the architect, had a vision in a dream after the Zhabdrung ordered him to sleep under a small structure which contained a statue of the Buddha, known as Dzong Chug “small dzong”. In his dream, prompted by the psychic powers of the Zhabdrung, he had a clear vision of a palace for Guru Rinpoche. On the basis of the dream vision of the architect, the building of the dzong was started in 1637 and completed in 1638, at the place where the Dzong Chug had existed.

History: During this period of the construction of the Dzong, Ngawang Namgyal became the first leader of a unified Bhutan. The dzong was consecrated in the name of Pungthang Dechen Phodrang. In 1639, a commemorative chapel was erected to house the arms seized from the Tibetans who were defeated by the Bhutanese on this spot. The Zhabdrung also set up a monastic order with 600 monks (brought from Cheri Gompa of upper Thimphu valley) and he lived here until his death. The spire at the top of the Utse (the central tower or the main tower) was added in 1676 by Gyaltsen Tenzin Rabgye–the abbot of the dzong. Further additions were made during the period 1744 to 1763 when Sherab Wangchuk was the ruler. A large thangka known as Chenma (great) Thoundral of the Zhabdrung was donated to the Dzong by the Desi (ruler). This thangka is displayed during the Tshechu held once a year here. The 7th Dalai Lama donated the brass roof for the dzong. The House of Wangchuck currently rules the country. This monarchy was established in 1907. The same year, Punakha Dzong was the site of the coronation of Ugyen Wangchuck (or Deb Nagpo) as the first Druk Gyalpo. At that time, Punakha was the capital of Bhutan. Three years later, a treaty was signed at Punakha whereby the British agreed not to interfere in Bhutanese internal affairs and Bhutan allowed Britain to direct its foreign affairs

*(All the above information are from Wikipedia.)

Transport:

Airport: Punakha is served by the Paro International Airport which is located at a distance of 124 km.

Road: The artery road connects the major cities across the nation that mostly runs parallel to the rivers. Punakha is connected to major cities of Wangdue Phodrang, Thimphu, Paro, Chukha and Phuentsholing.

Local: Punakha being a small town transportation facilities are limited and can be availed through the tour operators and vehicles provided by the Hotel. It is advisable to arrange transport from major cities of Thimphu, Paro or Phuentsholing.

Tourist Interest:

Dochula Pass: The Dochula Pass is a mountain pass in the snow-covered Himalayas within Bhutan on the road from Thimpu to Punakha where 108 memorial Chortens or stupas known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens” have been built by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, the eldest Queen Mother.

Chimi Lhakhang: Located near Lobesa, on the way to Punakha from Thimphu it stands on a round hillock and was built in 1499 by the 14th Drukpa hierarch, Ngawang Chogyel, after the site was blessed by the “Divine Madman” the maverick saint Drukpa Kunley (1455–1529) who built a Chorten on the site. It is also known as the fertility temple.

Punakha Dzong: The Punakha Dzong, also known as Pungtang Dewa Chhenbi Phodrang (meaning “the palace of great happiness or bliss”), is the administrative and religious centre of Punakha District in Punakha, Bhutan.

Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten: This Chorten was built by her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck. The temple was built for the well being of the Kingdom, its people and all living being of the nation.

Suspension Bridge: The largest suspension bridge on the Pho Chhu with the serene surrounding of the Punakha valley.

Hotels: There are few hotels in Punakha and nearby areas. Online booking facilities are available in few of them. The guides and the drivers come to great help while looking for hotels. During the off-season, the rates can also be negotiated. Few hotels in this area are Drubchhu Resort, Uma Punakha, Hotel Lobesa and a few more.

Read my experience in Punakha.

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