Punakha, a quaint little town in Bhutan also the previous capital. It is up high on the tourist map, largely done as a day trip from Thimphu. Punakha has many important sites- Punakha Dzong, Yulley Namgyal Chorten, Chimi Lhakhang Temple, Jigme Dorji National Park and Punakha suspension bridge.
It is a 2.5-hour journey from Thimphu to Punakha. Needless to say, the journey is as scenic as it gets and you will be glued to your windows the whole time. Be prepared if you have motion sickness because the roads are winding. We stopped at the Dochula pass – a mountain pass built in the memory of 108 Bhutanese soldiers. It is a 360-degree structure with a total of 108 chortens. The pass is at the height of 3100 m and can get really chilly! We were lucky to spot the pass both the times when it was foggy and clear.
It also makes for a great viewing spot. You can see the snow clad Himalayas along with many other mountain peaks- Masaganang (7,200m), Kangphugang (7,170m), Tsendagang (6,960 m), Jejegangphugang (7,158m), and Terigang (7,060 m).
Tashi told us we are going picnic today. Our eyes shot up! , I do not remember when did I go picnic-ing last. A school trip, maybe? Punakha doesn’t have too many hotels in the town centre, we found a gem. Punakha residency. Traditional Bhutanese architecture from the outside and very modern facilities in the inside. Rooms were spacious, beds comfortable, staff courteous but the food was not the best. We packed some momos and sandwiches headed to our Picnic.
We drove past the sleepy old town and see this turquoise river. Oh, the view! I had never seen anything like that before. Remember when we learned to draw a scenery? We’d draw three big triangles for mountains, a couple of farm-house on the side and a stream of the river coming from the mountain. It was exactly that! Only far prettier.
We pass the Punakha Dzong, the two rivers are Phochhu and Mochhu. Tashi said, pick your spot! This is all ours. And that was the most difficult task of the day. Everything was so pretty. Do we choose the mountains, or the river or the forest? After much discussion, we found our spot overlooking the grand Punakha Dzong. Spread a blanket and sat there for hours. Eating, laughing, singing, being. We did not want to leave.
Next, we went to the ever-so-impressive Punakha Dzong. Built in the year 1637, it stands at the junction of Phocchu and Mocchu river. This Dzong served as the administrative and religious seat. Now is winter residence for the central monk body and the administrative body. This is also the place where present king and queen of Bhutan were married. It is a piece of art. Showcasing intricate woodwork and beautiful idols of Buddha. A trip to Bhutan is incomplete if you miss this.
The thought of that picnic was still lingering in our mind. The experience was just so surreal. So we decided to skip the other monasteries (mentioned earlier on the blog). Went to the suspension bridge for a bit of fun loads of pictures and in search for a new picnic spot. It was 5:00 PM and the sun had set, we decided to do a small bonfire open a bottle of zumzin and enjoy the night under the stars. Jamtsho (our driver) was full of stories from his childhood, how he would walk for days for a research survey because there were no roads, how they got cable TV only in the 2000 and so many more. He narrated all this with such content.
I still remember that night and laugh. I do not know what it was, the cheesy momos? Peach wine? Extreme cold? Mountain air? That we spent hours at a place doing nothing and still wanted more.
The next day, we visited the temple of the divine madman or Drukpa Kinley. He was a Monk and a poet, known for his esoteric ways and teachings. He had the most unconventional methods to attain enlightenment. Once you near the temple you will see phallus painted on walls. Shops selling wooden phalluses.
Legend has it that many demons were causing continuous oppression on the people. The Divine Madman killed them by firing them with his “flaming thunderbolt of wisdom.” He didn’t only subdue them with his phallus but turned them into protective deities.
The temple is also known as the temple of fertility. Couples who are not able to conceive a child come here to seek Divine Madman’s blessings. You can see a compilation of letters from people all over the world who were blessed with a child after their visit to the temple. Believe in the legend or not, it sure was a fun experience.
So there you have it, list of a few things we did at Punakha. And the many we did not. Sometimes it is okay to not visit all the important sites and simply make your own fun things to do. Hope you try them out and like them as much as we did.
P.s: The picnic spot makes for a great location to read. 🙂