TOP PLACES TO SEE NEAR PUNAKHA DZONG AKA PUNGTANG DEWA CHHENBI PHODRANG & DOCHULA PASS– OFFBEAT BHUTAN
Punakha Dzong is one of the top places to visit in the offbeat Bhutan in the beautiful continent Asia. You can also indulge in white water rafting here, stroll on the longest suspension bridge of Bhutan or stop by the picturesque Dochula Pass. It is easily accessible from Paro and Thimphu. Read on.
PUNAKHA DZONG AKA PUNGTANG DEWA CHHENBI PHODRANG– OFFBEAT BHUTAN
It’s a dream like setting. Sandwiched between the two voluptuous rivers – Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu River, the Punakha Dzong stands out, confident in its ethereal beauty and gloating in self glory. As I travelled with my parents, I didn’t take too many stops en route.
But, I could not resist the bewitching sight of the Punakha Dzong from a distance as we approached the imposing building, mostly white! Of all the Dzongs, I had seen in Bhutan before (The ones in Paro and Thimphu), I found the Punakha Dzong the most impressive. Not only is it massive and has a great location, it is also rich in history and is an important place.
ATMOSPHERIC PUNAKHA DZONG AKA PUNGTANG DEWA CHHENBI PHODRANG– OFFBEAT BHUTAN:
The architecture style of the Punakha Dzong is grand yet simple. While Timber is used in the windows, doors, stairs, bridges etc stones and compacted earth was used as the building material.
The purple jacaranda flowers (I had visited in April) vied for my attention against the stark white walls of the imposing Dzong. The wooden cantilever bridge was used by monks and tourists alike.
After making my parents sit under the shade of a tree, I strolled around the Dzong area. A group of monks were having bath in the river.
The fish in the river congregated under the wooden bridge to feed on the biscuits. (My request: Please DO NOT feed the fish). It was a silent place, punctuated by occasional chuckles of the playful monks in the river.
The weather was pleasant in spite of being warmer than Paro and Thimphu. Punakha is at a lower altitude than Paro and Thimphu and hence it is warmer.
It is a huge Dzong. The only access inside the Punakha Dzong is through very steep wooden steps. The steps are foldable and pulled up during closing time, making the huge fort-like Dzong impregnable. This is a bit disadvantageous if you are traveling with senior citizens or differently abled people.
My parents, though not in the best of health conditions, still displayed zeal to climb up the steep stairs, one careful step at a time. I watched over vigilantly, following them behind to monitor their climb up the stairs. They finally did. Two huge prayer wheels welcomed us on either sides of the main gate. We entered the huge courtyard. A tall ‘Utse’ (The central tower of the Dzong) made its presence felt.
A Bodhi Tree and a large Stupa stood in a corner in the first courtyard of the Dzong. The administrative office of the Punakha Dzong is also present in the first courtyard. I crossed over to the other side of the ‘Utse’ which divides the first and second courtyard of Punakha Dzong.
As I entered the second courtyard, a flurry of activities stopped me in my tracks. I paused to notice the daily lifestyle of the monks. It was the residential quarters of the monks.
Their whizzed past from one building to another in their maroon robes. The pious white background made the simple movement look like a poetry. I and my father climbed on the first floor of the residential quarters. My mother had given up on climbing by now. It was worth the climb though! Following the sounds of chants, we entered a room. My eyes widened after what I saw. Rows and rows of child monks chanted in perfect synchrony as scores of butter lamps warmed the room. The incense sticks imparted pleasant fragrance to the room. As the room reverberated with the chant sounds, I absorbed each moment of it.
BRIEF HISTORY OF PUNAKHA DZONG AKA PUNGTANG DEWA CHHENBI PHODRANG– OFFBEAT BHUTAN
Also known as Pungtang Dewa chhenbi Phodrang, Punakha Dzong is one of the most important Dzongs in Bhutan. Its literal meaning is “the palace of great happiness or bliss”. Punakha Dzong is not only the second largest Dzong of Bhutan but it is also the second oldest Dzongs in Bhutan. Punakha Dzong was built between 1637 to 1638 by Ngawang Namgyal. There were several additions that were made to the Punakha Dzong over the years.
In fact Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck married Jetsun Pema at the Punakha Dzong on 13th October, 2011. My Bhutanese cab driver Manu told me that he had played basket ball with the queen when she was unmarried. I believe him. In Bhutan, it is possible.
Punakha Dzong is a 6 storied building. A portion of the Punakha Dzong was burned during a fire. It was rebuilt later. The annual festival Domche attracts many villagers from nearby and is celebrated with much fanfare every year. Also known as Punakha festival, Domche festival is celebrated every year in February and March.
WHITE WATER RAFTING NEAR PUNAKHA DZONG – OFFBEAT BHUTAN!!!
The white water river rafting in Punakha is done on the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu River. Punakha Dzong is built at the confluence of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu River. On my second visit to Bhutan, I did white water rafting in Bhutan on the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu River. Not only does it give great 360 degrees views of the Punakha Dzong, it also is an exciting activity to do in Punakha. It is not to be missed. The grade is not too high and is suitable for most people. You can read about my experience by clicking the links at the end of this blog.
SCENIC SUSPENSION BRIDGE NEAR PUNAKHA DZONG – OFFBEAT BHUTAN!!!
Do not miss the scenic suspension bridge of Punakha. It is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan. It connects the mainland with small village on the other side over the picturesque Po Chhu river. It is an old hand made but strong bridge made by the locals. I would suggest that you walk through the bridge and soak in the amazing views en route. If you see a local or monk step on the bridge, please allow them to cross first. You are in their home. The bridge can be accessed by road. It is a short drive from the Punakha Dzong. There is a crematorium at the starting point. You will be required to walk a little on the muddy path to be able to arrive at the bridge.
DO NOT MISS THE DOCHULA PASS EN ROUTE PUNAKHA DZONG:
The 108 memorial chortens cannot be missed when you travel to Punakha from Paro or Thimphu. Dochula pass is built right in the middle of the road. It is a mountain pass which also offers sweeping views of snow clad Himalayan ranges on a clear day. The 108 stupas, also known as Druk Wangyal Chortens, were constructed by Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, the queen mother of Bhutan.
Do not miss the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang, which is a monastery opposite the Dochula pass. You will need to climb up, so if you are not fit or are elderly or differently abled, you can skip it. The Royal Botanical Park is also nearby. The Dochula pass is located at a height of 10,200 feet.
SOUL WINDOW TIP: Climb up on the hill adjacent to the Dochula pass. It has many prayer flags and is a good vantage point for taking pictures of the Dochula pass.
VEGAN AND VEGETARIAN GUIDE IN PUNAKHA: OFFBEAT BHUTAN
There are a lot of options for vegetarians and vegans in not only Punakha but all of Bhutan. Vegetarians can order Ema Datshi (Chillies with saucy cheese) or Kewa Datshi (potatoes, chillies and cheese sauce) or Shamu Datshi (Mushroom, cheese, chillies) with local red rice of Bhutan. It is the national dish of Bhutan.
Vegans can go for Dal-Rice with a vegetable curry. A lot of vegan Indian dishes like Masala Dosa, Chola Bhatura etc are also easily available across Bhutan.
HOW TO REACH PUNAKHA FROM PARO AND THIMPHU – OFFBEAT BHUTAN
Punakha is easily reachable via Paro aur Thimphu. On my first trip, I and my parents left early morning, visit Punakha and return back on the same day. On my second trip to Bhutan, I stayed back for a day. It was worth it. En route we also stopped for the gorgeous Dochu La memorial.
A restaurant and clean toilet is available here. You can also visit the offbeat Wangdue Phodrang which is very close to Punakha. You can explore the Dzong and the streets of Wangdue Phodrang. It is best advised to book your trip with a travel agent such as Taurus travels
In a recent development, the National Assembly Of Bhutan has allowed 5 border towns to allow entry and exit to regional neighbours. The other borders which are open now are Samdrup Jongkhar, Nanglam, Panbang, Gelephu and Samtse. A flight from Guwahati (Bharat) to Yongphula (Bhutan) and Bumthang to Gelephu is also proposed. Though, I will still recommend the scenic ride from Phuentsholing to Paro or Thimphu. You need to travel from Bagdogra (has an airport) or New Jalpaiguri and Siliguri. All of these are Indian towns 3 hours road trip away from Jaigaon, the border town in India.
SOUL WINDOW TIP: I would recommend if you have some time, do stay back. But if you are short on time, a day trip from Paro or Punakha is possible.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUNAKHA
I stayed in a tent by the river. It was a wonderful experience. We even chilled our beer by making a makeshift mini fridge in the cold river. Please see picture. In case, you are not comfortable spending a night in tent, you can also opt for luxurious or mid budget accommodation. Though Punakha is a small town, there are many options here.
BEST TIME TO GO TO PUNAKHA
Though March to May is the best time to go to Punakha, I feel it’s a year round destination. I visited in April and then in August. Both were a good time to be in Bhutan. Avoid monsoon and extreme winter seasons though.
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