This picturesque little town, which once served as the capital of Bhutan’s Wangchuk rulers, will steal your heart away with its gorgeous Himalayan vistas, its adventure sports activities, its heritage structures and one of the most intriguing Bhutanese religious traditions. What you will also love about it that in these troubled times there is a beautiful shrine dedicated to harmony and prosperity not only in the country but even the world at large
Located near the confluence of the Mo and Pho Chhu, this fortress was built in1637. Also known as the Pungthang Dechen Phodrang Dzong, it’s become a popular selfie point. The structure is famous for its unaiue engineering skills, as not a single nail was used in the course of building it. A modern day highpoint of this historic venue was the wedding of the much loved King of Bhutan His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema . In the courtyard stands a solitary Bodhi Tree, the venerable Buddhist pilgrim point. The main hall features vibrant murals and gilded sculptures of Buddhist deitie .Monks can be seen deeply immersed in prayerful silence.
Suspension Bridge and River Riding
Since most of Bhutan’’s rivers are far too wild for water based activities, because of the steep mountain terrain , the rivers Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu, as they enter the Devil’s Gorge, are much milder have become popular for white river rafting even with novices. On a quieter part of the ride taking a selfie with the iconic Punakha Suspension Bridge, located high above the swiftly flowing Pho Chhu, believed to be the oldest in Bhutan has become almost de rigeur with rafters.
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten
The journey to the temple of the Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten will fill your heart with ease as pass through some of the loveliest trails in Punakha to a shrine dedicated to ward off evil spirits and create harmony in the kingdom. This purpose built temple was commissioned by the Queen Mother of Bhutan Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuk. The harmonious pagoda-style design and the smaller companion votive shrines of the temple are inspired by ancient Buddhist scriptures. The mountain top shrine has a beautiful courtyard. To enter the three-tiered chorten you need to slip off your shoes. As photography is prohibited you will need to capture its beauteous features on your memory lens. The stirring murals of myth-rich deities that line the walls will be the first to captivate the seeker of new experiences. Enclosed in glass enclosure is a highly detailed statue of a fearsome Vajrakilaya, one of the eight deities of Kagyé. The statue shows his most fearsome visage to the forces of evil as do the other deities depicted in the murals.
Clambering up the stairway you arrive on the terrace from where you can enjoy the most spectacular views of Punakha valley— a vibrant mosaic of rice fields watered by the winding river which reaches out to the blurring line of the far horizon. Unmissable is the stunning golden Buddha at the base of the stupa on the rooftop.
In Worship for the Blessings of the Mad Lama
On your travel around Bhutan thee’s one thuing you are unlikely to miss. Images in all form of the phallus keep popping up on village home walls, key chains and souvenir shops. A place to unravel this mystery is Punakha’s Temple of Fertility, also known as the Chimi Lhakhang Temple. Tye temple is dedicated to the revered monk, also known as the “Mad Lama” Drukpa Kunley, who is said to have with his penis fought back the evil spirits that had entered a young girl. All over Bhutan, the centuries old tradition of using the phallic image to ward off evil off the evil spirits is still evident everywhere.
Punakha Market Maze
Mingle with locals and enjoy the great vibe as you abandon yourself to some leisurely retail therapy in the lively Punakha market. Good buys are local souvenirs for friends and family back home, woolies, local artisanal jewellery and decorative items such as statues.
Punakha offers a rollercoaster ride to the adventurer in you. So abandon all preconceived notions about Bhutan and let Punakha show you its intimate world of many cultural, historic and culinary riches.