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It’s no wonder that Punakha was the winter capital for centuries, and the monastic order still gravitates here in the winter months; the Punakha Valley is a true jaw-dropper. Two glacial rivers intersect the valley, and at their convergence lies the town of Punakha and the beautiful, golden-domed Punakha Dzong, which is among the oldest and most beautiful in the country. At one of the lowest altitudes in Bhutan, Punakha also has a much milder, warmer climate, and the rice-terraced landscape is interspersed with village orchards blossoming with mangoes, papayas and oranges. This is the market garden of Bhutan.

Three things to do in Punakha

Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...

Enjoy the journey...

The drive from Thimphu to the Punakha Valley is only 50 miles, but takes three hours winding along the precipitous mountain roads. The most memorable moment of this impressive journey is the pause at the Dochula Pass, which is festooned with colourful prayer flags that flutter in the breeze. On a clear day, the Himalayan views are absolutely sublime, and on occasion you can see as far as Gangkhar Puensum: Bhutan’s highest mountain. Beside the road are 108 stupas paying tribute to fallen soldiers, and circumambulating them is a good way to stretch your legs and bring good fortune for the journey ahead. Keep your eyes open for the occasional yak making its way towards fresh pasture, and local mud houses perched above the riverbank.

Punakha, Bhutan

Majestic dzongs and miniature monasteries

The monk-tastic Punakha Dzong, meaning ‘Palace of Great Bliss’, ranks among Bhutan’s finest architectural achievements. Many priceless treasures and religious relics are housed in the elaborate temples, halls and courtyards of this imposing six-storey structure. Designed to protect against invasion, the Dzong is located at the convergence of Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu, and accessed over a traditional cantilever bridge. It’s particularly picturesque during spring, when the whitewashed walls brilliantly reflect the sunshine and the surrounding jacaranda trees are in full bloom. At the other end of the size spectrum, Chimi Lhakhang, a small Buddhist monastery near the village of Lobesa, is said to have been blessed by the ‘Divine Madman’ himself, Drukpa Kunley, and childless couples regularly come to the monastery to seek blessings.

Punakha, Bhutan

Religion and art

On the northern side of the valley, the beautiful Khamsum Yueling Monastery was commissioned by the Queen Mother of Bhutan to promote world peace, and rewards visitors with its intricate deity murals and yab-yum fertility figurines. Atop another pine-clad ridge overlooking Punakha is the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup nunnery. As part of their religious study, the nuns here learn embroidery, sculpture and the ancient art of thangka painting. Throughout the Punakha Valley you will encounter some rather unusual and prominent phallic imagery, often painted on houses. This tradition originates with the Lama Drukpa Kunley (the ‘Divine Madman’) who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan, and is said to ward off evil and bring fertility. Whilst they can be rather startling motifs, they make interesting conversation-starter photo opportunities!

Punakha, Bhutan

We think you may like this journey…

crossing the river at Gangtey

Foothills of Bhutan

Find peaceful moments in monasteries and temples, and experience Paro’s distinctive, small-town feel. Wander through Bumthang’s green fields and Phobjikha valleys where the Black Necked Cranes land.

Price from: £3,490 US$4,390
Ideal length 11 days
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Bhutan Journey

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