The three-hour drive from Paro to Punakha crosses over Dochula Pass at 3100 meters – site of the Druk Wangyal Chortens. The 108 chortens (stupas) commemorate Bhutanese soldiers who died in the 2003 war against insurgents from India. The vast majority of photos I had seen prior to visiting Bhutan were of monasteries and mountains. The incredibly fertile valleys and lush landscapes were a total surprise. Punakha is located at 1200 meters which makes it an ideal first stop for flat landers (those who reside near or at sea level). There are two major rivers: the Mo (mother) and Pho (father) that provide ample water for irrigation.
The climate is temperate in winter and fairly hot in the summer. The women wear their hair short to make it easier to farm. Rice is one of the main crops, but we hiked through fields of beans, peppers, corn, eggplant and so many others – a cornucopia of edibles. The exquisite decor on every building amazed us. This farmhouse was quite literally in the middle of nowhere. We were lucky to be in Punakha on market day and enjoyed seeing the vast array of produce.Prayer wheels and chortens (stupas) are omnipresent. Here a local woman is making a pilgrimage, circling the stupa in a clockwise direction and turning each prayer wheel on her way.
We hiked up to the Khamsum Yuelay Namgyal Chorten [NB photos are not allowed inside these structures but this link gives a vivid description of the treasures within] built in 2004 at the behest of the Queen Mother. Her intent was to bring peace to the world in general and clear obstacles in particular for the people of Bhutan.
Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1594-1651) known as Blue Beard (easily identified in paintings and statues by that trait) unified Bhutan in the 17th century. Sixteen Dzongs were built as religious, administrative and military fortresses throughout the kingdom. Punakha Dzong is widely considered to be the most beautiful. Certainly, the blooming jacarandas only enhanced this reputation.Punakha was the capital of Bhutan until 1955. The chief abbot still spends the winters there because of the milder climate.The dzong’s official name is Pungtang Dewa chhenbi Phodrang which translates as The Palace of Great Happiness or Bliss.
Proper attire is required when visiting Dzongs and Bhutanese men add a white shawl to their Gho (traditional male dress). Colorful paintings cover the exterior and entrance walls and are used as teaching tools in addition to their decorative value. The painting above shows one of the Four Guardian Kings: Dhritarashtra also known as the god of music.
Punakha Dzong contains three courtyards or Dorcheys. The first includes the Utse, or watchtower, which is six stories high.
The second courtyard includes the monks’ residences. Note the spectacular carvings and decorations.
The third and final courtyard houses the main temple. The magnificent paintings present important scenes from Buddhist history and are just a hint of the glorious interior. This temple has enormous cultural and historical significance and contains many sacred relics including the remains of Ngawang Namgyal. Many important ceremonies occur here including coronations and royal marriages.
From the everyday to the sublime, I hope you have enjoyed this post on Punakha. Please let me know in the comments section if you would prefer more photos, or more information. I would love to hear from you!