Places to Visit in Punakha, Bhutan

Places to Visit in Punakha, Bhutan

Capital of Bhutan until 1955, the city of Punakha is located at a height of 1200m above sea level, and girdled by both the main rivers of the country, the Mo Chu and Pho Chu. Facing greater polarities in the weather as compared to the rest of Bhutan, the city is host to some incredible historic sites and religious locations. Amongst the must-see features of Punakha are – 

  • Punakha Dzong – The second largest and second oldest Dzong of Bhutan, this fortress is an epic representative of the stunning Himalayan architecture present throughout the country, and dates back to the 17th century. Included in Bhutan’s tentative list UNESCO inclusion, the Dzong is more than just a splending – it houses numerous sacred relics of the Kagyu school of Buddhism. The Dzong thus provides a rich spiritual and historical experience. Alongside, the Dzong’s location makes it an even more appealing visit. Located between the two rivers of Punakha, the fortress is surrounded by stunning natural beauty.
  • White Water Rafting – While Bhutan is known for its natural beauty and numerous treks, even adrenaline seekers have something in store for them. The river Mo Chu’s waters in Punakha make a perfect sport for white water rafting. Ranging from five to thirteen kilometers, these rapids promise a great experience for the entire group.
  • Jigme Dorji National Park – Spread over several districts including Punakha, the Jigme National Park is one of Bhutan’s prominent attempts to help conserve its varied biodiversity. Another site in Bhutan’s tentative UNESCO list, the park is known for its diversity of both plants and animals, the latter of which includes bears, tigers, snow leopards and blue sheep. The park is also noted for the great opportunities it provides for bird viewing. The famous and beloved black-necked cranes can also be seen in the park during their migratory visit beginning October.

  • Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten – Commissioned in 2004 by the Queen Mother of Bhutan to ward off evil and promote world peace, this Chorten is a great example of how even modern constructions of Bhutan continue to honor classical ways and designs. The Chorten is reached through a moderate forty minute hike through lush green paddy fields. As beautiful as the way itself is, the view from the top is even more stunning – the entire Punakha valley can be seen from the top, including the river Mo Chu meandering through the hills. 
  • Koma Tsachu – The fields of Bhutan seem to know that there is a lot of trekking involved here, and has compensated for it well. Located at a drive of two hours from the city of Punakha are the Koma Tsachu hot springs. Though requiring a trek of two hours, the effort is completely worth experiencing the invigorating waters of the hot springs. The site is also equipped with compartmentalized rooms, solar lighting, and spaces for camping tents, thus ensuring that you can truly relax and unwind.
  • Punakha Suspension Bridge – The second largest suspension bridge in the country is the Punakha suspension bridge, which is both a tourist attraction and a route of daily commute for locals. The bridge itself is reached through a walk of twenty minutes. Lined with prayer flags, the chain-metal bridge is an excellent spot for some memorable photographs. 
  • Sangchhen Dorji Nunnery – A monastery run by nuns, the Sangchhen Dorji Nunnery, the site is located on the top of a hill in Punakha. Noted for the cleanliness in both the temple and atmosphere, the simple white temple and stupa have a peaceful charm of their own. Interacting with the nuns to know about their life and philosophy would certainly be rewarding, but if all you wish to do is sit and enjoy the peace and views, you time would definitely be well spent. 
  • Royal Botanical Gardens – The first botanical gardens of Bhutan are picture perfect, with the wild natural Himalayan beauty carefully cultivated and maintained. Home to numerous species of plants and animals, the gardens become truly enchanting when visited in spring, as the rhododendrons and other flowers are in full bloom during the time. Even out of season however, the place is perfect for both nature photography and envy-inducing social media updates.
  • Dochula Pass – Located on the road between the old capital and new, the Dochula pass has an elevation of 3100m. While it may be worth it to stop your ride simply for the view of the valleys on both sides of the road, the pass has an additional visit-worthy feature in the form of the 108 Druk Wangyal Chortens, built by the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk. If the weather is clear, the pass will also give commuters a great view of the Gangkar Puensum, Bhutan’s highest mountain peak. 
  • Chimi Lakhang – According to legends, this temple was built to commemorate the defeat of a demoness by the monk Drupa Kunley. Both the legend and the temple dates back to the 14th century. The site may contain explicit drawings – Drupa Kunley was known as the ‘mad divineman’, who often used outrageous tactics such as humor and singing with sexual overtones to propagate the ideas of Buddhism. Thus, while the visit may be a little uncomfortable for some, it would definitely be an interesting one if you chose to learn about this mad saint.

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