Punakha is the administrative center of Punakha dzongkhag, one of the 20 districts of Bhutan. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan and was the seat of government until 1955 when the capital was moved to Thimphu. It is about 72 kms from Thimphu and about 3 hours by car from the capital Thimphu. Unlike Thimphu, it is quite warm in winter and hot in summer. It is located at an altitude of 1,200 meters above sea level and rice is grown as the main crop along the river valleys of Bhutan’s two main rivers, Pho Chu and Mo Chu. Dzongkha is widely spoken in this district.
Places to visit in Punakha
Strategically located at the confluence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, the dzong was built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the administrative and religious headquarters of the area. It was here that the dual system of government was introduced in the 17th century and in 1907 the first king Gongsr Ugyen Wangchuck ascended the throne. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the dzong has been fully restored in recent years by the 4th King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. At dzong, enrich your trip with the chance to see the highest standards of carpentry. Don’t miss the massive Kuenray, the coronation hall of all the kings of Bhutan, the Dzongchung at the entrance to the dzong, and the recently renovated cantilever bridge over Mochu.
On a high ridge and in the upper part of the Punakha valley is the temple of Khamsum Yuley. It was built by Azhi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck for the golden reign of the Fifth King. The builder of the temple under Azhi Tshering Yangdon was Lam Kuenzang Wangdi. Arriving at the temple, the first thing we can see is the Bodhi tree planted by Dorji Lopen. And there are 108 stupas including 8 types of chorten and 100 namgyel stupas around the temple. Looking at the temple, there are four shops.
1. The ground floor has a statue of Phurpa Namchag Pudri. (Phurpa Yabyum).
2. The second floor has statues of Khamsum.
3. The 3rd floor has statues of Gongdhue, Kagyu and Kangsha.
4. The top floor has Sakymuni Buddha statue. The Buddha statue was shaped by Nepalese sculptor Pentsa Deva, who is said to be the reincarnation of Tuelpi Zow Baluep. It was brought from Kuenrey of Punakha Dzong. To his right is a disciple of Buddha Maugyalyana and to his left is Shariputra.
Chimi Lhakhang, which is dedicated to the legendary Drukpa Kinley Lama (known as the Mad God). The monastery is also revered as a fertility sanctuary. Legend has it that couples wishing to have children from all over Bhutan and sometimes abroad were blessed with a child after visiting the temple – Japanese and some American couples came visited this temple and was miraculously blessed.
Punakha Suspension Bridge
As the second longest suspension bridge in Bhutan, the Punakha Suspension Bridge is located on the Mo Chhu and Po Chhu (river) rivers and is about 160-180 meters long. It is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the world connecting Punakha Dzongkhag with the rest of the valley. Believed to have been built by Thangtong Gyalpo, the bridge has undergone many years of remodeling. It is an integral part of the architectural history of Bhutan as it was built to connect the villages of Samdingkha and Wangkha by the kings of Wangchuk. The bridge is beautifully hung with prayer flags and is a great spot for bird watching and photography. Although solidly built, it shakes when the wind blows, and that’s when the thrill is at its peak.
Bhutan has only one international airport in Paro, which is regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous airports. Owing to this reason, only a few certified pilots are allowed to fly in and out from here. There are straight as well as connecting flights (via Nepal) from India to Bhutan. Cities like Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Siliguri and Gaya have regular flights to Bhutan. In fact, Druk Air even operates flights from Bangkok, Singapore, Dhaka and Kathmandu to Paro. On reaching Paro, one can take a local taxi till Punakha.
Jaigaon town in West Bengal serves as the most common point if you wish to travel via road. It is located around 4 km from Phuentsholing, which is the border town of Bhutan. Once in Bhutan, you can continue your drive to Punakha.Another option is to take a bus from Esplanade station in Kolkata till Phuentsholing. Once here, you can take a taxi or a local bus to reach Punakha
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