Punakha was once the capital of Bhutan and hosted the first national assembly of the country in 1953. It is home to Punakha Dzong, the second oldest & largest dzong in Bhutan. When illuminated, the dzong looks like it were filled with shining gold. In fact, the festival of Punakha Drubchen is dedicated to it. It is also famous for housing the remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the man who unified Bhutan. Apart from the dzong, Punakha should be visited for its tranquillity and quaint surroundings that soothe the tired body and mind.
Verdant meadows, expansive terraces of paddy fields and two beautiful rivers meandering by, all these and more make Punakha one of the most gorgeous places in Bhutan. The quaint little town offers several things to tourists as part of a memorable sightseeing experience. The magnificent and regal ‘Punakha Dzong’ sits as a symbol and the most popular tourist attraction of the city.
Located at the junction of Pho and Mo Chhu rivers, and famous for its incredible architecture, no wonder it has been recognized as the most photogenic of all hill fortresses in the country. Those looking to get that picture perfect shot of the dzong as a remembrance of their holidays in Bhutan should check out the three photo points specially curated to serve the purpose.
Sightseeing in Punakha is not complete without visiting the splendid ‘Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten’, which makes for yet another must visit place when in the city. Perched atop a hill, it’s a gorgeous little temple offering panoramic views of the Punakha Valley beneath. What further adds to the charm of this sacred shrine, is a short hike through the scenic paddy fields which leaves every traveller with an experience soaked in profound peace and serenity.
If you are someone who loves going off the beaten track on a sightseeing excursion, the famous ‘Chimi Lhakhang Temple’ located amidst verdant paddy fields, makes for another interesting place to visit during your holidays in Punakha. Though an important sacred shrine for locals, it proves to be a bizarre experience for many tourists and outsiders, leaving them with an unusual spectacle of phallus adorned façade and walls. The ‘Punakha Suspension Bridge’ is another spot that is often missed out on a conventional traveller’s list. The 250 metres long bridge connects the Pho and Mo Chu rivers and provides for an unmatched thrill walking through deep silence that is only broken by the chirps of birds and waters gushing by.
Punakha has lately gained a reputation for being an adventure seeker’s paradise. Trekking, white water rafting and mountain biking have emerged as great attractions in recent times, inviting several extreme sports fanatics from across the globe. And in case an exhilarating wildlife excursion is on your minds, the famous ‘Jigme Dorji National Park’ sits just close by and allows you to witness rare species like the red panda, snow leopards and Himalayan black bear in action.
Spring (March to May) and Fall (September to November) are considered the ideal season to visit Punakha. Pleasant weather and cordial temperatures during these seasons provide a perfect ambience to go sightseeing or embark on a trekking expedition. Those looking for some great hotel deals, can also plan around monsoon, though outdoor activities during this time would just be limited to a few.
The most ideal and fastest way to reach Punakha is to book a flight to Paro International Airport and then hire a taxi or a bus to the erstwhile capital city. Those travelling by road must enter the country through Jaigaon-Phuentsholing border. Punakha is about 8 hours drive away from Phuentsholing, including a stopover at Thimphu for the permit arrangements.