Punakha is the administrative centre of Punakha dzongkhag, one of the 20 districts of Bhutan. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan and the seat of government until 1955, when the capital was moved to Thimphu. It is about 72 km away from Thimphu and it takes 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 elevation of 1,200 metres above sea level and rice is grown as the main crop along the river valleys of two main rivers of Bhutan, the Pho Chu and Mo Chu. Dzongkha is widely spoken in this district. Punakha Dzongkhag has been inextricably linked with momentous occasions in Bhutanese history. It served as the capital of the country from 1637 to 1907 and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. Punakha Dzong is not only the second oldest and second largest dzong but it also has one of the most majestic structures in the country.
October 13, 2011 marked an unforgettable wedding of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck to Jetsun Pema which was held at Punakha Dzong. Punakha Dzong was built at the confluence of two major rivers in Bhutan, the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu, which converge in this valley. It is an especially beautiful sight on sunny days with sunlight reflecting off the water onto its white-washed walls. In addition to its structural beauty, Punakha Dzong is notable for containing the preserved remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the unifier of Bhutan as well as a sacred relic known as the Ranjung Karsapani. This relic is a self-created image of Avalokiteswara that miraculously emerged from the vertebrae of Tsangpa Gyarey, the founder of the Drukpa School when he was cremated.
Built at the junction of Phochhu and Mochhu by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, it stands as the symbol for a unified Bhutan. It was built in 1637 to serve as the religious and administrative seat of the region. Presently it serves as the winter residence for the central monk body and administration centre for the district. Although the dzong went through massive destruction because of GLOF it has been fully restored to its original splendour. The beautiful dzong is considered the most beautiful in the country and the woodworks seen here are of the highest standards. The dzong has a Kuenray, chamber, where the Kings of Bhutan are crowned. In 1907, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck was crowned as the first king of Bhutan in Punakha Dzong. The most sacred relics of the Southern Drukpa Kagyu School including the Rangjung Kasarpani, and the sacred remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Terton Padma Lingpa are in this dzong. Starting from the cantilever bridge over Mochhu to the lake behind the dzong and the dzong surroundings, everything is awe-inspiring.
Located at the edge on the northern side of Punakha valley is a four storey temple called Khamsum Yueling Monastery. Khamsum Yueling Monastery was built under the commandment of Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Tshering Yangdon Wangchuck in 1999 to promote world peace and for the sound health and long life of the King. Sited over the suspension bridge overlooking the beautiful paddy field, the unique chorten shape of Khamsum Yueling Monastery has attracted tourist traveling to Punakha towards it. Khamsum Yueling Monastery took over nine years for the completion and is considered one of the finest structure to be found in Bhutan region. The uphill trek through the paddy field and verdant forest is another added charm which has lured travelers towards Khamsum Yueling Monastery. Khamsum Yueling Monastery is a splendid example of Bhutan’s fine architectural and artistic traditions and the only one of its kind in the world. The fine details and mural adorning the interior and exterior wall and pillar of the Khamsum Yueling Monastery has mesmerized and bewitched the mind of tourists visiting the astounding monastery.
Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) is located in the North-western part of Bhutan. Measuring approximately 4,316 km2 (or 431,600 ha) ,the second largest natural preserve in the country and one of the richest in terms of cultural and biological diversity among the protected areas. It is one of the oldest national parks in the country. It was established in 1974 as a wildlife sanctuary in memory of the late Third King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk. It was then covering the entire Northern strip of the country. Later in 1993, after the major revision of protected area system in the country it was upgraded to national park and the boundary of the park was greatly reduced and was confined to only north western part of Bhutan. JDNP is one of Bhutan's conservation jewels. It is the home to many globally endangered species of flora and fauna, such as Tiger, Snow leopard, Asiatic wild dog Himalayan musk deer etc. A distinct culture of Layap, a semi nomadic community is also preserved in the park. It is a conservation heritage of culture and nature in harmony.
The Punakha Suspension Bridge is located very much near to the Punakha Dzong and is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan built above the Po Chu river. The bridge is broad and built in a very nice way and you will be amazed to see that it doesn’t shake so much which can cause a sudden amount of panic among the tourists. The bridge also connects to the nearby villages. There are mountains surrounding the bridge from all the sides which also gives a breathtaking view. Enclosed by the mountainous Bhutan hill, Punakha Suspension Bridge is decked with vibrant prayer flags and traditional Buddhist garland. Connecting the Punakha Dzong with the Punakha town, Punakha Suspension Bridge spans 350m and dangles above the meandering mountain river, Po Chhu.
Chhimi Lhakhang is located on a small hillock and it takes 15 minutes to walk to the temple through a lush rice field. It is believed that Lam Drukpa Kuenley killed a demoness, turned into a dog and buried it under the mound of a hill. He then said ‘chi-med’ meaning no dog and built a black stupa on that. Lam transformed the demoness into a guardian and protector of the Buddha and gave her a new name, Chhoekim, meaning the one converted to religion. Chhoekim is the guardian deity of Chimi Lhakhang. The fertility temple is visited by couples who have problem conceiving and they have been blessed miraculously with children. Couples are blessed by a replication of the iron bow and arrow of Drukpa Kuenley, his scriptures and the phallus.
Nestled on the foothills of Eastern Himalayan region in the former capital Punakha is the rice bowl of Bhutan, Ritsha Village. Ritsha village of Punakha valley is along the confluence of the two major rivers which is fed by the glacier, Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu. Surrounded by lush valley dotted with alpine forest, Ritsha Village is an essential hamlet of Bhutan which is known for its rich production. The village has derived its name from the Bhutanese language where the word “Ritsha” means “at the base of hill”. The rural setup of Ritsha Village has become a prime attraction for the tourists visiting the regal Punakha Valley.