Punakha: Bhutan’s Gorgeous Valley Town - Be On The Road | Live your Travel Dream!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Punakha: Bhutan’s Gorgeous Valley Town

Buddhist Monk next to a colourful window at Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Lush paddy fields, a majestic dzong fortress, cantilever and suspension bridges, mud houses, green mountains and a gorgeous river confluence make up the landscape of this valley town. I am talking about Punakha, the winter capital of Bhutan and a very pretty valley town.

Punakha Dzong at the confluence of Mochu and Pochu rivers

This scenic valley town of Punakha is famous in Bhutan for the following reasons:

1) Its 17th century Punakha Dzong that is known as the palace of great happiness or bliss. It is the second oldest and the second largest dzong in all of Bhutan and is even listed in Bhutan’s tentative list for UNESCO inclusion.

2) It is where Ugyen Wangchuk, the first king of Bhutan was coronated.

3) It was the capital of Bhutan and the seat of government till 1955.

4) Its rice farming. The fertile valley of Punakha between the Pho Chhu (Male) and the Mo Chhu (Female) rivers grows some of the best red and white rice in Bhutan.

5) Its Punakha suspension bridge, the longest suspension bridge of Bhutan.

6) The gorgeous view of the confluence of the Pho Chhu and the Mo Chhu rivers with the Punakha Dzong in the middle.

7) The wedding location of the current king and queen of Bhutan.

8) Its annual Domche festival.

Monks on Punakha's Suspension Bridge

Unlike the rest of Bhutan, the Punakha valley is warmer and hence becomes the top place to visit in Bhutan in the winter season. It’s close proximity to Paro, Thimphu and the panoramic Dochu La pass give it additional brownie points.

Rice harvest time in the fields of Punakha, Bhutan

Like most of the cities of Bhutan, Punakha’s epicentre is the Punakha Dzong and that is where you should start your visit to Punakha and move out from there. The Punakha Dzong is absolutely massive and just walking around the dzong should take you a good half a day. In case there is an ongoing festival, do plan a full day at the dzong. The experience becomes much richer when you get to interact with the in-house monks and see how they go about their daily lives.

Cantilever bridge next to Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Once you are done with the dzong, do walk a bit forward towards Bhutan’s longest suspension bridge. Walk the entire length of this suspension bridge, feel the adrenalin rush and the strong gust of wind while admiring the pristine panorama all around you. If you head further after this bridge, you will come to the famous rice fields of Punakha and in all probability, you will see a lot of people going about their daily farm chores. If you wish, you can walk all the way to Wangdue Phodrang through village and farm trails or you can opt to return to Punakha.

Colourful window on Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Once you return to the Punakha Dzong and cross the wooden cantilever bridge, you can see the houses of the Punakha town. This is where the hotels, restaurants and shops exist. Further out are more fertile lands and paddy fields. And on one trail a bit further out, you will come across the stunning view of the Punakha Dzong and the confluence of the Pho Chu and the Mo Chu rivers. Somewhere enroute, you can catch locals playing a game of football. May be, you could join them too.

Buddhist Monk from the balcony of a temple in Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

While Punakha is certainly worthy of a day trip from Thimphu and Paro and as a pit stop on your journey to Trongsa or Bumthang, I think this scenic valley town deserves more time as it offers a different character to the other cities in Bhutan and that certainly beckons all culture and nature lovers. I certainly recommend this lush valley town of Bhutan. Do go there on your next holiday to Bhutan and let me know how what you think about it.

Game of soccer being played at Punakha, Bhutan

How to reach here:

The only way to reach Punakha is by road. It is well connected to Thimphu and Trongsa by the main Bhutan highway. Thimphu is about 85 kms away and it should take you about 3 hours. Shared taxis and buses are easily available. Commute can get slower if Dochu la pass is either snowed in or if there are any landslides enroute.

The nearest airport would be Paro at about 140 kms away.

Young Boys from Punakha, Bhutan

Are special permits needed for Punakha:

No special permits are required for Punakha, but if you are planning to head east from Punakha towards Trongsa or Bumthang, then you might have to get special permits from Thimphu.

The mighty Punakha Dzong of Bhutan

Where to stay:

There is one 4 star hotel and a few other small lodges to stay in Punakha. If you have your own mode of transportation, you might find more options to stay at Khuruthang, Walakha and Wangdue Phodrang. Stay options vary from homestays and budget lodges to 4 star boutique hotels.

You can also try your luck at staying inside one of the monasteries in Punakha and around.

Mythological creature at Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Where to eat:

There are a few restaurants in Punakha town where you can catch a bite to eat. However, they might be operational mainly during meal times. It is best to be aware of the timings well in advance.

Monks walk on a road leading to Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Best time to visit:

As Punakha is located at a lower elevation when compared to other cities in Bhutan, it can be comparatively warmer and sultrier than the rest of them. However, it never gets too warm here. Hence, you can visit this place all year around. It is best during the winters when the rest of the country is either snowed in or is very cold.

Local Man from Punakha, Bhutan

Other nearby tourist attractions:

1) Snow capped mountain ranges of Dochula pass

2) The capital city of Thimphu

3) Trongsa Dzong, the largest dzong of Bhutan

4) Hike to Wangdi Phodrang by the forest trail

5) Ritsha – the model rice growing village of Bhutan

6) Bumthang – the Switzerland of the East

7) The beautiful Paro valley and the iconic trek to Tiger’s Nest monastery

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