September 16, 2007
Punakha is located in a small tropical valley and its monastery is just between two rivers, Mo (female) and Pho (male). Notice the different colours of the rivers waters. To access it from Thimpu, you need to cross a pass in the mountains, Dochu La at 3050m. The roads are narrow and if even the toughest of travellers can be subject to motion sickness (I personally felt almost sick on the way back to Thimpu). The history of Punakha Dzong is as follows: a Tibetan monk, Guru Rinpoche, had recommended to build a monastery near an elephant-shaped mountain. One needs lots of imagination to see a sleepy elephant behind this monastery! Punakha Dzong was the second of Bhutan's dzongs and like all dzongs in Bhutan, built without any plans. The builders just used their imagination and did not use a single nail (Bhutanese houses and dzongs are all built without using nails!). Its construction started in 1637 and was completed the following year. It was named Druk Pungthang Dechen Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness). Later embellishments included the construction of a chapel to commemorate the victory over the Tibetans in 1639. The war material captured during the battle is preserved in the Dzong. For many years, until the time of the second king, it served as the seat of the government. Punakha is the place where kings are crowned and is still the winter residence of the Central Monk Body established by the Shabdrung with 600 monks. In summer, the monks go to the capital, Thimpu in Trashi Chho Monastery. The dzong was the seat of government when Punakha was the capital, and King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk convened the new National Assembly here in 1952. When the monks are away, it is possible to visit the Dzong and its main temple, where three walls are decorated with scenes from the life of Buddha. If you know the legend of Buddha, the paintings are visual enough for you to recognise most scenes (especially if you have seen Bertolucci's 'Little Buddha'). The remaining wall is decorated with head statues of lamas who lived in Punakha. It is not possible to see other rooms as they are out of access to non-Buddhists but you can admire the wall paintings outside the buildings and if you are lucky, your guide may show you some out-of-access rooms if there is no one around. The visit is part of a package tour (200 USD per day -see my overview-) and the Dzong can only be visited with an official guide.
From journal Minitrip to Bhutan