You will always love Punakha for its variety of cultural wealth created by the country’s history. This district, levelling from 1300m at the valley floor rises to almost 3000m around Dochhula pass, served as the capital of Bhutan from 1637 till 1907. The dzong of Punakha is historically important as the symbol of unified Bhutan.
- Punakha Dzong
- Khamsum Yueling Temple
- Talo Excursion
- Chorten Ningpo
- Chimi Lhakhang
- Nalanda Buddhist College
- Sangchen Dorji Lhundrup Nunnery
Returning downhill through the valley we have an exploration of the massive architectural structure of the 17th-century Punakha Dzong. Punakha Dzong or Punthang Dechen Phodrang, was strategically built at the confluence, the river island between the mighty Phochu and Mochu Rivers in Punakha. While the rivers provided natural defense against invaders, it did not obstruct the view of the Dzong. The imposing structure, the biggest and the most magnificent of its kind at that particular point in time, was visible from all four sides. The construction of Punakha Dzong on the strategic location was completed in 1637 AD and it represented the supreme flowering Bhutanese art and architecture. A visit to the Punakha Dzong also presents an opportunity to see or hear the resident monks during their daily prayers, see the impressive Punakha Dzong, home to the remains of Bhutan’s first ruler, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, and the winter residence of the monastic order’s leader and his entourage of monks.
Khamsum Yueling Temple
There is no temple in Bhutan built elaborately as this. This is a great temple to study the symbolic meanings from frescoes and sculptures. The chorten was built to remove negative forces and promote peace, stability and harmony in Bhutan & the world. The Chorten dominates the upper Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond. The view of the valley and the surrounding snow-capped mountains are stunning, the setting of the chorten is idyllic, the atmosphere tranquil and the interior artwork depicting the teaching of Dudjom Rinpoche are magnificent. Linger long at this chorten, relaxing and simply appreciating the harmonious beauty of the location.
Monasteries throughout the country and the ever-present red-robed monks indicate the important role that Buddhism plays in almost every aspect of Bhutanese life. Every district in the country has a Dzong which houses the official monk body and several temples. And every village has a temple, around which the life of the community revolves. Stroll around the community temple and take a leisurely walk down through the village centre. The concept of the Village Walk is to facilitate an authentic ’underfoot’ experience and provide a ’snapshot’ of rural life in the Himalayan Mountains of Bhutan. As an honored guest, the locals are keen to share their way of life with you.
The Monastery of Chorten Nebu, built in the eighteenth century is a little known treasure, with its magnificent statue of Maitreya (the future Buddha) and fine images of the great lamas of the Drukpa Lineage. According to legend, this magical spot was once a dense forest inhabited by evil spirits. One day, the Divine Madman, Drukpa Kunley arrived here when all the demons were gathered together in meeting. He hurled a blazing log into the gathering and all the evil spirits were scorched to death. The great oak tree outside the monastery is said to have grown out of the blazing log that the Divine Madman threw and interestingly, its bark is still dark, burnt down. People use the bark to bring them good-luck talisman.
In 2005 the Monastery started housing poor orphans from the nearby village and founded a small Buddhist educational institution for these little monks, a place where the children can study both traditional Buddhist scriptures and texts, and also learning Western subjects such as English, math and science in order to be equipped to survive in the modern world, whether as a monk or a lay person.
The walk to Chorten Ningpo passes through several villages. Many visitors love this walk in summer and in autumn. In summer the rice fields are lush and gardens are filled with multitudes of vegetables and fruits. Likewise autumn enchants visitors with the golden hue of ripening rice. For adventure loving hard core walkers we recommend a detour to Hokotso, a lowland lake that holds many legends.
A half an hour walk across a local village and rice fields from the road head, the temple was built in 1499 and is located on a hillock in the centre of the valley. It is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kunley, who in the late 15th century used humor, songs and outrageous behavior to dramatize his teachings and hence is also known as the “Devine Mad Man. Do not miss the master’s deeds painted on the walls.
Nalanda Buddhist College
On your way back from Talo village to Punakha you have a choice to pay a visit to Nalanda Buddhist College. Chat up with monks in English; the monks here are dying to practice the new language they learn. Meet the reincarnate Tulku (if in residence) to talk about meditation, the processes of meditation and its importance in daily Buddhist practice.
Sangchen Dorji Lhundrup Nunnery
While in recess at Mesina on his journey to Thimphu from Punakha, the late Je Khenpo Geshe Gueden Rinchen was said to have looked at a hilltop facing him, and predicted a monastery would be built there one day. That was a decade or so ago. Today perched on a ridge amid pine trees and overlooking valleys of Toebesa, Punakha and Wangduephodrang, gleams the magnificent structures of Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup lhakhang.
The nunnery complex, consisting of 70 rooms, started with 41 nuns in October 2010. The complex is a model nunnery. The nunnery compound houses a permanent higher learning and meditation centre for nuns where, apart from religious trainings, it provides life skill trainings such as tailoring, embroidery, statue making and thanka painting.