Punakha is the least elevated of Bhutan's central valleys and famous for its benign climate in which fruit trees flourish within sight of the snow-crested Himalayan Mountains. The valley is about 3 hours drive from Thimphu town and is famous for the picturesque Punakha Dzong which is one of the most photogenic Dzongs of Bhutan.
Punakha is a Dzongkhag (district) in Bhutan. The Dzong (Fortress) located close to Kuruthang town is also the ancient capital of Bhutan.
All tourists need to get special permission for visiting Punakha which is issued from Thimphu. From Thimphu, the Dechhem Lam (Road) will take you to Simtokha from where tourists have to take a diversion towards the north. The road from Simtokha winds into pine forests and through small villages for 20 Kms and then open miraculously onto the northern ridge of the mountains. About 30 km from Thimphu you would be passing through Dochula, a 3150-meter pass which is also the highest point in the drive. The view over the Himalayas at Dochula pass, at 10500 feet (3150m), is one of the most spectacular in all Bhutan. Within sight of the alpine snow are a magnificent canvas of color - a profusion of red, pink, white, yellow and purple rhododendron blossoms splashed amongst the soft green of wild herbs, and forest trees. The road throughout has dense virgin forests on both sides. From Pajo a left turn would soon take to you Punakha.
What to See
The Punakha Dzong is the main attraction around here. The Dzong is also known as Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong. This Dzong was constructed in 1631. The Dzong is located on a spit of land just above the junction where the rivers Pho Chuu and Mo Chuu meet to form river Sankosh. The Dzong remains the main attraction for tourists visiting Punakha. In 2011 the Dzong was the site for the royal wedding of Bhutan. The Dzong is also the center of the administrative district of Punakha.
Just a couple of kilometers before the Punakha Dzong lies Kuruthang town. The small town with well-organized roads is a nice place for evening shopping.
Wangdue Phodrang Dzong
The Wangduphodrong Dzong, located about 15 km from the Punakha Dzong. This Dzong was also built in the year 1638. It overlooks the Sankosh river from a hilltop. The Dzong was in ruins and was being rebuilt with support from the Indian government. However, on 24th June 2012, a fire destroyed the entire Dzong. The Bhutan government is planning to reconstruct it again. Bhutan had submitted the Dzong to be considered as a World Heritage Site before the accident occurred.
Khamsum Yuley Lakhang
This is a temple built by the Bhutanese queen that is about 8 km ahead of Punakha Dzong. After the motorable road, you need to hike for about half an hour to reach here.