The 76km (approx. 3 hour) drive from Thimphu to Punakha involves another windy hairpin-rich road with spectacular valleys and forests. Regular stops for appreciation of the view and wildlife may add to your journey time!
The Dochu La Pass is the highlight of this journey. The pass lies at 3140 metres, just before you start the long descent into the Punakha Valley, and at the pass there are a collection of 108 Chortens and a temple, built in 2005 to commemorate the expulsion of terrorists from Assam who were residing in the area. The forests, prayer flags, birds, rhododendrons, snow capped peaks (most reliably seen from October to March) and the Buddhist Chortens and temple make for a spectacular and atmospheric place for a break in your journey.
The Botanical Gardens are close to Dochu La Pass, and as they were newly opened in 2009 many plants still require some more growth before the gardens are fully established and a visit here becomes a real highlight.
Punakha was until 1955 the capital of Bhutan, and remains the winter residence of the monastic body. Two rivers meet at a junction just below Punakha Dzong – making for a dramatic and beautiful setting. There are many opportunities for trekking and exploring this area.
A short and easy can be also arranged through the valley, involving some fairly easy grade II rapids, and some more sedate waters – all suitable for children aged 6 and over. The trip begins at the bridge for the Khamsum Yuelley Mamgyal Chorten and either takes you down to just beyond the Punakha Dzong (approx. 1 hour) or further down river to the bridge at Wangdue Phodrang (approx. 2 hours). This rafting trip will not be covered in our normal daily rate, and a separate extra price will be quoted on request.
Punakha Dzong (1638) also known as ‘The Palace of Happiness’ was the second of Bhutan’s Dzongs and arguably the most beautiful. It stands dramatically at the junction of two (a male and female) rivers, from which it is under continual threat of flooding from far upstream glacial lakes. The adjacent cantilever bridge was replaced in its original style recently with international funding and technology following complete destruction in 1954.
Khamsum Yuelley Mamgyal Chortenlies 7km up the valley from Punakha, some way up a hillside. It is a pleasant hour's walk from the river crossing to reach it, through paddy fields and forest on a largely good path.
The Chorten was visualised out of Buddhist treasure teachings by Thragthung Dudjom Lingpa. It is a sacred religious edifice, which will help to ward off negative forces, promote peace, stability and harmony in a changing world, and is the only one of its kind in the world. The Chorten is also an esoteric embodiment of positive forces prevailing over all negative influences in the three forms of existence. According to Lamas, the Chorten is a quintessence of Buddhism and in various ways it will promote the health, happiness of the king and people thereby subjugating all evils.
After visiting the temple, an optional pleasant extension to the walk is available by carrying on along the river side back towards Punakha. This allows you to stroll past typical rural farmhouses, through more fields of vegetables, cereals and chillies, mixed woodland, and along the riverbank itself in order to appreciate the land and life here from a closer perspective.
Wangdue Phodrang Dzong lies 20km further south in the Punakha valley and is a dramatic and rather more weathered Dzong. It has survived without major damage by fire or floods and its un-restored state gives it its own unique character and a real taste of how life in Bhutan has proceeded for centuries.
The Dzong stands high on a hilltop above two confluencing rivers. Known colloquially as Wangdi, the town was Bhutan’s secondary capital city, although retains the character of a rural village. Building work is under way however to move the town several kilometres north on the eastern river bank to a more roomy, though less romantic setting. There is an important road junction in Wangdi, with one route heading south towards the lowlands and Indian border, and the main central road heading further east into Central Bhutan and the Bumthang Valleys.
For more information about Bhutan, please check our Bhutan country guide.
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