Bhutan: Punakha

2nd April 2013

Previous posts:
Flying to Paro

Today, we would leave Thimphu and head to Punakha which is 75 km away. It would normally take 3 hours to cover this distance but we need to visit few places on the way. Our guide gives his extra SIM that would ease the process of making calls to Home. ISD booths are fewer in number and calling from Hotel is expensive. And it is not easy to buy SIM card for non Bhutanese people (Update: It looks like the information I had was wrong. It is possible to get a SIM card by producing a copy of passport and entry permit). So this extra SIM would help as Bhutan has extensive cell coverage and the call rates from cell phone are nominal.

At the outskirts of Thimphu, we see Simtokha Dzong on the other side of the River. Constructed in 1629 by Zhabdrung, it is the oldest Dzong in Bhutan. Zhabdrung is known as the unifier of Bhutan.

The road from Thimphu meanders round the hills to climb to Dochula which is about 10,000 feet. At the top of the pass are 108 stupas built by the Queen Mother of the current king (5th King).

On a clear day, we could have seen the highest peaks of Eastern Himalayas. But we were not fortunate enough to feast it as the pass was covered by mist. A small consolation was that we would be coming back on the same way and hoped for a better weather (that never happened!!).

There is a story behind these 108 Stupas. Few terrorist organizations of North Eastern India had put up their camps in Southern Bhutan. Bhutan Government efforts to move them out peacefully went in vain. With pressure building up from India, Bhutan Government had little choice. In December 2003, Bhutan Army conducted operations resulting in destruction of all terrorist camps. Hundreds of terrorists were killed in the operation. These stupas were built in memory of its victory in 2003 military operations. 

The road from Dochula continuously winds down to Punakha valley situated at about 4000 feet. The area was dry and thanks to hot weather the extra layers that we had put on at Dochila were removed.

As we get down to the valley, we see a River to our left. On a hillock next to the River was Chimi Lhakhang, a monastery from 15th century. To reach the Lhakhang, we had to walk for about 30 minutes along agricultural fields. The monastery was established by Buddhist saint Drukpa Kunley. More popularly known as “Divine madman”, he adopted crazy methods of teaching which included sexual overtones. It is hard to understand his way of working but looks like he had lot of influence during those days!!

It is said that he subdued a demon of Dochula and trapped it in a rock. The rock is kept in the monastery.

After lunch at a nearby restaurant, we left to Punakha Dzong. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and the Dzong was an important administrative center.

It is situated at the confluence of Mo Chu and Pho Chu rivers.

Bridge across the river to connect to the Dzong.

Like in any Dzong, Punakha Dzong is also divided into administrative and religious sections.  All Dzongs and monasteries in Bhutan maintain dress code. Bhutanese people must be in their traditional dresses. Tourists are required to wear collared shirts and full length pants or skirts.

While coming out of Dzong, a lady from security section asked whether I could exchange my INR with Bhutanese currency. She was planning to visit Kolkata and was collecting Indian currency. Though both currencies are equally valued, one might have to pay commission to exchange currency. I obliged to her request and exchanged some money.

Our hotel was at Wangdue, few km from Punakha. As we neared the town, we could see the ruins of Wangdue Dzong. It was burnt down by an accidental fire a year ago. Efforts are on to restore the Dzong.  When we look at the history of Bhutan, there are frequent incidents of fire accidents.

Our stay was at Puna cottages situated next to the River overlooking new Wangdue town. 

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