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PUNAKHA – Old Capital of Bhutan
Punakha in Bhutan served as the old capital of the country for the 300 years (17th to 19th century). It has a picturesque dzong and old world charm that makes it quite an exotic attraction. Located at a junction of Mo Chhu (mother river) and Pho Chhu (father river), the picturesque Punakha valley offers the simple farming side of the country.
Besides serving the center of royalty for the three centuries, the location also witnessed many momentous historical events like coronation of Bhutan’s first king in 1907 and the formation of Bhutan National Assembly in 1952. In fact, even the fifth and current king underwent a secret ceremony here at Punakha before a formal coronation in Thimphu.
The center of commanding authority and influence in Punakha is its dzong. It is the second oldest and also the second largest dzong in the country. The majestic structure of Punakha Dzong has even witnessed the wedding of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and his fiancé, Jetsun Pema. The city is also the winter home of the Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot of Bhutan’s Central Monastic body.
All such incidents here make the destination rich in heritage and history. If a traveller has to trace back the history of Bhutan, then the ideal base to start this discovery is through Punakha Tour. During their discovery, they can find out the legendary hospitality, old world charm and extensive rice farming in the dzongkhag district.
Punakha Dzong – Definitely the icon of Punakha and the upholder of its heritage, the dzong is renowned for beauty and appeal. Also known as Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong, the palace epitomizes great happiness or bliss Bhutan is famous for. The administrative center of the valley or dzongkhag, the structure has also hosts its own Tsechu festival.
How to visit Punakha
Punakha can be reached from the capital Thimphu (76 km away)
Best Time to visit Punakha
The months of March to May, i.e. spring season offers the best time to explore Punakha valley. Other season to explore the destination is from June to August and September to November.
Festivals of Punakha
Punakha Drubchen and Tsechu– Drubchen festival is associated with the legends and historical journey of Punakha. In the 17th century, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the unifier of Bhutan and the upholder of the country’s distinct cultural identity defended the very precious relic, the Ranjung Kharsapani from the Tibetan forces. This triumph was celebrated with a Drubchen celebration. Since then, the Punakha Drubchen became the annual festival and the cultural carnival of Punakha Dzongkhag.
The festival holds great importance since it enacts the scene from the legendary battle of Bhutanese with the Tibetans. The ‘pazaps’ or local militia men reenact the battle scene and give a chance for locals to celebrate the triumph, internal peace and stability of the region.
Other important festival of Punakha is Tsechu. Introduced by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley, the festival celebrates the Buddhist teachings in the dzong. This Tsechu was recently allotted in 2005 as a result of continuous requests made by Punakha District Administration and its local people. The festivities here reflect the rich culture, traditions and heritage of the region. Tourism wise, the festivals hold great importance where the visitors can visit the dzong and admire the rich Bhutanese cultural heritage.