Punakha, the former capital city of Bhutan and where the country’s first king was crowned at, is a place that has a regal yet peaceful aura. Sitting in the junction of Pho Chhu (Father River) and Mo Chhu (Mother River), the town is where Punakha Dzong, the winter residence of the official monk body is located. The low altitude of the picturesque valley makes for a subtropical paradise, with warm winters and hot summers which allow for an abundance of crops to flourish. If you’re travelling from Paro or Thimphu to Punakha, you’ll be treated to all kinds of flora, from rhododendron blooms, magnolias, cactuses to fruit trees along the way.
Built in 1637, Punakha Dzong is the second largest and second oldest dzong in Bhutan. All of Bhutan’s kings have been crowned here, and it is where the wedding of the King of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and his fiancée Jetsun Pema was held at in 2011. With its religious imagery, gilded statues, thangka paintings and elaborately painted gold, red and black carved woods, it’s a must-visit.
Known to natives as the “Fertility Temple”, women who seek to be blessed with children come to this small but singular monastery to seek blessings from the monks. Built in 1499 by Buddhist leader Drukpa Kuenley — also known as the “Divine Madman” — the saint advocated the use of phallus symbols, hence the phallic imagery found throughout the Kingdom. At the monastery, phallic images on the walls form the backdrop to prayer wheels, statues and slate carvings.
Built by the Queen Mother with the intention of bringing universal peace and ushering a bright future for Bhutan, the chorten is a graceful representation of Bhutanese architecture. Surrounded by rice fields near the Mo Chhu river, the temple is a short hike up a hill and offers spectacular views of Punakha.
Strap on that lifejacket and go for a bumpy ride in Punakha’s Pho Chhu (Father River) or Mo Chhu (Mother River). The changing scenery is varied and mesmerising as you cruise through the wide valley, past one of the queen’s winter residences, the king’s weekend retreat, beautiful farmland and finally, Punakha Dzong.