Punakha is Bhutan’s old capital and its dzong is one of the oldest and scene of a famous festival each spring. The town’s two rivers are used for white-water rafting.
Sitting in the early morning at Dhumra Farm Resort overlooking the river and the dzong shrouded in mist way below us, with a scarlet minivet preening itself right in front of us - a memorable moment.
Punakha is a three hour drive east from Thimpu including the panoramic 3,100m Dochu La Pass. Punakha is set in a lush, rice-growing valley and its stand-out site is the dzong which has played an important role in the country’s history and contains grand ceremonial halls and a large courtyard where festivals are held. Popular outdoor pursuits include hiking in Punakha Valley and white-water rafting on the rivers.
- Bhutan’s finest dzong: The current building was constructed in the early 17th-century, the second oldest in the country, and during Punakha’s 300 years as the capital kings were crowned here. It houses sacred relics and is home to 1,000 monks. This beautiful building is the epitome of dzong architecture which you enter after crossing a covered wooden bridge, emerging into a world of formal halls, courtyards, grand doorways and wonderfully ornate carving and gilt work.
- White water rafting: Punakha is at the confluence of two rivers, the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu both of which are used for white-water rafting. There are many gently flowing stretches, ideal for first timers, where you have time to admire the scenery, as well as some grade II rapids for thrill-seekers.
- Festivals: The most famous of these is Punakha Drubchen which takes place each spring. It commemorates Bhutan’s victory over Tibetan invaders and is a lively affair involving warriors, monks, masked dancers and firecrackers, all in the magnificent main courtyard of the dzong. After this three-day festival comes Punahka Tshechu which culminates in the display of a large tapestry (thongdrol) of Guru Rinpoche, revered as the bringer of Buddhism to Bhutan.