Punakha is one of the 20 districts of Bhutan and it was the capital of the kingdom and the official seat of government till 1955 before moving it to Thimphu, the current capital. It is a town within the eastern Himalayas, west-central Bhutan. It lies over the sea level at a point where several streams meet to create the Sankosh River with an elevation of around 5,000 feet (1,500 meters). It shares borders with Thimphu, Wangdue, and Gasa districts. The most spoken language is the national language, Dzongkha.
Two of Bhutan’s main rivers meet in Punakha. At their confluence is the magnificent Punakha Dzong. The Punakha Dzong is one of the most historic dzongs in the whole Bhutan. It was built in the 17th century by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and it was the capital during his reign. The first king of Bhutan - Ugyen Wangchuck was crowned in Punakha Dzong in 1907 and chose it to be his presidential residence. Then the second king took the throne in Punakha Dzong in 1927. During the rule of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, the third king of Bhutan, he hosted the first National Assembly in Punakha Dzong, and built a lot of unique remarkable architecture here. One of these remarkable accomplishments is the Chemo Thondrol shown in the tshchu, a huge Thangka painting about the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. In 2011, the fifth King of Bhutan and the current King had his marriage ceremonies in Punakha Dzong, cherishing his love story with his wife. However, tracing the history of Punakha Dzong is quite challenging as it faced lots of attacks and natural catastrophes, like fires, earthquakes, and floods. That’s the reason why it is considered somehow a new-built architecture.
Punakha valley is well known in Bhutan for rice cultivating. Both red and white rice are planted along the river valley of Pho and Mo Chu, two of the main rivers in Bhutan. Ritsha (means the base of a hill) may represent a typical town in Punakha. The townhouses are made of mud with stone foundations with humble constructions of two stories. There are fruit gardens and rice fields like oranges, papaya, and organic vegetables around the houses. Recently, machines have taken over the cultivating work and it is power-tillers, replacing the bullocks which were used to plough the areas and villagers have gotten to be quite prosperous. This town is called the ‘rice bowl’ of Bhutan due to plenty of red and white rice.
Punakha is around 3 hour-driving by car from Thimphu, the capital. Being at this point, it has a lower altitude than Thimphu that gives it a milder climate in general than in Thimphu or Paro even in winter. Winters are milder not freezing and summers are warmer and pleasant. Punakha receives more rainfall than Thimphu in the monsoon period so the best time for visits will be from autumn to spring. June is when the summer starts and here comes the monsoon period in Punakha, peaking in July. The average temperature in summer varies from 27°C to 18 °C. In winter, the temperature average is from 18°C to 6 °C. The best time to pay a visit to Punakha is from October to April when there is much less rain and the temperatures are not as hot as in the usual summer months.
Enjoy your stay in this valley city which is in the hills to capture its magic, spirituality, and history as well. Besides Punakha Dzong and Ritsha Village mentioned earlier, you can still have more of Punakha’s experiences. Here are some of our suggestions that you can do while you're in Punakha:
Khamsam Yulley Namgyal Chorten
The Khamsam Yulley Namgyal Chorten is a lovely monastery that is built at an edge over the Punakha Valley. It's a four-story magnificent temple that was built by Bhutanese carpenters, painters, and sculptors in 9 years. Take the chance and have a view of the impressive architectural and artistic vision of the Bhutanese culture, typically the perfect spot to visit. The place has become a high point of interest as it is one of a kind in the world. The vast green rice fields also give you a sense of ease that can't be missed.
Punakha Suspension Bridge
The second-longest suspension bridge in Bhutan, Punakha Suspension Bridge is built over the Moment Chhu and Po Chhu rivers and is approximately 160-180 meters in length. It is a very old suspension bridge found in the world that connects Punakha Dzongkhag to the rest of the valley. It is believed that it was built by Thangtong Gyalpo and it has experienced a lot of renovations. It also has an architectural significance in the history of Bhutan because it was built to link the towns of Samdingkha and Wangkha. The bridge is an amazing spot for bird watching and photography, beautifully draped with prayer flags.
Jigme Dorji National Park
If you're a fan of nature spots, national parks, and reserves, so you're in the right place. Enjoy a visit to Jigme Dorji National Park which is definitely worth visiting. You can do bird watching tours with a variety of rare birds living here. Catch also the snow leopard, Bengal tiger, and Himalayan black bear.
Tip: Want to have some kind of adventure? Try to do the trekking trips in Punakha. It is one of the most popular and easiest journeys throughout the whole country. The slopes are gradual so it is not risky for hikers who may like to try it. You will go through the green landscapes and watch the golden rice fields.