Sunday, 16 July 2017

Punakha, Bhutan Diaries - 7


While planning the trip to Punakha , I was constantly in confrontation with a doubt...whether to allot a night stay at Punakha or make it a day trip from Thimpu. After doing a lot of reading and analysis on the distance and weather I finally decided that we will keep Punakha as a day trip from Thimpu. Also the temperature in Punakha is much more than that of Thimpu or Paro, so in June it does not make much sense to spend a day. Maybe during the winter months the scenario would have been different.

Distance from Thimpu to Punakha is not much, around 90 km. We started early as usual to avoid the touristy crowd. The road goes via Dochulla Pass. 'La' means a mountain pass and Dochula is situated at an elevation of 3100 metres above sea level on the Thimpu Punakha Road. The pass is also famous for the Druk Wangyal Chortens or the 108 stupas arranged in 3 layers on a hillock at the pass. On a clear morning, the entire Bhutan Himalayan range can be seen from here but most of the time the weather remains foggy and cold.We also could not see the Bhutan Himalayan range at the time of going or coming back because of the fog.

Dochulla Pass

Dochulla Pass

Dochulla Pass

Dochulla Pass

Dochulla Pass

Opposite to the Druk Wangyal Chortens is the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang which is a temple built as a memorial to commemorate the Bhutanese causalities in the Assamese militant conflict. The interior of the temple has modern paintings related to modern Bhutanese culture such as airplanes, monk with laptop etc.

Druk Wangyal Lhakhang


From the road we saw the small Chimi Lhakhang village famous for the Chimi Lhakhang monastery and also for the houses which have elaborate and decorative paintings of phallus on the walls. Our driver Ugyen told us that we will come to the Monastery later on our way back.

We reached Punakha Dzong, the most beautiful dzong in Bhutan. It is situated at the confluence of the Pho Chhu (father) and Mo Chhu (mother) rivers in the Punakha–Wangdue valley.  The source of the Mo chu river is in the northern hills of Lighsi and Laya in Bhutan and the Po Chu River is glacier fed. After both the rivers join at Punakha, they form the main river  known as Puna TsangChu and flows  through Wangdue Phodrang, crosses the Bhutan–India border at Kalikhola and eventually meets the Brahmaputra River in India.

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

The Punakha Dzong is one of the most photographed dzong in the world for its beauty. We saw beautiful and vibrant jacaranda and bougainvillea blooms all around the dzong. We had to cross a small wooden bridge over the Mo Chu river to enter the dzong. From the bridge,we saw a group of tourists doing water rafting in the Mo Chu river.. They waved at us and we waved them back.

The dzong was the administrative capital of Bhutan till 1955 after which the capital was shifted to Thimpu. However the dzong still holds its glory. Now it is the administrative capital of Punakha district and the second largest dzong in Bhutan.

We had to climb a small wooden staircase to enter the dzong. The security personnel did a customary bag check and allowed us to get in. The architecture inside is very very beautiful with wooden staircases, railings, floors and wall paintings. There are two levels of courtyards. Administrative offices are in the first courtyard while monks hostels are on the second courtyard. There is also a very old Bodhi tree in the centre. The dzong also houses a big temple.

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong
Punakha Dzong

Inside Punakha Dzong

Inside Punakha Dzong

Inside Punakha Dzong

Inside Punakha Dzong

The next place of interest was the suspension bridge that is very near to the Punakha Dzong.It is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan and is built on the Pho Chu river. It swings pretty well when the winds are strong and that can give a panic attack to any tourist.

Suspension Bridge

Suspension Bridge

Suspension Bridge

We had our lunch at Lingar Hotel. They took a lot of time to serve us but the food was amazing. Their food items had a good mix of Bhutanese and Indian (strictly speaking Bengali) spread.

Next we headed towards the Chimi Lhakhang Monastery. This monastery is famous because of a Bhutanese divine madman who used unconventional teaching methods to create awareness on Buddhist teachings . As per legend, women used to seek blessings from the divine madman named Drupka Kunley in form of sex. He wanted to spread the message that a pure monks life can be lead even by not following celibacy. He is also referred to as the 'fertility saint' and he was the one who introduced the phallus painting as a religious symbol to ward of evil.Our car went through the small Chimi Lhakhang village. There are not too many houses in the village but all have paintings of phallus on their walls. There are shops selling wooden phallus souvenirs.

To reach the Chimi Lhakhang Monastery we had to trek a little. The monastery is pretty simple and has a big prayer wheel at the entrance. There is also a small ground where there are benches for visitors to sit and relax. The place is also very windy. Far away we could see the vast green fields and the hills.
Chimi Lhakhang

Chimi Lhakhang

Chimi Lhakhang village

Chimi Lhakhang

Short trek to Chimi Lhakhang

Chimi Lhakhang


Layers in agriculture at Chimi Lhakhang

Chimi Lhakhang village

Wooden handicrafts shops

Paintings of holy phallus on walls of houses


Paintings of holy phallus on walls of houses
Chimi Lakhang

On the way back we crossed the Dochulla Pass once more but did not stop since we took the same road in the morning. Just before entering Thimpu we saw the Simtokha Dzong but we did not enter. It is a small dzong and currently it is the Dzongkha ( the national language of Bhutan )language learning institute.

Simtokha Dzong

On the way we stopped at a good vantage point from where the city of Thimpu looked magical in the evening sun light. We reached hotel and called it a day.

Thimpu while returning back

Thimpu city from a view point

We kept aside the next day in Thimpu for relaxing and shopping. We wanted to absorb the vibes of Thimpu by just being in Thimpu and doing nothing. Sometimes that is so energizing.

Do watch our vlog on Punakha. Do LIKE, SUBSCRIBE and SHARE to show us that you love.



Important Information:
Places we covered in the same day tour to Punakha and back
1)Dochulla Pass
2)Druk Wangyal Lhakhang
3) Punakha Dzong
4) Chimi Lhakhang
5) Lobesa Village
6) Simtokha Monastery

Car charges for the entire trip: 3500 Ngultrum

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Thimpu and around, Bhutan Diaries - 6



Our plan for the day was to return to Thimpu from Paro. As I have already mentioned in one of the previous blog posts, we had to change our travel plan because of a national holiday falling on Friday. Since that made three consecutive holidays in Thimpu, we had to shift to Paro, because on holidays everything (starting from Permit Office to any public entity)  is closed in Bhutan. So, now that Paro is fully done along with Tiger Nest trek, we planned to return to Thimpu to do our remaining tour.

We had already informed Hotel Ghazel the day before that we would be coming back. They confirmed us that rooms would be ready. On this day, our driver Ugyen would not be available for the entire day. He has to drop a Japanese tourist to the airport in the evening. So he told us that he would drop us till Thimpu and then ask his friend Yeshey to take us for city sight seeing.

We started from Paro at around 7:30 AM. It did not take us long to reach Thimpu. Our plan for the day was to first stop by the Immigration Office in Thimpu. We required permit for our next day's visit to Punakha. Also we loved Bhutan so much that we wanted to extend our stay for 1 day. By default the immigration office at Phuentsholing gives a permit stay approval for 7 days. If anyone wants to extend that it has to be done from the Thimpu Immigration Office. Also permit for travelling to any place apart from Thimpu and Paro has to be done from here.

We reached Immigration office before 9 AM so had to wait for sometime for it to open. Once it opened, we submitted two forms - one for extension and another for obtaining permit for Punakha, along with the original permit and passport photocopies. We did not had to give any more photos.
The office has mostly women staff. They told us to submit our application and take the permits anytime after two hours.

Ugyen's friend Yeshey was waiting for us outside the permit office. Once we came out, Ugyen introduced his friend to us. He is a jolly mid aged person who would be taking us for Thimpu sightseeing.

The first place we went was the Bhutan post office to buy some stamps. Bhutanese stamps are very famous all over the world as a collector's item. They are very bright and colourful, theme based, comes in so many shapes and sizes and most interestingly the variety is too huge. In the post office there is a postal museum very much worth visiting. The entry fee is 100 Ngultrum per person. Just opposite to the museum is a government authorized shop that sells stamps. We bought a dozen of stamps as souvenir. One can also make customized stamps with his or her own pictures. Apart from stamps the shop also sells key rings, tee shirts with Bhutan themes, post cards, handicrafts that interestingly includes wooden phallus ( popular in Chimi Lhakhang).

Stamp on Tiger's Nest 
Stamp showing wild flowers of Bhutan
Stamp showing the dances of Bhutan

Next we went to Buddha Park. It is a sprawling area with a huge statue of sitting Buddha. This statue is so big that you can see the Buddha from almost all places in Thimpu. There are several other smaller statues in the pavilion area, which are man height. We felt the place a little cooler than the rest of Thimpu city maybe because it is situated on a hill. There is a temple where there are very beautiful paintings and intricate pillars. Everything is colored golden inside. Although still not complete, the place is very quiet and peaceful. There are no entry charges for visitors and photography inside the temple is not allowed.

Buddha Park

Buddha Park

Buddha Park

Buddha Park

Buddha Park

Buddha Park

On the way we stopped at a point from where the city looks just like a still picture post card. In fact the place looks so beautiful that when we arrived a cinema shooting was taking place at that place. We also saw apple orchards on our way. One more thing we saw everywhere in Bhutan was roses. There was wild roses everywhere and the air smells rosy. Yeshley told us that in this time of the year roses bloom profusely everywhere in Bhutan. We also saw wild ripe straw berries on grounds near the roads and stupas, but we didn't dare to taste.

Apple orchards

After that we went to the Takin Reserve. Because of our love in wildlife, this was the place we was looking forward to. But it was a Monday and the reserve was closed. This is where Yeshey won us over. Being an experienced driver he told us not to worry. He took the car uphill at a location from where we saw around 10 takins, few sambars even without entering the reserve. Like us, Yeshey is also into photography. He offered us his 100-400 mm Canon lens which he was carrying with him.

Takin Reserve

Takin Reserve

Takin Reserve

Yeshey  is an excellent tour guide. We came to know from him that there are 33 trekking routes in Bhutan and the most popular is the snowman trek. He takes tourists for treks and also cross country motor cycling. He is also in birding and has his own birding tours and website.We came to know from Yeshey that he has done his post graduation in International tourism from Pune, India. He is extremely knowledgeable and knows a lot about the history of Bhutan. It was a brownie point for us to have him for one day in the tour and we recommend him highly.

Next we went to a view point from where we could see the Royal Palace. Just in front of the royal palace is the Thimpu Dzong or the Tashichho Dzong. Like all tourists there, first we though of the Tashichho Dzong as the Royal Palace, then our guide Yeshley corrected us. The Royal Palace is really really small in comparison to Tashichho Dzong. It made us realize why the people of Bhutan respect and love their King so much. Their royals are really humble. A little far away from the Tashichho Dzong is the Supreme Court of Bhutan. We could see all the three places from this single view point. There was also a nunnery close by although we decided to pass it.

The Royal Palace

Thimpu Dzong

Ankur doing videography

Our next stop was the National Library of Bhutan. This place is so photogenic and beautiful. Also the gardens are amazing. However the library was closed due to lunch time. So we decided to check out the Folk Heritage Museum and then have our lunch after which we will again come back to the library.

National Library of Bhutan

Masks for sale at the National Library of Bhutan

National Library of Bhutan

The National Museum was conceptualized and initiated by Queen mother Dorji Wangmo. It is a three storied building which houses several artifacts and models showcasing the traditional Bhutanese way of life. There was old Bhutanese musical instruments, utensils, archery kits, bedding materials, farming tools. There is also a gift shop and a restaurant.

National Museum

National Museum

For lunch we went to Tandin Restaurant. It looked like a very popular restaurant in Thimpu with lots of diners. The food was amazingly good although quantity was much less. Also the prices looked to be on the higher side. However when it comes to the quality and taste, its definitely one of the best meals we had in Thimpu. We had a quick visit to the Immigration Office. Our permits were ready for us to collect.

After lunch we again went back to the library. It was now open.We saw the 9 hole scenic Royal Thimpu Golf Course on the way. The library is a gem house of old rare photographs, sacred religious books and manuscripts. Yeshley had already told us that the World's largest book is kept in this library and we should not miss that. We saw the book and was pretty amazed. It is a huge book kept inside a wooden box. But I think if a book is ever written titled 'How to understand a woman' that will surely make the current largest book of the world look small.
Just like the book, the gardens of the National Library had some of the biggest roses in bloom. Near the gate we saw an artist making Bhutanese masks. The prices he quoted are 3 fold less than the prices of the same that were quoted to us in Paro. If anyone wants to buy Bhutanese musks, then make sure you buy from here.

Masks on sale at the National Library

Flowers at National Library

Gigantic roses at National Library

Gigantic roses at National Library
Rare photographs at National Library



Articrafts at National Library

Aesthetic sign board

Rare photographs of Thimpu Dzong at National Library

Rare photographs at National Library

The biggest book on earth at National Library

About the biggest book
Rare photographs at National Library

We stopped at the school of arts and crafts. Entry fee is 100 Ngultrum per person. Students are trained on various vocational courses such as sculpture, sewing and embroidery, painting, carving to make them more skillful.

Next we stopped by the Changangkha Temple. We had to climb some steps to reach the temple. There is nothing special about it. We saw students reciting some very old manuscripts as some part of a religious ceremony.

Changangkha Temple

Changangkha Temple

Changangkha Temple
Our last stop was the Tashichho Dzong. It opens for tourist only after 5 PM and entry tickets costs 300 Ngultrum per person. A guide is allocated for every group at no additional charges.It was still 15 minutes for the gates to open and it started raining heavily. Also we were pretty worn out for the day. So we decided to keep it for the next time we again revisit Bhutan.

Tashichho Dzong

At Tashichho Dzong

At Tashichho Dzong

At Tashichho Dzong

At Tashichho Dzong

At Tashichho Dzong

Do watch our vlog for Thimpu sightseeing, and give us a shout and SUBSCRIBE if you like it.




Important Information :

Places covered in a full day sightseeing:
Post Office
Buddha Park
Takin Reserve
Tashichho Dzong
School of Arts and Craft
National Library
National Museum
Royal Palace ( Bird's Eye View)
Thimpu Golf Course( On the way)
Changangkha Temple


Cost : 2500 Ngultrum ( 39 USD )

Driver : Yeshey
Contact : 17611963
Highly recommended. He also conducts treks and bird watching tours in Bhutan

Permit for Punakha, Wangdue or any other place has to to be done from Immigration Office, Thimpu.
Permit extension also has to be done from Immigration Office, Thimpu

Tags : bhutan travel blog, bhutan travel guide, definitive bhutan travel guide

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