The erstwhile capital of Bhutan, Punakha is one of the most beautiful regions of the Himalayan kingdom. Two of the main rivers of Bhutan – the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu (Chhu means river in Dzongkha – the language of Bhutan) converge here. There are more plains here and the temperatures moderate to warm – making it ideal for farming.
After our stop at Dochu La, we made our way to Punakha. The road snaked its way down the thick forests and opened up into paddy fields. We stopped at the side of the road and Karma asked us to join him as he walked onto a narrow path in between the fields. We were close to Chimi Lhakhang – the temple of the Divine Madman. Yup! The same one who created the national animal. We made our way through the village of Sopsokha and then the rice fields till we reached the old temple.
Now that we’re at the temple of the Divine Madman himself, who was he? Lama Drukpa Kunley was a Buddhist monk from Tibet and teacher who was known for his eccentric ways and unconventional teaching methods. It is said that a local demoness from Dochula used to harm the people there. The Divine Madman killed her while she had taken the form of a dog with a flaming thunderbolt of wisdom while shouting Chi Mi (meaning No Dog!). The thunderbolt was a reference to his phallus and from then on, it became a protective symbol. The temple has been built over the spot where the demoness was supposed to be buried.
This temple is known as the Fertility temple and it is said that childless couples visit here to be blessed with a baby. Inside the temple was a wooden phallus which women had to carry and walk around the temple thrice. We even saw a photo album of people who couldn’t conceive, visited the temple and had successfully borne children afterwards. We’d never been to a temple like this before and it was a unique story and experience.
It is common to see wall murals and paintings of phalluses in the buildings in this area. In fact, phalluses are worn as charms. You can pick up some souvenirs from the shops in the village on the way back.
We said goodbye to the Divine Madman and proceeded to the Punakha Dzong.
This is easily the most majestic dzong we saw in Bhutan. Sitting right at the confluence of the rivers Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu, you can spend hours admiring the beauty of the dzong and its backdrop. We had to cross a wooden bridge to get to the dzong.
Punakha Dzong is the second oldest dzong in the kingdom and was the administrative centre till 1955 – that’s when Thimphu became the national capital. Karma told us about its legend – Guru Padmasambhava proclaimed a prophecy that a person named Namgyel would arrive at a hill shaped like an elephant. Ngawang Namgyel indeed arrived here and ordered an architect to build a palace for Guru Rinpoche. Namgyel went on the become the founder of a unified Bhutan (about whom you’ve already read in the blogs on Paro and Thimphu).
The dzong is six storeys high and has 3 huge courtyards. The first one is for administrative functions and has a bodhi tree as well.
The second one houses the quarters for the monks. The last one has a temple where the remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel are preserved. The area where the remains are preserved can be accessed only by the main monks and the king himself. Punakha Dzong is indeed a marvel and a must-visit in your trip to Bhutan.
It is one of those structures which you can never get enough of no matter how many times you look at it. Another such structure for me is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
The next morning, we proceeded for a trek to Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten. We passed by Punakha Dzong and followed the Mo Chhu upstream till we arrived at a bridge to cross the river. The hike took us over a suspension bridge, along a creek, through rice fields and finally a steep climb up to the top.
The temple is dedicated to bringing peace and harmony to the kingdom. The temple has four storeys, each dedicated to certain deities, and we walked all the way up along a narrow staircase. We got a magnificent panoramic view of the valley from up there. Have a look!
The trek prepared us for the mega trek that was coming up for us the next day. Read all about it here. And that brings us to a wrap of our Punakha adventures. Punakha is definitely a do-not-miss if you’re visiting Bhutan. Check out our complete itinerary here.
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