Punakha, a former capital of Bhutan, is in the west of the country.
Punakha had been Bhutan's capital from the 17th century up to 1955, when it shifted to Thimphu. When you visit the town, you still feel a regal yet peaceful aura. The dzong and the remains of unifying ruler Ngawang Namgyal are the major attractions within Punakha, though there are other sites to see and things to do. Punakha is part of the triad of Bhutan's three most visited travel destinations, along with Jakar and Paro.
There is an option of taxis or buses from Thimphu, and the journey takes around one and a half to two hours. Shared taxis depart from Thimphu Bus Station and terminate at Khuruthang, which is around 5 km south of Punakha Dzong.
All attractions in the town (including the dzong) can be reached on foot. There is a taxi rank near the dzong, where taxis can be hired for visiting sites of interest outside the town, but within the valley.
- 1 Chimi Lhakhang. Between very beautiful paddy fields, it is one of the most scenic monasteries in eastern Bhutan and takes about half an hour to trek/walk till the monastery from the road. Best time of day to visit: early morning. It was established by Drukpa Kunley, who also is credited with introducing to the country the practice of phallus paintings, and placing statues of phalluses on rooftops, to drive away evil spirits.
- Geon Tsephu (Guru Rinpoche Caves). A short drive up a rough road or two hour walk from the highway at Mitesgang, there is a small temple and sacred caves. It is said that Guru Rinpoche visited these caves after his retreat at Maratika in Nepal, and it was here that he was able to fully see the form of Amitayus, the Buddha of Long Life. As is common at many Bhutanese sacred sites, there are self risen characters in rock and places to scramble through while making dedications for the benefit of other beings and to remove one's own defilements. Pilgrims can lay their bedding at the temple or use the pasture just below for camping (though leeches are common in the summer). Mitesgang is around 12km down the valley Punakha Dzong.
- Koma Tsachu (Hot springs) are near the small community of Mitesgang. There are three bathing pools covered by simple roofs, and a four-roomed building with solar lighting, where sleeping bags and mats can be laid (there is no charge for staying in the building). Outside, there is ample room to pitch tents and rock overhangs to camp under.
- 2 Pedestrian suspension bridge behind the dzong. An almost 250 m long suspension bridge across one of the Mochu/Phochu rivers. It's very beautiful and serene, very good to sit and just watch the flow of the river. Many people do not visit this, but those who have would consider it as a must go.
- Punakha Dzong. Majestically standing on an island between the confluence of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers, the city's dzong is one of the most photogenic of all Bhutan's ancient fortresses, and you will see pictures of it hanging in hotels and restaurants throughout the country. The dzong is joined to the mainland by an arched wooden bridge, and contains many precious relics from the days when successive kings reigned the kingdom from this valley. The dzong serves as the winter home of the monastic body.
There are many wonderful hikes in and around the Punakha Valley.
- Hike an hour or so up to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten high on the hill in the upper Punakha valley.
- Visit Jana village. Start from the suspension bridge near Kichu Resort and cross the Dang Chhu river. The route goes through a village and rice fields and the hike takes around 1.5 hours to reach Jana village. There and back will be around 3 to 3.5 hours, with plenty of time to explore Jana Village.
- From Dochu La to Thinleygang – drive about 15 minutes from Dochu La pass (just below the tourist cafeteria) and make an excellent 5 hour hike downhill towards Thinleygang village through a forest of oak, maple, alder, hemlock and fir. In spring you will be greeted by a wonderful array of blooming flowers – rhododendron, magnolia, primula and cotoneaster. The people of Thinleygang village mainly used this trail in the old days to move their cattle up to the pass in summer and back to the village in winter. If you are lucky you will see some beautiful birds. Your car will be waiting for you at Thinleygang to take you to Punakha (or back to Thimphu).
- From Lamperi to Lumbitsawa – the hike takes just over 4 hours to reach Lumbitsawa and the walk is all downhill through forest from Lamperi Park. This hike is good to do in early Spring and Autumn, especially for birdwatchers. It is not a good route for summer months as it can be muddy and there is the chance of meeting bears.
- Take a three or four hour walk round trip from Dochu La to Lungchuzekha Gompa. From the 108 chortens the route gradually climbs into white, pink and red rhododendron forest for one and a half hours with some steep sections before branching left to Lungchuzekha and right to Tashigang. The walk affords excellent views of the Himalayas and you can return by the same route. or you can descend by a different route to Tashigang Goempa where there is a good view of Hongtsho village. Then descend to Hongtsho where the driver will meet you.
- Damchen Resort, Khuruthang, ☏ , , firstname.lastname@example.org. Nu.2,000-3,300.
- Zhingkham Resort, Logodama, Punakha, ☏ , , , , email@example.com. A pleasant resort overlooking the Puanakha Valley. Nu.4,000-4,500.
- Como Uma Punakha (Uma Punakha), Botokha, Kabesa, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Stunning river and mountain views. Healthy meals prepared with local ingredients. Very professional staff.
- Dhensa Resort, ☏ , email@example.com. A restful resort with views across the Punakha Valley. Local and international cuisine. Spa facilities.