Punakha, the religious and political centre of Old Bhutan is home to beautiful Dzongs, temples, and monasteries.
The city can be considered a gallery of wonderful and formidable structures reflective of the genius, creativity, and diligence of their architects.
Punakha Dzong prominently standing on top of a ridge at the confluence of Po Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers echoes its clarion call for tourists to peek into its incredible interior made centuries ago and admire the dual use of the edifice for government functions and monastic habitation in a harmonious fashion. Be mesmerised by the profound spirituality of nuns in Songchen Dorji Nunnery. Join in their chants and prayers at dusk when the horizon is clothed in a golden blaze. Savour their tea amidst the rhythmic humming of insects and the melodic sounds of nocturnal birds. Witness the Bhutanese’s love towards endangered animals at the Jigme Dorji National park, wherein you can also witness the rare sight of a snow leopard interacting with the Bengal tiger. The Punakha experience is a valuable immersion in the history, culture, and religion of Bhutan. Laudable is the effort of the current government to protect the environment and natural resources of the nation- an advocacy that can save the future generation.
- By plane, one can land at Paro Airport, the only international airport in Bhutan. A taxi can then be chartered to Punakha at a quoted price which is mostly non-negotiable. It will take 3 hours to reach Punakha.
- Shared taxis can also be availed at Thimphu with the route ending at Kuruthang, a few kilometres from Punakha. Bus travel is uncommon and is most often fully booked.
- A helicopter can also be chartered but the cost is exorbitant. Most of the roads are not 2 lanes so travel in inclement weather and with intermittent road repairs will take longer than usual. A tour package with a vehicle is ideal.
The currency used in Punakha is Bhutanese Ngultrum (BTN). Visitors with U.S. Dollars can change their money to local currency at the Paro Airport or at Thimphu. There are a few establishments that accept credit cards in Paro and in Thimphu but in the countryside, it is better to carry and use BTN.
The best time to visit Punakha is during the winter months of December to February when the days are cool and sunny. This season is a boon to wildlife photographers to see various avian species.
Spring season is ideal for trekking and sightseeing. The freshly green vegetation of the countryside and the marvelous sight of diversified flora are abundant. This season starts on March and ends in May. Festivals abound at this time of the year.
June to August are monsoon months. At this time Bhutan receives more rainfall more than its neighbouring countries. Visiting sacred sites is the best thing to do. Trekking and other adventurous activities should not be a priority.
Autumn is in the months of September to November. This is a time for cool breezes and crisp blue skies. The influx of tourist is experienced during this season. Majestic snowcapped-mountains, green valleys, and clear rivers can be a perfect subject for photographers.
Visiting different sites in Punakha can be done on foot. Taxis are available for those who want to travel out of town but still keep within the valley.
The food in Punakha is dominantly Bhutanese cuisine and it is almost primarily chilli-based. Ema Datshi (chillies and cheese) is considered the sifter. If one has not tasted this, then chances are, his holiday in Bhutan is incomplete. Jasha Maroo is diced chicken slices mixed with chilli and tempered by tomatoes, onions, coriander leaves, and ginger. Phaksa Paa is made of pork that’s boiled to soften and mixed with radish ginger and chilli powder. Dumpling is also common in Bhutan and is locally known as Momos — which are steamed buns stuffed with pork or beef, cheese, and chilli, making it similar to Indian and Chinese cuisine. These dishes are best partnered with red or white rice and wine and tea as beverages.