Punakha is located in the western part of Bhutan is the winter home of the Je Khenpo, the Chief Abbot of Bhutan. Punakha has been of critical importance since the time of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in 17th century.
Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal is known as the unifier of Bhutan as a nation state and he was the one who gave Bhutan and its people the distinct cultural identity that identified Bhutan from the rest of the world.
During 17th century Bhutan was invaded several times by Tibetan forces seeking to seize a very precious relic, the Ranjung Kharsapani. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal led the Bhutanese to victory over the Tibetans and to commemorate the triumph he introduced the Punakha Drubchen. Since then Punakha Drubchen (also known as Puna Drubchen) became the annual festival of Punakha Dzongkhag.
The Punakha Drubchen is a unique festival because it hosts a dramatic recreation of the scene from the 17th century battle with Tibetan army. The ‘pazaps’ or local militia men, dress in traditional battle gear and reenact the ancient battle scene. This reenactment harkens back to the time when in the absence of a standing army, men from the eight Tshogchens or great village blocks of Thimphu came forward and managed to expel the invading forces from the country. Their victory ushered in a period of new-found internal peace and stability.
In 2005 another festival known as Punakha Tshechu was introduced by the 70th Je Khenpo Trulku Jigme Choedra and the then Home Minister His Excellency Lyonpo Jigme Yoedzer Thinley. The Tshechu was introduced in response to the requests made by Punakha District Administration and local peopleto host a Tshechu in order to better preserve Buddhist teachings and keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rimpoche.
These two festivals not only play an important role in preserving Bhutan’s rich culture and traditions but also provide devout Buddhists with an opportunity for prayer and pilgrimage. They reflect the richness of the Bhutanese cultural heritage and are very special in the eyes and hearts of both Bhutanese and tourists who visit Bhutan.
Day 1- Arrive in Paro
Our guide will greet and welcome you to Bhutan in the traditional Bhutanese way. On our way to the capital city, Thimphu, we will make several stopovers, a spiritually fulfilling one at the 15th century Tamchog Lhakhang built by Drupthob Thangtong Gyalpo, a Tibetan spiritual adept famed for building iron chain bridges across Bhutan and Tibet. One such bridge is the approach bridge to the temple. Drupthob Thangtong Gyalpois said to have spent 60 years in his mother’s womb contemplating the way in which to benefit sentient beings.
Day 2-Halt in Thimphu
A sightseeing tour around Thimphu, the melting pot of Bhutan, can give you a good introduction to the Bhutanese way of life. Today, we visit the popular Memorial Chorten in the heart of the city built in the memory of the third King of Bhutan. A continues stream of Bhutanese and foreigners throng the place. The devout – both old and young – doing their pious rounds and monks saying prayers best represent the spiritual side of Bhutan. Other places of interest in Thimphu include the National Library, the School of Traditional Arts and Crafts, the Takin Preserve, the giant Buddha statue on the hill above Thimphu city, the oldest dzong in Bhutan, Semtokha Dzong, built in 1629 by the founder of Bhutanese state, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.
Day 3-Thimphu to Punakha
Our journey today takes us across the Dochula Pass at 3,150 m above sea level. A coffee stop on the pass adorned with 108 stupaswill give us an opportunity to enjoy the spectacular view of Jigme Singye Wangchuck mountain ranges sparkling in the distance.
From Dochula, we descend to Lobesa where we stop for lunch. Twenty-five minutes walk from the road point near Lobesa is Chimi Lhakhang. The temple, built by Tibetan Lama Ngawang Chogyal, is today associated with his cousin, Lam Drukpa Kinley, popularly known as Divine Madman. Popularly known as the Fertility Temple among tourists, it is believed to bless childless couples with children.The village around the temple is teeming with the painting of phallus in homage to the great Divine Madman. After the visit to the temple, we drive to Punakha.
Day 4-Punakha Drupchen
The annual Punakha Drupchen, held on the courtyard of the resplendent Punakha Dzong, is one of the most colourful in Bhutan.
The festival features mask dances and dance drama that recreate spiritually poignant events and depict the state of the medieval Bhutan. The dance drama recreates the battle scene in which Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal hoodwinked the Tibetan invaders into believing that he had thrown the most sacred relic into the river. The festival thus brings people face-to-face with the past.
When Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal came to Bhutan fleeing Tibet in 1616, he brought along a precious relic called Rangjung Kharsapani, a self-emanated image of Avalokiteśvara. After the Zhabdrung established himself in Bhutan, the Tibetan forces came marching to Punakha to capture the dzong and seize the relic. However, the Zhabdrung enacted an elaborate procession and proceeded to Mo Chu [river] and pretended to throw the bone of contention, the relic, into the river. Tibetans returned home, dismayed at the “Bhutanese foolishness”.
The festival enacts this scene faithfully every year. Some 136 people dressed in medieval battle outfit perform a dance, shouting and whistling as they climb down the front stairs of the dzong. The men hoot their way to the river bank where the Chief Abbot of Bhutan (Je Khenpo) throws a handful of oranges representing RangjungKharsapani into the river.
Punakha Dzong, officially known as Pungthang Dewa Chenpoi Phodrang (the Palace of Great Bliss), was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of Bhutanese state, in 1637. Built on the confluence of Pho Chu (Male River) and Mo Chu (Female River), this dzong was the winter capital of Bhutan in the past. The Central Monastic Body still spends winter in Punakha Dzong following the age-old practice.
Day 5-Punakha to Paro
Today, after watching the festival until lunch time, we drive to Paro. We drive across the Dochula Pass once more. If we want, we can stop briefly on the pass and enjoy the scenery.
Day 6-Halt in Paro
Paro is dotted with many places of historical and religious significance, some in the valley and others around the valley. We have but only two days. So, we visit the ones that are best known among tourists. We start with a visit to Taa Dzong or the Watch Tower that houses the National Museum of Bhutan and Rinpung Dzong built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the religious and administrative centre of the district.
We then drive to the ruins of Drukgyal Dzong (the fortress of Drukpa victory), built to commemorate Bhutan’s victory over Tibetan forces in 1644. The dzong was destroyed by fire in 1951.
Next we visit Kyichu Lhakhang, a few kilometres north of Tshogdue Town. Built in the 7th century by the Tibetan dharma king Songtsen Gampoas part of the construction of 108 temples to subdue a demoness, it is considered one of the most sacred in the country. Another temple constructed at the same time by the same king is Jampa Lhakhang in Bumthang. Jampa Lhakhang is believed to have been built on the demoness’ left knee and Kyichu on its left foot. The construction of this temple could have been Bhutan’s first encounter with Buddhism.
Day 7-Hike to Taktshang
Today, we visit the most photographed monastery in Bhutan, Taktshang. Clinging to the face of a cliff 900 metres above Paro valley, Taktshang, known to outsiders as the Tiger’s Nest, is one of the most sacred places in the entire Himalayan region. Besides Guru Padmasambhava (popularly known as Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan) who is believed to have flown to this place riding a tigress, many enlightened masters meditated here and blessed the place.It is bit of a hike demanding some stamina, but a fulfilling one. Lunch is served at Taktshang Cafeteria which is face-to-face with Taktshang.
Today, we drop you at the airport on time to catch your flight back home. We bid you farewell in the traditional Bhutanese way by offering you a white silk scarf.
GROUP SIZEAny group Size
TRIP ACCOMMODATIONTourist Standard Hotel generally 3 to 4 star category.
Paro, Thimphu,Punakha, WangduePho
TRIP TYPECultural and Festival
TRIP SEASONSWinter (Febuary)
FESTIVAL MONTHSOctoberLEAN MONTHSJanuary, December,
Please Note : Although we pride ourselves in constantly maintaining our programme the above mentioned programme is subject to change without prior notice.
- Bhutan Royalties, tourists fees, Visa fees and taxes.
- Accommodations in listed or similar hotels (pleasant hotels 3-4 star type) during the tour and in tents during the trek.
- All meals, including evening tea/coffee etc through-out the trip.
- All land transfers, sightseeing with entrance fees.
- Experienced Culture Tour Guide.
- Bottled water in the vehicle and other camp servces.
- Flights in and out of Bhutan.
- Travel insurance, Drink, Visa fees, Laundry