Bhutan is a country that is still unexplored and untouched. Closed by Himalayas on all four sides, the aura of this destination is simply mesmerizing. Every year, a number of tourists visit Bhutan to see the amazing places that are important to its heritage and culture. But understanding Bhutan’s lifestyle and cultural beliefs are impossible until you to know about monasteries and how these Dzongs have been an essential part of every person in Bhutan.
Monasteries in Bhutan don’t only have a religious purpose but some of them have a strategic value attached with them as well. Among the many amazing places to visit in Bhutan, Punakha is one destination that everyone should visit because its existence is important to the country’s history and present state. Punakha Dzong was used as Fort during the time when it was Bhutan’s capital. This gorgeous piece of architecture moved from being an administrative building to religious one over the course of time.
Mystical History of Punakha Tshechu
Punakha Dzong was constructed by Ngawang Namgyal, 1st Zhabdrung Rinpoche. He found the hill as prophesied by Guru Padmasambhava and decided to commence the construction. The monastery finished building in the year 1637-38 and served as Bhutan’s capital till 1907. Later, the capital was shifted to Thimphu. Even today Punakha is the winter capital of the country.
To understand the religious significance of this monastery, you will have to attend Punakha festival also known as Punakha Tshechu. The festival honours Guru Padmasambhava who introduced tantric Buddhism. Today, his followers are present in a majority of Himalayan regions including Ladakh and Sikkim in India.
Punakha festival is one of the must attend festivals in Bhutan. It is celebrated during the first 10 days of March. The colourful costumes and the rhythmic Cham dance performed by the monks of the Monastery is the prime highlight of the festival. The event is scheduled for the first month of the lunar year. The last day of the festival ends with the Serda. This colourful procession re-enacts an episode of the war against Tibet in the 17th century. Since the festival has a religious importance for the people of Bhutan, the local population heads to the monastery to seek blessings from the divine gods. Everyone is present in their traditional Bhutanese dress, kiras for women and gho for men.
The Spellbinding Cham Dance
Cham Dance is common across the Buddhist Monasteries. It is performed by the monks of that monasteries and they reenact tales from the important historical tales attached to that monastery.
Cham Dance at Punakha Tshechu is performed during the last three days of the festival. It is a combination of rhythmic music and intricate steps performed by the monks wearing colourful attires and masks. Their costumes are made of bright-yellow silk or rich brocade. The clothing is decorated with intricate patterns and symbols that is important in Buddhism and Bhutanese culture.
How to attend Punakha Pestival
Punakha festival is organised in the first week of March. The last 3 days of the festival as specified in the calendar of Bhutan Tourism as well as Druk Airways are perfect to attend the most important rituals of the festival.
When i took a bus from Thimphu to Punakha, I was supposed to get down at the place where my hotel was and then go towards the monastery. But due to lack of information and in confusion I got down at the monastery and went straight to the festival venue.
When you reach Punakha Monastery, you will have to cross the bridge and enter the monastery main gate. There you will find a ticket counter, purchase a ticket and move towards the monastery compound which is also used as performance venue. It is not confusing to find the monastery or the performance area. But make sure that you are here in the morning so that you find a good place to take photos.
Permits for Punakha
As an Indian tourist you are only allowed to visit thimpu and Paro once you land in Bhutan. Either you are entering Bhutan from Phusentoling or coming by flight, your permits will only allow you to to explore these two places. To reach Punakha, make sure that you have an extra day in hand in Thimphu or your agent has prepared your paper in advance. It takes almost 6 hours for your permits to be ready if you apply for them in the morning. Permit office is in Thimphu close to the market, so make sure that you apply for your papers as early as possible so that you have them by afternoon.
How to reach punakha from India
How to reach Punakha from India you will have to to enter Bhutan through Paro or Phusentoling. Once your papers are in place you will have to start for Punakha in the morning. there are there taxis as well as buses leaving from Thimphu bus stand.
If you are an Indian solo traveller in Bhutan then make sure that you book your ticket in advance and arive at the bus station 30 minutes before the departure. The bus between Thimphu and Punakha only cost 170 BT while the shared taxi will charge you 300 BT.
Where to stay in Punakha for Punakha Tshechu
Punakha doesn’t have a lot of hotels online. But since tourists are needed to book their accommodation in advance so I got one through Goibibo.
I was staying at Kingaling Hotel Punakha that for a change turned out to be e a very luxury property and totally unlike the places where I prefer to stay while backpacking in Bhutan. But for some reason it is one of the cheaper hotels in Punakha and the rooms come with a great view of Punakha River and the valley.
If you are booking this hotel then make sure that you get down at the square instead of going all the way to Punakha. From the square you will find share taxis going Bumthang and Phobjika. Ask anyone and they will drop you near the hotel. When you are leaving for the festival in the morning then repeat the same thing. You will have to change your taxi twice. Make sure that you take a stop near Cheemi Lakhang which is another intriguing place with an interesting history attached to it.
Hope this Punakha Festival blog help due to plan your future trip for any question feel free to reply on comments. For more information, connect with me on Facebook and Instagram. Also subscribe to this blog to stay updated with my new posts.