1. The Dochula pass:
Dochula pass is located on the way to Punakha from Thimphu. The pass is a popular location among tourists as it offers a stunning 360 degree panoramic view of the Himalayan mountain range. The view is especially scenic on clear, winter days with snowcapped mountains forming a majestic backdrop to the tranquility of the 108 chortens gracing the mountain pass.
Bhutanese families enjoy visiting the pass during holidays and weekends to picnic and simply enjoy the scenery. It is common to see families and groups of friends seated amongst the chortens, enjoying a packed lunch and hot tea. For tourists this is an ideal location to capture beautiful pictures of the Himalayan mountain range during clear, warm days.
2. Lam Pelri Botanical Park:
Royal Botanical Park, Lampelri: Bhutan The Royal Botanical Park is the country’s first nature recreational park, established in 2004 to preserve the rich natural biodiversity of the area. This area of 47sq. km in the Dochula Conservation area has been delineated for protection and development into a site for ecotourism and nature education. Despite its small size the Park has a very good assortment of wild flora and fauna. A unique attraction of the Park is the rhododendrons. Of the total 46 species that grow in Bhutan, 40 species are found here. This includes the 29 species that grow naturally in the area and another 11 that have been planted in the park Garden. The Park also has 114 species of ferns, as well as numerous wild orchids. The Park also hosts rich animal life including the magnificent Bengal tiger, the elusive red panda, leopard, leopard cat, musk deer, sambar deer, Himalayan black bear, Monal pheasant and Satyr tragopan. It is a haven for bird watching with more than 220 species being recorded. The Dochula area has ancient religious and cultural significance for the people of Bhutan. While keeping this tradition alive, the Park is expected to promote national happiness by protecting, promoting and educating people about the natural and cultural heritage of this. A visit to the Royal Botanical Park can be the beginning of an exciting journey of exploration and discovery.
3. Chimi Lhakhang:
Of all the religious figures of Bhutan, perhaps no one is as popular as Drukpa Kunley or The Divine Madman. The maverick saint was so revered that a temple – Chimi Lhakhang (translating to ‘Temple of the Divine Madman’) was built in his honor. Legend has it that Lama Kunley subdued a demon of the region with his ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom’ and trapped it in a rock close to where the Lhakhang now stands. He was known as The Divine Madman for his unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism often with sexual overtones. He is also the saint who advocated the use of phallus symbols that even today adorn Bhutanese paintings and houses. The Lhakhang is believed to bless couples who seek fertility and children. The monastery is the repository of the original wooden phallus that Drukpa Kunley brought from Tibet. It is used to bless people who visit the temple on pilgrimage, particularly women seeking blessing to beget children.
4. Punakha Dzong:
Standing majestically at the confluence of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers, the dzong (fortress) was constructed in 1637-38 and is the second oldest dzong in the Kingdom. The dzong houses the sacred relics of the southern Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism, including the Rangjung Kasarpani and the sacred remains of Ngawang Namgyal and the terton Pema Lingpa. It was the administrative centre and the seat of the Bhutanese government until 1955, when the capital was moved to Thimphu. Today, it is still the winter residence of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot) and the monastic body of Bhutan. Set against a spectacular backdrop, the architecture of the dzong is simply awe inspiring. It was in Punakha dzong that the wedding of His Majesty King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Her Majesty Queen Jetsun Pema was held on October 13, 2011.
5. The Talo Village:
The village of Talo sitting at an altitude of 2,800m is scattered along the slopes of a hill and is famed for its cleanliness and hygiene. Also, the women of Talo are particularly known for their striking good looks. The Talo Goenpa, in the snowy peaks, overlooks the Punakha valley as it sits on a mountain ridge. For centuries this ancent spiritual center has stood guard over the valley below. The monastery was founded in 1767, in the year of the fire pig, according to the Bhutanese calendar.
6. Nalanda Buddhist College:
Nalanda Buddhist Institute also known as Dalida or Daley is a Buddhist Drukpa Kagyu School situated in the western region of the Punakha Valley. In the native language the word “Nalanda” stands for endless knowledge. The college was founded in 1957 by the 9th Je Khenpo Shakya Rinchen. For visitirs, Nalanda Buddhist Institute with its religious and historic influence has become one of the must visit places in Punakha Valley.
7. Punakha Bazam (Suspension Bridge):
The bazam – the wooden-roofed cantilever bridge, leading to the dzong was built in 17th century. Perched above the rapid Pho Chhu River, the Punakha Suspension Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan, spanning between 160-180meters. Draped with prayer flags, the bridge connects the town of Punakha and the spectacular Punakha Dzong. The locals mainly use it as an entry to the Dzong.
For some time after the flood in 1996, the Punakha Dzong could only be reached by travelling 15 kilometers downstream to Wangduephodrang. Later, a steel cable bridge was installed close to where the old bridge used to be. This was the bridge used until the new bazam was completed in May 2008. It was designed, built and financed by Pro Bhutan, while a Swiss engineering company provided technical expertise.
8. Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Choling Monastery:
A short hike takes one to the imperial Khamsum Yuelley Namgel Chorten. The Chorten was built to remove negativity and promote peace, stability and harmony in the changing world. The Chorten dominates the upper Punakha Valley with commanding views across the Mo Chhu and up towards the mountainous peaks of Gasa and beyond.
9. Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang Nunnery:
The Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery is perched on a hilltop overlooking the beautiful Punakha and Wangduephodrang valleys. Surrounded by rich lush green pine forests the nunnery complex is a true expression of Bhutanese architecture portraying strong traditional values.
The Sangchen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery was built as a Buddhist College for nuns and currently houses about 120 nuns. The nunnery complex also houses a meditation centre for nuns. Apart from religious schooling, the centre also strives to provide life skills such as tailoring, embroidery, sculpting and Buddhist Thangka painting.
Tourists can take advantage of the tranquil ambience and immerse in meditation programs and also take the opportunity to observe the spiritual lives of nuns while they learn and prepare themselves for life with a variety of skill trainings.
10. Limbukha Village:
The village of Limbukha is easily accessible through feeder roads from Punakha and Wangduephodrang. The village provides some spectacular views of the Punakha Dzong and the Mo Chhu and Po Chhu rivers.
Limbukha is also known for its love of peace. Legend has it that during medieval wars the “limpus” or the people of Limbukha always volunteered as peace negotiators. This is also depicted during the annual festival called ‘Serda’ when the men are found carrying peace flags instead of swords and fireworks. Trek from Punakha to Limbukha will take about 4.5 to 6 hours and is a distance of about 14 Kms.
11. Punakha Ritsha Village:
This village situated along the banks of Po Chuu and Mo Chuu looks starigh out of a postcard. Famous for its production of red and white rice, the Ritsha village which literally translates to at the base of a hill, is surrounded by paddy fields, meandering rivers and looming hills.
From taking a stroll along the paddy fields and learning about traditional and modern farming methods used in the village, to trekking, mountain biking and white water rafting, there are a bunch of things one can do in this village.
12. Lungchutse Hike:
The 7km (3-hour) round trip from Dochula Pass to Lungchutse Goemba is without a doubt the best hike in the area. Not only does the hike offer excellent views of the Himalayas but from the 108 chortens in Dochula the trail climbs gradually through beautiful rhododendron forests before branching left to the goemba. This 18th-century goemba was founded by the treasure hunter Drakda Doji and is dedicated to the local protector Tashi Barwa. Visitors can combine the hike with dawn views from Dochula for a great half-day excursion.
13. Tashigang Goemba Hike:
The Trashigang Goemba hike can be easily combined with the Lungchutse Goemba one for a fine half-day walk, as it is an easy 60-minute downhill stroll from Lungchutse. Built in 1782 by the 12th Je Khenpo, Trashigang is an important meditation center for around 60 monks and a few anims (Buddhist nuns). In the main chapel, visitors can ask to see the small chorten that encases a tiny statue made from the tooth of the 22nd Je Khenpo. The various chapels hold statues of 10 or more Je Khenpos who have meditated here over the years. The inner sanctum of the ground-floor goenkhang (chapel dedicated to protective deities) is said to conceal the preserved flesh of the goddess Palden Lhamo.
From the goemba, it is a steep one-hour direct descent to Hongtsho on the Thimphu–Punakha Highway.
14. Rinchengang village:
Rinchengang village is perhaps the most clustered village in Bhutan. Also, it is one of the oldest villages in Bhutan as it dates back to the Zhabdrung era.
The settlers in the village, back in the day, were skilled in the traditional method of stone masonry. And so, it was them who built the old Wangdiphodrang Dzong that stood for over 480 years before a fire gutted it a few years back.
In earlier times, the place was known as ‘Drinchen-Gang’ meaning ‘Grateful Valley’. Grateful for the contributions the people there made in building the dzong. With time, Drinchengang changed to Rinchengang as we know it today. To get to the village, it is a 20-minute uphill walk from the road head.