Day Excursions activities in and around Punakha:
1. Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten:
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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Punakha Suspension Bridge:
Building The Punakha Bazam (Suspension Bridge):
A glacial lake outburst flood seriously damaged the Punakha Dzong, in the ancient capital of Bhutan, in 1994. It was restored to its original splendor by 2003.
But, something was amiss. The bazam – the wooden-roofed cantilever bridge, leading to the dzong from the main road was not yet restored. Built in 17th century architecture, the bridge had been destroyed in another glacial lake outburst flood in 1958.
For decades, the reconstruction of the bazam posed major technical challenges for modern engineers.
As with ancient dzongs, many of the old structures in Bhutan were built with very little historical records. No written descriptions or plans of a bazam could be unearthed to give reference to what was there before or how it was built. New plans depended on some old photographs of the original bridge.
For some time after the flood, 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.
Building it was a story of human might and determination. Teams of up to 100 men had to fell and extract 165 Chirpine trees and then manually haul them down hundreds of meters of steep slopes. The trees were floated down the river. Upon arriving at a gravel forest road, the men lifted them onto trucks by hand.
Raw beams weighing about two tones each had to be carried, one at a time, on small trucks for the journey along mountainous roads. To enable the bridge to withstand any future glacial lake outburst flood, 20 concrete pipes, 3.5 meters long and 8 tonnes each, were placed vertically into the riverbed and filled with gravel. Concrete blocks weighing 700 kgs each were placed into the riverbed. Hundreds of natural boulders, weighing as much as 1,000 kgs each were piled on top as reinforcement.
Modern technology was combined with the best of traditional techniques in resurrecting this ancient bridge in Punakha. Invisible steel elements were incorporated into the structure of the 35-meter long bazam to stabilize the high bridge arch and prevent it from twisting or falling sideways. The new bridge is 20 meters longer than the original at 35 meters, and is considered to be the longest wooden cantilever bridge with unsupported span in the world.
The Dzong and the original bridge’s breathtaking beauty is based on the strength, the grace and the artistic harmony of this monastery-castle, which is of paramount importance for Bhutan.
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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.