Punakha is located in the western part of Bhutan and it 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 the 17th century. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal is known as the unifier of Bhutan as a nation. Zhabdrung was the one who gave Bhutan and its people the distinct cultural identity that identified Bhutan from the rest of the world.
During the 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.
Punakha Drubchen is one of the unique festivals. It hosts a dramatic recreation of the scene from the 17th century battle with Tibetan army. The ‘pazaps’ or local militiamen, they dress in traditional battle gear and re-enact the ancient battle scene. This re-enactment harkens back to the time when in the absence of a standing army, the 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 peoples to host a Tshechu in order to better preserve Buddhist teachings and to keep alive the noble deeds of Zhabdrung Rinpoche.
These two festivals not only play an important role in preserving Bhutan’s rich culture and traditions but also devout Buddhism 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 01: Arrival at Paro
With your flight bringing you to the Paro International Airport, you will be received by our guide. The guide will escort you to the capital city of Bhutan that is Thimphu. On arrival, you will be checked in at your hotel followed by refreshment and oriental talk on Bhutan. Depending on your schedule, if time permits, the guide will walk you through the city exploring the traditional texture and the market products, and immerse into the evening air.
Overnight: Hotel Termalinca or similar.
Day 02 : Thimphu/Punakha 70 Km 3 Hours
With an early breakfast over arising, you will be travelling to Punakha. It involves crossing Dochula Pass with is at an altitude of 3150 meters above the sea level. The car will stop by at Dochula Pass, for a walk around the Druk Wangyel Chortens built by Her Majesty the Queen Mother for the peace and stability of the kingdom. From the stop point, depending on the weather condition a spectacular view of the eastern Himalayan ranges can be seen. Heading down from the pass, the road brings you to the Lamperlri Botanical Park where varieties of rhododendrons plants can be seen. Upon arriving at Lobesa, the lunchtime will be enjoyed over the scenic beauty of Sop Sokha village. Right after the meal, you will be visiting the following attraction in Punakha:
After lunch you will visit:
Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery: The nunnery also serves as the temple to the local people in the village. It is a double-storied structure; the temple was consecrated by His Holiness the Je Khenpo. The temple houses a statue of Avalokiteshvara (Chenrezig Chagtong Chetong) which heights to 14-foot tall, a statue of Guru Padmasambhava, Buddha, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Tsela Namsum, the 21 Taras and Tsepamay (Buddha of Longevity). It also houses the nunnery complex which consists of 70 rooms. The nunnery complex was initially started with 41 nuns. The Nunnery complex is known also for its meditation and the higher learning centre. For the nuns apart from religious training, they are also taught tailoring, embroidery, statue making and thanka paintings.
If time permits you will take a walk through the rice terrace towards the temple of fertility.
Overnight in Punakha at Hotel Pema Karpo or similar
Day 03: Punakha Tsechu (Festival)
Followed by early breakfast, you will be going to witness the breath-taking Punakha Tsechu that that will be held inside the grand Punakha Dzong (fortress). There will be a series of folk dances and Mask dances. The festival also hosts a dramatic recreation of the battle scene from the 17th century with the Tibetan army. The ‘pazaps’ or local militia men dress in traditional battle gear and re-enact the ancient battle scene. This re-enactment harkens back to the time when in the absence of a standing army, the 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.
Overnight in Punakha
Day 04: Transfer to Paro – 135 Km 5 Hours
After having breakfast, you will be heading to Paro, en route you will enjoy the scenic beauty of nature with stop Dochula pass. On arrival at Paro, you will be visiting the following place on the same day:
Rinpung Dzong: The fortress is a Buddhist Monastery and houses many offices of the higher government officials in Paro. The site is listed as the tentative list for travellers in Bhutan by UNESCO. The Dzong is also known for the film Little Buddha in 1993. The annual ritual of the western region is performed in the fortress known as Tshechu.
National Museum: Traditionally known by the term Ta Dzong, it is an ancient watchtower which now houses hundreds of ancient Bhutanese artefacts and artworks including traditional costumes, armour, weaponry, and handcrafted implements for daily life.
Overnight at hotel in Paro.
Day 05: Departure
You will be leaving the country on this day. After the last breakfast in Bhutan, the guide and the driver will drive you to the Airport and see you off J.