In the fertile Punakha Valley, where the Mo Chhu (Mother river) and the Pho Chhu (Father river) meet, lies Punakha Dzong – Pungthang Dechen Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness). It was constructed in 1637 and maybe the most impressive building in Bhutan – also considered the most beautiful dzong in the country.
The very size of Punakha Dzong is impressive, 180m long and 72m wide, but the elaborately painted gold, red and black carved woods, the brass roof and the location adds to the light perfection.
Punakha served as Bhutan’s capital for over 300 years and the first king was crowned here in 1907. Since the mid 1950’s, Thimpu is the capital, but Punakha is still the center for official meetings, the kings’ weddings and other important ceremonies.
The dzong, like all the other dzongs in Bhutan, has suffered fires several times, but is always restored. Due to its location by the two rivers, it is also vulnerable to the floods following climate change. In 1994 a glacial lake burst and destroyed parts of the building, and before that, in 1897, there was also a severe earthquake.
The temple is grand and holds thrones for the King as well as for the high Lama.
There are 300 monks in the dzong, and our guide told us that today the monastery schools are almost like ordinary schools – you take different subjects like science and mathematics along with languages and the scriptures.
The young monks are very curious and good at English.
The junction of the two rivers, seen from inside the dzong.
And so we left this magnificent fortress – without using the middle, golden steps, made for the King only. A breathtaking visit – only there was so much more we wanted to see, hear and learn – but maybe next time…