PUNAKHA (5,000 ft)

It was built between two rivers in the 17th century by the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and is still the winter residence of the central monk body. In spite of the four catastrophic fires and earthquake that destroyed many historic documents, Punakha Dzong houses sacred artifacts and the embalmed body of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The road from Simtokha winds into pine forests and through small villages for 20 kilometres and then opens miraculously onto the northern ridge of the mountains. The view over the Himalayas from Dochula Pass at 3,200m is one of the most spectacular in all Bhutan. One of the most striking features of the valley is its abundance of crops and vast terraces of rice fields, which change from lush green in summer to golden yellow in autumn. Chime Lhakhang located on the hillock among the rice fields is picturesque and is pilgrimage site for childless couples. The temple is associated with the famous saint Drupka Kuenlay “The Divine Madman” who has built a Chorten the site during the 14th century. Punakha Dzong is home to the central monk body and the Je Khenpo (the spiritual leader) during the winter months.

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