Since we were at the start of another long day, we departed early from our hotel. I had managed to convince my guide to first drive up the mountain to Laptshaka, right on top of a mountain on the western side of the valley, where we encountered a peaceful village in the early morning fog. Then, we drove past Punakha Dzong on our way up the valley, to return to the dzong after a couple of hours. We crossed Mo Chhu river using the sturdy cantilever bridge, which looked old but had been completed only in 2008 after a flash flood destroyed the previous one, to reach the other side of the river. Punakha Dzong is constructed at the confluence of the Mo Chhu and the Pho Chhu - the Mother and Father river.
Actually, Punakha Dzong is the second oldest of Bhutan, and was constructed in the era of the Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1637. According to legend, the Guru Rinpoche already envisioned that the Shabdrung would one day show up here and build the dzong. Anyway, the dzong was built, and fulfilled its military, administrative and religious role ever since. This dzong stands out among the other dzongs of the country in that Punakha has been the capital city of Bhutan, meaning that the dzong basically was seat of government until 1955. As such, it has seem the coronation of the first king, and the signing of treaties with the British in the colonia era.
We entered the dzong using steep wooden stairs, which can actually be retracted in case of an attack on this strategically positioned building, and through an enormous wooden door, which is closed during the night even in our time. As always in dzongs, the administrative part cannot be visited, so we walked straight to the religious part. I was impressed by the enormous buildings that dwarfed the persons walking here. Small courtyards in between the buildings gave a feeling of intimacy in this colossal, 180m long dzong. We visited an enormous prayer hall with a very high ceiling and a particularly beautiful wheel of life on its wall, and the hundred pillar congregation hall. Close to here is the most sacred part of the Punakha Dzong: Machey Lhakhang, meaning sacred embalmed body. The remains of the teron Pema Lingpa, as well as the Shabdrung who actually died inside Punakha Dzong are kept here - heavily protected and impossible to visit unless you are one of the two lamas in charge of protection, the king, and the Je Kenpo, the leader of the central monk body and one of the figures of foremost importance of Buddhism in Bhutan. When we crossed the heavy cantilever bridge again for a better view of Punakha Dzong from the other side of the river, I was left with a deep impression of what I had just seen inside.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Punakha Dzong (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Punakha Dzong.
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