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Bhutan: Punakha Dzong

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Punakha Dzong | Bhutan | Asia

[Visited: October 2009]

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.

Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): Punakha Dzong seen from the Mo Chhu side

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.

Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): Steep wooden stairs leading up inside Punakha Dzong

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.

Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): Colourful wheel of life decorating a wall inside Punakha Dzong
Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): Wooden windows, all hand painted, in Punakha Dzong
Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): Wooden window frame inside Punakha Dzong
Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): Woodwork inside Punakha Dzong
Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): Corridor inside Punakha Dzong with wooden door and columns
Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): Modern religious art on the wall of a building inside Punakha Dzong
Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): View of the cantilever bridge of Punakha Dzong seen from the beach at the riverside
Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): Entering Punakha Dzong over the wooden stairs
Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): Centuries-old buildings inside Punakha Dzong
Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): Turning the prayer wheel at the entrance of Punakha Dzong
Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): This golden door of Punakha Dzong remains closed for regular visitors
Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): Painting with Buddhist significance on a wall inside Punakha Dzong
Picture of Punakha Dzong (Bhutan): Yulkhorsung, guardian deity of the East

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