Punakha and Dochula (Day 6)
We had the permit only to Punakha but not to dochula (The locations needs to be specifically mentioned in the permit). So decided to pay another visit to the Immigration office to get the permit to ensure that we don’t land up in Bhutanese jail :). However it was told to us that since Dochula is located on the way to Punakha, the permit need not exclusively have Dochula mentioned. As we exited the Immigration office, we managed to locate a taxi driver who agreed to take us to Punakha via dochula (and back) for 3.5K INR. Given that it was full day journey , we felt the amount was reasonable.
About Dochula Pass
The Dochula Pass is a mountain pass on the road from Thimpu to Punakha where 108 memorial chortens or stupas known as “Druk Wangyal Chortens” have been built. Apart from the chortens there is a monastery called the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang (temple), built in honour of the fourth head of state of Bhutan.
Dochula Pass is located about an hour’s drive from Thimpu. It can be reached via taxi (or bus maybe since we found a few buses plying that route. We did not inquire about the bus route though)
The road from Thimpu to Dochula (and to Punakha) was under construction. So it was many kilometers of mountainous bumpy-dirt road ; the journey was very uncomfortable primarily because of the dust. There was no escaping it even with the windows closed. The taxi driver informed us that the road was under construction till Trashigang which is almost 500 Kms from Thimpu and would take 5 years (atleast). The road to dochula is uphill and windy (as it is everywhere in Bhutan). We reached dochula pass within a hour. The weather was pleasant.
We initially visited the beautiful Monastery next to Dochula Pass.
Inside the monastery, there are three huge statues of gurus central to Buddhism. Go around the temple to get a 360 degree view of the valleys. It was quite foggy at the time of our visit but on clear days, Mount Everest is visible from the pass.
After visiting the temple, we visited the 108 stupas at dochula pass. The chortens are situated at three levels and overall the collective structure is quite beautiful.
The temples contains pictures of deities and gurus central to Buddhism.
From here we pushed off to Punakha. The journey again was quite uncomfortable since majority of the road was under construction.We reached Punakha in about two hours and immediately headed for Punakha Monastery which was definitely the highlight of the day.
About Punakha Monastery
It is the second oldest and second largest dzong in Bhutan and one of its most majestic structures and also serves the administrative center of the Punakha district.The Dzong itself is located at the confluence of the Pho Chhu (father) and Mo Chhu (mother) rivers in the Punakha–Wangdue valley. It measures 180 metres (590 ft) in length with a width of 72 metres (236 ft) and has three courtyards. A lot of Buddhist festivals are celebrated in a grand manner at this monastery. (We were lucky to witness one).
Reaching Punakha Monastery
The monastery is about 3 hours drive from Thimpu and 2 hours from dochula
En route to the monastery, there is a great view point which gives you the best shot of the monastery, with the two rivers in view and the Punakha-wangdue valley in the background.
We reached the monastery at around 1:30 p.m and that was mistake !. The dzong is closed from 1 p.m and 3 p.m. In order the pass time, the taxi driver suggested another view point close to the monastery, a steel bridge across the river located only 5 minutes drive from the Dzong. And it was totally worth it !
It will look steep from a distance (as in the pic) but is easy & safe to walk across. It was constructed at a time when there was no solid road bridge across the river ; so folks used this to cross the river. The bridge is around 100 meters or so. Midway you get a few more shots of the entire valley.
We spent about 45 mins here.
We went back to the monastery by 2.30 and just spent rest of 30 minutes chit-chatting about our journey so far. At about 3 p.m we were allowed inside the monastery. There is this location just outside the monastery with a beautiful lake (below) ; unfortunately tourists are not allowed here. I just managed to get a shot leaning off a wall.
Note that photography is “partially allowed” inside the monastery. What I mean is photographs can be taken within the courtyards and of the structures when within the monastery but not when inside the rooms. We were also very lucky to spot the prime minister of Bhutan along with the lead Lama of Bhutan who happened to visit the punakha monastery on that specific day. In addition, the monks performed a spiritual dance session on this specific day !
There are multiple courtyards within the monastery. The final courtyard leads to a huge temple which has 25 feet statue of buddha along with huge and hundreds of years old tapestries. It is really calm inside and worth your time to spend a few minutes just taking it all in.
This concluded our journey of Bhutan. We intended to visit a few more places in Bhutan (Like Bumthang) but unfortunately these are located quite far away towards the interior of Bhutan. Since the transportation network is still under development, reaching the interiors of Bhutan is significantly more difficult but is probably worth it given its natural scenic beauty. That is something we reserved for our next journey.
Overall the trip was amazing and worth it for sure !!
Now for the tiresome 2 day journey back to bangalore. 😦