The road winds up from the Simtokha Dzong into pine forests and through small villages for 20 kilometers and then opens up at the Do Chula pass. The view of the Himalayas from the pass at 10,500 feet is one of the most spectacular in all Bhutan.
Punakha lies about two hours drive from Dochu La. With only a sparse population, Punakha Dzong is home to the central monk body and the Je Khenpo during the milder winter months.
With a temperate climate and silt deposits from the Pho Chu (male) and Mo Chu (female) rivers, the fertile Punakha valley produces abundant crops and fruits. Punakha served as capital of Bhutan until 1955.
Punakha Dzong was strategically built at the junction of the two rivers in the 17th century by the first Shabdrung to serve as the religious and administrative center. In spite of the many disastrous fires and earthquakes that destroyed many historic documents, the Dzong houses numerous sacred temples including the Ma Chen, where the embalmed body of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal lies in state.
A catastrophic flood in 1994 left the Dzong seriously damaged. On May 13, 2003, the Punakha Dzong was completely restored as one of the most important monuments of Bhutan’s religious, cultural, and political history. Now enriched with new Lhakhangs, more than 200 new religious images, and numerous other treasures, the Punthang Dewachenpoi Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness) was sanctified and its pure spirituality immortalized with the sacred rituals.