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, on clear day, from the pass at 3,100 meters is one of the most spectacular in all of Bhutan.
Punakha lies about an hour’s drive from Dochu La. Situated at a lower elevation of 1,250 meters, the valley gets hot during the summer months and stays warm during the winter months. Punakha Dzong is home to the central monk body and the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan) during the warm and ideal winter months of Punakha. Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955.
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. Hence, Punakha along with Paro, is known for growing the finest quality of rice Bhutan has to offer. Due to the natural topography and favourable climatic conditions, farmers of Punakha have the privilege of being able to grow two cycles of rice in a year.
Punakha Dzong was strategically built at the junction of the two rivers in the 17th century by Zhabdrung 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 Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal lies in a preserved 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 (altars), 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.