Getting to Punakha Valley from Thimphu takes you to one of the most famous passes in Bhutan - Dochula. It's one of the places, I visited, where you can stand and see a long and majestic line of mountains guarding the northern border of Bhutan. However, it is also the site of a war memorial, 108 chortens built to commemorate the soldiers who fell trying to quash a rebellion. Also at the crest is an important temple, The Druk Wangyal Lhakhang.
We went there early morning and happened to run into one of the members of the royal family paying her respects at the temple. There was none of the pomp and show usually associated with royalty worldwide. She had come in a sedan and was accompanied by a jeep with a few guards. Now I am not sure, if more were hidden from us by the mist.
The peace and quiet of the place will immediately make you forget the rest of the world as you soak in the atmosphere of the place. We were loath to leave this place, but hunger dragged us onward to a restaurant nearby that also offered stunning views of the countryside and not to mention, hot food in the middle of nowhere.
It was early afternoon by the time we reached the Punakha Valley. There were three main sites, we planned to visit and had two days to do this.
The first was a monastery with a fascinating history due to the especially unorthodox works of the person who blessed it. Chimi Lhakhang, is famous for blessing couples who visit with fertility. Drupka Kinley, nick named the Divine Madman, was famous for his unique way of teaching Buddhism which included singing, humour and, let's just say sexual overtures that would get a person arrested today. He is also credited with introducing the phallus as a symbol on houses to ward against the evil eye and malicious gossip. Keeping to the tradition of the phallus. Blessings at Chimi Lhakhang are given by the head monk striking 10 inch long ivory, wood and bone phallus. Given its modest size, its also a good place to observe young wards at work in the monastery.
The visit to the monastery, ended with a mad dash for the car as the heavens opened up on us and our not so waterproof cameras. Indians are quite commonly visible in this area because of the work going on to build Hydro-electric plants, which provide Bhutan a much needed source of income. They even have their own little town.
The next visit was to an extremely picturesque place. Punakha Dzong, situated at the union of two rivers, it is the seat of the district administration. While I could probably spend days just trying to get photographs from all the different angles, we decided to wait in a single spot for the magic minutes that appear every evening, between sunset and dusk.
The next morning we had one last place to visit before we headed back to Thimphu. We went to attend the first part of the Wangdue Tsechu. A Tsechu are annual religious festivals in all the districts of Bhutan. Its a time for people from all over the district, remote villages included to get together, bond and celebrate. Traditionally performed on the grounds attached to the district dzong, this one was performed on the local army base ground, since the local Dzong had caught fire recently (June 2012) and was in the process of being rebuilt.
While Tsechu itself lasts 3 whole days, the dances on the first day are often performed with a member of the royal family in attendance. In this particular case, it was the current king and queen of Bhutan. Here again, their simplicity and connection to their people showed clearly, as they walked around during a break in the performances and talked to people. Of particular interest to them, was how the visitors (us included) were finding their country and if we had any suggestions that could make it easier for tourists. Here again, we were surprised, the king recognized our guide from his time serving on the staff of the royal family. Our guide was indeed a well known man.
Alas, it was time for us to head back to Thimphu to attend a part of the Thimphu Tsechu as well. You can find more pictures from my Bhutan trip @ Google+