The magnificent Punakha Dzong

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Constructed in 1638, the Punakha Dzong is the second oldest as well as the second largest dzong in Bhutan.  Located at an altitude of 1,300m, it has a moderate climate and provides magnificent views of the distant Himalayas. Often called the most beautiful dzong in Bhutan, Punakha remained the capital of the government till 1950. In spring, beautiful jacaranda trees surround its whitewashed walls, as the meticulously painted gold, red and black carved woods add to the structure’s splendour.

Punakha Dzong was built strategically at the junction of the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu rivers by Tibetan Buddhist lama Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. Its purpose was to serve as the religious and administrative centre of the region. In addition to its strategic positions at the confluence of two rivers, the structure has many other features designed to protect it in case of an invasion. The steep wooden stairs at the entrance are designed to be pulled up. A heavy wooden door still guards the entrance and is locked every night.

The dzong was destroyed and rebuilt after fire engulfed it many a time. The last such fire was in 1986. In the southern-most courtyard is the temple where the remains of Shabdrung are preserved. He died in Punakha Dzong and his casket is kept closely guarded, only the king and the Je Khenpo may enter the room where his body is kept.

The Kuenrey, at the far end of the dzong, is a sight you must see. Giant statues of Buddha and Shabdrung are present as you enter the temple. Once inside, you will find yourself mesmerised by the intricately designed ceiling. Hundreds of beautifully painted dragons adorn the high ceiling. The Kuenrey also contains a Buddhist art masterpiece as an invaluable painting depicting the 12 episodes of the life of the Buddha is present there.

The Dzong is open for visitors during the Punakha festival and in summer months when the 600 strong monk body present at the fortress moves to Thimphu.