The Splendour of Central Bhutan: Visiting the Wangdu & Punakha Dzongs

After exploring the splendor of the Haa Valley, Chale le and Paro in Western Bhutan, I traveled back to the capital city of Thimpu. My next plan was to visit some of the famous locations of Central Bhutan. My trip to Central Bhutan would then be followed by a journey to Bhumtang which is located in Eastern Bhutan. Bhumtang is said to be the most spectacular part of the country but the travel routes had been damaged by to the heavy monsoon season. Due to this reason, I couldn’t travel to Eastern Bhutan but had the opportunity to visit three of the Central Districts of Wangdu, Punakha, and Phobjika.

In this article, I’ll be speaking about my trip to Wangdu and Punakha. The districts of Wangdu and Punakha lie close to each other and the main attraction in both the districts are their respective Dzongs.

As I have already mentioned in my previous post, every district in Bhutan houses a Dzong of their own. The word ‘Dzong’ can be translated into the English word, ‘Fortress’. Dzongs are massive structures with high walls on the exterior which enclose the courtyards, temples, administrative offices and monk accommodations.

How to get to Wangdu and Punakha from Thimpu?

Wangdu has located about 70kms away from the capital city of Thimpu. The Punakha district is situated 77kms away, towards the central part of Bhutan. One can easily hire a taxi to travel from Thimpu from either of the two places and I would definitely recommend traveling via shared taxis as they are a more affordable option. Punakha stands 7kms away from Wangdu and hosts Bhutan’s biggest and most important Dzong. This is why it’s advisable to have a stopover at Punakha, instead of Wangdu if you plan to visit both the places on the same day.

A shared taxi from Thimpu to Punakha cost me about 300 Nu. I stayed in a remote town called Khuruthang in the Punakha valley. I stayed at the Hotel Yeosel Rabtenling, which was the only accommodation available for tourists.

Places to Visit in Wangdu and Punakha:

Apart from being situated in a beautiful valley town, the only tourist attraction in both the districts were their respective Dzongs. I have spoken about Dzongs to a large extent in all my articles about Bhutan and it may sound really repetitive, but the Dzongs were similar yet unique in their own ways.

Wangdu Dzong:

The original Wangdu Dzong had been burned down in a huge fire a few years ago and the new one was under construction. I got to know this only after reaching the location, post a long and treacherous mountain ride from Thimpu to Wangdu. The administrative offices and monk had been moved to a temporary location after the accident.

In my post about Paro, I had stated that the view of the Paro Valley was one the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. Needless to say, that record was easily broken by the enchanting Wangdu Dzong. I observed that I was moving away from the main cities of Bhutan, my definition of beauty and peace kept advancing to new levels! Honestly speaking, I don’t think that the term ‘magical’ would be a worthy enough adjective to describe the magnificence of the location of Wangdu Dzong. The new Dzong building had been half-constructed when I reached there and the spot was heavily guarded for some reason. They didn’t allow me to take pictures of the new Dzong, but I wasn’t the one to give up. It may sound silly, but I find it especially fun to do things that are restricted. You can find a few exclusive photos of the new Wangdu Dzong below.

Punakha Dzong:

The Punakha Dzong is the administrative center for Punakha district. Administrative offices in Bhutan are totally different from what usually comes to mind when we think of Government offices.

The Punakha Dzong is the second biggest and another one of the most sacred Dzongs in Bhutan. It was the seat of the Bhutanese Government until the year 1955, which marks it special in the history of the country. The Dzong showcases the relics of the Southern Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. These include the Rangjung Kasarpani and also the sacred remains of Ngawang Namgyal and the Tertön Pema Lingpa. All the Bhutanese Kings are said to have been coronated at the Punakha Dzong.

The Dzong encloses a 14th century Dzong on the inside. This smaller Dzong hosts a statue of the Lord Buddha. Different parts of the Punakha Dzong were built over different time periods and showcases a consistent style of architecture.

Due to the use of wood in building Bhutanese houses and monasteries, fires accidents are quite common. Many historical buildings and temples are said to have been burned down and the Punakha Dzong is no exception. Multiple parts of the building are noticeably damaged, while some have been recently reconstructed.

The way to the Punakha Dzong is through a Bazam bridge that was rebuilt in 2008 after the original 17th-century bridge was washed away in a flood. The Dzong acts as a Government office as well as a religious building. Being a fortress, it contains various defensive controls which can be observed easily.

Wangdu and Punakha may not be the biggest tourist attractions but I would definitely recommend you to visit the grand Punakha Dzong. It’s unarguably the most beautiful building I saw in Bhutan. The pictures below may do some justice to the real building, but there aren’t enough words to explain how perfect my Bhutan experience truly was!

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