After driving over the 3,000 meters+ Dochula Pass, we twisted and turned our way down into the lower elevations of the Punakha Valley. Here we got a break from the headache-inducing mountain roads by taking a walk through the rice paddies. Summer’s rains have turned the high rice into the brightest shade of green.
Our short hike led us to the Chhimi Lhakhang, or Divine Madman Temple. The Divine Madman is an important and colorful character in Bhutan’s history. He is famous for dramatizing his teachings and using outrageous sexual humor. The temple here is also a place of pilgrimage for those seeking fertility. You’ll also notice phallic symbols painted on local houses and buildings which is a testament to his influence to this day.
Further up the river valley is the town of Punakha and its magnificent Dzong. The Dzong is a fortified monastery and civic government building, and this one in Punakha is arguably the country’s most beautiful. It was actually the capital of Bhutan for over 300 years. It still serves as the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan) in the winter months.
The Punakha Dzong was really impressive, sitting imposingly at the confluence of two rivers. Both the interior and exterior are worth a closer look.