Although Punakha is only 73km from Thimphu, it would take the longest, rockiest 3 hours of our lives to reach on what we now officially call: the WORLD’S BUMPIEST ROAD. Dorji, our guide, advised that due to regular landslides on the mountains, the road kept getting damaged and destroyed. With little economy and help from neighbouring Indian workers, it was always in a state of repair and/or construction. “Just think of it as a 3 hour full-body massage!” he suggested.
The route took us through Dochula Pass. At 3150m altitude, the wide range of the east Himalayan ranges are visible on a clear day. Clouds obscured our view a little, but who can complain?
Here we wandered around the 108 Druk Wangyel Stupas and the Wangyel Monastery, built by one of the queen mothers of Bhutan.
Continuing on, we made a pitstop for some BBQ corn-on-the-cob at a roadside stall beside a small waterfall. For some reason they use corn that isn’t juicy yet and instead, very starchy and bland. Oh well.
Our painful ride finally reached Punakha. All things being equal, it was still worth it.
Once we crossed the wooden bridge and climbed the steep stairs through the entrance, we were surprised just how grand and spacious it was inside. The courtyards were massive, the ancient fortress buildings themselves towering over us, splashed with bright colours and details in every nook and cranny.
Dorji gave us a tour inside the main Buddhist hall, detailing the history of Buddha and how Bhutan’s beliefs differ from other Buddhist cultures. Although we couldn’t take any photos inside, the wall’s were filled with an enormous continuing mural of Buddha’s life story in vivid colours and pictures representing daily life. Dorji’s knowledge made it an inspiring visit and brought meaning to the paintings filled with so much detail. From the ceiling hung massive silk lanterns adorned in bright colours. Colour it seems, is at the heart of Bhutan’s art and culture.
A common picture we would come to see elsewhere in our travels is The Four Harmonious Friends, a symbol of Bhuddist beliefs. Without going into the history of it, basically it shows an (in order, standing on top of each other from bottom to top): Elephant, Monkey, Hare and Bird.
A visit to Chimi Lhakhang, a special monastery for fertility, requires a short hike along a farm trail through villages and rice fields in the middle of the Wangdi Valley. A common sight on the side of houses throughout Bhutan is a picture of…well…a phallus. Fertility is good luck, I suppose.
The trail would have to be the most picturesque scene in our time in Bhutan. (Big call!) Made even more special knowing that the farmers and villagers were wearing their normal traditional clothing and just enjoying the afternoon sun.
We didn’t complain at all about the bumpy ride back to Paro.
Visited 26th October 2013.