In and Around Punakha

Our day dawned cloudy and overcast as a light mist spread across the valley.  Clouds hung on the mountainsides as we woke and headed down to a breakfast of a wide variety of foods including Dal, Oatmeal, Roasted Potatoes, something that looked a lot like mini hot dogs, and baked goods.

After breakfast our plan was to hike and then raft the Mo Chu.  The weather had other plans for us today.  Once we reached the river, about 10 kilometers from the Zhingkham Hotel, the water was filled with debris.  Literally, entire trees were floating down the rapids, in places filling the wide river with huge pieces of wood.  The normally Class 2 rapids were now closer to Class 4 and in places Class 5.  Namgay and I quickly made the decision with the rafting company to cancel the float.

Suspension Bridge over the Mo Chu river….

As the mist turned to a light rain, we decide to hike to the temple and take our chances on the weather on foot.  The hike is a short (about 1 mile) steep climb through rice fields and, eventually, pine trees to the temple grounds about 600 feet above the valley floor.  It starts with a river crossing over a suspension bridge, one of two we would cross on this day.  As we trekked, all along the way the rain covered us.  At some point many of us made the decision to NOT wear a rain jacket.  The humidity in the air combined with the heat of hiking made wearing a jacket kind of silly.  Of course, being from New Mexico, walking in the rain was an incredible luxury.  So, we walked up the trail, winding through a pine forest, switch-backing our way to the Khamsum Yuling Namgyal Temple.

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We shared the muddy trail with people and animals.

Once we arrived, we were the only ones silly enough to brave the tumult.  Waiting for us were two monks and a police officer.  We waited for a few moments before going in just to let the water drip off our bodies…we were soaked!

This temple includes four levels, each one dedicated to a different wrathful deity.  Once we reached the third floor, we were able to walk to a balcony outside as the rain had stopped.  The view was spectacular as we could see miles down the river running north and south.

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After about an hour, we descended back to the river, hopped on the bus and headed back to the hotel to dry off and spend the afternoon at Punakha Dzong.

Taking a shot of this remarkable view.

Back on the bus, we made our way to the temple grounds and another short hike to the largest suspension bridge in Bhutan.  We crossed the Po Chu river and lingered on the bridge among lots of school-age kids just getting out of school and heading home.  Logan and Nick played the game “who can throw a rock into the river from a great distance” …both were successful!

The longest suspension bridge in Bhutan.

We hiked back past charnel grounds as a family gathered for the cremation of their relative and friend. The group were having a kind of party; we heard laughter and stories being told as we walked by.

We entered Punakha Dzong shortly after and climbed the steps into the temple.  This temple was once the seat of Bhutan’s capital, and the impressive size of the structure spoke to the importance of the place.  The climb into the building is up a steep flight of steps and immediately onto the grounds of the temple.  The building is massive in scale as an interior keep-like structure towers over the central courtyard.

The Courtyard in Punakha Dzong

Our goal was the shrine room in the far southern side of the temple.  The room is equally massive in scale, housing the statues of Padmasambhava, Buddha, and the founder of Bhutan Zhabdrung.  The Buddha statue, in the center back wall, is easily 50 feet or higher painted gold.  Each of the statues is surrounded by hundreds of carvings of other deities, animals, people, and carved flora of the area.  Once inside, Namgay told the group the 12 stages of the life of Buddha through the paintings on the wall of the shrine room.

Our full day finished, we headed back to the hotel, relaxed for the evening and are ready for the drive to Trongsa.

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