Punakha Dzong

Written by Cipto Handoyo

Formerly named Pungtang Dechen Photrang Dzong, ‘The Palace of Bliss or Great Happiness’, Punakha Dzong was built in 1637. The location of the majestic fortress is said to have been chosen by the founder of Bhutan, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. Punakha Dzong takes pride in being the second oldest and also the second largest dzong in Bhutan. The dzong is part of the Drukpa Lineage of the Kagyu school of Buddhism in Bhutan.

It’s magnificent structure showcases the world-class architecture of Bhutan and finest Bhutanese craftnaship. In fact, Bhutanese architecture has inspired building designs from all over the world including the architecture of an entire university campus, UTEP in Texas, United States. Punakha Dzong is truly one of the most beautiful dzongs in Bhutan and one of the most visited places by tourists.

Punakha Dzong complex
Punakha Dzong is a six-storey structure with an utse (central tower) located at an elevation of 1200 m (3900 ft). Punakha Dzong’s structures such as the doors and windows was built using rammed earth, stones and timber. The dzong measures 180 m (590 ft) in length and 72m (236 ft) wide with three docheys (courtyards), unlike the other dzongs that usually have only two courtyards. The northern yard is where all the administrative functions take place. The courtyard consists of a large white stupa and a Bodhi tree.

The third courtyard is the most important of all as it houses the main temple and national treasures. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to enter; only the two designated guardians, lama, the king and the chief abbot can access it.

Aside from that, the Nag Yul Bum Temple houses the original volume of the Kanjur, which is the golden holy book of the Drupka School of Thought.

Served as the Government’s Central Location until the Mid-1950s Punakha Dzong is deeply rooted in history and significance. For many years, Punakha Dzong served as the seat or the central location for the Government of Bhutan until the capital relocated to Thimphu in 1955.

The majestic fortress remains Punakha’s District Administrative Center housing several religious relics. The fortress also served as the venue for the notable royal wedding of the fifth king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema.

Punakha Dzong standing strong
In 1939 and 1944, the Tibetan attacked Punakha Dzong but thanks to its defenders, the attack was averted, and the fortress survived to stand the test of time. A commemorative chapel was built to house the arms seized from the Tibetans who were defeated by the Bhutanese on this spot. From 1744 to 1763, the dzong was enlarged substantially during the rule of the 13th desi, when Sherab Wangchuk was the chief abbot. The dzong suffered numerous fires between 1750 and 1849, and was severely destroyed by an earthquake in 1897.

What Makes Punakha Dzong Such a Unique Tourist Attraction?
Punakha Dzong sits at the confluence of the Mo Chhu (Female) and Pho Chhu (Male) rivers. To access the dzong, you’ll need to cross the Bazam Bridge, rebuilt in 2008 after severe floods swept away the original bridge built in the 17th century.

The ‘one hundred pillar hall’, which has exquisite murals, is a fascinating sight for tourists to admire. Inside the dzong, there are beautifully carved woodwork and colourful paintings. The dzong is also very picturesque and a great spot for photography.

Punakha Dzong was also the venue for the notable royal wedding of King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema held on 13 October 2011.

What’s the Best Time to Visit Punakha Dzong?
For the best experience, visit the spectacular fortress in May. It’s the season where gorgeous jacarandas blossom, beautifying the courtyard of Punakha Dzong.

The popular annual Punakha Tshechu festival and Punakha Drubchen is also held in Punakha Dzong, in either February or March.