The old capital of Bhutan is two hours away from Thimphu. The elevation of Punakha is 1200 m, with the lower elevation Punakha enjoys hot summers and warm winters. For this reason, Punakha is also the winter home for the Monastic body.
The most striking view that will greet you as you enter this rice paddy filled valley is one of the most beautiful Dzongs in Bhutan, the Punakha Dzong. Built between the confluence of two rivers, the Pho Chhu river on one side and the Mo Chhu River on the other side, it was damaged due to a flood back in 1994 but quickly restored to its former beauty. Should you visit during May, purple Jacaranda trees surround the Dzong giving it an other-worldly look, a monument straight out of a fantasy novel. Both the Pho Chhu and the Mo Chhu rivers provide an opportunity for rafting in this fantastic setting. The Pho Chhu runs rougher and is recommended for those with some experience whereas the Mo Chhu is gentler and is perfect for beginners.
Punakha is also famous for Chimi Lhakhang, a monastery built in honour of one of Bhutan’s most beloved saints, the Divine mad man Drukpa Kinley. The Temple is a fertility temple visited by couples who are trying to conceive. Keeping in with the theme of fertility all houses in the area have large phalluses painted on their walls and even the small handicraft stores sell wooden phalluses.
A popular short hike in Punakha is the hike to the Khamsum Yuley Namgyel Chorten, clocking in about one hour of walking, the end of the hike promises a breath-taking view of the valley as a reward.