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Punakha Dzong (literally “Palace of Great Happiness”) was the ancient capital of Bhutan until 1955 when the capital was moved to Thimphu. It was built in 1637 by the Zhabdrung, the “Unifier of Bhutan” as predicted by the great Guru Rimpoche Padmasambhava. It is built on a strategic place at the confluence of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. The Dzong has played an important role in the history of Bhutan and is considered one of the most beautiful dzongs in the country. It is also believed to be a replica of Guru Padmasambhava’s palace in his paradise. It served as the seat of Zhabdrung’s government, where several foreign delegations were received here in the 18th and 19th century. It was here in 1907 that Bhutan’s first king was crowned and the third King convened the first National Assembly in the Dzong. The Dzong is used for the celebration of national events such as the coronation of the King. The three storey main temple of the Punakha Dzong is a breathtaking example of traditional architecture with intricately embossed entrance pillars crafted from cypress and decorated in gold and silver. The embalmed bodies of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Terton Pema Lingpa are housed on the top floor of the main tower. The Dzong was damaged by four catastrophic fires and earthquakes several times in the past and the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King from the latest fire in 1987. Today it is winter residence for the central monastic body headed by His Holiness the Je Khenpo (chief abbot of Bhutan).
Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten
Newly built in 2004 by Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Khamsum Yulley Namgyal Chorten is a more elaborate version of the Memorial Chorten in Thimphu and features an astounding work of powerful deities and intricate statues. Buddhist monuments are built for various purposes and this particular stupa is dedicated to the 5th King with the wish to lead the country peacefully and harmoniously during his regime.
Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Lhakhang Nunnery College
Opened in Oct 2015, this nunnery college is perched on a ridge amid pine trees and overlooking the valleys of Punakha and Wangduephodrang. Built on top of a hill, you can get an incredible view of the whole countryside. The temple houses a 14-foot bronze statue of Avalokiteshvara (Chenrigzig chagtong chentong). Other statues in the temple include those of Guru Padmasambawa, Gautama Buddha, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, Tsela Namsum, the 21 Taras and Tsepamay (Buddha of longevity). The Avalokiteshvara statue, one of the biggest in the country, was the handiwork of entirely local Bhutanese artisans. The temple complex also houses a permanent higher learning and meditation centre for nuns where, apart from religious training, provides life skill training such as tailoring, embroidery, statue making and thangka painting. This nunnery college is popular in the country because of its excellence in academic achievements and good facilities provided for the nuns.
Also known as the Fertility Monastery, Chimi Lhakhang is the temple of the Drukpa Kuenley who is also known as the Divine Madman. He inherited the Divine Madman title since he revolted against the orthodox Buddhism in his time. He taught the people that religion is an inner feeling and it’s not necessary that one should be an ordained monk. He is also considered a symbol of fertility and most childless couples go to his temple to obtain blessings. Feel free to ask your guide about the many interesting stories about this monastery regarding fertility blessings. Today the Divine Madman still sits there, though as statue. Do not miss the master’s deeds painted on the walls.