Let us begin with a fun fact:
UntiBlissfully Yours - Bhutan (Part2 - Punakha)l the 1970s till Bhutan got its own currency, taxes were collected in kind. It could be farm produce such as dried meat or rice wine distilled from various types of fermented grains. Due to the fact that the meat got infested with maggots if stored for too long in the cellar or treasury, booze was the preferred currency. However, this invited another problem as taxmen were frequently found dead after getting drunk in the treasury. Hence, Bhutan was left with an unavoidable decision of introducing currency instead of booze, thus the Ngultrum was born.
We headed to Punakha early the next morning and were fairly advised to carry warm clothes for the journey as well. Dochula pass which is also commemorated as the memorial chortens for martyr soldiers built by the eldest Queen mother is a mountain pass in the snow-covered Himalayan range on the route connecting Thimpu and Punakha. If one suffers from motion sickness, popping up mouth-freshener as one rides up the fog clogged hilly road is recommended. The snow-covered Himalayan range became crystal clear as the mist cleared against the tall cypress trees. We begged for a hot cup of tea as soon as we were consumed by the silence and calm of the 108 stupa chortens. Every angle is Instagram-worthy, I kid you not. The pass also houses a monastery built in the honor of the head of the state and also lends out the courtyard for the annual Dochula Druk Wangyel Festival.
108 Chorten Stupa
We checked in at Kichu Resort and were undeniably awestruck by the view from the balcony of our room. The rooms are situated alongside a gushing river, Chu translating to the river; the roaring noise coupled with the foresty hustle of flora and fauna was truly intriguing. Most hospitality estates in Bhutan are traditionally constructed, inbuilt with all the modern amenities. Therefore, presenting the best of both worlds.
Punakha Dzong falls under the list of most coveted places to be visited and I don’t dare deny the fact. Dzong as highlighted earlier is official buildings constructed for official and monarchial purposes. This majestic structure was constructed in the 16th century and stands as the second oldest and second-largest dzong in Bhutan. The wedding of the 4th King was the most sought-after occasion which was held in near past. I marveled at the immense intricacy of design on every wood carving, undoubtedly some of the best I have witnessed. It is situated on parchment of land between two rivers, Mo Chhu and Po Chhu; owing to strategically positioning in times of war we were told. The courtyard outside the Dzong building hosts conservational festivals for migratory black-necked cranes during winters. However, the panoramic view of the Dzong between the river bodies is the ultimate showstopper.
Every time I researched about Punakha travel, the 180m long suspension bridge stood out as the primary result. However, in my opinion, Po Chhu river flowing under the bridge contributes immensely to the beauty of the bridge and the seasonal changes in water level would definitely have an impact. This is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan and undoubtedly a gorgeous piece of construction swinging mildly in the rapid breeze while the crystal blue river flowed underneath. A lot of tourists indulge in rafting on Po Chhu river most monsoon months.
Punakha suspension bridge and Mo Chhu and Po Chhu River
Consumption of alcohol is widely accepted in Bhutan and is touted as a necessity in most areas which explains the availability of wine and beer or hard liquor in most department stores. The peach wine, I find, is less sweet than you might expect and very refreshing when chilled (the Zumim brand is great).
The mysticisms continue. Punakha being the erstwhile capital of Bhutan continues to fiercely practice an age-old tradition of worshipping the most intriguing of objects, the phallus. They are everywhere. Ornate penises flanking of doorways, sometimes hanging from the roof or painted on the walls outside the house, from bright yellow to pastel pinks; sometimes hairy and enveloped in dragon spitting fire and some even ejaculating. A Tibetan Lama had traveled across the country to ward off the locals’ unwavering adherence to orthodox societal norms and preach Buddhism. He had chanced upon a young girl who believed in his cause and pleased with her loyalty, he had spent the night with her and blessed her with an offspring. He is nicknamed as the Divine Madman and today, the fertility temple at Chimi Lakhang houses an ancient bow and arrow and a 10-inch phallic totem made of ivory and wood.
Paddy on the way to Chimi Lakhang
Reality or myth, Chimi Lakhang is a pleasantly shocking trip to make when in Bhutan. After all, don’t we all need a reminder to dispel stereotypes and conventions and follow our own paths to enlightenment?