The journey to Punakha from Thimphu via. Dochu la Pass is must if you would like to experience the architecture, culture, and tradition of the Kingdom of Bhutan. Punakha, the ancient capital of Bhutan, hosted the grand royal wedding ceremony of the reigning king of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetson Pema, on 13th Oct 2011 and it still serves the winter capital due to more promising climate.
This tiny and sleepy-eyed Bhutanese city is wherever time slows down and is free from hustle-bustle of any town in outside world. Harmony and sublimity are truly synonymous to this small hamlet in the heart of the Himalayan Kingdom.
After 2 nights stay and sightseeing at Thimphu, we left for Punakha early morning at about 9:00 am. Punakha, the previous capital of Kingdom of Bhutan, is a cultural hotspot of the Himalayan Kingdom and is located at about 75 km north-east of the current capital, Thimphu. Our exclusive guide cum driver Prakash Lama reached at our hotel before 9 am. After a heavy breakfast, we left Thimphu.
There was a slight drizzle when we left our hotel. The sky was cloudy. This was not expected as the skies in October were generally clear. Going by the Prakash’s (our driver cum guide) experience, we would miss the views of the eastern Himalayan peaks that otherwise were clearly visible from Dochula Pass that’s at 10,000 feet.
Dochu La Pass
The distance between Thimphu to Dochula Pass is approximately 30 km. It will take 1 hr to 1.5 hrs to reach there. From Thimphu, the route to the east leaves the road to Paro and loops back over itself to become the east-west National Highway. The route climbs through apple orchards and forests of blue pine to the village of Hongtsho (2890m), where an immigration checkpoint controls all access to eastern Bhutan. Prakash presented our restricted-area travel permit in the immigration office. We got a chance to wrangle for walnuts, apples and dried cheese with the roadside vendors.
The road climbs to the Dochu La (3140m), marked by a large collection of prayer flags and an impressive collection of 108 chortens. On a transparent day, the pass offers a panoramic view of the Bhutan Himalaya. The collection of chortens was inbuilt 2005 as atonement for the loss of life caused by the flushing out of Assamese militants in southern Kingdom of Bhutan. We brought our own prayer flags to add to the collection.
As we tend to get nearer to Dochula Pass, it had begun to snow. We could see nothing beyond a few meters. The fog was all around. But then that’s the fun of travel… to expect the surprising. Many tourists stopped there for a hot drink at the Druk Wangyal Cafe, which offers espresso coffee and a warming Bukhari (traditional room heater). A landscape painting nearby labels the peaks on the horizon. Gangkhar Puensum (7541m) is the highest peak that is completely inside Bhutan; Kulha Gangri (7554m) is higher, but it is on the border with Tibet.
The head-to-head Druk Wangyal Lhakhang is well worth a visit to view its cartoon-style modern murals. Images include the fourth king battling Indian rebels in the jungle, monks using a laptop, and a Druk Air plane, alongside a modern history of the kingdom. The hill above the chortens is covered in a lovely rhododendron forest, part of the 47-sq-km Royal Botanical Park. If you were here between mid-March and the end of April, it’s well worth taking some time to wander in the forest and take in the wonderful flowers. It is additionally a decent space for bird watching.
On the hill just below the pass is the Dochula Eco Retreat, where some groups spend overnight in October and November, when views are clearest.
The area near the pass is believed to be inhabited by numerous spirits, including a cannibal demons. Lama Drukpa Kunley, the ‘Divine Madman’, built Chimi Lhakhang in the Punakha valley to subdue these spirits and demons.
We spent near forty-five minutes on the road, taking pictures of snow-clad trees. Our descent began. As we went down, the landscape changed. Paddy fields submerged the region. In October that is that the season, the entire valley turns golden. For now, there were just brown patches.
From Dochula to Metshina it took 2 hours to cover approx. 40 km distance. The vegetation changes dramatically at the pass from oak, maple and blue pine to a moist mountain forest of rhododendron, alder, cypress, hemlock and fir. There is also a large growth of daphne, a bush whose bark is harvested for making traditional paper. The large white chorten a few kilometers below the pass was built because of the high incidence of accidents on this stretch of road. Monasteries soon start to appear on the surrounding hills; notably Dalay and Talo goembas. The road continues its descent, looping in and out of a side valley, to the road junction and petrol station at Metshina, where the road to Punakha branches left off the National Highway.
From Metshina it took 30 minutes to cover 10 km and to reach Punakha. Just under 2km from the junction and 6.5km from Metshina, is the dusty new town of Khuruthang. All of Punakha’s shops were relocated to this charmless concrete grid in 1999. There are several restaurants, local hotels, and a Saturday vegetable market. Our driver Prakash stopped here and took us to Yak Herder’s Camp Restaurant for lunch. It was clean and was managed by a single lady. Food was good, but the quantity was small as compared to the other restaurants we visited in Bhutan. What was the most amazing point was the scenic view of the river from the hotel.
By 5 PM we reached our hotel – Hotel Kingaling. The location offered a great view of the valley. Since it had been off-season, we were the only ones around tempting smart service! For details click below mentioned link-
Also read THIMPHU SIGHTSEEING