Standing proudly astride the confluence of the Mo Chhu and Po Chhu (the Female and Male Rivers), Punakha Dzong is one of Bhutan’s most beautiful buildings. While the dzong is a handsome sight at any time of year, it is at its best in spring, when lilac jacaranda blossoms soften the the stately white walls and fall like snow along the riverbanks.
With its construction foretold by Guru Rinpoche and its location decided by the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the dzong is not only a gem of Bhutanese architecture, but also arguably one of Bhutan’s most important buildings, serving as the seat of the national government until the 1950s. Bhutan’s main dratshang still winters here each year to avoid the chill of the upper Thimphu Valley.
Visitors approach the dzong over a long cantilever bridge that spans the Mo Chhu and up a steep flight of wooden steps. The first dochey or courtyard houses Punakha dzongkhag’s government offices, with darkened passages leading south around the six-story utse to the monastic quarters that line the second courtyard. The utse contains Bhutan’s holiest relic, an image of Chenrezig (the bodhisattva of compassion) that the Zhabdrung brought to Bhutan from Tibet — although this is not on public display. The dzong’s religious heart lies in the southernmost courtyard, where the body of the Zhabdrung is preserved in the Machey Lhakhang, and where the monks pray each day before vast statues of Buddha, Guru Rinpoche and the Zhabdrung in the main assembly hall.