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Date: Dec 21 2013

Route: Drive from Thimphu.


The distance between Thimphu and Punaka is about 56 miles (90 km), the first half of which is a long climb upto about 10k f (3050 m) to Dochula Pass. The road twists and turns and if you are prone to getting car sick, this is where it will happen. Due to the altitude, the temperature quickly drops as you get close to the top. But, on the other side, the descent into the Punakha valley is mostly straight and it becomes warmer. As we descended, we were greeted with views of terraced paddy fields and farmers harvesting grain by hand. Punakha was also going to be our home-stay night, where we stay at a local’s house and have dinner with them.

Dochula Pass

This is a famous pass between Thimphu and the Punakha valley. After a winding, climbing drive of about 24km, we saw our first glimpse of snow in Bhutan. There is a memorial of 108 chortens (stupas) built in the memory of Bhutanese soldiers killed in 2003 by insurgents from India. This pass also offers spectacular views of the main Himalayan range and of Bhutan’s highest mountains.

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This is a small village at the start of the route to the Chimi Lakhang Monastary and is also known as the village of the Phalluses. From the moment you enter to when you leave, there are all manner of phalluses depicted on walls, paintings, shop sings, and postcards. The few small shops sell hand-carved phalluses of every size and shape. This being the ‘fertility valley’, homage is strangely only paid to one half of the fertility equation while the other half is completely ignored.

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Chimi Lankhang Monastery

About a 30 minute walk along paddy fields from the village bring you to the ‘Fertility Monastary’ which explains the village’s obsession with phalluses. It was founded in 1499 by a Buddhist priest named Lama Kunley, whose unorthodox interpretation of Buddhism included signing, drinking, and lots of sexual activity. Unsurprisingly, this branch of Buddhism became popular and it was Kunley who deemed the world should be decorated with phalluses of every kind. The temple also holds the original (rather modest) wooden phallus that Kunley brought from Tibet. A gentle tap on the head by a monk from this 10” wooden phallus is considered a blessing and guaranteed to cure infertility.

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Punakha Dzong

After a lovely evening with our local hosts, we spent the next day exploring what is considered the most beautiful dzong (fortress) in the country. Punakha was the capital of Bhutan from 1637-1907 and the first national assembly was hosted here in 1953. It is the second oldest and second largest dzong in all of Bhutan. It took almost a year to finish the building and the most impressive aspect is that it was built without the use a single nail. The dzong is located at the intersection of two of Bhutan’s major rivers and offers a beautiful and serene setting. The only way to enter is to cross a covered, wooden Bazam (bridge) and you will get great pictures of monks in red robes crossing it. The main entrance to the Dzong is via very steep stone and wooden stairs which leads to a massive wooden door. There are three main courtyards, each serving a different function. The first courtyard is for administrative purposes and also contains a white stupa and a huge Bbodhi tree. The second courtyard is really only a small space between the first and the grand entrance to the next. It is in the third courtyard you will find the main temple and also the treasury holding many of Bhutan’s national treasures. We went on a day with no other tourists about and had the main temple all to ourselves. Photographs are forbidden inside but the chance to meditate below massive statues of Buddha and other deities was unforgettable. Of all the temples in the world, this is one of the top ones I have seen, both in terms of simple elegance and peace.

(Click on gallery images below for details)

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