Built in 1637 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, known as the unifier of Bhutan as a nation state, to serve as the religious and administrative seat of the region and the birth place of the dual system of government, Punakha Dzong remains to be one of the most important dzong in the country. This is where all the Kings of Bhutan have been crowned and is the official winter residence of the “dratshang” or the official monk body.
Entering the town of Punakha and seeing the dzong for the first time will make you forget about the long, curving road travel from Thimphu. It is really a magnificent view and the town of Punakha, located at the lower elevation of 1,200m enjoy a summer breeze like weather that makes discovering the dzong even more enjoyable.
Access to the dzong is via the Bazam Bridge, a 2008 reconstruction after the original washed away in a flash flood. Like the bridge, many parts of Punakha Dzong were repaired and reconstructed due to damage from frequent fires and earthquakes.
Located in the first courtyard with the Bodhi Tree in the middle is the administrative offices while the second courtyard is the residential quarters of the monks, while six storey high central tower or “utse” is located in-between the two courtyards.
I love standing small against the background of towering whitewashed walls, looking up and admiring the layers after layers of decorative window. As per his request, I took so many pictures of my guide Namgay, I think despite the numerous times that he has seen Punakha Dzong, there is just something about the intricate details of the dzong that makes anyone want to recapture once more.
Visiting places such as Punakha Dzong somehow makes me understand the intention of the “High value, Low Impact” tourism approach that Bhutan government is promoting.
High value in a sense that none of these treasured places are overly crowded, visitors can actually enjoy and understand the uniqueness and authenticity of the culture, while Low impact means that tourists shows respect and care to the country’s environment, heritage and people.
Certainly, we all been there, to palaces, museums, landmarks, where we wish that there are only a handful of people for the experience to be so much better. We knew or seen cities, towns, island lost its identity and sadly, its inhabitants are lost along the way too.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about backpacking and budget travel, but sometimes it makes me wonder how better our travel experiences will be if sustainable tourism more than profit is what it is all about.
I am glad I have seen Punakha Dzong, I have been to Bhutan, I have experienced “high value, low impact” tourism and I think this is another lesson that the outside world can learn from this tiny Himalayan Kingdom.