Punakha Valley is popular among tourist for its Punakha Dzong, amazing 17th-century fortress, its unique techniques for growing rice as well its beautiful architecture. Punakha is situated at the juncture of two beautiful rivers the Pho and Mo Chu rivers which makes this place look even more majestic.
Punakha Town is the administrative capital of Punakha dzongkhag(District). Punakha was the earlier capital of Bhutan till 1955, after which capital was moved to Thimphu.
It is 72 km away from Thimphu, the capital, from Paro the distance is 116 Km. Punakha is relatively warm in winter and hot in summer than both Paro & Thimpu. Altitude of Punakha is 1,200 metres above sea level, and rice is the main crop along the river valleys of two main rivers of Bhutan, the Pho Chu and Mo Chu. The two rivers referred to as Male and Female river meets at Punakha and then proceed to form Punatshang Chu Which then flows into India to meet the Brahmaputra River.
Dzongkha the official Bhutanese language is primarily spoken in this district. Though you can communicate with the locals in English, Nepali and Hindi to certain extent.
Pungthang Dewachen Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness) or Punakha Dzong was constructed by Tuebi Zaow Balip under the great command of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1637 and believed to have been completed in a two-year time period. It is also the country's most beautiful Dzong. It is the winter residence of Bhutan's Central Monastic Body led by the Je Khenpo. The Dzong houses the most sacred relics of the Southern Drukpa Kagyu school including the Rangjung Kasarpani, and the sacred remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Tertön Padma Lingpa. Punakha Dzong In 1907, Punakha Dzong was the site of the coronation of Ugyen Wangchuck as the first King of Bhutan. Three years later, a treaty was signed at Punakha whereby the British agreed not to interfere in Bhutanese internal affairs and Bhutan allowed Britain to direct its foreign affairs. In 1780, 1789, 1802, 1831, 1849, and in 1986, the dzong was partially destroyed by fire. It also experienced an Earthquake in 1897 and a flood in 1994. Due to its location at the confluence of the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers in the Punakha-Wangdue valley, the dzong is vulnerable to flash flooding caused by glacier lakes (GLOF). According to a recent report, flash flood damage to Punakha Dzong occurred in 1957, 1960 and 1994. Currently (March 2010) work is in progress to protect the dzong from future flood damage by deepening the river channels and raising the embankments using four large steam shovels. A covered wooden cantilever bridge crossing the Mo Chhu river was built together with the Dzong in the 17th century. This bridge was washed away by a flash flood in 1957 or 1958. In 2006 work started on a new covered wooden cantilever bridge of traditional construction with a free span of 55 meters which was completed in 2008 with the help from the Germans.
Punakha valley is famous in Bhutan for rice farming. Both red and white rice are grown along the river valley of Pho and Mo Chu, two of the most prominent rivers in Bhutan. Ritsha (meaning at the base of a hill) is a typical village in Punakha. The village houses are made of pounded mud with stone foundations. Each house is only two stories high. Surrounding the houses are the gardens and the rice fields. The gardens also usually have fruit-bearing plants like oranges and papaya among the organic vegetables. The village is 1 km away from Punakha-Gasa high-way and currently, the villagers are engaged in constructing the 1 km farm road. In recent years, the farming work is mechanized and power-tillers instead of bullocks are used to plough the fields and villagers have become relatively prosperous. This village is often called the ‘rice bowl’ of Bhutan due to abundance of red and white rice.