Bhutan's former capital, Punakha is often seen on a long day trip from Thimphu. It offers superlative views of the Himalayas and can be used as a base to visit the nearby Wangdiphodrang Dzong and Punakha Dzong. Punakha Dzong is the winter home of the largest group of monks in the country (some 500) and the Je Khempo (Buddhist religious leader). It is considered to be the most elaborate temple in the country and is still used today as government offices for the district.
The drive over the Dochula Pass to Punakha is breathtaking. The Punakha Suspension Bridge, said to be one of the longest in the region, is a fun place to stop since it is close to the Punakha Dzong.
The Punakha Domche festival is in late February-March.
Don't be surprised by the numerous phallic symbols that are painted on many buildings in the region because of the Chimi Lhakhang Temple (known as the fertility temple); these represent new life and fertility. Phallic statues are also widely sold in markets and stores, and it may come as a surprise to many Western visitors. They are visible across the country, but there are noticeably more near the fertility temple. Many people come to this temple in hopes of getting pregnant. Many of these symbols are painted on building doors as a matter of protection.
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