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Punakha Dzong- The Must Visit Fairy Tale Fortress in Bhutan

Punakha dzong is quite special in the sense that it has three Docheys (courtyards) instead of the usual two found in other dzongs. The first (northern) courtyard is for administrative functions which houses a huge whitewashed chorten and a lofty bodhi tree. In the far left corner are a collection of stones and a shrine dedicated to the Tsomen, queen of the nagas (snake spirits) whose image lies to the side.

The second courtyard houses the monastic quarters and is separated from the first by the utse. In this courtyard, there are two halls, one of which was used by the first king Ugyen Wangchuck where John Claude White presented him with the Order of Knight Commander of the Indian empire in 1905.

Significant Occasions 

Punakha served as Bhutan’s capital for over 300 glorious years, which still serves as the winter residence of the Zhung Dratshang (the Central monastic body). The first king, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck was crowned here in 1907 and the third king convened the Bhutan National assembly here for the first time in 1952.

The First King of Bhutan

In the southernmost courtyard is the temple where the mortal remains of terton Pema Lingpa and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal are preserved and lay in state in the Machey Lhakhang (machey means sacred embalmed body), which was rebuilt in 1995. Other than two guardian lamas, only the king and the Je Khenpo are allowed to enter the room.

Coronation of Present King Jigme Kheser Namgyal Wangchuck 

In 2008, the fifth and the current king underwent a secret ceremony in the dzong, receiving the blessings of the Zhabdrung and receiving the Royal Raven Crown before proceeding to a formal coronation in Thimphu. His Majesty King Jigme Kheser Namgyal Wangchuck married her Majesty Queen Jetsuen Pema in 2012 in Punakha Dzong.

The Royal Wedding 

Punakha also has one of the most famous festivals in the kingdom, the springtime DROMCHOE, dedicated to the protector deity Yeshe Goenpo (Mahakala).At the south end is the hundred-pillar assembly hall (which actually has only 54 pillars). The exquisite murals that were commissioned by the second Druk Desi depict the life of Buddha.

The giant statues of the Buddha, Guru Rinpoche and the Zhabdrung date back to the mid-18th century and there are some fine gold panels on the eight main pillars of the alter.

Bhutan’s most treasured possession is the Rangjung (‘Self-Created) Kharsapani, an image of Chenrizig kept in the Tse Lhakhang in the Utse of the dzong. It was brought to Bhutan from Tibet by the Zhabdrung and features in Punakha’s famous Dromchoe festival which actually depicts the several war victories over the Tibetans.



Punakha dzong is 180m long and 72m wide and the utse is six storeys high. And can you believe it that every three years during Punakha Dromchoe, a giant throngdrel (probably the largest thangka in the whole wide world) covering the entire length and breadth of the six storey high utse is unfurled for the public. The thongdrel’s central image is the Zhabdrung encircled by miniatures of successive Je Khempos (chief abbots) and other deities which truly is a work of fine silk embroidery, art and cultural heritage.


To this very day, one can actually see the first coded law of the kingdom engraved in letters of gold on slates displayed on the chorten (stupa) which sits directly below the Dzongchung (mini-dzong or fort) in the front courtyard of the dzong entrance. Over 400 years ago, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal wrote the Chayig Chenmo and used it to unite the country. Today, the code of law is with the Zhung Dratshang and the state monks still abide by it. This is the tradition of the Dharma King of Bhutan.

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal; The founder of Bhutan

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal is revered as the founder of Bhutan. He introduced statecraft, which has its root deeply embedded in Buddhism. Zhabdrung strengthened the Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Buddhism and became the head of the state with the title of Zhabdrung, also known as Dharma Raja, which means The King of Righteous Law. During his 38 years in Bhutan, he used the code of law to unite the minds of the Bhutanese and develop the first system of governance.

Before the Chayig Chenmo was introduced, there was no real law in the country. For example, each region had its own law and each place had its own religious system. There was no universal value or common interest to bind the people. So when the code of law was introduced it became the common denominator and many of the Bhutanese ungrudgingly followed it.


Punakha Dzong is well known for its magnificent architecture. The fortress in one of the MUST VISIT Landmark in Bhutan. Hundreds of tourists travel to Punakha to visit the dzong and pay homage to the Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal.

During the spring season, lilac coloured jacaranda flowers spread against the whitewashed towering wall envelope the dzong. The dzong gives viewers one of the MOST INSTAGRAMMABLE PHOTOGRAPHY VIEW.

Dzong during Spring Season 


A flood washed the original roofed wooden cantilever bridge, built together with the Dzong in the 17th century away in 1958. However today the sacred Punakha Dzong has regained its full beauty, harmony and spirituality when the PUNA MOCHHU BAZAM, the cantilever bridge adapted traditional Bhutanese architecture.

In olden times the bridge was only meant to enter the fortress. Today you will have to walk across the cantilever bridge to enter the dzong. Make sure you take a moment to stop and watch the river flow.