Zhabdrung built the Punakha Dzong in 1637. According to the narratives, the chief carpenter “Zow Balep” who was commissioned to construct the Dzong had a vision of the impressive architectural design of the Dzong in his dream which was then actualized. The Dzong was invaded twice by the Tibetan troops in 1639 and 1644. The Tibetan invasion failed on both accounts. There are also stories about the Tibetan commander publicly accepting the defeat to Zhabdrung. To commemorate the victory, a festival known as the Punakha Domche was celebrated. This tradition is continued even today where men play a role of Pazaps (Victorious soldiers) and reenact the war. Another significant event that took place in the Dzong was the institution of Monarchy in Bhutan by crowing Ugyen Wangchuck as the First King. Punakha valley was the first capital of Bhutan and Dzong served as the seat of the central Government.
The Dzong is built on the confluence of the Pho (Male) Chhu and Mo (Female) Chhu River. A three steep wooden staircases lead into the Dzong. The staircases were designed to be removed during the times of war making the Dzong impenetrable. The Dzong has a six storied central tower which houses the most sacred relic in the country. The relic is a self-created image of the Bodhisattva of compassion. The assembly hall for the monks known as the Kunrey houses a gigantic statue of Buddha, Zhabdrung and Guru Rinpoche. One of the temples within the Dzong has the embalmed body of Zhabdrung. Zhabdrung is known for unifying modern day Bhutan. As a tradition, all Kings begin their reigns by offering prayer at this shrine.
(Built by Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal in 1637, the Punakha Dzong, also known as ‘Pungthang Dewachhen Gi Phodrang’ or ‘The Palace of Great Bliss’ is located at the confluence of the Pho (male) Chu and Mo (female) Chhu rivers. Guru Rinpoche prophesied that a person by the name Namgyel would arrive at a hill that resembled a sleeping elephant. And true to his words, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel arrived at the very hill and built the Dzong. It was the second structure of its kind to be built in Bhutan after the Semtokha Dzong and therefore it is the second oldest as well as the second largest Dzong in the country. Today it serves as the administrative center of Punakha Dzongkhag as well as the Winter Home of the ‘Zhung Dratshang,’ or the Central Monastic Body. It served as the capital and seat of the government until the mid-1950s. It houses the most sacred relics in the country, the ‘Rangjung Kasarpani’ and the embalmed remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. It was here that the first Hereditary Monarch of the kingdom – His Majesty the King Ugyen Wangchuk, was crowned and it was here that the First National Assembly was hosted. Moreover, it was here that the Royal Wedding (of the Fifth hereditary Monarch His Majesty the King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and Gyaltsuen (Queen) Ashi Jetsun Pema was held, which is why it is the most important Dzong in Bhutanese history.
The Dzong is unusual in that it has three ‘Docheys’ or courtyards instead of the usual two. The first courtyard is for administrative functions and houses a huge white Chorten and a Bodhi tree. To the far left corner is a collection of stones and a shrine dedicated to the ‘Tsomem’ or Queen of the Nagas. The second courtyard houses the monastic quarters and is separated from the first by the ‘Utse’ or the Central Tower. In this courtyard there are two halls, one of which was used when Ugyen Wangchuck, the First King of Bhutan, was presented with the Order of the Knight Commander of the Indian Empire (KCIE) by John Claude White in 1905.
In the southernmost courtyard is the Temple where the remains of the ‘Terton’ or ‘Treasure Discoverer,’Pema Lingpa, and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal are preserved. The Zhabdrung died in Punakha Dzong, and his body is still preserved in the ‘Machey,’ (which translates as ‘sacred embalmed body’), Lhakhang. Other than two guardian lamas, only the King and the Je Khenpo are allowed into the premises. Both come to receive blessings before they take up their offices. At the south end is the ‘hundred-pillar’ Assembly Hall. The exceptional murals, which were commissioned by the second Druk Desi, depict the life of the Buddha. The massive gold statues of the Buddha, Guru Rinpoche and the Zhabdrung date back to the mid-18th century. Though the Dzong was repeatedly damaged by flood, earth quake and fire, each time it was rebuilt to its original grandeur.
Access to the Dzong is across the ‘Bazam’ or Traditional Cantilever Bridge. The room above the bridge entrance has displays on the renovations and architectural details of the Bhutanese cantilever bridge.
A smaller building – the ‘Dzongchung’ or ‘Small Dzong,’ houses a statue of the Buddha which dates back as early as 1326. The construction on the current Dzong began as early as 1637 and was completed the following year. Later embellishments included the construction of a chapel to commemorate the victory over the Tibetans in 1639. The arms captured during the battle are preserved in the Dzong to this day. A visit could really qualify as the highlight of your visit to Bhutan if the historical significance is anything to go by. )