Photos by Lincoln Potter

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PUNAKHA (alt. 1,300m)

Morning light, Punakha Dzong, Punakha

Morning light, Punakha Dzong, Punakha

Punakha served as the capital of Bhutan and still is the winter seat of Je Khenpo (the chief abbot). Blessed with temperate climate and owing to its natural drainage from Pho Chhu (male) and Mo Chhu (female) rivers, the Punakha valley produces abundant crops and fruits. There are splendid views of the distant Himalayas at Dochula pas (alt. 3,050m) on Thimphu – Punakha road. Also, in spring and early fall the route is covered in various flowers. Wild animals are often spotted along the road.

Places of Interest in PUNAKHA

Punakha Dzong

The second dzong built by Shabdrung, in 1637, on a strategic junction at the confluence of Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu rivers, Punakha Dzong has played a hallowed role in history of Bhutan. It served as the seat of Shabdrung’s government, several foreign delegations were received here in 18th and 19th century, the election and coronation of the first King was observed 1907 and the Third King convened the first National Assembly in the Dzong. The central monastic body continues to reside here in winter. The embalmed bodies of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and Terton Pema Lingpa are kept on the top floor of the main tower.Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King from the latest fire in 1987. The Dzong is open for visitors during Punakha festival and in summer months when the central monastic body moves to Thimphu.

Excursions around PUNAKHA

Talo

Talo village at 2,800 meters above Punakha valley is scattered along the hill slopes. The village is crowned by Sangachoeling temple on a plateau. The farmhouses are beautiful with most houses having plot of flower gardens.

Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of the Divine Madman)

Chimi Lhakhang is a very popular and revered temple that lies on the periphery of the fertile valley of Lobesa, where the borders of Thimphu, Punakha and wangduephodrang districts meet. Being dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, the Divine Madman, the temple is popularly considered to be a temple of fertility.
A brisk 15-minute walk through the village of Sosokha will lead a visitor straight to the temple.
A sense and feeling of fertility and contentment is indeed in the air as one passes through the rich alluvial paddy fields. All crops grow and thrive well here. Farmers of this region are in fact among the most well-to-do in Bhutan. They attribute this to the blessings of Lam Drukpa Kuenley.

Chimi Lhakhang is a very popular and revered temple that lies on the periphery of the fertile valley of Lobesa, where the borders of Thimphu, Punakha and wangduephodrang districts meet. Being dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, the Divine Madman, the temple is popularly considered to be a temple of fertility.
A brisk 15-minute walk through the village of Sosokha will lead a visitor straight to the temple.

A sense and feeling of fertility and contentment is indeed in the air as one passes through the rich alluvial paddy fields. All crops grow and thrive well here. Farmers of this region are in fact among the most well-to-do in Bhutan. They attribute this to the blessings of Lam Drukpa Kuenley.

Inside Information
The Divine Madman

Lama Drukpa Kuenley lived in Bhutan around the 1500s. He was a highly accomplished buddhist master. As a buddhist master, Drukpa Kuenley is placed among the highest levels of sainthood. But he is remembered more vividly for the outrageous nature of his teachings, which were administered in the most unexpected ways, often with a strong sexual overtones and inclinations. It was because of his peculiar styles that he is remembered with much fondness to this day by buddhists in the Himalayas as an eccentric saint.

In Bhutan, he is also a cultural icon around whom countless yarns of facts and fiction, and stories and legends have been spun. The mention of Drukpa Kuenley will, invariably, draw a mischievous smile on the face of most Bhutanese men and a red tinge in the face of many Bhutanese maidens. It will also bring to mind the unorthodox antics which the master used to clean the society of the many ills brought about by man and the evils, which lurked within society itself.

Dressed in rags, stinking of alcohol, the foulmouthed figure of the Lam roamed the valleys of the Himalayas. His apparent disregard for social norms began in his early years to the frustration of his own mother who did not understand the unusual saintly-hood of her own son.

To all Buddhists, his single-minded purpose of seducing women only conveyed a spirituality of great depth. The spirituality of Lam Drukpa Kuenley was such that, according to namthar(religious autobiography) he could take his dirty rags off his body and hang them on the rays of the sun

Under the guise of uncontrolled lust and apparently thoughtless womanizing, one of Drukpa Kuenley’s greatest gifts to countless beneficiaries was: children. Through children, the gift was life itself.
Chimi Lhakhang is today one of the most revered and visited temples in Bhutan. People from all corners of the country visit the Lhakhang to seek blessings from Drukpa Kuenley.

The Temple of Fertility
It is widely known today that most of the people who visit the temple do so to pray for children – either to ask for children by those who are childless or to seek protection for children by those who already have them. There are many people in Bhutan, and indeed in other parts of the world, who will vouch on the success of their prayers.

Nobody knows exactly how and when the tradition of seeking fertility blessing started in Chimi Lhakhang. There are no written records and even oral sources provide scant information on this.

The Chief Monk of Chimi Lhakhang puts forth a plausible theory. According to him, “Drukpa Kuenley has always been associated with giving life and liberation to people. He is the potent source and symbol of all-fulfilling power and a saint and Bodhisattva of the highest order” says the Lam. “Actually he is like a paksam joenshing (a mythical wish-fulfilling tree). He will not deny anyone who comes to seek his kindness and munificence. And there is also the physical side of his character too. A childless couple could have sought his blessing in any point in time and the tradition could have carried on. If it’s not Chimi Lhakhang, it could have been somewhere else. But this is the only temple in Bhutan dedicated to him, where he actually set foot and prophesied that the temple would one day be built. All this is pre-ordained with his power and divinity”.

Couples who visit the Lhakhang are blessed by a replication of the iron bow and arrows of Drukpa Kuenley, his scriptures and the phallus, which is the symbolic representation of fertility. It is said that during his life, the saint often used his phallus as a tool to impart his teachings.

As part of the blessing a monk on duty will also select a name for the unborn child randomly from the list of names maintained at the temple. If it is a female name, couples can expect a girl: and if the name drawn is that of a male, then a boy.