After a beautiful drive through the terraced landscape, river valleys, traditional Bhutanese architecture and chortens (domed monument) we reach Simtokha Dzong, the oldest Dzong in Bhutan (built in 1629). From here, the road winds through pine forests and small villages, and passes by more chortens and prayer flags before heading up to Dochula Pass (10,000′), the first of four passes of the trip. The prayer flags on mountain slopes, bridges and high passes, transmit prayers to the Gods and keep up a constant communication with the heavens.
For the next two hours, the road slowly descends into the lowlands of Punakha valley. In the village of Lobesa, we see Chimmi Lhakhang, a temple dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, a favorite saint of the Bhutanese, is known affectionately as “the Divine Madman”. The temple is on a hillside in the middle of rice fields and has become a pilgrimage site for childless couples.
In the morning we witness the Punakha Dromchoe at Punakha Dzong, the “Palace of Great Happiness” built in 1647 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyel, the saint who unified Bhutan.
Bhutan had in the past defended its sovereignty through ways of skillful mediation, war, and other means of defense strategy. Punakha Dromchoe depicts one of such victories, which have resulted in what Bhutan is today.
The Punakha Dromchoe festival take place in the first month of the lunar year; next festival date is February 18-22, 2010. Other prominent festivals of the first half of 2010 are Punakha Tshechu – February 23-25, Chorten Kora – February 28-March 15, Gomkora – March 23-25, Paro Tshechu – March 26-30, and Ura Tshechu – April 24-28.
The Dromchoe festival ends with ‘Serda’, a magnificent procession which re-enacts an episode of the war against the Tibetan invading troops in the 17th century.
The Pazap (medieval Bhutanese army) in red uniforms rush out of the dzong, flourishing swords at the head steep wooden stairs at the entrance. With the deafening sound of firecrackers, the Pazaps leap into horsebacks to ride into battle.
The Serda Berkhor procession at the end of the festivities is led by the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot of Bhutan) who comes out of the dzong amidst great fanfare, led by troops and Pachham dancers, to pray on the banks of the river and to proclaim the victory of the Bhutanese forces.