Located in the picturesque Punakha-Wangdue Valley, Punakha is the former capital of the Kingdom of Bhutan. Terraced rice fields, fruit orchards and wooden houses against the backdrop of the Himalayas and glacial rivers make it an ideal retreat for those looking to indulge in nature and culture.
Each year in February, the historic Punakha Dzong converts into a royal arena, with echoing music and colorful dances. Citizens from surrounding villages gather with their families at the Dzong, which is also known as the Palace of Great Happiness.
For the three long days of the Punakha Festival, Bhutanese Buddhist monks wear masks of religious significance, portraying the teachings of Guru Padmasambhava and reenacting scenes from a 17th-century battle against the Tibetan army. Folk dancers sing traditional Bhutanese songs, while clowns entertain the spectators with their dramatic movements.
The crowds are mesmerized as they watch monks twirl their long colorful robes in rhythmic movements, chanting prayers. It is said that by watching the monks dance at the festival, principals of Tantric Buddhism are transmitted to the viewers.
Believers attend the Punakha Festival each year as a way of purifying themselves and indulging in Bhutanese culture. Each district in Bhutan holds its own festival, called Tshechu, which is worth a visit if you want to see Bhutanese culture and devotion.
Article and photos by Sucheta Rawal