This morning around 3am we might also be privileged enough to view the Thangka, a holy scroll. This huge silk covers the face of a building or mountainside and is only exhibited for a few hours (before the sun’s ray hit the silk fabric). The Dzong grounds are packed with people during this time as it is believed that by catching a glimpse of this important religious image provides a blessing to the individual. Return to the hotel for breakfast before checking out.
From Paro, we drive for about four and a half hours to Wangduephodrang (locally known as “Wangdi”) via Punakha, changing climatic zones from mountainous to tropical. On the way, we cross over Dochu La, a 3150-metre-high pass marked by prayer flags and a chorten and, if the weather is fine, a view of the eastern Himalaya including the highest mountain in Bhutan, Mt Gangar Punsum (7520m). We drive through forests of rhododrendron and magnolia, before the road descends into the warmer lowlands around Punakha. We visit the Punakha Dzong, which once served as the old capital of Bhutan. This remarkable fortress is built in 1637 between two rivers and has survived many glacial floods and fire. Every February there is a procession known as the Punakha Serda to commemorate the victory over the Tibetans. From there it’s just 45 minutes’ drive to Wangduephodrang where you can stroll around the market area. This is a windy place, thanks to its location on an exposed headland overlooking the Punak river, but it affords great views. It is also home to Wangdi dzong*, which sits atop a ridge high above the river. The hillside below the dzong is covered in cacti, which were planted centuries ago to deter invaders. Overnight at Wangdi Kyichu Resort.
*On the 24th June 2012, the beautiful Wangduephodrang Dzong was completely destroyed by fire. It was one of the oldest and most substantial dzongs in Bhutan built in 1638. Renovations were underway when the fire started and so most of the historic relics had been put into storage and were saved from the devastation of the fire. Re-building is already underway to restore the dzong to its former glory with works expected to extend to 2021.