Punakha’s festival is the first of the season and is one of the most well attended tsechus in the country. It is held in Punakha dzong which was constructed in 1637. The temple is also the summer home for the highest ranking monks. The Je Khenpo (the head of the monk body) begins the celebration and the festival is preceded by a dromche (ritual cleansing) that lasts for 5 days.
I jumped in a taxi from Thimphu to Wangdi and then had to catch another one to take me down into the Punakha valley. The majority of the hotels were booked with tourists and other native Bhutanese who had come in to town for the festival. Not much else occurs here during the year and the dzong typically only attracts day visitors passing from west to east.
There were a couple of problems with this trip, but I had come to expect them. The first was when we got stopped at the immigration check-point and I realized I didn’t bring my route pass. To travel between the different dzongkhags (districts), a government issued permit is required. I had brought my permits to visit the dzong, but the other was with Pema (my WWF driver). Luckily we were able to have a copy of it faxed from WWF and the guards let me through. The second was when I found my hotel my reservation hadn’t been recorded and the only rooms available were for 3 people and were all I could take. This also mean triple the cost, but it came with a tv so I was able to watch the USA route Finland to get the gold medal game.
I was able to get a taxi the following morning and my entry into the dzong was very easy. I was surprised at how many Bhutanese were there. It was strange to see the tourists mixed in and the bewildered and somewhat frightened facial expressions they wore made me laugh. Not laugh at them, but rather it made me realize that must have been exactly what I looked like 3 months ago.