The distance from Thimpu to Punakha is about 80 Kms and takes a total of 3 hours if you were to drive non-stop. The drive is fine up to the Dochula Pass, despite the road widening work that is going on. However, the one and half hour drive from the Dochula Pass towards Punakha (and vice versa) is bad, since the road work is on full swing at this stretch. A detailed note on the road condition is given in the last leg of this post.
Sight-Seeing enroute the Thimpu-Punakha Drive (Bhutan):
Starting from Thimpu, a 15-minute drive will take you to a Goemba (Monastery). Away from the city, the Goemba looked every bit a place of worship and meditation to us. The beauty of the main temple struck us even more – the rows of low desks where Monks read the scriptures, the beautiful statues of Lord Buddha and the many miniatures, along with the colourful ceiling hangings were striking. Pity you can take pictures there. The Goemba stop won’t take you more than 30 minutes.
45 minutes from the Goemba is the Dochula Pass. At 3,088 m, the Pass is not one of the highest, but it certainly is one of the most beautiful. 108 Chortens (or Stupas) sitting majestically on the Pass takes every traveller’s breadth no matter which time of the year you go there. When we reached, the area had been engulfed by fog and the Chortens looked even more beautiful. Quickly wrapped our jackets and shawls to run out of the van and climbed the steep stairs to explore, see and soak in the beauty of the Pass and the Chortens. Dandelions had rendered the place yellow and white, while the nearby woods had colourful prayer flags tied to the trees. The fog simply added to the beauty and drama. On a clear day you can see a handful of famous Himalayan peaks from the Dochula Pass. We couldn’t see any though.
Drive from Dochula Pass to Punakha in Bhutan: As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the Thimpu-Punakha highway has been undergoing road widening work for a couple of years now and that holds up traffic. In fact, there are roadblocks at specified timings during the day for the entire week from Monday to Saturday. These timings are posted/communicated via Radio so that you can plan your drive accordingly. There are no roadblocks on Sundays though, and you can drive up or drive any time you want.
Must-Knows for Thimpu-Punakha Drive
- There are 2 restaurants at the Dochula Pass where you can buy good tea/coffee, meals and snacks. Both are extremely clean and well laid out. Even the toilets are very clean.
- About 2 hours of the Thimpu-Punakha drive is through the road widening work. This means, you need to shut your van’s windows owing to the heavy dust outside. Consider taking an AC vehicle for this stretch as it can get very suffocating inside a non-AC car.
- Owing to the road widening work, you won’t find too many road-side stalls selling snacks or water. Must buy them at the beginning of the journey.
- Your driver (if a local guy) will know about the road block timings. Make sure, he has planned the entry-exit accordingly.