Paddy Fields & Phalluses in Punakha, Bhutan

After a whirlwind first day in the magical kingdom of Bhutan we were raring to go for our second. Our fantastic guide Tharchu met us at our hotel, Le Meridien Thimphu to set off for Dochula Pass.  Whilst I have a penchant for lighthouses, my husband is addicted to visiting local stadiums.  So we couldn’t leave Bhutan’s capital Thimphu without a quick drive by their National Stadium. Whilst things like football and basketball are gaining popularity in Bhutan, archery is the national sport of Bhutan but more on that later!

It took us an hour winding up the mountains to reach the Dochula Pass, a mountain pass where 108 memorial stupors were built by the eldest Queen Mother (the previous King has four wives).  This is supposed to be a spectacular viewing point of the snow-covered Himalayas.  Sadly for us the clouds were too low so we enjoyed wandering around the temple and forest instead.

Another hour’s drive down from the Dochula Pass is Punakha, where the scenery changes to semi-tropical greenery and rice fields.  Punakha used to be the capital of Bhutan until 1955 when it was moved to Thimphu.  Tharchu took us for lunch at a beautiful restaurant overseeing the paddy fields.

Welcoming us into the restaurant was a large wooden phallus on the side of the door. Yup, there are penises all over Lobesa in Punakha – drawn on the sides of houses, ornaments, statues, even in the titles of restaurants and shops.  The phallus represents several things for the Bhutanese, a symbol of fertility and protection.

Phallus symbolism also derives from the devotion to Drukpa Kunley, a Bhuddhist Master also known as the Divine Madman.  After lunch we hiked up to the Chimi Lhakhang temple where this Divine Madman subdued a demon.  He was known as a Divine Madman due to his unorthodox methods; teaching Buddhism by singing, humour and various sexploits.  Chimi Lhakhang is a mecca for locals seeking assistance with their fertility. We watched as one Bhutanese lady circled the temple numerous times carrying an enormous wooden phallus hoping to be blessed with fertility.

We then headed to Punakha Dzong, where the government operated from until the 1950s. This Dzong is picture perfect, perched by the confluence of two rivers and surrounded by jacaranda trees.  My top tip for visiting Bhutan is to make sure you bring layers and also shoes that are easy to slip on and off. A visit to a Dzong will require your legs and arms are covered. You also need to remove your shoes to enter any temple (not so easy with my hefty hiking boots).

Our last visit of the day was a visit to one of Bhutan’s longest suspension bridges (and to also conquer a longstanding fear of mine). I have vertigo which mainly kicks on bridges and stairs where I can see through to the bottom (climbing high mountains and jumping out of planes, no problem.. small flight of see-through stairs, terrible!). With a bit of coaching from Tharchu, I made it across and even enjoyed the view out through the prayer flags and down into the water.

That night we went our new lodging, the Dhensa Boutique resort.  Nestled in the pine forest, we had a spacious room and balcony overlooking the beautiful Punakha valley. At 6.30pm each night they offer a cultural show and we saw some beautiful Bhutanese dancing (aside from the part where they invited me to join!)


For more on our Bhutan travel adventure check out:

Visiting the nation’s capital, Thimphu in Bhutan

Flying to Bhutan

Planning a trip to Bhutan


  1. Clare Thomson

    How wonderful that you got to go to Bhutan, Nicola! I’m so jealous. It sounds as though your guide was particularly good. It can make all the difference to a great trip, can’t it? Poor you having to be dragged around stadiums all over the world. You might have to write a blog post of the best! Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

  2. oregongirlaroundtheworld

    I am feeling you about the suspension bridge – I’m the same way, but also know that I would love to try it – always pushing myself? Or putting myself into difficult places? One or the other! Thanks for sharing this unique experience with #FarawayFiles, Erin

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