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Punakha


The highlight of Punakha is Punakha Dzong. Undoubtedly the most impressive dzong in the whole of Bhutan, it was constructed in the 17th century, although there has been a religious structure here since at least the 14th century. It stands majestically at the confluence of the Mo Chhu and Pho Chhu rivers. It is a huge structure that measures 180 metres by 72 metres and contains unusually, three courtyards rather than the usual two. The entrance to the dzong is via a steep wooden staircase that can be raised at night. This was the original seat of government until it was transferred to Thimphu in the 1950s. The area around Punakha offers some interesting hikes and mountain bike trails and rafting opportunities.


Wangdue Phodrang


Coming from Thimphu, across the Dochula pass, the road will take you to Wangdue Phodrang or Wangdi as it is also known. It was once the second capital of Bhutan. The famous Wangdue Phodrang Dzong was destroyed by fire in June 2012 and is currently being rebuilt. It is located on a ridge between the Punak Tsang Chhu and Dang Chhu rivers.


Phobjikha Valley


The Phobjikha Valley is famous as the wintering grounds of the beautiful black-necked cranes. There is an information centre run by the RSPN (Royal Society for Protection of Nature) here and many people come to the valley just to view the cranes with the best times being from November to January. The valley is also home to an abundance of other wildlife and there are a number of pleasant day hikes in the valley.


Gasa


Gasa is one of the least populated regions in Bhutan. It can now be reached by road from Punakha. There are pristine forests here and it is possible to see herds of takin and a large variety of birds. People come to Gasa for hiking and to visit the hot springs in the area. Most of the region is situated within the Jigme Dorji National Park. Gasa Dzong is in a remote and beautiful location with towering peaks in the background and was constructed in the 18th century to protect against attacks from Tibet.


Laya


Laya at 3,700m is a remote village north of Gasa. The Layaps (inhabitants of Laya) have their own language and the women wear distinct dress consisting of black woollen jackets and wear bamboo hats with a spike on the top. A road is being constructed from Gasa to Laya which will open up the region even more to tourism.


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