Punakha Dzong was built in the early 17th century, making it the one of the oldest Dzongs in Bhutan.
As with any other Dzong (རྫོང་) it houses government administrative offices and a monastery. A Dzong is shaped as a fortress with a very high wall surrounding it and a tower in the middle of the courtyard.
As an extra defence, Punakha Dzong is located in between two rivers at the point of where they come together.
The Dzong has been enlarged and rebuilt numerous times. It has seen several fires, some flooding, earthquakes and invasions from Tibet.
Historically Bhutan did not exist until the different regions became unified in 1907 under the leadership of Ugyen Wangchuck, the first king of Bhutan. Punakha was made into the capital of Bhutan and his coronation took place at Punakha Dzong.
The current king of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, married his queen, Jetsun Pema, in Punakha Dzong in 2011.
What makes Punakha Dzong extra special is that a very special teacher started his Buddhist career there.
Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche was born in Bhutan in 1918. His parents had no luck in getting a child and went to consult the abbot of Punakha Dzong. With his advice the couple managed to conceive and bring Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche into the world.
As a young boy Rinpoche became ordained in the same Dzong.
During all this time Rinpoche received Buddhist teachings from many eminent Drukpa Kagyu and Karma Kagyu masters in Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet, including from his uncle Sherab Dorje. In 1944 His Holiness the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa Ranjung Rigpe Dorje visited Bhutan and Rinpoche became his close student.
Rinpoche received many teachings from all major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. He worked with the Nepali government to nurture the development of Buddhism in the country and as such became a close advisor the the Nepali king. Further more, he held a very close contact to the Bhutanese Royal family. Throughout the Himalayas he was respected as a great lama and formidable politician.
He built many stūpas, including the Enlightenment Stūpa in Benalmádena (near Málaga in the south of Spain), the highest stūpa in the western world.
Lopön Tsechu Rinpoche passed away on the 10th of June 2003 in a hospital in Bangkok.
In June 2002 I was lucky enough to receive teachings from Rinpoche and in March 2010 I visited Bhutan and as part of that trip Punakha Dzong.