My first day in Bhutan continued as I finally arrived in the beautiful city of Punakha, where I tried some hellishly spicy Bhutanese food and got the chance to experience the famous Punakha Festival. Come along with me as I explore the wonders of Bhutan!
My adventures in the city began on the afternoon of March 5, 2020, across the river from Punakha Dzong Fortress. March 5 marks the beginning of the Punakha Festival, one of the most important festivals in the country. It starts at 9 a.m. and finishes at 4:30 or 5 p.m., so as it was 3 p.m. already, I’d get to catch the last hour of it for the day. After that, I’d try more spicy Bhutanese food while exploring Punakha!
My guide Tsheten from MyBhutan and I had a packed afternoon and evening planned, so we got started right away at the festival. The program we watched told a story about a hunter and a servant. It talks about Buddhism and non-violence. The performers were intricate, colorful clothing and masks, and danced around to local music. Their masks represent animals, including a stag with horns. There were about two or three thousand spectators on the main floor and in the balconies above.
In the fortress, I also saw a large, golden prayer wheel, which you have to spin in order to gain merit. Then, we made our way to the Punakha Suspension Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan. It’s 160 meters long and spans the Pho Chhu River, also known as the Male River. There is a second river in Punakha, the Mo Chhu River, or the Female River. It’s one of the oldest suspension bridges in the world and is believed to have been built by a Buddhist monk named Thangtong Gyalpo.
The suspension bridge is in the middle of the valley, and the river is really shallow. It’s a big tourism spot. There, we saw some people gambling and selling snacks. There are hundreds of prayer flags attached to the bridge, which is wide and safe. The air quality in Bhutan is amazing as well, because it’s a carbon-negative country. The bridge shakes and bounces as people walk across it!
On the other side of the bridge, we watched some locals playing a dart game. You throw the arrows at a target. It costs 50 ngultrum, or Nu ($0.66 USD) to throw two arrows. If you hit the target, you win 100 Nu ($1.32 USD). They were the biggest darts I’d ever seen! Tsheten tried first. He missed both, but then another guy hit the target before I went. I got close with both of my throws, but I was short! We went a few more times, but I had no luck today! After thirty minutes across the river, we headed back across the bridge. The views from the bridge were insane. Back across the river, the people were still playing their game.
From the fortress, we drove to the main town, Punakha to try some beer, brandy, and whiskey. The buildings were beautiful. I love the Bhutanese architectural style. The buildings are so colorful and have artwork of animals like lions, snakes, and tigers on them.
The government stopped issuing bar licenses to restaurants, so it’s hard to find bars in restaurants. We found a restaurant that sells beer, but we couldn’t find any brandy or whiskey. I got an 8% Druk 11,000, a Bhutanese beer that’s comparable to India’s Kingfisher Strong. It was 650 ML.
With the beer, we had some spicy liver with peppers and chilies. It was so tender and buttery but was also super spicy! It felt like it contained numbing spices like Szechwan food. This crazy spicy Bhutanese food in Punakha numbed my lips and my tongue!
If you like liver, this is the dish for you. I love liver and have eaten it all over the world, but I had never had a liver dish this good. It was on fire! I couldn’t get enough of it! And it paired really well with the beer. It was the perfect appetizer before dinner!
Then, we headed to our hotel, where we’d have some dinner! We arrived at the Drubchhu Resort, where I checked in and took a shower before dinner. It was super traditional, with lots of space. I had a king-sized bed, a desk, a TV, some seating, and a bathroom with a shower and tub.
The resort’s restaurant, Ari Restaurant, is at the bottom of the lobby. They had a buffet, but I wanted only Bhutanese food. I got some pumpkin soup, red rice, ema dashti (chilies with cheese), kewa dashti (chilies with cheese and potatoes), and chicken curry.
The pumpkin soup was light but spicy and contained corn, onion, rice, and chunks of potatoes. Then, I dove into the ema dashti, kewa dashti, and chicken curry. The chicken curry was reddish and contained chilies, onions, and green onions, but was more watered down than an Indian chicken curry.
Ema dashti is the national dish in Bhutan and consists of chilies with yak cheese. It was so spicy, I had to have some red rice to calm down the heat. I loved the melted cheese throughout. The kewa dashti was also great. It was like a spicy potato salad with chilies and cheese melted throughout. I also loved the diced chicken in the curry. It was light and had nice chunks of diced chicken.
Then, they lost power in the restaurant, so I moved over to The Mad Man Bar to continue my dinner. The best thing to do is mix the ema dashti with the red rice. It really tempers the heat. I had no idea Bhutanese food was this fiery!
What an amazing first day in Bhutan! If you liked coming with me to have hellishly spicy Bhutanese food and visiting the Punakha Festival, please give this video a thumbs up and leave a comment below. Also, please subscribe to my YouTube channel and click the notification bell so you don’t miss any of my travel/food adventures around the world!
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