Cycle touring Bhutan - an impossibility up until the 1970s - has a variety of experiences to feed the thrill of adventure, delight with scenic views and natural beauty, and invite the curious to connect with a culture opening up to the rest of the world.
One notable construction, the Punakha Suspension Bridge, caters to many of the aforementioned cravings and there’s no more thrilling way to experience this engineering wonder than on two wheels. At an incredible 160 meters in length, it holds the title of the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan, and it spans high over the swift currents of Po Chhu (River) connecting Punakha city with Punakha Dzong (fortress) and the small villages throughout the Po Chhu valley.
Construction and History
Suspension bridges have a particularly long history in mountainous regions of the world, and Bhutan certainly boasts plenty of high peaks and deep gorges to host these. Truly a masterpiece of engineering work, the Punakha Suspension Bridge dates back to 1637 when Panukha was in its glory as of the capital city and Punakha Dzong was both the religious and administrative center of Bhutan. It has undergone refurbishment over the years but the key design and function of the bridge still remains efficient and strong and the sheer breadth of the span alone is a sight to behold - take a look at it yourself on Google Maps
The Punakha Suspension Bridge is constructed with a wooden deck of solid planks hanging below suspension cables, these cables are strung from bank to bank and anchored in huge cement blocks, allowing the bridge to span 160 meters uninterrupted. Stabilizing cables that run alongside and flare out at either end, allow for some flexibility and slight swaying in the winds, but make the overall experience surprisingly stable. So although a ride over it will certainly get the adrenaline rushing, you won’t be compromising on safety.
On the first venture out over the bridge, one is greeted with the splash of colors in a traditional Bhutanese Buddhist expression - prayer flags. These are believed to carry good merit to everyone and the surroundings as the blowing wind carries the prayers throughout the valley and beyond. The monks often string them along with prayers associated with the five colors, which represent the five basic elements and the five pearls of wisdom of Buddhism:
- Blue: sky & health and longevity
- White: air & good fortune
- Yellow: earth & victory over obstacles
- Red: fire & wish fulfillment
- Green: water & compassion
The View and the Fortress
Further down to the bridge center, wonderful spanning panoramas invite a pause to take it all in. Rural Bhutan stretches out in all directions with the charming, clear glacial waters of Po Chhu river flowing below. On either bank and throughout the valley, beautiful mountainscapes rise to peaks full of lush greenery. It’s the perfect spot for a few snaps before finishing your crossing to explore Punakha Dzong, a magnificent piece of 17th-century architecture and the official residence of Bhutan's central monk body.
The exhilarating Punakha Suspension Bridge and culturally-rich Punakha Dzong are just two of many high points on our cycling tour in Bhutan - Tiger’s Nest Monastery being another notable site.