Travel Punakha Valley to Experience River Rafting of Bhutan


Last updated on October 26th, 2018

You might relate rivers in Bhutan with rivers of other rugged Himalayan regions – white and fast flowing, and totally unfit for activities like river rafting of Bhutan. This statement actually stands correct with other rivers in Bhutan.

However, there are few rivers in Bhutan which are calm and are fit for rafting activities. Manas river in southern belt of Zhemgang, Pho Chu (Male river) and Mo Chu (Female river) in Punakha district are some of such rivers that are good for experiencing river rafting of Bhutan.

rafting start points in Punakha

Crews arranged the boats and kept ready for us

I have always wanted to try rafting. So recently I went Punakha to have this experience of Punakha river rafting. It was really a fun ride through a calm and cold Mo Chu (Female) river. The cost of rafting in Punakha is also reasonable.

Punakha Pho chu (male river) and Mo chu (female river)

Tourists are with the view that Pho chu (male river) is more violent and also contains high degree rapids. They think that rafting in male river is for professional rafters or people who dare take risks. They also think river rafting of Bhutan would be quite expensive.

punakha river rafting suits

Posing to camera in rafting suits and gears

Similarly they consider Mo chu (female) as a calm, less deep, peaceful, clean and silent river. This system of assigning respective human gender qualities in these two rivers is very much in the minds of many tourists.

rafting river in Bhutan

The water volume is low during winter

But this is actually not correct. Both rivers are similar because they flow through geographically same terrains. Each has similar degree of rapids. If we actually go into history, it was a flood from Mo chu (female river) that nearly washed away entire Punakha dzong sometimes in mid 90s.

rafting for tourists in Bhutan

In the group of Indian tourists who also came for rafting

However, Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) restricts kids and senior citizens rafting in Pho chu (male river). I was told this is only during peak rafting season in Bhutan i.e monsoon.

The Experience of River Rafting of Bhutan in Mo chu (female river)

There are few rafting service providers. But I landed up with Xplore-Lotus Rafting. During introduction, I came to know that guides who will be guiding us all through rafting were trained and certified at Nepal.

female river in Punakha

Here they go rafting through clean female river at Punakha

They were saying that rivers at Nepal are more violent and have higher degree rapids. The river (mo chu) where we were about to raft, according to them is a much safer one for conducting river rafting of Bhutan. It contains only 4th and 5th degree rapids.

white river rafting in Bhutan

Tourists experiencing white river rafting at Punakha Bhutan.

The distance is also quite short, around 10-12Km. We have to drive around 30mins along Mo chu (female river) from Punakha Dzong to reach the raft launching point.

Is it worth rafting at Punakha – money paid and returns?

What is the rafting in Punakha price? Since there are many Bhutan rafting service providers who conduct river rafting in Thimphu as well as in Paro, prices are quite reasonable. During peak seasons, it’s Nu.2,000-2,500 per person and during off season, it is Nu.1,000-1,500.

My expectation must have been bit high. I found the river sluggish and less powerful. Moreover, I was put in with 3 elderly Indians. All along I felt like a ‘one man army’ paddling to reach them ashore.

Distant view of Punakha Dzong during rafting

Distant view of Punakha Dzong during rafting

You can imagine me sweating and suffering from sore muscles and joint pains the following day. However, I loved the attitude of the guides – they were trying to keep us entertained all along and even sung songs though their voices didn’t make good combination with river sound.

cantilever bridge in Punakha

Rafting beneath this traditional cantilever bridge in Punakha is enjoyable

There was so much water fights, basically splashing water using a paddle to people in other boat. Of course, I enjoyed that. But I had to bear the consequences of playing with cold winter water.

However, occasionally we get to see flocks of winter migratory birds at river bank. And I was taught by the guide on how to make sound with paddle and make them fly. Along the rafting route, we can also enjoy Punakha Bhutan sightseeing.

birds at Punakha

We can see flocks of such migratory birds in river banks

When the rafting distance is almost to end, we get a wonderful view of elegant and majestic Punakha Dzong. And passing beneath a wooden Punakha suspension bridge, I felt like one of the casts in ‘Game of Throne’ rowing beneath the ‘Huge Statue of Braavos.’ It was wonderful moment.

How you can plan to make rafting at Punakha better?

If you want rough and adventurous rafting at Punakha in either of Pho chu (male river) or Mo chu (female river), winter season won’t be a good time. Water volume is low and boats don’t move at an enjoyable speed.

confluence at Punakha

Water volume increases when male meets female river

The rafting crew members also suggest us to come there for rafting during monsoon season (June-August). And if you don’t want to become ‘one man army’ like me during rafting, be smart in choosing your boating partners.

During the course of rafting, guides will start water fight; a game where you can use paddle to splash water to your opponents. However, if you are hypothermia or any other cold related diseases patient, tell them about your health problem before-hand.

Punakha Dzong

The view of Punakha Dzong at the rafting end point is a treat

They allow carrying of cameras and other electronic gadgets with you for making videos and shooting Phunakha Dzong photos. They provide you with water-proof bag to keep them. However, I didn’t find them water proof. Especially during water fight and crossing rapids, water get inside the bag.

However, when your boat nears the destination, the view of majestic Punakha Dzong is something you shouldn’t miss. It’s the best point for shooting Punakha Dzong in your cameras.

Bhutan river rafting reviews

Fun activities tourists partake as they take rest after rafting

In conclusion, rafting at Punakha may not be as wild and rough as rafting in other geographically rough terrains like that of Nepal. However, on positive note, it’s safer and you’ll enjoy the slow float over one of the silent and clean rivers of Bhutan.

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About Author

An auditor by profession, but a traveller, blogger and photographer by passion. This site was created to share travel stories of various destinations within Bhutan and also travel tips of travelling to Bhutan. Read More>>

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