Another day and we were layering up for yet another adventure. "So where are we going today?" "Gangtey," I said, "I hope there isn't another monastery though!" said my friend. And there came Tashi, as usual in a Gho with his sheepish smile and a slight nod as we made eye contact.
Off we go around the mountains, through the forest, over the river. Gazing out the window almost as if the swaying trees hypnotised us. We wanted to stop every minute either to soak in the beauty or capture it on our devices. Since that was not possible, the only time we stopped the car was when we saw a herd of yak.
Herd of yaks.
Imagine a place where you can hear silence. A place where the black majestic mountains stand all around you. Golden wet-land for as far as you can see. Occasional singing of birds breaks the silence. Silence so strong that even you would want to talk less or not at all.
Sounds like a mythical place is it? Wait till you visit Gnagtey. And as our guide, Tashi said, "You haven't been to Gangtey if you have not walked here." An odd saying we thought, we will obviously walk around the town. Our driver dropped us near Gangtey monastery and Tashi said "Let's walk to the hotel?" and we followed.
We crossed the town wondering where our lodge is. Tashi being Tashi walked in his formal leather shoes (they don't look comfortable to me) as if the trail is a piece of cake. While we were busy going "Wow! Look at the sky" "Wow! Look at those trees!" "Wow! Look at this grassy slope, let's roll down!" And so we did. Oh, what fun!
Rolling down the hill!
20 minutes into the hike we were in the middle of what looked like a valley of farmers. Fenced farm houses scattered here and there. A while later the trail starts to narrow. Tashi said something to the lady working in the farm, she plucked 4 big turnips off the ground. Handing us the turnips he said, "So the real trail begins now, this is our only snack." We burst out laughing, he loves dramatising things. We thanked the lady and started walking.
"How do I wash this?" I asked, Tashi simply bit into it. I looked at the turnip and murmured "I am not so hungry anyway."
The path narrowed down further. No more farmhouses, no more cows. We found ourselves walking around a mountain covered with pine and other trees. Tashi explained how some of these trees are used. About an hour later it started getting cold and we could feel the wind. We got hungry and bit into the turnip grinning at each other. (We would never do this back home!)
Entering the forest.
Soon we reached one of the viewing points of Gangtey's protected marshland. Where black-necked cranes flew fearlessly. It was breathtaking. I spotted a home somewhere far away and wondered what would it be like to live there?
Prayer flags make everything pretty!
We took a few pictures of the prayer flags. And started walking. "Where is our lodge Tashi?" "Almost there, you see Jamtsho over there?" he pointed out. We reached the plain land crossed over a stream got into the car. Drove a short distance to the lodge.
Ever wondered what would it be like living in the middle of nowhere? I lived it just for a day, and I wish I could do it for longer. Perhaps, forever?
If you are visiting Gangtey, you got to stay here. Wangchuk lodge is at the edge of the forest and the wetland, it overlooks the protected wetland. Remember the house we saw from the trail? Turns out, it was our lodge. It has 8 rooms, each of which can house 2-3 guests. Common dining area, which doubles up as black-necked crane observatory. Staff is welcoming and helpful. Food is hearty and delicious.
I spent most of my time in the common dining area. Reading by the heater, sipping ginger lemon tea. Occasionally getting up to spot some of the vulnerable bird species. Mainly the black-necked crane.
Black-necked crane is an endangered bird. Jammu-Kashmir considers it as the state bird. They are dying due to pollution and habitat loss as a result of agriculture.
Black-necked cranes are mentioned all across Bhutanese folklore. They are said to be a messenger of peace and prosperity. Farmers at Gangtey believe that the bird's presence ensures a healthy harvest.
Black-necked crane through the telescope.
To spot these birds you can visit the Black-necked crane observatory. Or better yet sit in the dining hall at Wangchuk lodge. If you are planning a visit to Bhutan, try and coincide it with the Black-necked crane festival (11th Nov for 2019).