Get a glimpse of the sacred cranes in one of the happiest countries

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Photo of Get a glimpse of the sacred cranes in one of the happiest countries by Amrita (Tale of 2 Backpackers)

It is a bowl shaped valley where you will find nature at her loveliest best. The Phobjikha Valley in Bhutan is a glacial valley lying near the Black Mountain Peak bordering the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. And this place is known for the “birds of fortune” that fly here during the winters. Well, birds of fortune are the black-necked cranes that fly at high altitude over the Himalayas in Tibet, their summer breeding grounds to the milder Phobjikha Valley in winter. Each year more than 300 to 500 birds flock at the valley and that tend to attract naturalists and ornithologists from all around the globe to this part of Bhutan.

Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan | Courtesy: Wikimedia

Photo of Phobjikha Valley, Wangdue Phodrang, Bhutan by Amrita (Tale of 2 Backpackers)

Also known as Gangtey after the monastery that sits on a ridge above the valley, the place is simply breathtaking. During the spring months the forests on either side of the valley look immensely gorgeous with a kaleidoscope of crimson, violet and pink coloured rhododendrons. While in the winter months, the valley is shrouded in blankets of white snow on which you might often see an onyx or yak grazing. The valley is dotted with quiet and picturesque hamlets where you can reach by short hikes and can experience the Bhutanese traditions and culture.

Dewachen Lodge, Phobjika Valley | Courtesy: Wikimedia

Photo of Get a glimpse of the sacred cranes in one of the happiest countries by Amrita (Tale of 2 Backpackers)

Places to visit at Phobjikha Valley

Gangteng Monastery or Gangtey Gompa

The Gangtey Gompa enjoys the best location in the entire valley. Situated atop a forested hilltop overlooking the green expanse of the Phobjikha Valley, this 17th century monastery is a great attraction of the Phobjikha Valley. During a visit to the Phobjikha Valley in 15th century, the learned Pema Lingpa prophesied that a gompa would be built on this site. His prediction was fulfilled by his grandson Pema Thinley in 1613 and then expanded by his great grandson Tenzing Dhendrup. The monastery consists of a majestic complex with the central gompa, monks' quarters, a small guesthouse and outlying meditation centres. The prayer hall is built in Tibetan style and the inner sanctum houses the funeral chorten of founder Tenzing Legpey Dhendup. The Gangtey Tsechu and Black Necked Crane Festival are held in the Gangtey Gompa every year.

Courtesy: Wikimedia

Photo of Gangtey Monastery, Bhutan by Amrita (Tale of 2 Backpackers)

Kuenzang Chholing Shedra

A ‘shedra’ is basically a Buddhist college. Kuenzang Chholing Shedra hosts nearly 300 monks and is an important Buddhism knowledge dissemination centre in this region. This beautiful pristine white building is located around 10 minutes north of Gangtey Gompa.

Courtesy: Wikimedia

Photo of Kunzang Choling, Bhutan by Amrita (Tale of 2 Backpackers)

Black Necked Crane Information Center

This information centre of the Royal So­ciety for Protection of Nature’s (RSPN) should definitely be on your list when you visit the Phobjikha Valley. The RSPN is responsible for protecting the exotic flora and fauna reserve of Phobjikha. The center has very powerful array of bird spotting scopes and is an excellent place to learn the art of bird watching. There is a library, handicraft shop and also some interesting videos that you can watch.

Courtesy: Wikimedia

Photo of Black Necked Crane Information Centre, Phobjikha, Bhutan by Amrita (Tale of 2 Backpackers)

The blacked necked cranes are inexorably linked with the folklores of Bhutan and form an important part of the Bhutanese society. They believe that the first birds, which tend to arrive in late October each year, circle thrice around the Gangtey Gompa, magnificent 17th-century monastery below which lie the wetlands where the cranes live in winter. This act is perceived as a blessing and these cranes are considered to be the auspicious harbingers of hope and prosperity at the end of the harvest seasons in the valley.

Black necked crane | Courtesy: Wikimedia

Photo of Get a glimpse of the sacred cranes in one of the happiest countries by Amrita (Tale of 2 Backpackers)

Kumbhu Lhakhang

There is a dirt road from the Kuenzang Chholing Shedra leading to the Kumbhu Lhakhang. This is a protector chapel dedicated to the ancient Bon deity Sipey Gyamlo. The place is immensely beautiful and so tranquil that it will be very easy to immerse yourself in meditative silence here.

Courtesy: WIkimedia

Photo of Get a glimpse of the sacred cranes in one of the happiest countries by Amrita (Tale of 2 Backpackers)

Nyelung Dechenling

If you love enthralling and magical stories, then this monastery should be on your list. On the first sight, this might look like a nondescript structure, but don’t be put off by its plain interiors. There are many remarkable relics and amazing tales surrounding this small chapel. If the resident monk so pleases, he will bless you with the Old Thangka whose back bears the blood stained handprints of Longchenpa. Other objects worth seeing are statues made by Longchenpa, fossil of an elephant’s tooth, holy skillet made by Pema Lingpa. Also do not miss a walk to the old cypress tree said to have sprouted from Longchenpa's walking stick. The place is truly magical if you have the faith.

The valley in summer | Courtesy: Wikimedia

Photo of Get a glimpse of the sacred cranes in one of the happiest countries by Amrita (Tale of 2 Backpackers)

Some more things to do at the Phobjikha Valley

Visit the annual Black-Necked Crane Festival

The annual Black-Necked Crane Festival is held every year in the Phobjikha Valley on November 11. This festival was started in 1998 and features cultural and mask dances, short plays about the cranes and their environments in the valley as well as exhibitions.

Black-Necked Crane Festival | Courtesy: Wikimedia

Photo of Get a glimpse of the sacred cranes in one of the happiest countries by Amrita (Tale of 2 Backpackers)

Immerse yourself in the culture of Bhutan

You can experience the unique Bhutanese culture and customs while staying at the hotels and lodges at the valley. Stay with the locals and experience their lifestyle. Also, do not forget to taste the cuisines of Bhuatn.

Bhutanese Girls in National Dress | Courtesy: Wikimedia

Photo of Get a glimpse of the sacred cranes in one of the happiest countries by Amrita (Tale of 2 Backpackers)

Go for hiking

The Phobjikha Valley is a perfect place for short hikes. You can explore the many beautiful hamlets by easy walks or two to three days hikes. These include the Gangtey Trek from Phobjikha to Teke Zampa. You can also go for the Longtey village hike.

Zizi Village in Phobjikha | Courtesy: Wikimedia

Photo of Get a glimpse of the sacred cranes in one of the happiest countries by Amrita (Tale of 2 Backpackers)

How to Reach:

Paro is the only international airport in Bhutan. Druk Air – Royal Bhutan Airlines is the only international carrier to and from Bhutan. The most convenient option of reaching Gangtey is by hiring a cab from Paro or Thimphu. If you are travelling from Paro or Thimphu then stop in Punakha for one day and then drive to Gangtey. The distance between Thimpu and Phobjikha is 125 km and that from Paro is 185 km.

From Thimphu bus terminus, a bus runs to Phobjikha every Thursday and Saturday (starts at 9 a.m. and reaches at 3.30 a.m.)

Places to stay at Phobjikha

At Phobjikha ot Gangtey, the variety of accommodations are less. There are a few luxury hotels as well as some mid quality hotels. Homestays and farm house retreats are also found.

Gakilling Guest House Phobjikha Valley | Courtesy: Wikimedia

Photo of Paro, Bhutan by Amrita (Tale of 2 Backpackers)

Please remember, that to control the impact of over tourism in Bhutan there are a number of conditions imposed on travellers and tourists. Please go through the the Government Tourism website to know more about the rules and regulations before planning your trip to Bhutan.

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