They call Phobjikha the Valley of the Cranes. Tranquil and picturesque, the valley plays host every winter to one of the most venerated natural rituals in the Himalayas as thousands of Black-Necked Cranes swoop down into its sheltered bowl on their migratory journey. This wide, glacial channel, situated almost 3,000 metres above sea-level, is sown with tiny rural villages. The Black Mountains are to the east, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park is to the south, and the valley’s floor and lower slopes are thick with rainbows of rhododendron.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Time seems to come to a standstill as you head into Phobjikha Valley. The area (also known as Gangtey) remains undeveloped and sparsely populated, and traditional life has gone on practically undisturbed here for centuries. Electricity only arrived in the last few years, and in the cooler evenings the bedrooms are heated with open fires. Villagers - apple-cheeked from the thinner oxygen at this altitude - farm potatoes in patchwork fields, the marshy land is covered with dwarf bamboo, and plants are grazed down to stumps by horses, cattle, yaks and onyx guarded by keen-eyed nomadic shepherds. At its most vibrant during the spring months, the valley hibernates during winter beneath a blanket of pearly-white snow.
The Crane Festival, held annually on the 12th November, heralds the arrival of the magnificent Black-Necked Cranes migrating away from the freezing Tibetan Plateau. Phobjikha Valley plays host to nearly 500 Thrung Keh Narp (the Bhutanese name for Black-Necked Cranes) between late-October and the end of February every year. Farmers believe the cranes promise a good harvest, while others see in them the souls of long-departed lamas. Conservation efforts have been very successful in expanding the crane population, and the birds are celebrated across Bhutan in song, dance and folklore as a symbol of peace and longevity. Children even dress up in homemade crane costumes and imitate their loud honks!
The Gangtey Goemba is an imposing and elaborate 17th-century monastery commanding impressive views over the valley. Inside are five temples surrounding a central tower, and a main hall supported by vast wooden pillars. The goemba’s murals, relics and treasures hold great significance to Buddhists, and it’s also the venue for a popular annual tshechu (Bhutanese festival), where masked dances are a highlight. When compared to the Gangtey Goemba, the Nyelong Dechenling may seem rather nondescript, but this little 14th-century chapel is a treasure trove of religious iconography and relics, including a fossilized elephant tooth. At the base of the hill there are sacred springs where you can fill your bottle with holy water, which some believe has extraordinary health benefits.
Find peaceful moments in monasteries and temples, and experience Paro’s distinctive, small-town feel. Wander through Bumthang’s green fields and Phobjikha valleys where the Black Necked Cranes land.