‘Breathtaking’. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as “Astonishing or awe-inspiring in quality, so as to take one’s breath away.” Every new place that I travelled to in Bhutan, kept making me redefine my visualization of the word ‘breathtaking’. As I wandered into the lesser known regions of the country, the landscapes grew more captivating. This wasn’t the kind of beauty that one finds in big cities. It was the kind of beauty which resided in nature itself and what had been stolen away by modern mankind. My final destination before heading back to Thimpu was a remote valley located on the border of East and Central Bhutan. The bowl-shaped glacial valley was named Phobjikha Valley. Also known as the Gangteng valley based on the famous Gangteng monastery, the place is famous for the Black-necked Cranes which can be spotted across the valley during the winter season.
How to get to Phobjikha Valley:
In Wangdu, we learned that shared taxis weren’t available to take us to the Phobjikha valley as it was an off-season time. Booking an individual cab would cost us more than 4000 Nu. Heavy-hearted, we decided to look around and try our best to find a shared taxi. It happened to be our lucky day as we found a driver who had come to Wangdu to grocery shop for a general store in the Phobjikha Valley. He agreed to take us to the valley and said that we could join him on his way back to Wangdu, the next morning. We thanked our good fortune and travelled to the Phobjikha Valley for 500 Nu only.
Where to Stay In Phobjikha:
We learned that the valley is visited by hundreds of tourists at peak season. Travelers look forward to observing the Black-necked Cranes and visiting the Gangteng Monastery. Being a seasoned tourist spot, the valley has many homestays and hotels. We stayed at a cozy homestay called the ‘Sonam Yuden Farm House’ for about 800 Nu per night. We were charged with an extra 350 Nu for the food which included some local dishes and a lot of local tea.
Things to do in Phobjikha:
As we drove further away from the main city of Wangdu and into the remote valleys of the country, the roads started becoming trickier. Frequent landslides had caused multiple blockages across the route and the ill-maintenance of the roads had us driving slowly throughout the journey. The valley is heavenly and made me feel as if I had found my way to paradise.
Our homestay owner told us that some places in Eastern Bhutan were even more stunning than this valley. I couldn’t even imagine how a place could be any more scenic than what I was looking at. I couldn’t venture deeper into the depths of Eastern Bhutan due to the heavy monsoon season but I will definitely re-visit the country to explore new places and experience the true beauty of Bhutan.
The Phobjikha Valley has the three main attractions that I have listed below:
Being the main seat of the Pema Lingpa Tradition, this 17th-century monastery is an important structure in the region. The monastery is a 20-30 minute car ride away from the town of Gangtey. We decided to trek our way to the monastery and it took us about an hour. The monastery is an architectural marvel. We reached there while the evening prayer ceremony was going on and the place was flooded with locals offering their prayers. Being an off-season, tourists were rare and I was given a warm welcome by the locals. They offered me some tea and biscuits after the prayer ceremony was over. I stayed there for a couple of hours because I enjoyed the sound of prayer and the general air of positivity at the temple. The constant travelling I had been doing for the past eight days had made me truly tired and I needed to sit down and relax. The gentle murmur of the prayer and the warm aura of the people helped relieve my stress. The Gangteng monastery is a truly peaceful and glorious temple and I would surely recommend visiting it when you are in Phobjikha.
The Black-necked Cranes migrate to Bhutan from Tibet, during the months of October to mid-February. They breed at the Tibetan Plateau during the summer and move to Phobjikha and other valleys in Leh in winters. The Phobjikha valley is visited by a large number of cranes and there is a designated area protected for them. A management has been assigned to make sure that the cranes are safe and well-preserved. Every country should be inspired by the preservation laws for flora and fauna and the various environmental-friendly policies of Bhutan. Locals say that the Black-necked Cranes encircle the Phobjikha valley and the Gangteng Monastery thrice during the stay and repeat the cycle before leaving the valley mid-February. I hadn’t been able to spot the famous cranes as I had visited the valley in the month of July.
Gangtey Nature Trail:
The 4-km long nature trail is at an elevation of about 2900-meters and its starting point is really close to the Gangteng Monastery. This is basically another route to reach the monastery from the town below. The route takes you through the forest and includes some really picturesque scenes of Phobjikha valley landscape.
You don’t necessarily need to take a specific trail to appreciate the beauty of the valley. I’d recommend you to start walking in any direction that you want, and the grandeur of the valley will automatically catch up to you. The locals are kind people who would definitely guide you in case you get lost! Keep wandering and you never know what you may find!