PHOBJIKHA AND GANGTEY
Every year about 500 cranes migrate to Bhutan in the winter; mostly in Phobjikha, the kingdom’s largest wetland and most important black-necked crane habitat. In recognition of Phobjikha’s importance to the birds, a conservation area was established in the valley in 2003.
The conservation festival takes place in November, when the cranes return to Bhutan from Tibet for the winter. The festival also aims at strengthening traditional celebrations to help increase villagers’ awareness of the birds’ importance.
Known as thrung thrung karm, the cranes symbolize longevity to the Bhutanese and are deemed holy. Locals believe that the circling of the cranes as they come into land confers a special blessing, and marks as the time to sow wheat.
HIKING IN THE PHOBJIKHA VALLEY
For a full day hike around Phobjikha valley you can start walking from your hotel to the Black-Necked Crane Information Center. From the Crane Center hike towards Beta Village to visit local children in a tiny community school. Continue walking to Gangtey Gompa (one of Bhutan’s oldest monasteries and recently extensively renovated), past Semchubara village, through forests of blue pine covered with lichen (known as old man’s beard) to watch the cranes courting their mates. Continue on from the end of the nature trail to Kingathang village and via Yusa village back to your hotel.
Or take a day hiking the Shasila trail. The people of Sha Ngawang and Chitokha use this trail to migrate between their summer and winter homes in Gangtey. It takes approximately 6 hours on the hike for casual trekkers to reach Kheylaykha from Phobjikha. This trail is particularly recommended for bird lovers
For fit hikers who want a tougher challenge, take a day walk in the valley known as the Khotokha trail. It takes approximately a 4 hours walk for casual trekkers to reach Khotokha from Phobjikha. You will be walking through the forest and will get the chance to see some birds. In Khotokha you can visit the monastery, which has around 100 monks, and you are welcome to visit some farmhouses in the village.